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Merrily Preston
By Merrily Preston
Posted on Oct 08,2008
Filed Under Personal Development , Opinions,

Dear Merrily,
How do I teach my five-year-old son to take responsibility for himself?  Too often he says he had a temper tantrum because his father or I "made" him do it by not giving him what he wants.  He needs to learn that he ultimately is responsible for how he reacts to his world and how he behaves.  When he can't have what he wants, he can't have a fit, and then blame us.  

I want to make sure his true needs are heard and met.
Do you have advice for teaching this awareness to a five-year-old? I don't seem to be getting through.  
Hopeful Mom

Dear Hopeful,

It’s a big move from ‘you made me do it’ to ‘I am responsible for my tantrum’.

He is the tender age of 5.  From age 2 to 95 we learn to take responsibility for our behavior.  

Tantrums are about survival.  When you say no to him, he feels that he is invisible, which is scary.  The tantrum covers the fear and releases angry energy.  It’s like screaming as the rollercoaster flies down the steep curve.  

Remember your own despair when you were denied something important.  Rational thoughts follow these feelings for adults, but not for five year olds.  The tantrum is his only defense.  It’s a great tool.  

Tell him you love him just as much when saying no as when saying yes.  Ask him how he feels when you say no. He may tell you that he is afraid you don’t love him.  Explain that all kids feel this way even though saying no is one way parents show their love.  Give him an example of when your saying no was in his best interest.  

At 5 he can understand that there are alternative behaviors for a tantrum.  Discuss these.  It is important for him to know that, since a tantrum is a natural way for a young child to behave, he will have tantrums once in a while.  With practice he will learn to catch it before it happens and to choose another response.  As adults we continue this practice.  

Look at your family dynamic around blame.  If it is unhealthy, your child needs to pin blame for his behavior on someone else.

I wish you the best with a difficult job.

Merrily Preston is an Intentional Life Facilitator, who lives in Woodbridge. Her column is exclusive to Local Kicks. Email questions to, or use online form at .   

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