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Kids Pushing Your Buttons?

"I hate you."

"You're so mean."

"You never understand me."

"You're always in my face."

"You can't make me."

Comments like these arise in every parent-child relationship, but they can be painful and they can cause a parent to lose his or her temper.

Susan Ungaro, the editor-in-chief of Family Circle magazine, gives The Early Show viewers strategies for dealing with the situation. By learning to control their own reactions, parents can teach children how to handle their frustration, she explains.

Parents feel awful when they lose their tempers or overreact and one of the secrets to preventing such reactions, she says, is to remember that when a child "pushes your buttons," it's usually because the child himself is upset, stressed or frustrated.

Learning to control your feelings allows you to turn the outburst into a learning experience for your child - you teach him or her how to deal with his anger or frustration.

But why do these zingers aimed at you by your kids hurt or anger you so much? Ungaro offers a few possibilities.

  • You worry that your child's behavior means she'll grow up to be a horrible, selfish person. Of course, this isn't true, Ungaro says. Pushing buttons sometimes is a natural behavior for all kids.
  • You feel that because your raised this child, the outburst is a reflection on you. Again, not the case Ungaro says.
  • You're concerned that this is a sign that you're losing control of your child, that your influence over her is slipping.

So what do you do when your kids push your buttons?

Take a time out. First, you need to calm down. Your ultimate goal is to model self-control.

"That's because when you find a way to regain your composure and can discuss the matter calmly, you set a powerful example for your child," Dr. Berry Brazelton explained in Family Circle magazine. You may need to leave the room in order to regain control of your emotions and that's OK. Don't react immediately.

Don't ignore bad behavior. This won't settle the issue and it doesn't do you or your child any good. This also means not giving in to your child. If you give in every time they scream and cry, Ungaro says, they will think their behavior is the right way to manage frustration.

Find a reason behind outburst. In other words, take a close look at what's bothering your child. According to Ungaro, you should even say, "Look, that makes me feel bad and I know that's not what you want. Let's talk about what's really bothering you."

Ungaro says if your child is angry with you and pushes your buttons often - once or twice a week - you can't chalk it up to "kids' behavior." Perhaps the child is having a hard time at school, she suggests, or maybe you're really not paying enough attention to you child.

Sometimes, kids will push your buttons because they want a new toy or want to stay out past a curfew that you consider appropriate. In cases like this, remember that there are certain rules that you've set for you family and you need to stick by those, no matter how much your child complains.

Consider a compromise. Other times, when kids push your buttons, you may need to change your own actions. It's really important to listen to your child; children should be able to air their feelings without getting you upset. This is not always a case of the adult is right, the children are wrong. Perhaps a compromise of some sort is in order.

However, limits are important and repetitive bad behavior deserves consequences. If your child pushes your buttons one too many times, discipline is appropriate. Ungaro says to be sure to give your child a warning before imposing punishment.

The bottom line here: When kids hurt or anger you, the two of you have the opportunity for a serious conversation. You need to control your feelings so you can teach your child the correct way to handle his feelings.

Clearly, yelling or saying nasty things is not going to get your child anywhere. Once you figure out what is prompting your child's outbursts, you can talk about solving the underlying issues in a mature, effective manner.