I am concerned about using food as either a reward or negative consequence when my children fail to follow instructions. Since obesity is an epidemic in America, how does it promote health and fitness to use food as a consequence? I will let my child choose a healthy dinner or help me cook, but what else can I do that doesn’t involve treats? Also, I expect my children to pick up after themselves, but I don’t think I should have to tell them to do that every day. I want it to become routine for them so that when they are teenagers, they will not question having to do it. How can I establish this expectation?
Thanks for writing in with very good questions. Many parents are very concerned with healthy eating habits and choose not to use food at all when creating a Privilege List for their children.
Food rewards are often used most effectively with very young children to encourage potty training. With older children, food can be used as a reinforcement for good behavior by giving them opportunities to choose which cereal to buy or what to have for dinner.
In regards to your children not picking up after themselves and whether that is an example of their not following instructions or not meeting your expectations, we offer this advice. If you have clearly set those expectations, given that instruction and let them know what the consequences will be if expectations are either met or not met, then yes, when they don't pick up after themselves, you should use your parenting skill of corrective teaching. Follow these steps:
1. Describe that they have left their belongings laying around
2. State the consequences for not picking up after themselves
3. Restate your expectations
4. Have them practice by picking up their belongings
Remember that even though you have stated this in the past, it helps to review your expectations at a neutral time when there is not a situation that needs correcting.
My children throw horrible tantrums at bedtime and when I take them out for a meal. One of my children is four years-old and the other is two. My two year-old cries so hard at bedtime that she sometimes makes herself throw up. She will scream for hours until I put her into my bed. I am tired of not sleeping and not being able to take my children out. Please help.
Thanks for writing in with the parenting challenges that you are currently facing. Parenting young children can be exhilarating and exhausting. It sounds like you are spending a lot of time feeling exhausted.
First, you have to decide specific behaviors that you want to see them exhibit in each of these settings. Let's take the going out to dinner setting. It should have specific behavioral steps that can be observed and practiced such as:
1. Stay touching Mommy's leg at all times.
2. Use an inside or quiet voice while in the restaurant.
3. Stay seated at all times.
4. Use your fork and spoon to eat unless the food is "finger food."
This skill should be taught and practiced frequently. At home, you can pretend that you are in a restaurant. Show and tell them the behaviors you want to see. Then have them practice making sure to keep the practice fun and brief. Praise your children when they display the desired behavior with high-fives, clapping or whatever encourages them. It will take some time but if you are consistent, your children will learn better behaviors.
The bedtime issue is a bit more complex. Start by establishing a routine that includes a regular bedtime. About an hour before bedtime stop everything else and began following a nightly ritual that involves activities such as a snack, a bath, pajamas and reading a story while rocking the children on your lap. Place them in their beds, sing softly to them or whisper a few prayers. A kiss good night should be the last thing before walking out the door.
If they begin to cry, you can go back in and repeat the last couple of steps. Lay them back down, rub or pat their back and sing or pray, then walk out. Do this consistently to establish a new bedtime routine. Be patient and understand that if you get upset, the little one will only become more upset, and it will not result in a positive outcome.
Our six-year-old daughter has always been cautious and easily frightened. This behavior has recently turned worse. She throws a tantrum if she has to be alone in any situation, including being in her room with the door closed. She hasn’t slept in her own bed for almost a month. We have tried showing her love, asking her questions, issuing punishment and giving her incentives. Nothing seems to work.
Thanks for writing in with this parenting dilemma. Bedtime can be one of the most difficult times of a child’s day, but there are many techniques that parents have found helpful.
Establish a routine and stick with it. This should include such activities as a snack, brushing teeth, taking a bath, using the toilet, putting on pajamas, reading a story, saying prayers and rubbing her back once your daughter is in bed. This routine works best if it is not rushed and occurs about the same time each night.
You might also try leaving the door to her bedroom cracked open at bedtime and give her a night light. If she gets up during the night, take her back to her bed and repeat the final steps or activities involved in the routine. Remember that consistency is key. Stick with your routine, and your daughter will respond.
We awoke at 5:00 a.m. to find that our nine-year-old son had run away in an attempt to avoid a dance class because one part of the dance disturbed him. He has never done anything like this and was obviously genuinely sorry when he saw how upset we were. He's a very intelligent, independent kid but has never been allowed to leave the house without telling someone. He's been grounded for the past two weeks for lying to us, but he insists this has nothing to do with that. Is this kind of irrational response to an apparently minor situation normal for a nine year-old? He said he'd been planning it since the night before, but that he'll never do it again. Should we get professional help?
Thank you for writing in with this parenting issue. It is really interesting how our children's minds work and the behaviors that result.
His running away from what he sees as an unpleasant situation is fairly normal as we all have instincts to fight or flight when faced with conflict. His action, however, puts him in a very dangerous situation and is not acceptable. If your son feels he has to get away, put parameters on where he can go that is acceptable and safe.
When considering how to assess our children's behavior, we should look at what they are going to learn from our response. Negative consequences alone have very little long- term affect on changing behavior. It is the pairing of consequences and the teaching of a more socially acceptable actions that has the greatest impact. Effective consequences should be meaningful, used immediately and appropriate to the seriousness of the behavior such as, "Because you ran away, now this will happen."
Your son’s running away does not sound like a situation requiring professional intervention. Instead, equip him with the skill and ability to handle situations that he is uncomfortable with. Teach him to problem-solve when he doesn't like something, exploring his options and considering the advantages and disadvantages of each option before making the best decision he can.
My five-year-old son suddenly becomes clingy, bashful and unwilling to participate whenever I introduce him to situations where there are groups of children present. When his mother takes him to class, he does not behave this way. The other night at a karate class he buried his face in my shirt for 15 minutes and refused to participate. He couldn’t tell me why he didn’t want to go to class and when I pressed him about it, he started crying. I am extremely accepting and noncritical and regularly affirm his self-worth. Is this normal?
Thanks for writing to us about the difficulties you are experiencing with your son. Children succeed the most when they feel secure in their environment. Security takes root when the rules, boundaries and consequences are consistent.
The change in your son's behavior may be a result of the variation between parenting expectations. Perhaps you and your wife have different expectations that encourage your son to act differently. This doesn't necessarily mean that your ways are wrong and her ways are right; it just means they could be different. This also doesn't mean that your son is manipulating because he may not even know he is doing it. As a solution to this problem, maybe you and your wife should go together to a karate class to see how your son responds.
One of two things will happen: He'll either do just fine and go ahead with class, or he'll become clingy towards you and start crying. If he does fine, then he'll know you saw what he is capable of doing, and you can hold him to this expectation every time. If he becomes clingy, perhaps his mother can intervene and help you and your son reach a positive experience.
Our five-year-old grandson wandered off at a school sporting event. His grandfather found him in the boy's locker room rummaging through the belongings of others. He's always been mischievous, but this is alarming. I'm concerned this could lead to a serious problem.
It sounds like your grandson’s mischievous behaviors have gotten him into trouble this time. Do you think your grandson was bored and looking for things to play with? Or do you think he was trying to steal another person's belongings? These are two very different behaviors that require two different approaches from his parents.
When thinking about the behavior that you are trying to change, focus on the behavior you want to replace it with. For example, if your grandson was looking for toys, you want to work on ways he can deal with boredom or perhaps focus on his asking for permission. If your grandson was attempting to steal, then you want to focus on honesty and respecting other's property.
Ask, but don’t accuse your grandson about why he was in the locker room. One of the most effective consequences for stealing is making the child pay restitution. Now, this doesn't mean he goes out and gets a job to pay for what he took, it means he makes it up to the person he stole from. Have your grandson make a verbal apology, face to face, to the children whose backpacks he was going through. Maybe he should write an apology (with help) to the school for being in a room he wasn't suppose to be in.
Again, this all depends on what your grandson's intentions were by going into the locker room. Only then will you know the correct approach to take when "teaching" him your appropriate expectations.
My son has been diagnosed with ADHD and ODD. While his ADHD symptoms seem under control, his ODD symptoms are getting worse. His father and I have been divorced for two years, and we have joint custody. I don't believe that my son gets the structure and discipline he needs at his dad's house, but I try to make sure things are consistent and controlled in mine. Lately I have been having huge issues with back talk and disrespect. It is a daily struggle at this point, and I no longer know what to do. Nothing seems to work.
By providing structure and consistency, you are on the right track so hang in there. It sounds like your son is trying to test his limits with you and others. This can be exhausting for us as parents but remember that consistency is key; he will learn what your expectations are if you don't budge on them.
You mentioned that he talks back to you. When trying to change a negative behavior such as talking back, it's best to have a zero tolerance level. The minute he talks back to you, issue a consequence. Do not ask him again, do not remind him of what he is doing, and do not give him another chance to be respectful; just issue the consequence.
Remember that arguing is a two-way street. When your son tries to take you down that street, get out of the car. He can't argue with himself. If he knows that once he argues, you'll argue back and eventually become frustrated and upset, then he's going to continue to argue. A good rule of thumb to remember is don't talk more, talk less. That will increase the possibility of your son receiving the instruction you are giving to him.
We hope this helps and gets you and your son headed down the right path. Power struggles are exhausting so try to avoid them at all costs.
My 12-year-old stepson and I are having trouble coming to terms over his interest in insects. His father’s work keeps him away for weeks at a time, and his biological mother is not involved in his life. I spend more time with him than anyone else. I despise most insects. He brings black widows, ants, termites and other bugs into the home all the time. I have grandchildren who visit frequently and don’t want someone to get bit. There are other behavioral issues going on with my stepson (problems in school, not listening, not following instructions, hitting other kids, anger management, talking back to adults and telling lies). Unfortunately, my husband and I have been unsuccessful getting help to deal with these issues. What can you recommend on how to deal with the insect issue immediately?
There are multiple issues going on with this young man as you described. First of all he is noncompliant as evidenced by his continuing to bring insects into your home after he has been asked not to. Have there been consequences as a result of his behaviors? If he can break rules and not experience any negative consequences, it will only reinforce the defiant behavior.
Behavioral therapists are very effective in helping young people learn to follow instructions, and may be able to help your stepson. You may want to talk with his father about accessing those services.
Now for an immediate resolution to the insect issue. Give your stepson at least two reasons why it is important to respect and follow your rule about not bringing bugs into the house. Then let him know what the negative consequences will be if this rule is broken, and perhaps what the positive consequence will be if he obeys the rule.
My 14-year-old son has many anger issues, has been diagnosed with ADHD and ODD, yells constantly, cuts himself and burns things in his room. He sees a psychiatrist monthly but still has deep anger issues with his father, whom I divorced years ago. I want to help my son. Where do I go for help?
We want to make sure you, your son, and everyone else in the home is safe at all times. The first thing you may want to do is create a safety plan with phone numbers and safe locations in the home. Due to your son's aggressive and dangerous behaviors, if you have other children, they will want to know exactly what to do if an unsafe situation occurs. Once you see a threat occurring, you should be able to say one word that initiates the safety plan.
If your son is unable to keep himself or anyone else safe in your home, you need to call the police immediately. We know this can be scary, and most parents don't want to have to do this, but you can't risk someone getting hurt. Unsafe behaviors such as cutting, suicidal statements or threats, aggressive behaviors towards others or property are not okay and should not be tolerated in your home.
Being diagnosed with ADHD and ODD is a difficult combination. These two disorders cause a lot of defiant behaviors. You mentioned your son sees a psychiatrist once a month which is great, but unfortunately it's probably not enough. Our guess is that your son is struggling applying basic social skills like following instructions, accepting decisions and showing respect. Find a therapist who will work with your son on a weekly (if not more) basis.
We can only imagine how difficult this situation must be for you. We want you to know that our counselors are available 24/7 if you have any questions or just need to vent. We talk to parents every day going through similar situations, and we are here to listen and help.
I need help to stop yelling at my beautiful, precious, small children. Every morning I wake up and tell myself that today, I won't yell at them. But I have a busy life, little help from friends and family and my patience burns out quickly. I've tried counting, leaving the room, praying, reading books about parenting, and being open with family and friends about my struggles. But really, they just nod in agreement and don't have any help to offer. How can I stop?
It sounds like you love your children very much and that you already have a great deal of insight into your behavior. Many parents do not realize that they need to make changes. As you well know, children can be extremely trying at times, and you have been doing a great job trying to utilize self-control strategies such as prayer, counting and leaving the room. Remember that it’s normal and human to have moments when you lose your cool. However, yelling can make situations worse and teaches your children that it is okay to yell when they are upset. When you do yell, apologize to your children and tell them something like: "Mommy was frustrated, and I am sorry I yelled." Then, tell them what you're going to do differently next time. This models for your children what they should do when they make a mistake.
Develop a “Staying Calm Plan.” Identify what makes you feel like yelling. Write down what your children do that causes you to lose your temper. Be specific. Include when and where the behavior occurs. Identify what happens to you before you yell so that you learn to recognize your warning signs and take steps to calm down before you begin yelling. Write down what you will do differently such as taking a deep breath, leaving the situation for five minutes or using positive self-talk. Staying calm is not easy, and you have to work at it.
Make time to take care of yourself. Ask your husband or a family friend to watch your children for an hour every other day so that you can go for a walk or take a bath -- something that will help you relax and have a little time to yourself. Taking care of yourself helps you be the best mommy and wife you can be to your precious little ones and husband.
Read the book Common Sense Parenting of Toddlers and Preschoolers by Bridget A. Barnes and Steven M. York, M.H.D. Get involved in a support group for stay-at-home moms like MOPS International and the International Mom's Club. These groups provide friendship, community, resources and support for you as a woman and mother so you know you are not alone.