Getting Your Kids to Cooperate without Losing Your Cool

Rona Renner, RN., author of Is that Me Yelling?
Topic:
Getting your kids to cooperate without losing your cool.
Issues: becoming aware of yourself; understanding everyday triggers; adapting your parenting style to your child’s temperament; dealing with the yeller in your family; dealing with difficult situations, disorders, and differences.

Is That Me Yelling? + The Sense and Nonsene of Alternative Medicine

Rona Renner, RN., author of Is that Me Yelling?
Topic:
Getting your kids to cooperate without losing your cool.
Issues: becoming aware of yourself; understanding everyday triggers; adapting your parenting style to your child’s temperament; dealing with the yeller in your family; dealing with difficult situations, disorders, and differences.


Paul Offit, author of Do You Believe in Magic?
Topic:
The sense and nonsense of alternative medicine.
Issues: What is “alternative medicine”?; megavitamins actually increase the risk of some cancers and heart disease (something well known to scientists but not to the general public); celebrity spokespeople (Like Jenny McCarthy and her anti-vaccine campaign) who have no medical background and are doing more damage than good; alternative medicine treatments that actually work.

To Have A Second Child… Or Not

My wife wants to have another child, but I’m not sure I’m ready. The first one keeps us so busy already that we barely have time for the both of us. I love being a father, and my wife loves being a mother, but I feel like that is our only identity – parents. Adding another child to the mix will only take more time away from us as a couple. What should I do?

For a lot of couples, the question about whether to have another child isn’t really a question, it’s a given. For others, though, the issue is more complicated. And most of the problems have to do with exactly what you’re going through in your home: one spouse wants a second (or third) child while the other isn’t nearly as excited about the prospect. Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution to this problem.
[Read more...]

Saying No to No

Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter, who is 3 ½, is still in her “NO!” phase. Anything I tell her to do, she categorically refuses. I was prepared for the “terrible two’s”, but thought she would have outgrown them by now. Is there anything I can do?

A: No, no, no! Just kidding. There are plenty of things you can do to help. But before we get to them, let’s try to figure out why your daughter has become so attached to the N word.
To start with, she’s still trying to establish her independence. And one of the best ways (at least in her mind) is to let you know who’s in charge. (Fair warning: This exact, nerve-wracking dynamic will crop up again when she hits her teen years.)

It’s also possible that her knee-jerk negativity is part of her temperament. A child who doesn’t react well to change or needs extra time to warm up to new situations may throw out a No as a way of maintaining the status quo. Third, your daughter may be confused or might not understand what you’re asking/telling her to do. More on that in a minute.
Whatever the reason(s), here are some approaches that should help.

  • Make sure she knows the difference between negotiable and non-negotiable rules. Health and safety issues (for example, always wearing a helmet when riding your bike or holding your hand when crossing the street) are not; less important things (like what color the helmet is or whether she holds your right or left hand) are.
  • Don’t pull rank. Telling her, “I’m big, you’re little, so my way goes,” won’t produce the results you’re looking for.
  • Stay away from Yes/No questions. Instead of, “Please put your jacket on,” try, “Do you want to wear the red jacket or the blue one?” This may not seem important, but making simple decisions like these now is a prerequisite for making bigger—and more important—ones later (like, “Should I get into a car with a friend who’s been drinking?”)Every child, regardless of age, needs a certain amount of independence in order to develop the confidence necessary for decision-making.
  • Be logical. If your child says No when you tell her to put on her helmet, instead of repeating your demand, try something like, “Oh, I see that you don’t really want to ride your bike today.”
  • Wait a minute and ask again—gently. No doesn’t always mean No. Sometimes it means, “Pay more attention to me.”
  • One thing at a time. If someone told you to put down your markers, stop playing with your toys, clean up the living room, go upstairs, wash your hands, come back down, and eat dinner, you’d probably say No too.
  • Eye contact. It’s easier for her to refuse if she’s not looking at you than if she is.
  • Do a No audit. We all use No a lot more often than Yes. Could you reasonably switch some of those No’s to Yeses—or at least to short explanations (helmets are important because they protect our heads in case we fall off our bikes)? And be sure to reward good behavior. Never pass up an opportunity to give your daughter a high five.
  • Be a good model. You can’t expect your child to do things you don’t.

Father’s Day is just around the corner, which means that we’re accepting submissions for the MrDad Seal of Approval, which recognizes products and services that encourage and support father-child relationships. Visit mrdad.com/seal for more details.

Hey, I Want to Do That. No, This. No, That.

Dear Mr. Dad: My four-year-old daughter gets bored incredibly quickly. She’ll do something for five or ten minutes and then she’s up and on to something else. I’m having trouble keeping her occupied, since we run out of activities in less than an hour. We had her screened for ADD and other conditions, but the tests all came back fine. Is there some way to keep her focused for more than just a few minutes?

A: Did you know that a normal attention span for a child is 2-5 minutes for each year of age? For your daughter, that’s 8-20 (a big range, but not far from the “five or ten minutes” you mentioned).

There may be a number of issues at play here.

  • Your child’s temperament. Some children tend to be low energy, others bounce off the walls. Some are boisterous, others quiet. Some can pay attention for an hour, others have the attention span of a gnat.
  • All preschoolers are easily distracted—even the ones with long attention spans. The difference is that some children can get back to what they were originally doing, while others—like your daughter—can’t (or don’t).
  • Curiosity and excitement. There are so many things for your daughter to discover and explore in her world. She may think that if she finishes her puzzle, she won’t have time to start drawing. So, in an attempt to fit everything in, she ends up beginning a lot of activities but not finishing any.

That said, your daughter needs to develop the ability to concentrate on one task at a time and finish each activity before moving on to the next. When she starts school, she’ll be expected to complete assignments and projects in a timely and efficient manner. The sooner you help her develop those skills, the better. Here are some activities that should help.

  • Read. Hopefully you’re already doing this. But if not, it’s never too late to start. Begin with five to ten minutes and gradually increase. If your daughter won’t sit still, read anyway, but ask her to retell the story to you. If she will sit in your lap, extend story time by talking about the illustrations or asking questions (Why do you think that bunny bit the wolf?)
  • Matching games. Use pairs of identical cards—buy some or make your own. Start off with eight cards (four pairs) face down on the table. Alternate turning over one card and trying to find the match.
  • Get outside. Researchers have found that a 20-minute walk in the park greatly increases children’s attention span. Set up a scavenger hunt, pretend to be earthworms, or get a magnifying glass and identify bugs.
  • Do things she likes to do. All of us—adults or kids—will spend more time doing things we want to do than things someone else tells us to do.
  • Lifestyle check. How’s your daughter’s diet? Is she getting enough physical activity (60 minutes/day is about right)? How about sleep? (11-12 hours/day total, including naps)?
  • Use a timer. Set it for 15 minutes and explain that she (or the two of you) will paint or play or whatever until the buzzer sounds. Only then will you allow her to move on to the next activity.
  • Praise her every time she continues an activity for the full time. As her attention span gets longer, gradually increase the number of minutes on the timer. But make sure you keep your expectations reasonable by remembering the 2-5-minutes-per-year rule.

Of Course I Love You, Honey—I Just Don’t Like You

Dear Mr. Dad: Outside of the home, I’m a fairly calm, patient, level-headed person. At home, I’m impatient, angry, and yell a lot at my kids. I’m actively involved in their activities, but rarely find anything that they do very interesting. And efforts that I make to expose them to things I enjoy (tennis, baseball) always seem to backfire to the point that I regret making the effort. My problem is that I love my kids, but don’t necessarily like them. I know they’ll only be young for a short time and I should try to enjoy them while I can. But, honestly, I think I enjoy them less than five percent of the time. So my question is this: What can I do to enjoy my family more?

A: Wow. That can’t have been an easy email to write. But you very eloquently captured a feeling just about every parent has had (or will have). Very few people have the courage to admit it, though, so thanks for that. You didn’t say how old your children are, but there are several factors that may be contributing to your I-love-you-but-don’t-like-you feeling.
First, there’s their behavior. Dealing with rude, surly, uncooperative, disrespectful children on a regular basis can definitely make you question whether you should have had children in the first place.

Second, as children get older, they naturally push for more independence. If you aren’t able to gradually let go, you may feel useless, unloved, and angry that you’re being pushed away. This is especially true if you’re dealing with pre-teens and teens, who seem to feel that the best way to assert their independence is to inflict emotional damage on their parents.

Third, the expectations you have for your children—for example, their ability to play tennis and baseball—may be out of whack with what they’re actually physically or mentally able to do.

What to do?

  • Think hard. There’s a big difference between not liking your children and not liking their behavior. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the two, but it’s important to try.
  • Read up on temperament. Some kids are naturally easier to get along with than others. In addition, certain parent-child personality combinations are more explosive than others. Understanding your child’s—and your—temperament can really help.
  • Read up on child development. Understanding what’s normal and what’s not for children your kids’ age, should increase your patience and enjoyment levels.
  • To be blunt, grow up a little. If you feel that you’ve made major sacrifices for your children (giving up hobbies or interests, spending ungodly amounts of money on private schools, etc), you may resent them. Yelling and seeing them as disappointing or irritating could be your way of getting back at them. But this is your life. Start learning to accept the things you can’t change, and focus instead on changing the things you can (your attitude, for example, or the need to transition from “daddy who knows everything” to “daddy the mentor who gives advice when it’s asked for”). There’s a good chance that your kids will eventually grow out of their behavior issues, and grow into being able to perform the way you think they should. But if you stay on the track you’re on, you’ll have destroyed any hope for a good relationship with them long before that happens. That said, the fact that you care enough about them and being a good dad to write, makes me think you’ll never let things get that far.