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Tempering Tantrums and Limit Setting for Young Children

Elizabeth Wilcox

To help our children develop autonomy and self-control, we need to set limits.

How to set those limits and work with your child when emotions run hot were among the topics addressed in Dr. Donna Housman’s opening 2017 parent lecture at Beginnings School in Weston, MA.

The lecture, sponsored by the Newton-based Housman Institute, was attended by parents and teachers from Beginnings School, a school and child development center for children aged 3 months to 6 years that focuses on promoting the building blocks of emotional intelligence.

Beginnings School founder and Housman Institute CEO, Dr. Housman spoke of the challenges of dealing with temper tantrums, providing a step-by-step approach on how to respond when your child exhibits inappropriate behavior in response to heightened emotions. Underscoring this approach was the importance of supporting development of autonomy and self-control, particularly through limit setting.

First, Dr. Housman stressed the significance of listening, accepting, and identifying feelings. Elaborating, she emphasized the direct connection between children’s feelings and behaviors. Dr. Housman reiterated the importance of accepting negative feelings, clarifying that accepting those feelings is not the same as accepting behavior.

Subsequently, she encouraged adults to help children label and express their distraught feelings, thereby clarifying the emotion. Finally, Dr. Housman advised resolving the conflict and following through. These steps, she assured listeners, would help children to learn how to better understand, regulate, and cope with emotions, thereby leading to emotional intelligence.

Dr. Housman pointed out that research shows that by helping our children learn and accept limits and manage their emotions in the process, they also learn to develop self-control and self-regulation. These skills, along with other facets of emotional intelligence—such as emotional competence, empathy and other prosocial skills—are foundational to lifelong success.

Dr. Housman’s talk was one of a series of lectures for Beginnings parents and teachers funded by the Housman Institute, a training and research organization for early childhood education. Successive talks throughout the academic year will continue to educate parents and teachers.

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