6 Little Behavior Problems You Shouldn't Ignore

Taking Without Asking, Attitude and Exaggerating the Truth

Helping Himself to a Treat

Why you shouldn't ignore it: It's certainly convenient when your child can get his own snack or pop in a DVD, but letting him have control of activities that you should regulate doesn't teach him that he has to follow rules. "It may be cute when your 2-year-old walks along the counter to get the cookies out of the cabinet, but just wait until he's 8 and goes to visit a friend who lives three blocks away without asking," Dr. Wyckoff says.

How to stop it: Establish a small number of house rules, and talk about them with your child often ("You have to ask whether you can have sweets because that's the rule"). If your child turns on the TV without permission, for instance, tell him to turn it off and say, "You need to ask me before you turn on the television." Stating the rule out loud will help him internalize it.

When 3-year-old Sloan Ibanez took some markers without asking and colored one of her arms completely yellow, her mom, Tanzy, told her that she couldn't help with painting a garage-sale sign later that afternoon. "She cried, but I knew I had to nip this in the bud or else I'd pay the price later because she'd do it again and again," says Ibanez, of Lewiston, Texas.

Having a Little Attitude

Why you shouldn't ignore it: You may not think your child is going to roll her eyes or use a snippy tone until she's a preteen, but sassy behavior often starts when preschoolers mimic older kids to test their parents' reaction. "Some parents ignore it because they think it's a passing phase, but if you don't confront it, you may find yourself with a disrespectful third-grader who has a hard time making and keeping friends and getting along with teachers and other adults," Dr. Borba says.

How to stop it: Make your child aware of her behavior. Tell her, for example, "When you roll your eyes like that, it seems as if you don't like what I'm saying." The idea isn't to make your child feel bad but to show her how she looks or sounds. If the behavior continues, you can refuse to interact and walk away. Say, "My ears don't hear you when you speak to me that way. When you're ready to talk nicely, I'll listen."

Exaggerating the Truth

Why you shouldn't ignore it: It may not seem like a big deal if your child says he made his bed when he barely pulled up the covers, or if he tells a friend that he's been to Walt Disney World when he's never even been on a plane, but it's important to confront any type of dishonesty head-on. "Lying can become automatic if your child learns that it's an easy way to make himself look better, to avoid doing something that he doesn't want to do, or to prevent getting into trouble for something he's already done," Dr. Wyckoff says.

How to stop it: When your child fibs, sit down with him and set the record straight. Say, "It would be fun to go to Disney World, and maybe we can go some day, but you shouldn't tell Ben that you've been there when you really haven't." Let him know that if he doesn't always tell the truth, people won't believe what he says. Look at his motivation for lying, and make sure he doesn't achieve his goal. For example, if he said that he brushed his teeth when he didn't, have him go back and brush them. When 5-year-old Sophia Hohlbaum started stretching the truth, her mom, Christine, told her the story of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," in which a boy who'd been lying cries for help for real and people ignore him. "Storytelling helps kids view the problem from the outside in," says Hohlbaum, author of Diary of a Mother: Parenting Stories and Other Stuff. "Now Sophia's very straightforward with me?and she's very self-righteous if I don't believe her."

Copyright© 2005. Reprinted with permission from the March 2005 issue of Parents magazine.

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.

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