Over the years we’ve learned that there are certain challenges almost every parent faces somewhere along the way. Parents come to us with similar questions about how to address specific behaviors like lying, eating issues and public tantrums over and over. Here are some of the most common questions we get and our answers, based on our philosophy of teaching children about limits, choices and consequences in a loving way.
A. Most children lie occasionally to be socially accepted or because they fear the consequences of telling the truth. Some children lie often. As a parent of a child who lies frequently, do not make it your job to try to figure out when your child is telling the truth. Ask yourself, “whose problem is whose?” This is your child’s issue, and your child needs to learn to change her behavior. Help your child understand that the natural consequence of frequently lying is that she is not going to be believed. Lecturing or punishing will do nothing to stop constant lying. It’s much more productive to diminish the advantages your child gets from lying—take away the payoffs. If you let her know that you don’t believe her, without anger or negativity, you will gain control of the situation. You can tell your child, “When you consistently tell the truth over time, I’ll be sure to give you more chances to earn my trust.” Understand that lying can be a hard habit to break, if your child is trying to be truthful but slips, offer her a way out with the “Whoops Rule” which gives the child a chance to say, “whoops” and correct the lie when she does slip.
Q. Our child is an extremely picky eater and will often refuse food. What can we do?
A. Conflicts over food and eating are fairly common. Before you address the behavior, make sure that your child is not suffering from a medical condition or an eating disorder. If your child is otherwise healthy, leave the issue alone. Many eating issues revolved around control battles. You cannot win a power struggle with your child about what and how to eat. The more you yell, plead, threaten, or bribe the more your child is in control. Instead, let your child see that he can not get an emotional rise out of you at the dinner table. Again, ask yourself, “whose problem is whose?” The more you make eating your concern, the less your child will make it his concern and actively work to change his behavior.
Q. Our child will throw tantrums, run around, be disruptive and misbehave in public. What can we do?
A. Grocery shopping or taking care of errands with a child who acts up in public is difficult and often embarrassing. Be proactive. Ask yourself, “Does my child consistently show the knowledge, skills, judgment, and self-control to behave in the market?” If the answer is no, you know that the situation is geared for failure from the start. Don’t bring your child with you. While this might be inconvenient, it will make life easier in the long-run. If you want to give your child another chance, have a plan in place. Take her to the store when shopping isn’t urgent. Use it as a practice run. Be very clear about your expectations for appropriate behavior, and tell your child those expectations before going in. If she acts up, give her a choice to change her behavior or receive a consequence. If the behavior continues, leave the store immediately. Stay calm and don’t reprimand but be prepared to follow through. Actions speak louder than words and your child will soon realize you mean business.
Q. Our child seems to have no interests outside of staying in his room. We can’t get him to care about activities, sports, or getting out of the house. What can we do?
A. Parents spend a lot of time and energy trying to motivate their children, using the carrot and stick approach. This may work in the short-term but is not effective in the long-term. Motivation has to come from within. You cannot motivate a child, but you can do the things that will improve his attitude and self-motivation by helping your child to change how he views himself. A child who is not motivated from within may be a child who has a negative mindset. A negative mindset often grows out of a lack of self-confidence and low sense of self-worth. The child’s core underlying feelings are fear and powerlessness. When you change the self-image, you change the behavior. Children require relationships that promote self-worth and dignity, which enable them to reevaluate their beliefs and see themselves in a new light. Positive esteem is developed in a positive atmosphere, containing safety, trust, connection and enthusiasm. Positive role models create a climate in which their children feel comfortable being themselves. The better they feel about themselves, the more likely children are to have a positive attitude about trying new things.
Q. Our children are constantly bickering. It never ends. What can we do?
A. Sibling fighting is a common cause of parental annoyance and frustration. An enormous amount of time is spent refereeing fights and preaching the merit of getting along. As the parent, your role is not to be a referee. Your job is to coach your children on how to resolve conflicts in a healthy way by teaching them communication and problem-solving skills. This is not done in the heat of the moment of the fight but over the long-term. When siblings are arguing, and you have determined that everyone is safe, the best thing you can do is to stay out of it. When parents try to solve the conflict or separate children, they are depriving them of a valuable opportunity to learn how to resolve a conflict. Staying out of it puts the responsibility for solving the problem in the children’s lap, where it belongs. Keep in mind, sibling relationships are where we develop skills in conflict, management, cooperation and fair play. That having been said, if a child cannot be trusted to be safe around siblings, then she should lose the privilege of playing with the other siblings until she can act appropriately.