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Discipline Dilemmas -- Solved!

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Jerry Brodlie, Ph.D., joined our community for a chat on discipline and behavior. His helpful answers to community members' questions shed some light on the most productive ways to discipline your child.

Chat Moderator: Welcome, Dr. Brodlie. Thanks for joining us today!

Q: I have a son in kindergarten and I heard from his teacher that when she scolds him for misbehaving, or tries to get his attention to stop him from acting up, he just totally ignores her. How do I get him to understand that when he is at school his teacher is in charge and he has to listen and respond to her?

Dr. Brodlie: One of the things might be to have a meeting with the child and the mother and the teacher together, just the three of them without the rest of the class. Also, to have a way of communicating with the teacher so that the mother can in fact give some consequences to the child at home if she hears that he's not listening to the teacher. So the youngster learns that if in fact he doesn't listen to either of the adults, there's going to be a punishment -- at home or school, but that the mother and teacher are a team.

Q: My son, who is 3, refuses to allow his father to put him to bed at night. He cries and screams for me. My husband has become really uncomfortable and wants me to put him to bed every night, but I want to rotate so that I can sometimes have an hour to myself. Help!

Dr. Brodlie: The father indeed should not by any means give up the efforts, nor should the parents give in to the child's temper. And the father should continue to try to put the child to bed and the mother should not try to rescue the situation by taking over. The father might examine how he's putting the child to bed and how he can make it a more pleasant event -- reading a story, playing a non-physically active game, and making his presence something the child can look forward to. So the father may need to make more of an effort in that direction.

Q: My 7-year-old son came home with a note from his teacher last week saying that he was caught writing the "F" word and showing it to his friends. We rarely, if ever, curse around the house and so I assume he learned this word from his friends at school. His teacher implied that my son deserved punishment, but I'm afraid that if I make a big deal about it, he'll do it again. What should I do?

Dr. Brodlie: Recognize that even as young as 7, and certainly with increasing age, kids do use bad language amongst each other. And I don't think there should be a punishment. There should be a lesson to the child that there are times when the use of language that they use among their friends is inappropriate in some other settings -- in school or in church or amongst adults. And the child should be told by the parent that if they're using the language inappropriately then they'll be punished. In this situation the child was communicating with another child -- it wasn't aimed at the teacher. So therefore, I don't think the punishment is warranted.

Q: My son just turned 3. His favorite word is no. "No, I don't want to get in my car seat." "No, I don't want to sit in the grocery cart." I try to give him choices, but he's stubborn. My husband and I find ourselves now spanking our son out of frustration (just a small pat, nothing major) and sending him to time-outs. But it's endless and we'd like to make peace once and for all. Any suggestions?

Dr. Brodlie: There'll be no such thing as peace once and for all until your youngster leaves for college or establishes a home of his own. "No" is a way of expressing an increasing sense of independence and power, all of which is not bad. So I would suggest that the parent keep using time-outs. Have patience and eventually a state of equilibrium will be established where there won't be as many "noes." It'll be more manageable, but there will always be some "noes," so get used to it.

Q: I find myself increasingly frustrated and impatient with my 7-year-old son, who has been diagnosed with ADHD. He basically can't do any chores and never pays attention to us when my husband and I try to explain what we expect of him. I feel bad that I get so frustrated, but at the same time, I don't expect him to be completely checked out. Will medication solve all of this?

Dr. Brodlie: Medication should help and it often does sometimes quite dramatically. What also might help would be to network with other parents whose children have the same diagnosis. In many communities there are parent groups that provide meetings of this sort. Check with the schools or local hospital to see if they know of these meetings, or with local pediatricians or psychiatrists. There are some books that tell parents what to expect and tell them how to cope. One of those books is titled, The Difficult Child, by Dr. Tereki. As much information that you come across should prove quite helpful in learning as a parent to deal with this and what expectations are reasonable.

Q: My daughter (6 years old) basically refuses to eat anything we have at dinnertime. She simply pouts and stonewalls when we try to get her to eat healthily. I have tried all sorts of kid-friendly foods, so it's more of a defiance issue I think than a food preference issue. Do you have any advice?

Dr. Brodlie: Eating problems at that age are often power struggles. And you may be correct about it being a form of defiance. If that's the case, then I would suggest that you make sure that your daughter doesn't feel she can control you by her stubbornness. Make sure she stays at the table until she at least samples the food that you prepare. And when she has done so, you might reward her in some fashion with dessert or a special treat. In other words, you should be stubborn to make sure she does sample the food. Have some patience and that should work after a couple of weeks.

Q:When I put my child in her "time-out chair" should I let her quietly look at a book or play with a toy, or should she really be left with nothing to do but stare at the wall?

Dr. Brodlie: The purpose of the time-out chair is as a punishment, not as a different place to play or be entertained. So she should not be allowed to do anything but be bored. And furthermore, don't let her out of the time-out chair until you are well convinced that the period has been long enough for her to experience some discomfort. That's what the time-out chair is supposed to be all about. How long depends upon the child, but as a rule of thumb, you might say to have her stay one minute longer than they feel she can tolerate.

Q: I have two very outgoing boys, ages 3 and 5, who love to reveal personal things about our family to anyone who will listen. How do I teach them about tact and help them understand what things are and are not appropriate to share with others? I don't want them to feel like everything about our family is a secret, but some of their revelations have been rather embarrassing for my husband and me.

Dr. Brodlie: When you talk to the boys about the privacy of family or issues that one wants to keep private, be very specific. In other words, even do some play acting, going over subjects to show them what might be appropriate and not appropriate. You play them and let them be the strangers. Then you are showing them quite concretely what is inappropriate and appropriate. Children are often confused by parents making general or ambiguous statements such as, "don't tell others private things," when they don't know specifically what is private. If the problem were to continue after you've had this type of conversation with them, I would examine whether there is another motivation involved, such as a desire on their part to embarrass their parents. But being specific with them should work.

Q: I know it's good to give children a sense of control over their world and the chance to make decisions for themselves, but I'm not always sure where to draw the line on this. My daughter is 5 and she throws a fit if things aren't done her way -- even though her way often is not the right way. I don't want to spoil her, but I also am sensitive to this issue of letting her having control. How can I find a balance?

Dr. Brodlie: Parents are always struggling with that issue. The answer is always changing as the child develops more capabilities and maturity. There is no answer that applies generally, there are only answers that apply to that given day and situation. The fact that you are thinking about it is a good sign. Don't worry about being wrong -- occasionally we all are. Just recognize that their seeking control over their world is a positive phenomenon and occasionally they're going to scrape their knees or hurt their fingers. If those types of things never happen that means you're not giving an adequate amount of control to the child. Therefore, you're better thinking in terms of what my child can do and worrying less about what they can't do. They may grow up with a few more bumps and scars but likely with a greater sense of self and independence.

Chat Moderator: Thanks, Dr. Brodlie, for joining us today and for answering our behavior and discipline questions.

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All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.