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.

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If You Fight With Your Co-parent will this Affect your Child’s Development?

If You Fight with Your Co-parent will this Affect your Child’s Development?

Stacy, the mother of 6-year-old Ashley, was in one of my high-conflict divorce groups. Stacy is a bright woman. She is an attorney with advanced degrees. After listening to a discussion about why conflict is detrimental to children, Stacy tentatively raised her hand.

“I’m not sure I understand this,” Stacy said. “I don’t get why the conflict between her dad and I would have anything to do with her development. She has to recognize that he and I are different and she’s going to know she is a girl, so why would our arguments and fights affect her role identity?”

This actually was an excellent question which gave us a chance to talk more about how children establish their identities and how gender role develops. In addition, of course, it provided a wonderful opportunity to talk about the effect parental conflict may have on children’s identity.

In early childhood, children look to their same-sex parents in order to figure out the appropriate roles for them as either a male or female. Although this seems simple enough, there are various theories about how boys learn to be boys and girls to be girls. The social learning theory in child development says that children learn how to be either a boy or a girl through observation. They see, according to this view, how boys act differently from girls.

Furthermore, social learning theory holds that children are rewarded differently by adults for different kinds of behavior. Thus, they choose to engage in sex-appropriate behaviors that lead to approval or rewards from their parents.

Yet, despite other theories (in addition to social learning theory) about how boys and girls learn to act like others of their gender, there is considerable evidence that from an early age there are innate differences that shape the ways boys and girls behave. By age three, most children develop an identity as a girl or a boy. And by age five or six, most children know whether they are members of the male sex or the female sex.

This does not mean that all observation and learning ceases from this point. Throughout adolescence and into adulthood, people are constantly developing and refining their identity.

It was the great psychologist Erik Erikson who in the mid-20th century recognized that identity was the major personality achievement of adolescence. Erikson said that a young’s person’s identity formation was a crucial step toward becoming a happy and productive adult. According to Erikson, identity involves children and teens defining who they are, what they value, and the directions they would like to pursue in life.

But there can be road blocks to the successful establishment of identity. When teens are having trouble figuring out who they are and what they value, that is called role confusion. What leads to role confusion?

Several things can cause role confusion, but one factor is low self-esteem. Although moving from middle school to high school can cause some temporary declines in self-esteem, most adolescents experience rising levels of self-esteem as they progress through high school.

But, self-esteem is often related to the home environment. When there is warmth, emotional support, approval, and positive problem solving going on, young people will like themselves. However, when the home environment is largely negative, inconsistent, or discouraging, teenagers will be uncertain of their abilities, and they may feel incompetent and unloved. As a result, they may be constantly in need of reassurance and their self-esteem may fluctuate dramatically.

On the other hand, parents who engage in and demonstrate positive problem-solving skills foster high-esteem in their children. In families in which there is discord and negative problem solving, children do not feel a sense of well-being. They may be very confused about whether they want to be like their same-sex parent, and they may be conflicted about the direction they want to go in life. That is, when there is on-going co-parent fighting and conflict, teens will lack clear directions. Furthermore, they will not feel committed to values and goals. And they may have failed to figure out who they are, may wonder about the importance of growing up and having intimate relationships, and may have a greater sense of hopeless about the future.

Although children who have grown up with parental conflict will be very well aware of their gender identity as a male or female, they may be confused about feeling good as a boy or a girl.

Is Honesty with Children always the Best Policy?

Is Honesty with Children always the Best Policy?

Many parents believe that honesty is the best policy when it comes to communicating with their children. But can honesty be detrimental to children?

Consider these situations:

  • After a separation or divorce, your child asks why you and Daddy don’t love each other anymore. Are you supposed to give all the sordid details of why the breakup occurred? Especially, if, indeed, there are circumstances, such as an affair, which led to the end of the relationship?
  • Your child asks for a new winter jacket, but you say you can’t get one for her. She asks why. Are you supposed to say that you don’t get any child support from your co-parent and you’re struggling financially to provide the bare necessities?
  • Your former spouse has seen your children consistently, but recently because of a criminal offense, they are trying to evade the police as there is a warrant for their arrest. You both agree that if your ex-spouse takes the children there could be a situation where the police stop them and they are arrested and taken away in handcuffs in front of the kids. So, you both agree it is better the other parent not take the children right now to avoid that kind of circumstance. What do you say to the children as to why their other parent isn’t coming to see them anymore?

These three scenarios are rather common, but they present dilemmas for one or both parents in trying to anticipate and answer children’s questions or explain why there may be changes in the family life. Are you supposed to be honest and “tell the truth,” or is it better to withhold information or tell a white lie in order to protect either the children or one (or both) parents?

There are no hard and fast rules about this, but there are factors that must be taken into consideration in order to make decisions as to what you share with your children.

One factor that must be considered is the age of the child. Young children, although this can apply to adolescents as well, just do not have the maturity or the life experiences to adequately understand some matters. For instance, sharing details about an affair, sexual difficulties, or domestic violence may be seen by a child in a black-and-white way without being able to see various aspects of the situation.

Another factor is the closeness that the child enjoys with the parent whom you may disparage with negative information. If the child loves the other parent, enjoys a special bond with that parent, or even idolizes him or her, being told something negative (albeit, true) about that parent may be accepted without question, be denied, or may lead to feeling caught in the middle. Young children generally should have not their idealized image of a parent smashed so early.

A third factor is what giving true — but critical information — about the other parent will do to the child’s relationship with you. Being told something negative about their other parent is likely to place them in the middle of the situation. We typically say that a child is “stuck in the middle.” In more psychological terms, being in the middle and feeling pulled in two different directions creates a loyalty bind for most children.

In a loyalty bind, the child must find a way of trying to reconcile what they feel (love towards the other parent) versus what they’ve been told (negative feedback about that parent). Who are they to believe? Which parent should they be loyal to? What should they say or do with each parent – particularly when they are with each parent?

This is such a difficult situation for most kids, that they often become alienated from one or both parents, lie to maintain a sense of loyalty to each parent, or develop hostile and angry feelings to one or both of their parents. Either way, there is nothing about being told the truth about one of their parents that brings, joy, good feeling, or a more tranquil sense of peace.

When faced with this kind of dilemma, you must carefully weigh these factors before giving too much information or before being absolutely honest.

You are Teaching Your Child Language Skills Even When You are Not Aware of it

You are Teaching Your Child Language Skills Even When You are Not Aware of it

There are many amazing things about young children. For instance, they go from being a totally helpless infant at birth to a much more independent toddler. They progress from needing an adult to turn them over to becoming an active crawler in just a few short months. And, even more amazing, they start life with no language at all and by age two are talking.

How does that happen? How do children learn language and develop the ability to communicate verbally with others?

As it turns out, parents have a lot to do with this amazing and extraordinary accomplishment. Most of the time you are making significant contributions to your young child’s language development without even being aware what exactly you are doing that is helping him or her become a talker.

I was watching a baby at a nearby table in a restaurant recently. When this cute baby who was about six months of age started babbling, several adults who were close enough to hear her started talking to her by making babbling sounds in imitation of her. Her mother leaned closer to her and started telling her what a good talker she was and talked to her as if she could understand the little girl. None of the adults in this situation were responding to the girl in order to “teach” her to talk; they were simply compelled to respond. But they all did the right thing.

All babies – no matter what country or culture they are in – start babbling at about six months of age. And they all use the same cooing sounds and repeat the same consonant-vowel combinations. Most will babble such sounds as “bababa” or “mamama.” But for babbling to develop further, infants must hear human speech.

In other words, they have to be exposed to people who are talking. As babies hear others talk, they babble even more. Soon, some words or sounds that could be words begin to be uttered. And by 10 or 12 months, there are sounds appearing that can be distinguished as words. But in order to become a communicator, infants have to engage in other activities aside from hearing their parents or other people talk.

For one thing, early in that first year, usually by three or four months of age, babies are able to gaze in the same direction as adults are looking. By the end of the first year, they are more skilled at this. That’s when something called joint attention begins between parents and child.

Joint attention means that child and parent are paying attention to the same object or event. When mom or dad labels that event and talks about it, good things are happening for language development. For example, if the child is in a highchair at the table and a colorful cake is placed on the table (out of the child’s reach, it is hoped), both the child and parent will look at it. Dad might say, “That cake looks delicious!” Then turning to the child, dad says, “Pretty cake!” Without taking her eyes off the cake, the child might say “’ake.” To which dad might reply: “Pretty cake,” emphasizing the pronunciation of “cake.”

When young children take part in this joint attention experience, they are comprehending more language (in this example, the child hears the words “pretty” and “delicious”), they are learning and may be producing gestures (both Dad and child may point at the cake), and they will develop their vocabulary quicker.

By being aware of the importance of a simple concept like joint attention, you can help your child develop her language skills much quicker and more powerfully. It’s one thing to talk to your child, but it’s quite another to make sure there is joint attention and that what you are saying refers to what you are both watching.

Joint attention and the language that goes along with it can take place many times a day. What this does besides what I’ve just mentioned is to also establish a common ground between you and your child. You are sharing an experience. By looking at an object or event together and then by you talking about it, your child will be able to figure out the meaning of many of your words – even if you don’t stop to explain each one. This leads to a richer vocabulary and something else very important in your child’s development — an increased attention span.

Should You Worry about Your Rebellious, Nonconforming Teenager?

Should You Worry about Your Rebellious, Nonconforming Teenager?

The stereotype of the troubled teenager is the adolescent who is rebellious and is fighting against the conventions and standards of their parents and the rest of society. When many adults think about teenagers and picture the “typical” teen, the image that may pop into their mind is that of the long-haired, drug-using hippy, the gang member who uses drugs and engages in gratuitous violence, or the tattooed adolescent who has nose rings and seems bent on upsetting all adults.

But are these teens the norm or are they atypical teenagers who give the rest of the adolescent population a bad reputation?

The fact is that only a minority of adolescents rebel against their parents or society at large. Most teens enjoy a relatively smooth teenage period, and while they might not always see eye-to-eye with their parents or teachers, they are not intent on making life miserable for all adults.

But even with those teens who might be legitimately labeled as rebels, what passes for rebellious and oppositional behavior may really be about learning to be their own person. So much of what goes on in the life of a middle teenager – those kids between 14 and 16 – may be more about learning to be their own person than purposely trying to go against social conventions.

Kids who take risks, by getting tattoos their parents don’t like, having jewelry in various parts of their anatomy, or taking on the behaviors and attitudes of groups far different from those of their family, may be attempting to assert some of their own ideas while trying to figure out in what direction they are headed.

I have talked to many parents of teens who were admittedly embarrassed by their teen’s choices. Those choices might be in different areas – hair style, clothing, body ornaments, friends, use of illegal substances, and even illegal behaviors. But these parents thought there was something deviant about their out-of-step teens. So often these parents are quick to reassure others that “That’s not the way I brought her up.”

Which, of course, is undoubtedly true. Many parents of adolescents would like to make sure their child never deviates from the conventional behavior and attitudes that are the norm in their family. Some even try to rule with an iron fist and force their teens to comply with parental demands and expectations. While it might easier – and less embarrassing – to make sure your teen never strays from the conventional norms of the family, this would not necessarily result in healthier young adults.

In fact, the opposite might be true.

Most teenagers, it is safe to say, certainly want fewer restrictions, more independence, and the freedom to choose to take some risks. A good many teens see the conventions of their family and their family’s friends as boring and unimaginative. If parents can handle the mild rebelliousness that some teens need to exhibit without clamping down too hard on their need to be different, things can be relatively easy for both parents and teens.

But, if adolescents are handled with too many restrictions and the reins held too tightly, this may encourage greater rebellion. Instead of having a certain amount of freedom to figure out who they are, they may expend a great amount of youthful time and energy going against the authority represented by their parents.

The bottom line, then, is that teenagers who display a little rebellion and sometimes take some risks by choosing their own ways of doing things, in the long run may become individuals with a better idea of who they are. Having had the opportunity of trying on different behaviors, they are not forced into any one way of being – which might happen if they are in an on-going struggle with adult society.

But this requires you to tolerate the teenager who wants to do his own thing and wishes not to be stuck in “old-fashioned” ways of living his or her life. Teens who have been allowed the freedom to rebel and seek their own path to independence often settle into an adult persona that is – as we usually find out when our teens graduate into adulthood – uncomfortably like our own.

Have an Alienated Teen? Most Make an Adjustment as they Mature

Have an Alienated Teen? Most Make an Adjustment as they Mature

At 15, Thomas wears dark clothing, listens to gangsta hip hop and heavy metal music with violent themes, and has several strange tattoos on his neck and arms.

Lisa, who is 14, wears very masculine clothing, has several rings on her face, chest, and stomach, and she views herself as an outcast at school. She says she hates the other girls at her suburban school because “they are all stuck up.”

Sixteen-year-old Mario disliked school from the time he was in elementary school. He hated school work, was aggressive toward other children, and by middle school knew he would drop out as soon as he could. He hangs around with older teens who have dropped out of school and with whom he feels he has something in common.

All three of these adolescents are alienated from school, the community, and even their families. Their parents and their siblings don’t understand them and wonder why they are so estranged from mainstream values and middle class society. However, there are many – perhaps millions – of young people in this country who similarly feel like they are different and that they don’t fit in with conventional society.

In any high school, you’ll find groups of kids who go by various changing designations. They may call themselves or be called by others such names as goths, skaters, metals, punks, emos, gamers, geeks, hip hops, or gangsters. Of course, every adolescent is trying to fit in with some group – whether it’s with other athletes, debaters, musicians, cheer leaders, or high achievers. Often such groups provide “homes” for teens who don’t fit in elsewhere. And these groups of kids can be temporary or transitional, or they can be a group or a gang which will serve a purpose for several years. Whether these various groups co-exist or have rivalries and hostilities, they serve as a stew of different identities to help often vulnerable young people find an identity and their own place in the teenage world.

Unless you work in a high school or spend a great deal of time with adolescents, you may be unaware of these various subgroups. And until you have a son or daughter who finds a strange group of alienated and disaffected young people to call their friends, it‘s easy to avoid or ignore the all-to-common groups of estranged young people we have in our society. It’s when your teen shows up with rings in their face or bizarre tattoos or ritual scarification on their body, that you might become concerned. It’s then when you might start asking some serious questions about what’s going on:

“Why is my kid so alienated?” “Why does my daughter act like an outcast?” “Why does my son dress like that? It’s embarrassing!”

Why do teens feel alienated from mainstream society? And what does it mean? Is he likely to act in an aggressive way? Or is she psychologically disturbed?

These are legitimate questions. And they are questions that not only get asked by parents but also by sociologists and criminal justice experts?

Ask almost any member of a subgroup why they dress differently, listen to different music, or behave differently, and the answers will be fairly predictable: “I want to be an individual,” they might say. Or, “I don’t fit in with the popular kids.” Or, “I don’t want to be boring like everyone else.” For many kids who join a small and unpopular subgroup, they believe they don’t fit in with most other kids and they see themselves as different.

For some of these adolescents, alienation from the broader society began early in school. For some, it happened as early as the first grade. For these young people, school lacked relevance for them. They often didn’t see school as having a pay-off for them. Or they never hit it off with other children. They, thus, turn to other kids who feel the same way.

As we know from follow-up analysis of teens who were involved in school shootings, nearly all school shooters felt alienated and had been exposed to acute or chronic rejection from their peers. Recent research confirms that when alienated youth experience peer ridicule, teasing, and rejection, they are more likely to aggress against those who have made life miserable for them.

However, most alienated youth find a more positive and more conventional social group as they leave high school and enter the adult world. If your child is estranged from mainstream society during the turbulent adolescent years, it doesn’t mean they will feel (and behave) like an outcast forever. The majority develop a better sense of who they are and how they fit in with a positive group of friends as they mature.

As a parent, you can aid their transition to a more conventional life style by avoiding confrontations and lectures, offering acceptance (despite your fears and concerns), and by celebrating their uniqueness. It’s not easy, of course, but railing at them for being so unconventional and different is more likely to lead to more serious alienation and a rejection of you and your values.

Toilet Training Your Child is a Big Deal – For Both of You!

Toilet Training Your Child is a Big Deal – For Both of You!

Toilet training your young child is a major event in the life of your child – not to mention in your own life as well. After two or more years of changing diapers and waiting for the big day to arrive when your youngster begins to notify you that she has to go – and she actually does use the potty successfully – is like a day of liberation. It’s one less concern in the daily care of your child.

However, getting to that day can be a real challenge – both for you and your child.

For instance, here is what one parent said recently:

“My son has been somewhat slow in parts of his development, such as his speech. However, physically he has always seemed to be on schedule, but one thing that hasn’t happened yet is his use of the potty. I’ve been encouraging him to use the potty for a year, but even though he just turned three he seems to have no interest in using it. He just prefers to wet his pants. Am I doing something wrong?”

Another parent said: “My daughter seems to be afraid of the potty chair. She cries if I put her on it. I’ve tried praise and rewards, but nothing seems to make any difference. She is two-and-a-half years old, and I thought she would be using the potty at this stage of her life.”

Most children are ready to begin toilet training by somewhere between the ages of two and three. The average age is about two years and eight months. Many parents, however, think that they can have their child trained by age two, but many children are just not physically mature enough prior to age two to control their urination or bowel movements.

You may think that it is just a matter of will or of compliance, but children first have to be aware of the sensation of a full bladder. That usually doesn’t come about until later in the year between ages one and two. However, in addition to recognizing the signs of a full bladder, then they have to have a certain amount of control over the muscles controlling urination so that they can postpone urination until they get to a toilet or potty. Again, that control may not appear before age two.

The same process is true of bowel movements. First the youngster has to recognize the fullness of the lower bowel and then has to be able to indicate that need. And that, too, doesn’t come about until between ages two and three. Not only do they have to recognize their readiness to go to the toilet, but they have to be able to get to the potty in time to eliminate there. As it turns out, both nighttime bladder and bowel control comes before daytime bladder and bowel control.

That’s the physical part, what about the temperamental part?

You usually need to take your cues from your child in order to decide the right time to begin toilet training. Starting too early can create problems as some children become oppositional about using the potty when they feel pressured and this may delay the overall accomplishment of successful toilet training. However, most children, if you are fairly relaxed about the start of toileting training will give you the major signs as to when they are ready.

Those signs include their staying dry all night and waking up dry after a nap, having bowel movements on a fairly predictable schedule, showing that they don’t like being wet or having a soiled diaper, and having an understanding of the words that you will use in toilet training – such as “wet,”  “dry,” and “potty.”

What is the best way to teach toileting behaviors?

There are a wide variety of approaches and both your family background and your cultural expectations will play a part in how you think you should teach your child to use the potty. But, the use of a potty chair often works well because it is easier for a child to use and might not be as intimidating as the regular toilet.

If you have come to recognize your child’s patterns of urination and defecation, you can call attention to what is happening (for instance, where your child is grunting at a regular time after a meal) and then associate this with using the potty (“When you feel like you have to poop, then I can help you use the potty”).