19 Nov

Are You Giving Your Child Permission to be Rude?

rude child


You walk into a room with your child by your side.

He’s normally rambunctious and noisy. But when an acquaintance stops to speak to your little precious, he won’t open his eyes or say a single word. “That’s okay,” says the grown up. “I imagine he’s a little shy of strangers.” Problem is, you know there’s not a single shy bone in his body! You’re embarrassed by the rude response (or lack thereof) from your child.  You know you’ll have to make teaching him good manners a priority. Especially when he says triumphantly “I didn’t even talk to that man!”

You know that he’s not just remembering “stranger danger.” He understands about talking to strangers when he’s with mom or dad. What he’s actually just done by being rude is show you how much he likes control. Maximum control.

Uh oh. He’s rude. Are you too late already?

You may have to take stock of what other signals are coming from him that he’s trying to rule the world. Is he allowed to refuse food he says he doesn’t like (even if he’s never even tasted it)? How about the way he addresses adults and talks to his teacher? Does he get to choose first all the time “because he’s the littlest”? Do you insist that big brother or sister include him in play with their friends, even though he’s four years younger?

Are you aware of the words you use about your child to others, especially in the presence of that child? “Oh, he’s pretty shy. He probably won’t talk to you.” “He doesn’t like squash. He probably won’t eat it.” Or how about (said with a little pride thrown in), “Yes, she’s always been active. She can’t sit still for a minute.” Your kiddo has his ears tuned to what you say, and he’s learning from you to make excuses for his behavior. Those simple statements turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. And each time it happens, he thinks that he really does rule the world.

So, let’s correct the rude greeting faux pas. Have a conversation with your young one about polite conversations. Make sure he understands that when adults speak to him, he is expected to look them in the eyes, smile, and use kind words to answer. No negotiations. No hiding behind mom’s back, no cop-outs of any kind. Your child may actually be an introvert, but that doesn’t mean he never talks outside his comfort zone.

Tools for tomorrow

Children who learn how to greet people politely and how to carry on a cordial conversation will have some of the tools necessary to land a job when they’re older. Teach them that others often make decisions based on first impressions. That’s why each time they meet someone, whether it is the first time or the thirty first time, repeatedly being polite and attentive leaves a positive impact. (Human nature being what it is, if there’s even one negative impression, that’s the one they’ll remember.)

I recently read an article about a family that had this very problem with their three year old. After carefully explaining their expectations, it was inevitable that he would test the limits. So they told him if he didn’t greet people as expected, when they got home, they would practice. They role-played a person speaking to their little boy. If he responded appropriately, great! Celebrate! If not, they kept on practicing until he got it right. By that time, he would do practically anything to be released from his “hello lessons.” And he knew that if he didn’t do what was expected in public, he’d go right back to practicing some more.

Rude is real

We once went out to dinner with a couple and their twin three-year-old girls. While we sat and ate our dinner, the children climbed over the chairs and under the table. Then they took a little trip around the restaurant to talk to all the other diners. They even helped themselves to the food on other people’s plates! Their parents thought their precious little ones were so cute that no one would mind being interrupted or having food stolen out from under their noses. When it became clear that the parents were not going to do anything to control their daughters, I finally got up, put the girls back in their chairs and warned them “Don’t move!” And you know what? They didn’t.

I’ve always believed I have two sets of children: the ones who live in my home and the ones who visit other people. Because invariably people they’ve visited with tell us, “Your children are so polite!” It’s a great feeling to know that those early lessons actually took hold.

Do you have polite, attentive children? If so, tell us how you got there. If not, will you try this solution? Why or why not?


02 May

Helping Children Overcome Anger

Helping Children Overcome Anger

Ever notice that anger is contagious?

Just let your two year old throw a temper tantrum in a public place, or listen to your elementary kid tell you she hates you, or witness a melt-down with a teenager, and you’ll find it’s true. You get angry too. Here’s how to help kids deal with anger.

Everyone gets mad.

It’s not the sole province of either adults or children. And anger is not always wrong or bad. There are very legitimate reasons for anger.

In infancy, babies cannot communicate their needs. So they cry. And when the need is adequately met, they quit crying. But when the need is not met—possibly because the mother can’t figure out what’s wrong—the crying gets louder until suddenly the infant has balled up fists, a red face, and is breathing so hard she sometimes actually loses her breath. That’s developmental anger. Of course, all you can do is try to figure out what’s wrong. Wet diaper? Hungry? Hot? Cold? Lonely? Thirsty?

In toddlerhood, kids understand many more words than they can use. They still cannot adequately express themselves and this leads to frustration and then to anger. The child not only has trouble expressing herself to adults, but to other kids as well. But other kids are more her own size, so expressing anger may result in injury to another child.

Teaching about alternatives.

This is the time we start to teach appropriate ways to handle anger. The one constant most people can agree on is that hurting other people or their possessions is not to be tolerated. When I was teaching a nursery school class of two and three year olds, one little girl came to class almost every day angry. She would scream and cry and flail her arms and legs, and woe to anyone in her path. So we set up an area padded with pillows and stuffed toys, and giving her a hug, we laid her down on the pillows. Then we walked away and ignored her. When her anger was spent, she smilingly came and joined the rest of the class—every time. She had learned an appropriate way to handle her anger. At this age, talking about future events is not very productive, because children of two or three have no clear concept of time. (That’s why it doesn’t help to say, “Mommy will be back after work.” The child lives in the now, not the later.)

Somewhat older kids.

Elementary aged kids still get mad at other kids for many of the same reasons that toddlers do. Another child took his baseball mitt or cut in line or said something mean. And often the response to that anger may look like a toddler’s reaction. But at this age, kids can start to learn about anger when they are not angry. When you and the child are both calm, that’s the time to talk about what’s okay and what isn’t. Is it okay to go outside and scream? Is it okay to punch a pillow? How about a wall or another person? Talk about how the child may act when he gets angry next time. Set ground rules and stick to them. Consistency is the single most important thing (next to love) that a parent can do to make sure a child grows up into a responsible, caring, compassionate adult.

What are you modeling?

Of course, it works in reverse too. If you consistently show your irritation, yelling when something doesn’t go your way, that’s what your child will learn. As your child approaches adolescence, it is very important to be sure you model proper response to situations where anger could arise. This time is so important because it is the time that your child is testing you as she tries to discover who she is. Should I count to ten when I’m angry? Mom doesn’t. She just yells. She tells me to count, but she doesn’t and that makes me mad! Be sure you are setting a good precedent for your teen to follow.

Unresolved anger is dangerous!

It’s important at any age to try and discover the source of your ire so that it can be dealt with in a healthy way. Unexpressed exasperation will show up later, and it may not be expressed as anger. For example, many adults who have never dealt with the source of their anger suffer from ulcers or even heart disease. There is a major difference between expressing anger inappropriately and suppressing it. Deal with anger when it arises. Don’t put it off, or you may hide it from yourself and have much more difficult problems later.


10 Mar

Help! My Child Is An Unhealthy Eater!

Help! My Child Is An Unhealthy Eater!

Is your child a fussy or unhealthy eater?

What does it mean to be an unhealthy eater? We, as moms and caretakers, know what a healthy lunch looks like. Our kids need choices that are diverse, fresh and appetizing, high in protein, vegetables, fruit and fibre, but low in fat, salt and sugar. That’s the easy part. The hard part is how to get them to eat it!

One answer is options.

Giving your child numerous options in his lunch means that he’s more likely to get a well-rounded meal. Offer grapes and raspberries, cheese and  a sandwich. At our house, what doesn’t get eaten at lunch becomes his afternoon snack. Treats are offered after the entire lunch is consumed.

Let them help.

Kids control so little in their lives. When they get the chance to participate in choosing, assembling, and packing their own lunch, they gain a measure of control, and when they do that, we all benefit. Offer options, and let your child choose the components in meals (not just at lunch time!). “Do you want a nectarine or an apple for your fruit?” Asking the child to choose will encourage her to eat what she’s chosen. “Would you like a wrap or a sandwich?” When she feels some amount of control, she’ll also want to follow through. Goodbye, unhealthy eater!

All mixed up.

Preschoolers typically go through a phase where they do not want their food to touch. So separate it for them, and they’ll soon outgrow it. For the longest time, our kids ate macaroni and cheese with peas mixed in. Then, suddenly, they wouldn’t eat it that way. Yet they would eat macaroni and cheese with peas on the side. When we figured it out, they happily ate their meals.

Don’t use food as a reward.

Telling your preschool child or kindergartner that she’ll get a lollipop if she cleans up her mess is setting her up for problems. Offering treats like candy, chips, or soda for good behavior actually interferes with a child’s natural ability to regulate her eating. Kids intuitively know when they’re hungry or thirsty, and giving them salty or sugary rewards teaches them to eat when they’re not hungry and to reward themselves with food.

Schedule it.

Kids need to eat every three to four hours, so schedule breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two to three snacks every day. Fluids are very important, too, so keep plenty of water on hand. A cooler in the car with healthy snacks and bottled water is a terrific idea for staving off the “grumpies” because they’re hungry.

Don’t say it.

It’s tempting to say to your daughter, “Eat your vegetables.” But don’t. She’ll resist it more if you nag. It’s your responsibility to prepare nutritious foods, but it’s her responsibility to eat it. It’s hard, but don’t be the food police and try to enforce how much or what she eats during meals.

Make it a family affair.

Don’t be a short-order cook. Planning and preparing three balanced meals for your family every day should be enough. Don’t get in the habit of making different meals for different members of the family. Fix one meal and have everyone sit down together to eat. Children mimic their parents, so eventually, they’ll eat what you do.

Keep healthy food on hand.

If there isn’t junk food around, your child will choose healthy alternatives when he’s hungry. Replace chips and cookies with fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and whole grains so that there’s a good choice when hunger strikes. Healthy choices guarantees your child won’t be an unhealthy eater.

Model healthy behavior.

Lots of studies prove that kids follow their parents’ behavior. So when you choose healthy foods to eat, they will follow suit. Talking about healthy habits is important, too; but don’t say “you should.” Instead say “here’s what I do.” If they see you enjoying good-for-you food, they’ll be much more likely to do as you do.





27 Feb

The Sticker Chart — What Are We Teaching Our Kids?

sticker chart

America loves the sticker chart.

Google “sticker chart,”  “reward chart,” and “chore chart” and it will return over a million hits. Pinterest searches bring up pin after pin of different charts and rewards that parents have tried to get their children to comply with rules of good behavior. Amazon has more than a thousand products for sale that use the same motivation.  Proponents of the sticker system swear by it, saying that it prevents power struggles over things like brushing teeth, doing homework, or going to bed on time.

And in the short term, it works.

But what of the long term? Reward systems, like the sticker chart, do work—too well, in fact. The powerful psychological effects of rewarding good behavior can have significantly long-term negative consequences to the child trained by them. Children’s mindsets can be molded by the reward for good behavior system that reaches beyond the immediate behavior to affect relationships as well.

It’s a common complaint among parents that their children eventually want to be rewarded for everything, and that they won’t cooperate without the promise of a reward. One mother said that her son refused to help his brother clean up a spill because there was nothing in it for him. Eventually, even rewards stop working. Especially with older kids, negotiating for bigger rewards becomes common.

Erica Reischer, a clinical psychologist and parent educator, calls this phenomenon in which a family’s system of rewards becomes pervasive, a “reward economy.” Children in these situations learn to exchange desirable behavior for rewards, and finally adhere to a transactional model for good behavior. They refuse to offer good behavior without a reward.

What’s the motivation?

Children who expect a reward for good behavior often have their intrinsic motivation undermined by the very rewards that are offered for that behavior. In cases where children are offered stars on a sticker chart not only for tasks like cleaning their rooms, but also for pro-social behavior, the results can be very bad. Things like sharing their things, cooperating with others, or helping should be things that children want to do because it is the right thing to do. Studies show that offering children rewards for pro-social behavior can lessen their desire to be helpful and caring.

According to Erica Reischer, “Insights from behavioral economics help explain this effect. From that perspective, the problematic attitude of children raised in a reward economy—“What’s in it for me?”—is a predictable response to the collision of social norms (the invisible forces that shape how humans act) with market norms (a system of payments, debts, contracts, and customers).”

In other words, children respond to requests for proper behavior by expecting rewards. They want to be “paid” for everything instead of integrating themselves into the family social norms. Unfortunately, the market norm mentality can also affect relationships.

Duke University professor Dan Ariely, who has written a book called Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, questions the quality of relationships based on transactions. “If you created a relationship [with your kids] that is very transactional, what do you expect when everyone gets older?” Ariely said. “I’m not saying that giving kids a sticker is going to make them send their parents to assisted living, but if you think about the idea, it’s a step in that direction.”