All parents want their children to learn right from wrong, but values won't develop on their own. They need to be taught. When we catch our kids lying or being disrespectful, it's an opportunity to help them make a better choice. Simply saying 'Don't do that!" or giving a complicated explanation won't leave a lasting impression. Here's some expert advice on age-appropriate ways to talk to your kids: Use these words to teach worthy lessons they'll take to heart.
Sticky Situation: During a game of Candy Land, you catch your 5-year-old skipping ahead to position herself for an unfair win. You've read about "letting little ones win," but still, you don't want to reinforce cheating.
Wise Words: Don't use the term "cheating." Instead, teach her to play fair by subtly pointing her in the right direction. Try saying:
Sticky Situation: Your dinner guests bring a gift for your 4-year-old. He opens it, drops it on the floor, and walks away without saying 'thank you."
Wise Words: It's unrealistic to expect a preschooler to understand the value of gratitude, and your guests probably know this. Don't make a big deal about it. Simply say:
Sticky Situation: After dinner, you ask your 6-year-old to help clear the dishes. He flatly refuses.
Wise Words: Ask him to stay seated, then say:
Sticky Situation: Your 3-year-old accidentally knocks over the block tower his 5-year-old sister just painstakingly built. He apologizes tearfully, but your daughter holds a grudge. "It's too late!" she snaps.
Wise Words: Give your daughter a chance to vent before expecting her to forgive. Here's your opening.
Sticky Situation: You discover an action figure in the pocket of your 6-year-old son's jeans that you know isn't his. He claims he found it. You're suspicious but let it go. Then you get a call from his friend's mom, who diplomatically asks whether your son mistakenly took the toy home from his afternoon playdate.
Wise Words: By this age, your son knows very well that taking a toy is wrong. Be direct.
Sticky Situation: You drop in on your 7-year-old daughter's Sunday-school class and catch her playing with a yo-yo, deliberately ignoring the teacher.
Wise Words: When class is over, pull her aside and state the rule: no toys in Sunday school ever. Then encourage a deeper understanding of respect with a discussion.
Sticky Situation: After dinner, your 5-year-old brings out his bag of Halloween candy, and you ask nicely for one of your favorites. He hugs the bag to his chest and says, "No way."
Wise Words: Five-year-olds are not particularly good at sharing, especially candy! In this case, speak from your own experience.
Sticky Situation: You overhear your 6-year-old daughter and a group of her friends saying unkind things about a classmate.
Wise Words: This behavior is always hurtful, and you have an obligation to intervene in a direct way but without embarrassing your child. Walk right into the group, acknowledge that you overheard their conversation, and ask the girls one of these open-ended questions.
Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the November 2003 issue of Parents magazine.