Thanks to Mark & Beth Selby, leaders at Grace Church and parents of three daughters. Mark taught on the topic of kindness at the Intentional Parenting Conference in January. Here are their thoughts:
Any outbursts of yelling, whether in anger or frustration, are a lack of self-control. This is an issue that needs to be addressed no matter what the age of the child . . . the earlier the better (not necessarily easier!).
If the child is an infant and begins whining or yelling, we would touch our finger to their mouth and give a firm "NO." Your goal at that point is for the child to associate the scream/noise with the consequence of mom or dad's tone change in "NO." Occasionally, we would finger flick the cheek (not hard!) to sort of "shock" them into associating the behavior with the response. There are times when a child cannot gain self-control (especially at a public place); you will need to remove them, whether to a restroom or out of the building. The child should be instructed that they cannot return to the table, playing, etc., until they have demonstrated self-control. They need to understand that losing self-control has consequences.
The technique we found to be most helpful when our girls were toddlers was the folding of the hands. When they began to have a meltdown, we would have them look us in the eyes and fold their hands together and use the term "gain self-control." If they were old enough, we would physically hold their hands together until they could compose themselves enough to express what was frustrating them. Your goal should be for the child to be able to calmly tell you what is making them angry or frustrated. Making eye contact, holding their folded hands, having them take a deep breath, and then truly listening to why they are so frustrated gives them a huge sense of self-worth. They know you care enough to listen, as long as they can communicate in a calm, acceptable manner.
If your child is older, past the age of 4-5, you have opportunities to talk about self-control. We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be pro-active; talk about self-control with your children. Give them examples, talk about it in times of non-conflict so that they have a frame of reference if/when they do lose it. Give them very clear parameters with very clear consequences. Example: "Hailee, if you choose to yell in anger at your sister, you will not be able to have Rachel come over to play tomorrow. Do you understand?" If the child says "yes" and later loses it with her sister, the consequence has already been put before her.