When it comes to dealing with bad behavior, everyone screws up. We'll help you do it right.
By Katy Rank Lev from Parents Magazine
I haven't been to the post office since "the incident." I was that wild-eyed woman with a screaming child, slowly working my way up the line as one customer after another let me go ahead. Turns out my desperate attempts to comfort my kid were the result of a rookie error. The tantrum came from an oversight I made earlier that day: failing to notice the signals (eye-rubbing and crankiness) that he was tired. No wonder he had a meltdown.
I'm hardly alone in missing my child's cues, says Parents advisor Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. According to her, there are patterns to behavior. Kids do the same things when they're tired, hungry, or getting fed up; it's up to adults to take note and adjust accordingly. My son's moodiness should have told me to let him nap, then run errands when he was ready.
Ignoring a kid's signs is one of many discipline mistakes parents make all the time, but fixing them can make a huge difference in the parenting experience. We asked the experts to reveal the most common missteps.
THE FIX Ask for the behavior you want to see. Nobody wants to raise a child who doesn't understand limits, but "parents say 'no' so frequently that kids become deaf to it -- and the word loses its power," Dr. Borba explains. Moreover, "we often tell kids not to do something without letting them know what they should be doing," notes Linda Sonna, Ph.D., author of The Everything Toddler Book. So save the naysaying for truly dangerous situations (think: fork in the electrical socket or your child eating the spider plant), and focus on telling kids how you would like them to behave. For example, instead of, "No standing in the bathtub!" try, "We sit down in the bathtub because it's slippery." Later, when you notice your kid splashing away in a seated position, offer some praise ("I like how you're sitting!") to reinforce her good behavior.
We Expect Too Much From Our KidsYou're sitting in church when your toddler shouts. As soon as you shush him, he does it again. Mortifying! Why doesn't he listen?
THE FIX Play teacher. Very young children still haven't developed impulse control or learned the social graces required in public places like stores and restaurants. "Parents assume kids know more than they do," Dr. Sonna says.
When your child breaks a norm, remind yourself that he isn't trying to be a pain -- he just doesn't know how to act in the situation, so snapping isn't effective (or fair). Focus on showing your child how you want him to behave, softly saying things like, "I'm being quiet because I'm in church, but if I need something from Dad I lean in close to whisper." Also point out what others are doing ("Look how Charlie is coloring while he waits for his meal to arrive"). Kids are born mimics, so modeling or drawing attention to something we want them to do goes a long way.
"It takes time and repetition for kids to learn to handle themselves," Dr. Sonna says, which means you should expect to give your kid a lot of reminders -- and remove him when he doesn't get the message. Over time, he'll learn how to act.
We Model Behavior We Don't Want to SeeWhen you drop something, you yell. A man cuts you off and you call him a rude name. But then you get mad if your kid reacts the same way when things don't go her way.
THE FIX Apologize and take a do-over. There's a boomerang effect to behavior: If we yell, our kids probably will too, says Devra Renner, coauthor of Mommy Guilt. Yes, it's hard to be on perfect behavior around the clock, so apologize when you do slip up. "Emotions are powerful and difficult to control, even for grown-ups," Renner notes, but saying "sorry" demonstrates that we're accountable for our actions nonetheless.
It also creates the chance to talk about why you reacted the way you did and offers appropriate ways to respond when you're feeling frustrated. That's what Deena Blumenfeld, of Pittsburgh, did when her son Owen, 5, protested so much about getting dressed that she snapped, "Just shut up and get dressed!" Realizing this was not how she'd want her son to react in a similar situation, she knelt down, apologized, then talked about how important it is to be on time for school. It worked: Owen got ready for school calmly after that.
We Intervene When Our Kids Simply Annoy Us
You hear your children chasing each other around the house and immediately shout.
THE FIX Ignore selectively. Often, parents feel the need to step in every time kids do something, well, kid-like. But always being the bad guy is exhausting, Dr. Borba notes. Keep in mind that children sometimes do things that are irksome because they're exploring new skills. (So your toddler could be dumping juice into his cereal because he's learning about liquids.) Other times, they're seeking attention. When it comes to reacting, Dr. Borba's rule of thumb is: When safety isn't an issue, try watchful waiting. If your 6-year-old is playing his recorder with his nose, try not to shout. See what happens if you just continue with what you're doing as if nothing is happening. Most likely, if you don't respond, he will eventually stop -- and you'll feel calmer, having avoided a shouting match.
We're All Talk and No Action"Turn off the TV... I'm serious this time... Really!" Your kids continue bad behavior when warnings are vague for the same reason you run yellow lights -- there aren't consequences.
THE FIX Set limits and follow through. Nagging, second chances, and negotiation all convey that cooperation is optional, says Robert MacKenzie, Ph.D., author of Setting Limits With Your Strong-Willed Child. To teach kids to follow rules, make expectations clear, then take action when they're broken. If you want your kid to, say, get off the couch and do homework, start with respectful directives ("Please turn off the TV now and do your work"). If she follows through, thank her. If not, give a consequence: "I'm turning off the TV now. Until your work is finished, your TV privileges are suspended."
We Use Time-Out IneffectivelyWhen you send your 3-year-old to his room after he hits his brother, he starts banging his head on the floor in rage.
THE FIX Consider a time-in. A time-out is meant to be a chance for a child to calm down, not a punishment. Some kids respond well to the suggestion that they go to a quiet room until they're chill. But others view it as a rejection, and it riles them up. Plus, it doesn't teach kids how you want them to behave. As an alternative, Dr. Sonna suggests taking a "time-in," where you sit quietly with your kid. If he's very upset, hold him to get him settled down, Dr. Sonna adds. Once he's relaxed, calmly explain why the behavior wasn't okay. Too angry to comfort him? Put yourself in time-out; once you've relaxed, discuss what you would like your child to do differently. You might start by saying: "What can you do instead of hitting when Milo grabs your train?"
We Assume What Works for One Kid Will Work for the OtherThe best way to deal with your son's whining is to get down at eye level and explain how his actions need to change. But your daughter is more aggressive and refuses to listen.
THE FIX Develop a diverse toolbox. It's easy to blame your kid when a discipline technique fails. But "you may have to go about getting the behavior you want in different ways with each kid," notes Avivia Pflock, coauthor of Mommy Guilt. While one might respond to a verbal reminder about what is acceptable, the other might need a consequence when she acts up -- like having her Wii unplugged. Being firm with one child and touchy-feely with another isn't being inconsistent; it's tuning in to different needs and learning styles, Pflock assures. "The punishment should fit the crime -- and the kid."
As a doctor and a dad who suffered myself as a kid, I’ve uncovered info that’ll finally ease seasonal allergy symptoms.
By David L. Hill, M.D. from Parents Magazine
I always feel a special empathy for my young patients with allergies because my own allergies were so bad. Even worse, I’ve now passed them on to my children. At least they have lots of company: Research suggests that nearly half of all children in the U.S. have some kind of allergy.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis usually develops after a few years of exposure to an outdoor allergen, so it’s uncommon in children younger than 2. (However, children can develop allergies to year-round indoor triggers like pet dander and dust mites before age 2.) The typical age for diagnosis is around 4 to 6 years old. Symptoms—including sneezing; stuffy or runny nose; cough and scratchy throat due to postnasal drip; puffy, watery, itchy eyes, mouth, or skin—peak in late childhood and adolescence, and then improve during adulthood.
All this experience as a patient, parent, and pediatrician has armed me with some insider tips that you might not have heard before, even if you have plenty of experience with allergies in your family.
1. Your kid should start taking meds earlier in the year than you may think.
If your child has seasonal allergies, he should ideally start the medicines at least two to three weeks before the beginning of the season (which depends on his specific allergy) and continue them through the end. If your child has allergies year-round, talk to his doctor about keeping the medicines going all year rather than waiting for symptoms to flare up.
Most allergy medicines are far more effective at preventing symptoms than they are at treating them once they start. That’s because the runny nose, stuffiness, itching, sneezing, and watery eyes result from a whole cascade of events in the immune system, and once it gets going it’s hard to stop. Corticosteroid nose sprays, available over-thecounter, are the most effective type of medicines for allergies (for children 2 and older); they prevent the cascade by decreasing the immune system’s response to antigens like dust mites and pollen.
Antihistamines can help relieve symptoms during an attack, but they are even more effective if they’re in the bloodstream before the attack starts. Allergy medicines, which may either be prescribed or bought over-the-counter, are often given once a day—which means they need about five days to reach their full strength and another five to wear off completely. Oral antihistamines relieve many allergy symptoms (including sneezing and itchy eyes) by blocking histamine, the chemical “culprit” in the body, but they don’t relieve nasal congestion.
2. Pollen counts don’t tell the whole story.
If your child has had allergy testing, the results will be much more useful than relying on monitoring the overall pollen count. If she’s not allergic to ragweed, for example, then a high ragweed count shouldn’t keep her off the playground.
Children who only have allergies in certain seasons are likely allergic to pollens or mold spores that appear at specific times of year. Doctors can perform skin and/or blood tests to help you learn which types of pollen cause your child’s f lare-ups, and you can monitor pollen counts to know when to start medicines and, on the worst days, when to limit your child’s time outdoors. As a general rule, trees pollinate in the spring, grasses bloom in mid- to late spring or early summer, and weeds in the late summer or early fall. In colder climates, mold spores are a summer to early-fall phenomenon, but in warm places (like North Carolina, where I live), they can remain airborne year-round.
Many weather services report overall pollen levels or levels of specific allergens such as ragweed, the most common cause of hay fever. The National Allergy Bureau, a service of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, provides reports on pollen from specific species of trees, weeds, and grasses around the country—as well as mold-spore counts—at aaaai.org.
3. Winter has a big effect on allergies.
Cold winter weather is a blessing for many kids with seasonal allergies, who can count on a break until at least February. A warmer winter can cause plants to pollinate early, meaning sufferers’ symptoms start up sooner than usual. A rainy spring can also promote rapid plant growth and lead to an increase in mold, with effects that last well into the fall. Rain can wash away pollen, but the relief is only temporary, since pollen counts can rise rapidly following wet weather.
Other weather clues that may help you to head off your child’s worst symptoms: Warm, windy days generally lead to a high pollen count, whereas calm days can leave all that pollen on the ground rather than flying into your child’s nose.4. Kids ages 5 and older can try a new treatment.
When I was a child one of the only things that helped my allergies was getting “allergy shots,” properly called immunotherapy or AIT. Even today, shots are usually given one or two times every week or month for three to five years and act much like a vaccine, offering exposure to increasing levels of the substance you’re allergic to so your immune system adapts and becomes less reactive. Injections were the only form of immunotherapy approved for children in the U.S. until April 2014, when the FDA approved the first of three oral immunotherapy agents.
This form of daily immunotherapy has been popular in Europe, where children apparently hate shots just as much as they do here. Absorbed under the tongue, the tablets contain an extract of grasses or ragweed. In order to benefit from the therapy, children need to be at least 5 years old and have a positive allergy test for a pollen allergy that can cause sneezing, runny or itchy nose, and watery eyes. One caveat: Due to the (rare) possibility of symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, your allergist must observe your child for at least 30 minutes after the first dose, and afterward your allergist should prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector in case of emergency.
5. Honey may help—but there’s no proof.
Some parents swear by local honey as an all-natural immunotherapy. (It’s safe for kids 12 months and older.) If regular exposure to allergens is how immunotherapy strengthens a patient’s immune system, shouldn’t a tasty substance laden with pollens from your local area have the same effect?
Sometimes it seems that the only way to get kids to listen is to shout. Learn to take it down a few decibels -- and enjoy better behavior in the process.
By Corinne Garcia from Parents Magazine
My boys, who are 3 and 5, always seem to want the things that they know they can't have: cookies for breakfast, a movie at bedtime, flip-flops on a snowy day. When they get the inevitable "no" for an answer it often sends them into a tailspin -- whining, writhing on the floor, and kicking the air. Nothing gets to me more than these spontaneous freak-outs. Don't they understand that if they stay up late watching Shrek they'll be cranky the next day? Before I know it, I'm yelling again.
How do things go from movie request to scream-fest in seconds? The kids hit one of my triggers, and like many parents, I react by shouting. (If you've never screamed at your children, know that statistically you're one of the few. According to a study in The Journal of Marriage and Family, 89 percent of parents report doing it.) Still, it doesn't feel good. In fact, most shouting sessions result in a scream hangover. Afterward, adults may feel guilty, wishing they could have dealt with the situation in a better way.
It turns out that it's no fun for kids either, according to psychotherapist Alyson Schafer, author of Ain't Misbehavin': Tactics for Tantrums, Meltdowns, Bedtime Blues and Other Perfectly Normal Kid Behaviors. If yelling is your main form of discipline, it can diminish your child's sense of security and self-esteem, she explains. "If you just yell on occasion, you won't damage your kids," assures psychotherapist Jim Hutt, Ph.D., creator of counselorlink.com; still, it's not a good strategy for getting good behavior. Yelling is scary, so it activates a child's emotional "fight or flight" response while shutting down his logical thinking. "If I yell at a kid, he's going to stop processing information, and if I want him to learn why his behavior is inappropriate, I need him to be able to understand what I'm saying," Dr. Hutt explains. When parents raise their voice, all it teaches kids is to do the same when they're upset. "If we hit, they hit; if we yell, they learn to yell. If we are calm, they learn how to be calm," Dr. Hutt says.
Of course, given the right triggers, even the most Zen parents lose it sometimes. When you do, it's important to apologize to your kid and admit that you should have handled things differently. "Parents can't preach that it's okay to make mistakes, then neglect to admit their own mistakes and, worse yet, fail to apologize," Dr. Hutt says. It can also help to identify the situations that most frequently get you shouting -- that way you can plan ahead about how to react, so you're more in control of your emotions in the moment. We went to the experts to get better solutions for some of the most common scream-inducers.
The Power StruggleYour daughter wants a cookie for breakfast, and she won't take no for an answer. She's probably thinking, "If I cry and scream, maybe Mom will give in." As her demand escalates into a full-blown battle of wills, you lose control and end up yelling at her.
Why parents lose it When kids undermine our authority (doing things they know we disapprove of or ignoring what we say) it leaves us feeling helpless. When you find yourself screaming, it's probably not even about the cookie anymore; it's an attempt to take back control. "The power struggle is a contest about who has the upper hand in the moment," Schafer says. "We want to impress upon our kids that we are the one in charge."
The no-scream solution To keep a power struggle from escalating, make a conscious effort to get out of fight mode. Rather than focusing on winning or losing this particular battle with your kid, try to work together to find a better solution. First, state your position simply ("We don't have cookies for breakfast"). Then offer some choices ("Would you like to have yogurt or cereal?"). This will make her feel like she has some control over the situation, Schafer says. If that doesn't work, you might try defusing the tension with humor. Doing a silly dance out of the blue may be just the trick for putting your child into a happier mind-set, one in which she's willing and able to find some middle ground.
How to Discipline Your Kids
Running LateThe hardest part of the day for many moms is getting the kids out of the house. You ask them to get dressed and put their shoes on; they ignore you. You finally find your keys and are ready to go; they run off and hide. It's all fun and games -- until you unleash the scream beast.
Why parents lose it It's extremely frustrating when you're in a rush to get out the door and no one is taking your concerns about staying on schedule seriously. You can't help but feel insignificant, out of control, and burdened all at the same time -- you're obviously going to have to drop what you're doing and force your kids' shirts over their little heads yourself.
It's easy to forget that young children have no concept of the consequences of running late. But repeating yourself over and over isn't the solution. "It teaches them that they're too stupid to get it or that they don't have to respond the first time," Dr. Hutt says.
The no-scream solution Rather than nagging your kids until you're at the point of shouting, just tell them it's time to get ready once -- and then don't give any more reminders, Dr. Hutt suggests. Say, "We're leaving in ten minutes. I hope you'll be dressed and ready." If they aren't, pick them up and put them in the car firmly yet gently -- in whatever they're wearing. If your kids have to go to school in their pajamas, they'll know you mean business next time.
Sibling SquabblesYour daughter borders on genius when it comes to pushing her brother's buttons. In the car on the way to the park, she leans over and touches his beloved blankie with one graceful finger, setting off a full-on battle. Your temper goes from zero to 60 in three seconds or less.
Why parents lose it No matter who "started it," it's almost impossible to play referee when both kids are screaming and kicking -- and the situation becomes flat-out dangerous if their fighting is distracting you while you're driving.
The no-scream solution When things are already heated between your kids, having a strongly negative reaction is like adding fuel to a fire; it will only escalate the situation. Especially on the road, where you can't really shift your attention and get involved, your initial instinct might be to yell -- but try to be responsive rather than reactive, Schafer recommends. After pulling over, matter-of-factly let your kids know it's unsafe for you to drive while they're fighting, saying something like, "I understand you're upset, but I can't go anywhere until you calm down. When you've worked it out together, I can drive again." Then sit quietly, read a book, or IM with friends until they've chilled out. By staying collected, you make it clear that you're not going to take sides, and you set an example for how your children should behave with each other. The immediate lesson you're trying to impart is this: Calm cars move; fighting cars stop. But the bigger message goes beyond driving. When parents respond to children in ways that make them feel heard and understood are going to learn to treat others that way as well.
Originally published in the May 2012 issue of Parents magazine.