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Questions and Answers

Time and again, parents ask for help responding to variations of the questions below. Here are short answers to some of the questions about which Betsy is most frequently asked.

Tricky birthday party question:

My daughter’s birthday is coming up and does not want to invite a child who is a bit of a bully and disruptive in class, though he hasn’t specifically targeted her. She thinks he’ll ruin the party. Advice? See Betsy’s response.

A cringeworthy situation:

My toddler pointed out a heavy woman in the checkout line and said “Mommy, her underwear must be gigantic!” I quickly apologized to her and we left. What should should I have said to my child? See Betsy’s response.

How do I get my child to listen to me?

Listening is not the problem. The problem is that your child is not being compliant, not doing what you are asking him to do or not to do. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. You, however, need to grow some credibility, otherwise known as backbone. Position yourself deliberately, right in front of your child and not across the room from your child. State your request clearly, being very specific in your expectations. Explain the consequence for non-compliance, giving just one warning. Give him a moment to comply, and when he doesn’t, lower the boom (impose the related consequence.) Repeated and hollow threats create children who don’t listen.

How do I get my children to stop fighting?

Sibling children fight! It’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. It may be bad for you because the sound effects likely drive you nuts. When both children are older than 3 years old, there is one sure fire method to reduce the fighting: Remove yourself from the scene. Just walk away. Go into your room. Leave the scene. When you are not there to be the judge or the jury, the siblings magically solve their own problems; they figure it out. It may not be “fair,” but it is over! (Note that I am not talking about physical fighting here.)

When my child bites

The toddler’s bite has a reason:  she’s frustrated; she’s afraid; she’s exhausted; she has pent-up tension; she wants a reaction; she is craving adult (your) attention; she has big feelings that need to be expressed.  Although the needs must be met,  biting must be addressed immediately, regardless of the reason.  It can never be ignored. Using a calm, very firm voice and few words, say, “There is NO biting. We only bite food.” Put a single finger on the child’s lips to emphasize the scene of the crime. State what happened, “You wanted to have the doll that Amanda had, and so you bit her. We do not bite. We use words and say ‘Amanda, may I have a turn?’” Comfort the victim, pointing out how she is hurting and feels so sad. You may need to move away from the scene, offering the comfort she needs while reiterating what happened and its not okay-ness. Offer alternatives for getting a turn with the doll. DO NOT bite her to show how it feels. Do not give any additional consequences later; let it be done, but remind her next class not to bite and to use her words.

How do I get my kids to eat something, anything, healthy?

Don’t fight about food! This is one of those areas (like clothing) where my best advice is to resist the call to arms. You cannot control what your child, or anyone else for that matter, eats. Often taking the fight out of food consumption gives your child permission to eat on his own terms. And that is often what he wants…control. This doesn’t mean you need to give in; it means you refuse to fight about it. Serve the food you are offering and if your child chooses not to eat, so be it! He won’t starve, I promise. (You will, likely, need to tolerate an explosive reaction when you deny him food an hour later!)

How do I get my child to stop whining?

No one knows where they learn to do it, but all kids whine. Whining must not work.  Make sure your child knows the difference between her whiney and regular voices. Then let her know you will not respond to the whining. Praise and enthusiastically respond to the non whiney voice. Ignore the whine.  Not a word, not a raised eyebrow. No response. She’ll get it.

What should I do about tantrums?

Tantrums, which are a universal expression of the child’s growing awareness of her own power, can start as young as 15 months. Once it starts, do not try to distract your child out of the tantrum. It needs to run its course. Your job is to ignore the event but remain in the vicinity. Make sure the child is in a safe place. Then no touching, no talking, no threats, no bribes, no leaving.  As it winds down, she may need some help to recover, but it will end.  Tantrums must not work!

 Why Time Outs don’t work.

A Time Out stops a behavior, but only temporarily. It’s a one size-fits-all reaction; it isn’t specific to the misbehavior. No real learning occurs about that misbehavior. That’s why logical consequences work;  they are crafted to the exact infraction, and the child gets it. 

 Time Outs work best for parents. It is you who needs to take the time out to cool off, by removing yourself  from the action.

At what age should my be able to have a cell phone?

There is no universal answer  to this question. Rather, the answer depends upon your child–his temperament, his ability to accept responsibility, his follow through, how he values and cares for his possessions, to name a few characteristics.  It is generally felt by experts, however, that middle school seems to be a good time to try out a cell phone and all the accompanying responsibilities (costs, rules, etc…)  Remember, having a cell phone is a privilege.

How do I tell my kids that grandma is dead?

Dead means that something that was once alive is all done living. Everything that is alive will die sometime. Everything that is alive has a life cycle — trees and flowers, animals and bugs, and all people have life cycles. First they are born and are very little; then they grow up; and then they die. (You will probably need to add that you, the parent, are not going to die for a long, long, long, LONG time.)