Breaking & Opening
Problem Behavior: Heirloom Busting
Whenever we go to a not-so-childproofed locale, I think of my friend Nancy. While on a visit, her 3-year-old daughter managed to break the hand off a statue. Not just any statue, but a Jesus statue -- one that, two generations earlier, had been wrapped in blankets and lovingly carried from Belgium on a boat across the stormy Atlantic. Damn!
Fun Solution: To try to avoid similar disasters, I taught my kids to use their E.T. touch. Remember when E.T. healed Elliott's hurt finger by gently touching it with his own? Well, our E.T. touch doesn't heal anything, but it can keep things from breaking in the first place. When we arrive at a house, before my kids start checking things out (and by that, I mean "destroying irreplaceable things"), I take them around and point out which things are fragile -- requiring an "E.T. finger." The best part: After a few minutes of careful, monitored E.T.-like behavior, they always decide that there is something more interesting to do.
Problem Behavior: Not Being a Gracious Gift Opener
I used to think that honesty was a virtue. But that was before my kids learned to talk. Once Charlie started saying things like "You are a tiny man!" to a man with dwarfism and "That's some funny hair you've got!" to a guy with, well, funny hair, I decided that tact trumped honesty any day. To me the most nail-biting situation for parents of extremely honest kids is present-opening time. It's much easier to teach a kid to whisper his observations about a stranger than it is to get him to mask his disappointment at getting a book he already has two of.
Fun Solution: Before a party, we all go around the house and collect things that make horrible presents. Some past winners have been old kitchen sponges and a half-used bar of soap. Then we wrap the goodies and give them to each other. The challenge is to say something nice about whatever you open. "The green of that sponge matches my shirt!" If your kid can think of something nice to say about a slimy sliver of soap, he'll have no problem being gracious about getting mittens instead of the toy he really wanted.