MRS. "KIDS RULE!"
You're talking to this mother, but she's not listening. Her 2-year-old daughter has interrupted -- again -- with another observation ("This carrot is orange!"). Instead of explaining that interrupting grown-ups when they're talking is rude, she's delighted by her preschooler';s insight and pursues the topic with vigor ("Yes, darling, it is orange! Can you tell me what else is orange?"). You, meanwhile, are left hanging.
Reality check: Interrupting is to be expected from preschoolers, says child psychiatrist Elizabeth Berger, M.D., author of Raising Children With Character. Manners are meaningless to young kids, who can't yet comprehend another person's point of view. But you're not doing a child any favors by encouraging rude behaviors. So introduce the concept of "excuse me" and praise your child's use of it.
Also, make sure you demonstrate good listening skills yourself (for example, when he's in the middle of a story about Power Rangers, don't jump up to start washing the dishes). "If a child is constantly interrupting, it may be that he's not getting enough of your undivided attention," Dr. Hyson says. "Make a point of indulging your child with relaxed, focused time."
When an uninterrupted adult conversation is crucial, explain that Mommy is sorry, but she needs to talk, and that your child needs to play by himself. Provide an activity -- give him some paper and crayons, blocks, or even a video -- to keep him occupied. And compliment his patience.
This mom enforces a strict no-sweets policy. No cookies, candy, or ice cream. Her idea of a "treat" is a granola-and-yogurt "sundae".
Reality check: Loading up on nutritionally void sugar calories isn't wise, but forbidding sugar entirely isn't the answer either, says Lynn Marotz, Ph.D., R.N., a professor of human development at the University of Kansas and coauthor of Health, Safety, and Nutrition for the Young Child. Completely restricting sugary foods can backfire big time: Instead of having a child who occasionally indulges his sweet tooth, you may create a kid obsessed with cookies, candy, and cake.
"I never have a second to myself," this mother tells you (and tells you and tells you). You agree, judging by her slightly frazzled demeanor, that she could use a break. Maybe a trip to the gym. A date with her husband. Time to herself. So you recommend the great babysitter you've found. She responds with one of those "but-I-love-my-children" looks. And says something like: "Nobody can care for a child as well as her own mother."
Reality check: "A lot of mothers suffer incredible guilt about needing help to care for their children," Dr. Berger says. "And if Mom works full-time, the guilt is compounded. Every spare second, she figures, needs to be lavished on her kids."
Trouble is, an overwhelmed mom isn't going to be on top of her game. Every parent (and every marriage) can benefit from the occasional kid-free outing. "It recharges your batteries and allows you to breathe in a different kind of atmosphere," Dr. Berger says. "When you take care of yourself, you take better care of your kids." And if you don't work outside the home, hiring the occasional sitter teaches your children that people other than you can provide them with care and safety.
Besides, there's another bonus to getting away every now and then: When you return home, not only will you appreciate your kids even more, they'll appreciate you more too.
Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the August 2003 issue of Parents magazine.