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Temper, And How To Meet It

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

THE question of the child's exhibitions of temper is one upon which maternal opinion is divided, probably with good reason. As Mrs. Washburne puts it: "There are those who think that the baby shows real temper within the first few months of life, and not only that, but that he can be taught by pain of various kinds to control his temper. There are others who think that genuine temper and self-will are impossible before the end of the first year, and that therefore any attempt at discipline is quite out of place."

In children who are eight months old or more, there appears sometimes a violent, destructive anger, very hard to reckon with. In these emotional paroxysms the child destroys anything within his reach, screaming meanwhile at the top of his lungs: and Mrs. Washburne rightly regards a child in such a tantrum as temporarily insane. There is certainly no use in arguing with him, and still less use in threatening. The only thing to do is to keep as still and cool as possible yourself, and to act promptly. You have the advantage of your size; make use of it. Pick him up and carry him to a quiet place where there is nothing which he can injure and leave him there. Solitude and silence are his best helpers.

"The thing we ought to try to do," this lady counsels, "is, first, to avoid as far as possible all occasions for such display of temper, for it is very easy to form in a child the habit of emotional uncontrol. Especially is this so when a child inherits from either father or mother that nervous weakness which we call quick temper. We need to establish a habit of poise and of quiet, and therefore to remove as far as possible all temptations.

This does not mean at all that the child should have his own way in everything for fear of an outbreak of temper. On the contrary, he must never be allowed to feel that he gains anything by a display of temper, except quiet and solitude. It means simply that we should look ahead; and when we know, for example, that being lifted suddenly out of a warm bath into a comparatively cold room brings on crying, we should try to have a warm towel handy, and perhaps something to distract his attention, like a piece of candy popped into his mouth at the psychological moment. Or when we know that he be-comes restless and irritable when his meals are long delayed, we should put ourselves out to see to it that they are not delayed at all. And so with other recognized causes of bad temper.

But when, on the other hand, he is really in a temper despite our best efforts, we must see to it that he does not get what he is screaming for. Even if it is right in itself, it is not right to let him have it while he is screaming, lest he come to think that letting go of himself is a good way of getting what he wants.

Physical motion of all sorts forms a good vent for such nervous and emotional excitement. If the child can be induced to run out of doors, or can be given a hammer to pound with, or in any other way can be led to work off the nervous excitement through muscular activity, his temper will evaporate harmlessly.

The cures for temper, then, are: First, avoidance of provocation; second, distracted attention; third, active physical exercise; and fourth, if all these fail, solitude and quiet until the storm has blown itself out.

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