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ONLINE DOCUMENT: WHEN PARENTS OVERREACT

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Parental overreactions are excessive responses to children's everyday behaviors.

For instance, Marie severely scolded 4-year-old Raeline when she spilled her orange juice. And Ben slapped and yelled at 10-year-old Bryan when he brought home a note from his teacher saying he needed help with his spelling.Parents are most likely to overreact when they are tired or facing other external pressures. Lack of sleep, troubles at work, demands of family members and arguments with spouses often lead moms and dads to lash out at youngsters' innocent occurrences.

When moms and dads expend too much energy managing outside stresses, they have little left to cope with the trials of raising children. The simple act of changing a messy diaper can cause an already overloaded mother or father to snap.

Parents also overreact because of repeated misbehaviors by their youngsters. Terri repeatedly told 15-month-old Eden not to drop food off her high chair, then finally spanked her because she didn't stop doing it.

Other parents overreact due to a simple lack of knowledge about appropriate childish behaviors. For instance, Sherry yelled at 20-month-old Zachary because he refused to use his new potty seat, not realizing the boy was too young to be toilet-trained.

Overreactions are characterized by parental anger and a corresponding desire to physically or mentally harm the child. Mothers and fathers feel at their wits' ends and want to get even with their kids. In extreme cases, youngsters are at risk of being beaten or abused during their parents' overreactions. But most of the time kids simply feel confused, frightened, misunderstood and wanting to tune out their parents' raving.

Not sure you if you overreact to your youngsters' behaviors? Ask yourself:

- Do I have handle situations vastly differently depending on what's going on in my day?

- Do I often feel angry while disciplining my youngsters?

- Do I want to frighten or hurt my children while disciplining them?

- Do I regularly feel remorse for what I have said or done?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you're not alone. All of us have overreacted at one time or another. The key is to minimize the chances of doing it again, and take steps to feel calmer and more in control:

- Take frequent breaks. Recognize when you're at your breaking point.

- Make use of sitters, family members or friends to watch your youngsters so you can regularly recharge your emotional batteries.

- Never blame children for your stresses. Sure, kids can be challenging. But they are not responsible for the problems you experience at work, with your finances or with your in-laws.

- Recognize where the real problems are, then address them.

- Learn effective discipline techniques. Read books or take classes in managing kids' behaviors. You'll learn how to set clear guidelines for your youngsters while enforcing appropriate consequences to their actions.

- Apologize for your overreactions. We've all lost our cool with our kids. By admitting you're wrong, you'll be resealing your bonds, while providing a great role model for them to follow.

- Get help. If you find you're overreacting on a regular basis, get help from a parenting expert or counselor. You'll learn how to better manage your stresses and be more effective as a parent.

(Linda Lewis Griffith is a marriage and family counselor. Her new book, "Guide to Your Parenting Concerns", is available from Kindred Books, P.O. Box 4818, San Luis Obispo, CA 93403, for $15, plus $2 shipping.)