By Jeannette Moninger
Your child is growing up, and usually it shows: he’s more responsible about brushing his teeth, doing his homework, and cleaning up after himself. Naturally, you’re proud of him. Yet, you can’t help notice that somewhere along the way, he seems to have picked up some pretty frustrating habits too (not from you, of course). Getting him to see the error of his ways—and change them—will be challenging, but not impossible. Heed this expert advice to banish your child’s exasperating behaviors for good.
My child is a buttinsky!
My eight-year-old wants to know it all—even when the topic of conversation doesn’t pertain to her. She listens to my phone calls or conversations with other adults and then asks questions. How do I get her to mind her own business?
Children today are used to people broadcasting their business to the world as they chat on cell phones and push grocery carts, ride public transportation and even use the bathroom. It’s no wonder they’re under the impression that every conversation is meant for their ears. “Eavesdropping is annoying, but it’s also sort of healthy that kids are interested in what’s happening in their parents’ lives,” says Dr. Fred Rothbaum, Ph.D., president of Tufts University’s Child and Family Web Guide, in Boston. The next time your child rudely interrupts or makes unsolicited comments about an adult conversation, remind her of a basic etiquette rule: say excuse me and wait to be acknowledged before jumping into a discussion. Better yet, keep your little eavesdropper occupied in a different room when you chat. When she sticks her nose where it doesn’t belong, remember that the time will soon come when you’ll be the one straining to overhear her conversations and pestering her with all sorts of (no doubt, annoying) questions.
My precocious child is eight going on eighteen.
Some days I feel like I’m raising a teenager and not a grade schooler. My child rolls his eyes, shrugs his shoulders and mutters “whatever” when I tell him to shape up. How do I nip this behavior in the bud now?
Chances are your child has picked up this behavior from an older sibling or peers, so it’s important that every family member behaves respectfully toward one another to show that it’s possible to feel frustrated or put upon by someone else, yet still act civilly. It’s also possible that your child has adopted a surly attitude as a way of getting your attention. “As kids get older and become more independent, parents sometimes forget that they still need one-on-one time,” says Dr. Todd Cartmell, Psy.D., author of Respectful Kids. This is especially true if younger, needier siblings take up more of your time. Regardless of why your child’s acting so defiantly, you should never let him get away with being disrespectful. “Negative behaviors should net negative consequences every time,” stresses Dr. Cartmell. Ignoring the eye roll one day, and then chastising him for doing it the next day, only encourages him to test you. It’s only when your child understands that his disrespectful choices will always bring quick, negative results that he’ll make the extra effort to make a better choice.
My son can’t keep track of his stuff.
My seven-year-old is constantly misplacing his library books, his coat, his baseball mitt—you name it. I encourage him to look on his own, but he complains, whines and cries until I give in and help search. What else can I do?
Even in the most organized of homes, items sometimes have a way of sprouting legs and walking off. For reasons unknown, this phenomenon occurs even more frequently at your child’s school. Though you may be confident that you can track down the missing item in under a minute—don’t. Helping is certainly faster and easier on your nerves. Nonetheless, your child will never learn to accept personal responsibility for his belongings if you’re always coming to his rescue, says Dr. Cartmell. “It’s your child’s possession, so he needs to at least make a valiant effort to find it.” This doesn’t mean you can’t offer some pointers. Ask: “Where were you going when you last wore the jacket? What did you do after you returned?” “By guiding him, you’re teaching him to think and act independently. He’s honing his problem-solving skills,” says Dr. Cartmell.
If the item’s still MIA after your child’s put forth a genuine effort to find it (give him at least 15 minutes to look at home and two days to search the school’s lost-and-found box), then you may want to don your detective hat and help out. If your search efforts fail, don’t rush to replace it. “There’s no need for a guilt trip,” says Dr. Cartmell. “Kids need to understand that there’s not always money to replace things.” Your child will soon learn that if an item’s that important to him, he should look after it better. If your child loses a must-have item like his basketball jersey or coat, consider having him pay for part, if not all, of the item’s replacement cost either with his allowance money or by giving him extra chores.
My six-year-old has selective hearing.
My first grader can hear the ice cream truck when it’s five blocks away, but she can’t hear my request to turn off the Wii even when I’m in the same room.
Grade-schoolers have longer attention spans than they used to, which means once something grabs their interest, it’s harder for them to suddenly stop doing an activity they enjoy. Your expectations may come into play too. “You know your child listens and pays attention in school, so you naturally expect the same behavior at home,” says Dr. Rothbaum. The problem is that your child is more comfortable and relaxed with you, so she’s not going to be as responsive as she is with her teachers. And getting in trouble at home for not paying attention isn’t nearly as mortifying as being reprimanded in front of her classmates.
One simple—yet effective—way to nip this in the bud is by stating your expectations before your child becomes engrossed in an activity. Dr. Cartmell calls this the “Three S’s.” “Kids should be able to start right, stay on right (play with their toys or game and still interact respectfully) and stop right (turn off the game or stop what they’re doing when told).” Establish consequences beforehand, such as: “If I have to ask more than once for you to turn off the game, you’ll lose video game privileges for the rest of the weekend.” Encourage good listening by acknowledging times when your child responds respectfully: “Thanks for answering me the first time I called. I really appreciate it.”