Parents Everywhere Often Concerned About Taming Three Year Olds

Parents Everywhere Often Concerned About Taming Three Year Olds

A young mother, who happens to live in Saudi Arabia, recently contacted me to ask for advice concerning her three-year-old son.

“This is my only child and he has me very worried,” this mother wrote in her email. “He hits his one-year-old cousin, uses bad words, and screams and kicks me if he is not allowed to do what he wants.”

She went on to say that she uses a time-out chair for punishment, and occasionally spanks him. However, no matter what discipline she uses, her son continues to misbehave.

“He is a smart boy,” she said, “and knows his numbers and can read some words. He likes taking baths, brushes his teeth every morning and evening, and helps me clean his room. But he is very active and will only play by himself or color for a just a few minutes at a time.”

She concluded by saying that it is a disaster to take him shopping because he won’t stay near her and touches things in shops he shouldn’t. She said she just wants to know how to get him to behave and listen to her.

This plaintive email could have come from an American or British mother, but the fact that it came from the Middle East only demonstrates that parents around the world share similar concerns about their children.

It also strongly suggests that no matter what country or culture you live in, it can be very difficult to be the parent of a three-year-old child. Furthermore, it is a challenge to be the parent of an active, impulsive, and aggressive boy with a fairly short attention span.

If you are the parent of a child like the one she described, you should keep in mind that children around three years of age are just learning how to control themselves and they are not very skilled at stopping and thinking before they act. However, it seems to be a world-wide approach to such difficult children to try to teach by utilizing punishment. Yet, teaching by punishment is an ineffective method to teach a child.

It is more efficient and effective to teach a child appropriate behavior by anticipating their behavior, stopping them, and telling them what you want them to do. For example, instead of punishing your child, you could say: “I want you to be kind and loving to your cousin. Show him you love him by touching him gently and giving him one of your toys to play with.”

Not only is it important to tell your three-year-old what you want, but most of the time you need to be on the floor or down at his level, being very close to him and his face, and making sure that he does some of the things you want him to do. For instance, if you want him to be kind to another child, you must be on the floor with him so he can’t hit the other child. You are there to hold his hands and prevent him from being aggressive.

If he tries to hit, you can hold his hands firmly, look him in the eyes, and say: “No! No hitting! Hitting hurts!”

Furthermore, the best teaching is done by offering praise and attention for good, appropriate behavior: “You shared your toy with your cousin! I like that! I’m really proud of you! You are my kind boy!”

You can also let him know what you want ahead of time: “When we go into the shopping mall, I expect you to hold my hand and be right by my side the whole time we are shopping.” And then make sure you hold his hand tightly so he can’t run away or touch things he shouldn’t.

When he is compliant, you should use rewards and praise for appropriate behavior: “You are so helpful by holding my hand. When we are finished shopping, we are going to a special shop and you get a treat for being so helpful!”

Helping a three-year-old grow out of his aggression and learn to be compliant is mostly about being very attentive to him, being close to him, giving him many specific directions, and using praise to reinforce the behaviors you want.

Unfortunately, you won’t see immediate results, but if you consistently follow these suggestions, you will begin to see positive results.

Dealing with a Challenging Teen is a Daunting Task

Dealing with a Challenging Teen is a Daunting Task

Thirteen-year-old Brock is a difficult youngster. He doesn’t come home from school on time, he talks back to his teachers, and he refuses to obey many requests or orders from his mother and stepfather. He’s also been in trouble for stealing. He’s generally angry at his teachers and his parents, and he says he wishes they would “just stop yelling at me.”

When his parents try to restrict him, Brock tells them it’s unfair. He says that being grounded or restricted to the house doesn’t do any good.  “It just makes me hyper and I get into more trouble,” Brock contends.

His parents have tried other punishments to attempt to get him to conform to the rules and to their expectations. They’ve taken away his bike, the use of a phone, his privilege of watching TV, and his iPod. Brock says he has to be good “for a little while” and then he gets back whatever was taken away. He adds, “My stepfather softens up after a while no matter how long he says he’s going to keep my stuff. My mom just can’t handle it when I give her a hard time, so my stepdad lets me off the punishment so my mom isn’t upset.”

Brock has learned to work the system in his home without really changing any of his behavior. All he has to do is yell at his mother, destroy something in the home, or just make life miserable for his parents, and they tell him to leave because “they can’t stand me anymore.”

When children who have been stubborn, oppositional, or defiant for several years get to be in their early teenage years, and their parents lack the training or skills to deal with them, they may be similar to Brock. Given Brock’s problems at home and at school, and given his consistent anger, along with his ability “to work the system,” it is very likely that he will continue to get into trouble and he could well end up in the juvenile justice system.

For some parents, having a teen like Brock end up in the justice system may be a welcome relief. They may feel like they’ve exhausted their ability to handle their adolescent. However, the reality is that a juvenile court or a family court can only offer some support and structure, and a court is unlikely to be able to undo everything that has led a young person like Brock to be what he is at this stage in his life.

There are, of course, other alternatives. Seeking professional help and having the teen attend a therapy group may be useful. Even more useful, though, might be family therapy. Family therapy can be particularly important in opening up lines of communication, changing reinforcement patterns in the family, and decreasing negative and critical interactions.

When an older child or adolescent, like Brock, is presenting serious and persistent oppositional and acting-out problems, parents must examine their own role in the development of the problem. It is often necessary for parents to accept that they will have to make some changes.

If a child, like Brock, has reached the adolescent years and is as out of control as Brock is, then it very likely means that there have been too many ongoing conflicts and battles within the family, and too little parental understanding of children and how they express negativism and independence. Of course, it almost never is exclusively the fault of a parent that a boy like Brock develops. However, it might well be the case that parents have likely mishandled at least some aspects of discipline.

But what can you do at this point?

A good place to start is to understand that there is no magical solution to getting a teen under control. It usually requires patience, perseverance, strength, and determination to bring about changes. In addition, there will have to be work to set clear limits and rules. Rules and expectations will have to be communicated clearly. Parents will have to learn to be consistent and firm in enforcing rules. And they will have to offer close monitoring and supervision.

But with all of that, outside help is usually required because the task of bringing about changes in a stubborn and defiant teen is daunting.

Your Teenager Was Caught Cheating at School. Now What do You Do?

Your Teenager Was Caught Cheating at School. Now What Do You Do?


Jasmine, the mother of 15-year-old Julian, was concerned about his cheating at school.  Jasmine had received a phone call from Julian’s Algebra teacher that she had discovered Julian cheating on a test and had given him a zero on the exam.

“This isn’t the first time he cheated at school,” Jasmine said. “This happened in another class a few months ago.”

Jasmine was concerned about what her response should be.

“How should I handle it?” she asked. “I feel like I should try to make him feel ashamed because he doesn’t seem to have any guilt about cheating. Should I discuss it openly at home? Should I tell his grandparents? Should I punish him.”

She said she had talked to him and learned that he was aware that other kids in his Algebra class were also cheating. Therefore, he didn’t think he did anything so wrong. “Everybody cheats,” he said to her.

“But with his attitude,” Jasmine said, “I feel like I should teach him a life lesson. But I don’t know how to do that.”

Many parents might feel the same way as Jasmine. If your child was caught cheating at school, you would like to not only stop it but also teach an important lesson in the process. However, like Jasmine, many parents may be perplexed about how to approach the situation so something positive comes of it.

But how should Jasmine – or you  — handle it when your adolescent is caught cheating?

Although I believe that guilt is important in helping us regulate our behavior, I’m not sold on the idea of trying to shame a teenager in order to attempt to bring about a change in behavior.  The self-image of teenagers is often too fragile for public shame or ridicule to be effective. Better ideas might be the following:

  • Make your rules and expectations as clear as possible. For instance, after a cheating incident you could say, “You know how I feel about dishonesty. It’s wrong to cheat in order to get a better grade. No matter why you cheated, there is no justification. I don’t want you to ever do this again.”
  • Try to understand what motivated your teen to cheat. Was he trying to get a better grade in order to live up to pressure on him to succeed? Was he doing it because he thought everyone else was cheating? Is cheating a habit or pattern for your child? The more you know about the motivation, the better able you will be to help him deal with the cause.
  • Help your child to problem solve and come up with a viable plan so he won’t have to cheat again. Knowing why he cheated can help you help him to devise a strategy so he can avoid cheating in the future. If he feels there is pressure on him to achieve very high grades, then maybe you can help him to view the pressure differently or perhaps you can help ease this pressure.
  • Be clear in reasoning with him as to why you think cheating is wrong. You may have personal scruples, a moral philosophy, or religious principles that lead you to believe that cheating is wrong. When talking to your child, tell him why you believe it is wrong. For example, you could say, “I strongly disapprove of cheating because it is morally wrong. I believe it is not right for people to seek to gain something through dishonest means.” Or, you could say, “I find cheating to be a very poor habit because if you get away with it you may come to rely on cheating and you may do it again and in other classes. The more you cheat at school, the greater the likelihood that you will risk a suspension or expulsion. If you cheat in the future in a job or work environment, you may be labeled as untrustworthy or you may even be subject to criminal charges. Cheating is a very serious matter.”

Adrian Peterson Pleads No Contest to a Child Abuse Charge

Adrian Peterson Pleads No Contest to a Child Abuse Charge

The Adrian Peterson case has been resolved. Well, sort of.

That is, the Minnesota Vikings running back who was charged with a felony for disciplining his four-year-old son with a wooden switch which caused cuts and bruises agreed to a plea bargain.

Peterson said he wasn’t trying to harm his son. He was, however, disciplining him in much the same manner as Peterson himself was disciplined by his father. .

While this case resulted in lots of media attention, it did spark debate about spanking and corporal punishment. At the same time, it raised some important questions about the criminal justice system, punishment, and how best to handle child abuse and child maltreatment.

In the plea deal, in which Peterson pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault, he received a sentence that essentially gives the football star probation, a fine of $4,000, 80 hours of community service, and required parenting classes.

Our criminal justice system often prescribes jail or prison time for most serious offenders. Certainly this is true for child abusers. If Peterson had gone to trial and been convicted of felony child abuse, he would have been sentenced to two years in prison in Texas — where this case occurred.

When the charge is some form of child abuse, how does jail or prison time lead to someone becoming a better parent?

My understanding of the research on the effects of punishment is that while people when they are incarcerated maybe unable to commit future offenses because they are removed from their child and have little or no contact with their child, neither do they learn alternative behaviors. Punishment teaches what you’ll get in trouble for; it does not automatically teach you to be a better parent.

Peterson has been ordered to participate in parenting classes. That sounds great. Just what he needs since he grew up with corporal punishment, right? But, wait. As someone who has taught parenting classes both in and out of court systems, I know there are parenting classes and then there are parenting classes. That is, there are a wide variety of so-called parenting classes available in every state and big city. Some are very good, teaching parents appropriate forms of discipline that teach moms and dads how to raise a child without hurting that child. There are, however, parenting classes that condone spanking and other coercive approaches to parenting. There are also parenting classes that are simply lectures about aspects of raising children, and classes that provide parents experiences in a wonderful learning environment in which they can be trained in how to handle challenging behaviors.

Few, if any, judges in pronouncing such sentences tell the offender which kind of parenting class they should take. Although some juvenile and family courts run their own parenting classes, most do not. If the judge doesn’t specify what kind of parenting class to take, neither do they ask for a report confirming that the parent learned alternative forms of discipline. Typically, they may ask for a report that gives details about attendance and whether they “completed” the course.

I hope for Peterson’s son’s sake that Adrian Peterson gets in a good class with an experienced instructor who will help him learn to use alternative forms of positive discipline that will help him find positive ways of teaching his son self-control. And that Peterson learns that he doesn’t have to use weapons and hitting to teach his child valuable lessons. Unfortunately, as is evident in Adrian Peterson’s family, such lessons get handed down from one generation to the next.

All Children Lie, But Why?

All Children Lie, But Why?

“Honest, Mom, I didn’t touch it,” says six-year-old Jillian.

“I washed my hands,” says four-year-old Leo, who just happens to have his hands conveniently behind his back.

“My daddy is a rich man who lives in California,” proclaims David, a nine-year-old who actually doesn’t know anything about his father.

“My mother is going to buy me a new car when I’m a senior,” says 14-year-old Clarice. Her mother is barely scraping by as a single mom and she’s never promised to buy Clarice a new car.

All of these children were lying, but they are not unusual young people. The fact is that all kids lie at one time or another. Sometimes the lie is a simple fib, like Jillian’s, and sometimes it can be a whopper of a lie – like Clarice’s. However, whether it’s a white lie or a great big lie that could have negative consequences for others, all children and teens bend the truth at times. But parents worry when their child tells a lie.

They worry about the future: Will be tell bigger lies in the future? Or they worry about the mental health implications of lies: Does this mean she doesn’t know the difference between the truth and fantasy? And they worry about what a lie might say about their future employability or about their ability to carry on a relationship. After all, relationships – in or out of work — usually depend on trustworthiness.

Why do children lie? The reasons why they tell lies varies according to their stage of development.

Preschoolers have very active imaginations and their ability to differentiate between the truth and fiction isn’t quite where it will be in a few years. Three and four-year-olds tell lots of untruths, but often their lies are related to confusion over what is a wish or fantasy and what is true. Since they are still learning about the differences, you can help that learning process by helping them see the difference. With a preschooler, you can acknowledge the wish or fantasy by saying, “I’ll bet you wish that was true” Or, “Sometimes you might have ideas that you think are true.”

Elementary school-aged children often lie or at least embellish the truth in order to avoid punishment or embarrassment. At this age, it’s better to confront the situation and impress on your child the reason for honesty. In addition, they need to hear how they can correct their behavior.

For example, you could say, “I need you to pay attention when I tell you to always be honest. I prefer that you tell me the truth when you didn’t finish your school work rather than lie to me about it. If you tell me the truth, then I can help you. I can’t help you with your schoolwork if you told me it was finished when it wasn’t.”

Teenagers on the other hand, will lie to enhance their self-esteem, protect their privacy, or avoid the consequences of their testing the limits. With adolescents, it’s often better to cut to the chase and not discuss the lying directly. That is, if your teen went to a friend’s house when she told you she was going to the library to study, you can address that issue directly.

“I know you like to be with your friends and usually I give you permission to go and see your friends. However, I also need to know where you are and what you’re doing. In the future, if you want to do something that you don’t think I will let you do, I still expect you to ask my permission. Then, we can discuss it and we have a chance of working out a compromise. You don’t give us that chance if you lie about what you’re going to do.”

Of course, we always want our children to be truthful, but the truth is that even the most honest child may tell a lie at some times. Depending on the age and developmental stage of your child, you can choose how best to handle it.

A Book Describing how to Deal with the Strong-Willed Child Might be a Good Investment

A Book Describing how to Deal with the Strong-Willed Child Might be a Good Investment

JilI was actually emailing me about her teenage stepson, but mentioned her three-year-old son Adam.

“Adam is nothing like my other children,” Jill wrote in her email. “At times he can be a lovely child, but there are times when he is uncooperative, stubborn, and frequently angry. If he is doing something he’s not supposed to be doing, nothing we say or do will get him to stop. Yelling doesn’t work; you just have to physically restrain him and then he goes crazy.”

Jill went on to say that when Adam gets mad he screams obscenities, says he doesn’t have to do what his parents want him to do, and sometimes hits his parents or grandparents when he’s angry.

As I communicated more with Jill, she referred to Adam as strong-willed, and there seemed little question that she was right. Adam seemed to be the kind of child Nicholas Long and Rex Forehand described in their book “Parenting the Strong-Willed Child: The Clinically Proven Five-Week Program for Parents of Two- to Six-Year-Olds.”

In a previous column, I quoted Nicholas Long, professor of Pediatrics and Director of Pediatric Psychology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children’s Hospital, in describing strong-willed children and the factors that may contribute to more challenging children. However, figuring out whether your child is strong-willed or not is simply the first step.

The more important part of the book is the program to help parents of difficult children.

“The program was designed by Rex (Forehand) more than 30 years ago to help the parents of noncompliant children,” Nicholas Long told me in a phone interview not too long ago. Since then, Forehand and Long have been evaluating the six-week class while teaching it to parents. The program teaches parents five core skills, including giving attention providing praise and rewards, ignoring misbehaviors, giving instructions, and using time-out.

During the first week of the program, parents of strong-willed children are taught how to give attention to their kids. “We teach about rewards and praise,” Long said, “and both are very effective. However, some parents attend to the wrong behaviors or even praise excessively. In the beginning of the program we want them to learn to attend.”

There is a difference between praise and attending to your child’s behavior. Attending means to describe your child’s behavior or even imitate it. And it involves no praise. It simply lets your child know that you are interested in the positive behavior your child does. “Our goal with parents is to get them to use three or four statements for every praise statement,” he said.

After learning about attending and cutting down on praise, or learning to use praise more effectively, Long said that they next teach parents about rewards. “Some parents have problems with the concept of rewards,” Long said, “and some prefer to think that they encourage instead of giving rewards. We call it rewards. A reward is anything offered to bring about a desired goal by parents.”

In addition, the program teaches parents how to ignore many of the obnoxious behaviors of the strong-willed child. “This,” Long says, “is a very important skill to learn.”

Next, they teach clear and effective instructions to challenging children. Often, parents of strong-willed children give instructions which are vague and unclear. Or they may be difficult or impossible to comply with. Or they might be the kind of instructions which distract the child. By teaching about effective instructions, parents have a better chance of gaining compliance and cooperation from their child.

Finally, the program teaches parents how to use time-out. Like any other punishments or discipline techniques, parents can make mistakes when administering a time-out. Their chapter on time-out, clearly described in the third edition of their book, will help you avoid the common mistakes parents make with time-out.

The results of the research over many years of this program show that it is highly effective. If you have a strong-willed child, like Adam, “Parenting the Strong-Willed Child,” may be an important investment in helping your child and eliminating stress in your life.

Some Children are Masterful at Exploiting Loopholes in Your Rules

Some Children are Masterful at Exploiting Loopholes in Your Rules

 At age eight, Shane has become adept at detecting loopholes in the rules given him by his parents.

For example, the rule was that he couldn’t go to Robert’s house without permission. When his father found out he had been at Robert’s house earlier in the day, Shane had an argument.

“You said I couldn’t go to Robert’s house,” Shane said. “You didn’t say anything about his front yard and that’s where I was. I was standing in his front yard.”

When they sense a loophole, some school-age children between ages six and 12 will try to take advantage of the situation. This can lead to frustration for parents and sometimes useless arguments.

“That’s not fair that I’m being punished,” nine-year-old Samantha complains. “I didn’t hit my brother like you said…I pushed him.”

Many school-age children, whether they are more challenging kids or not, will try to debate every issue. For instance, when Eric got in trouble at school for squirting juice on a girl during lunch, he debated his mother about whether it was intentional or not.

“I was just pretending to zap her with a ray gun,” Eric contended. “It wasn’t my fault the juice squirted out of the box!”

And they may try to keep the argument going so they can avoid taking responsibility and doing the right thing. If they can wear you down, they have won and they will find ways to get away with more in the future.

When his mother found a watch in Robby’s room, she asked him where it came from. “This girl at school gave it to me,” Robby said.

His mother said she didn’t believe a girl had given him the watch and she said that if he took things that didn’t belong to him that was the same as stealing. “But I didn’t steal it,” Robby argued. “She didn’t want it any more, because I found it on the floor.” No matter what his mother said, Robby had an answer.

While all children need to have rules clearly stated, this is even more important for the difficult child, as youngsters like Shane and Robby are capable of fairly complex reasoning and are able to remember whatever contradictory things you may have told him “before.”

It is equally important to be certain in your own mind what rules and expectations are reasonable. With the more challenging child, you cannot appear to be unsure or insecure.

For kids like Shane, Samantha, Robby, and Eric, I’ve developed the acronym S.M.I.L.E. Because firmness and consistency are so important in effectively dealing with those school-age kids who like to debate issue, S.M.I.L.E may help on occasion to save a prolonged debate or argument.

The S in S.M.I.L.E. stands for “Say what you mean.” That indicates that you have to be very clear in indicating the rules, limits, and expectations. Don’t provide any loopholes for your argumentative child.

The M stands for: “Mean what you say.” You have to be very sure that when you set out a rule or lay out your expectations that you mean it. You have to be willing to stick to the rule.

The I stands for: “Insure that you’re the same every day.” It’s not enough to be clear, reasonable, and firm on your good days. You have to be firm and consistent in what you say every day.

The L stands for: “Let your child experience the consequences.” In other words, it’s not just a matter of saying what you mean and meaning what you say. You also have to be willing to back it up. For many children, this means allowing them to experience the consequence of breaking a rule or violating an expectation.

The E stands for: “Empower yourself to be a consistent and firm parent.” Give yourself the permission and power to be a parent who believes in the limits, rules, and expectations you provide for your child.

Consistency, firmness, and monitoring are very important in order to be effective in dealing with a child who is demanding, exploitative, argumentative, and persistent. Children who know their parents will stand firm and will enforce rules are less likely to even try to talk you into making an exception “just this once.”