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It’s So Hard Losing a Pet: Tips on What to Say to Kids

Robin Goldstein, Ph.D.

For parenting coaching, please contact Robin at 301-922-5479 or [email protected]

Pets are loving members of our families. The meaning and connection pets have in our lives, and in the lives of our children, is very powerful.

When kids fall in love with their pets, their expression of their love is shown through their playfulness, cuddling, training, teaching them tricks, giving treats-even building a “house” for them or inviting them into their fort. Feeding, walking, cleaning cages and of course, visits to the vet are the responsibility-often accompanied by kids- of parents.

Pets show their love and attachment by following their family around and being in the same room, on the sofa, by their chair at the kitchen table, in their beds.

A child can turn to their pet and share feelings and frustrations, “Mommy won’t let me go outside!” Pets have a way of being there and are always ready to receive love and attention.

While the bond between a child and her pet is strong, sometimes a child’s feelings don’t fully show up until their pet becomes ill or when their pet dies.

The death of a pet is a common experience for children – fish, hamsters, lizards, birds, gerbils, dogs and cats. And, knowing what to say to your child can be really challenging. It’s natural and okay to feel uncomfortable talking about death.

Truthful and basic information is often a helpful place to start. Try to modify your answers and discussions to the level you think your children will understand. It may begin with heartbreaking words, “We have sad news today. Coco died.” When your explanations come from a heartfelt, comforting place, what you decide to tell your children is okay. You can include your religious beliefs and/or spiritual and philosophical beliefs in what you tell your child: “Coco is in heaven/doggie heaven;” “We will never forget her.” “She was too sick to keep living;” ” I’m glad you said good-bye to her;” “We won’t see her again, but we will always love Coco because love never dies.”

You will also communicate a lot to your children without words; children feel the emptiness in their home after their pet dies.

Two and 3-year-olds are too young for any in-depth discussion, so it’s best to keep answers and explanations simple. “We are sad because Apollo died today.” A young child will notice and feel their missing pet, but will likely respond more to how your sadness shows up. If you are too upset to give your usual attention to your child, he will feel that. Try to manage your feelings and keep your routine – for yourself and your child.

Four and 5-year-olds understand more about death and may have a lot of questions that can be challenging to answer. When asked, “Where’s Bella?” you may need to remind your child, “Bella died, so she’s not here anymore.” Young children don’t understand the permanence of death, so they may continue to wonder and ask until they adjust, “Where’s Bella?” “When will we see her again?” Young children learn through repetition-even though that can be painful. “Bella died, so she won’t live in our house anymore.”

Six and 7-year-olds will be helped by the same explanations as younger children, along with writing a story about their pet, making a scrapbook of pictures, telling funny stories, creating a memory box.

Expect questions from 6 and 7-year-olds that are also hard to answer. “Why couldn’t the doctor make him better?” “Where did she go?” Depending on what happened to your pet, answers will vary: “Dogs and cats get older faster than people, so 14 years is a long time for them to live.” “Moby died peacefully.” “I’m glad we could say goodbye to him.” “We took really good care of Fluffy. That’s how long hamsters live.”

Eight and 9-year-olds will naturally have questions, but they will also have ways to comfort themselves-talking to a friend, their teacher or another relative. You might also help your child heal by creating a memorial, planting flowers, a bush or a tree in memory and honor of the family pet. They may share funny stories – probably a lot of cute stories.

A 10-year-old can begin to understand, “putting a dog to sleep.” “When the doctor ‘put Sophie to sleep’ it means she helped her die without being in pain and we did that so that she wouldn’t be too sick.” “Veterinarians are specially trained to know when a dog or cat is too sick to keep living.” “Dogs and cats can’t talk so we have to watch their behavior and how they act to know when they are sick.”

If you bury your pet, your child may want to be part of the burial. Tell your child that burying pets is how people honor their pets when they die. Have flowers to plant next to the grave and share a loving story about your pet. Say how much she loved your family and that you will always love her and won’t forget her.

Sing a song, say a prayer and share what you will miss about your pet. Show gratitude, “We are so happy you were part of our lives.”

If you think you can explain that you are having your pet cremated, make sure you believe your child can handle the explanation. Be mindful of how you explain and talk about this. “Lucy went to a crematory. People who cremate pets understand how much their families love them. We won’t see her again because they take special care to put her remains in an urn.” Also, think carefully about whether you want to have the urn in your home, especially if you think it would be upsetting and not understood by your kids.

Truthfully, it is okay to talk about getting another pet, especially if your child brings it up. That wish, question and discussion may come up soon after your pet dies. It’s a way for kids to move their healing forward and put their painful feelings in a more positive and hopeful place. While you may not be ready to get another pet, you can still let your kids talk about it. You can even ask them some engaging questions, “What kind of pet would you want?” “Would it be big or little?”

And, you can still say, “It’s good to talk about getting a new dog/cat/hamster, so we will know what to get when we are ready.”

“Loss takes time to understand.” Fred Rogers


It Takes Time For Kids to Learn to be Kind

As a child development specialist, I often hear questions along the lines of: "Why isn’t my child more considerate?"

One thing that parents all over the globe want is for their children to be kind and considerate of others.  Showing kindness is a universal trait we all value.  So why is it so hard — even time-consuming — to teach children to be nice to others?

Actually, learning to be kind does take time.  It’s a slow, steady, gradual learning process — and super important to teach mindfully.  For me, as I was raising my kids, it was helpful to understand children’s thinking at different ages.  One of the most helpful things I learned to embrace was the understanding that developmentally, it’s hard for all children to think about other people’s needs, wants and wishes.

As any parent of a young child knows, young kids have the tendency to not only focus on their needs, but also to consider only one side of any situation — their own!  When young children don't share their toys and things, they are just thinking about the stuff being theirs! When they tell someone in the moment, "I'm not your friend anymore!" we cringe.  But kids say this because they have a hard time thinking about others' feelings.

I promise you that children don’t do this to be intentionally selfish or unkind.  They are generally incapable, during their early years, of putting themselves in another person's place or imagining how other people think and feel.

The best and simplest way to establish expectations of kindness is probably to model it by showing consideration and kindness to others.  It's also helpful to remember that the process of learning to be kind to others definitely takes time and practice.  So when kids do something nice for their siblings, their classmates, their family or community, it requires acknowledgment and some praise.

Children ultimately model themselves after their parents, and imitate what they see.  This can only mean that the more kindness children observe, the kinder they will (gradually) become.  Modeling kindness can be challenging because we have to be conscious of it.  For example, we must be mindful of the tone we use when we don't want our kids to touch something in a store or to hurry to get ready to leave the house.  We must think about the way we say something we want our kids to do, especially when it is our second or third time reminding them.

We are always modeling words and behaviors when we respond to others who may annoy us. We are models for showing appreciation for others; for helping people when they drop something; for being better listeners; for saying "thank you" more often; and for sharing a smileJ!

Robin Goldstein, Ph.D. is a specialist in child and adolescent development; a faculty member at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; and author of The New Baby Answer Book, Sourcebooks.


Sometimes a Little Change of Thought is Helpful as You go About Being the Best Parent You Can Be

Robin Goldstein, Ph.D.
www.drrobingoldstein.com

You can learn a great deal about your child’s interests and abilities by watching him/her participate in activities.

When your child says, “Watch me!” s/he wants your positive attention and approval.

When your child hears you speaking politely to her and to other children and adults, she/he will begin to do as you do.

If your child constantly gets her way, he/she will gradually learn to feel entitled to do as he/she wishes.

Children are natural mimics. Watch what you say and do.

Most young children need constant reminders.

The tone you set in the morning is what your child will take with him/her as he/she starts the day.

If you change your expectations, you may realize that your child is simply acting as most young children do.

Help your child get ready in the morning in a loving, fun, and calm way.

It’s important for you and your children to start the day on a positive note.

Most phases children go through are easier to handle with a little patience and understanding.

Becoming a more patient parent takes purposeful effort and may require a change in attitude, priorities, or behavior.

The way parents treat their children has a major impact on their development of personality, interests, and abilities.

Despite differences in age, interests, personality, and skills, each of your children needs to feel special and important.

All children have a strong drive to be independent and imitate older people.

Setting limits and disciplining children is an extremely important part of parenting. And, it is important to understand that learning right from wrong is a gradual process. In general, children six and under are motivated to change their behavior “because mommy said” or when a punishment or privilege is mentioned, not because they understand how their negative behavior impacts others.

Children sometimes struggle as they grow, and for every step forward, there’s sometimes a short step backward to earlier behavior.


Tips for School Success!

Robin Goldstein, Ph.D., Child Development Specialist. Author of, The New Baby Answer Book 

Here are some tips that will help your kids have a successful learning experience this year:

  1. Learning happens gradually, so your kids will need your help and encouragement throughout the school year, including, lessons on the benefits of hard work and on the importance of not giving up - ever!
  2. Learning requires confidence, so help your children believe in themselves.
  3. Learning is not just something that happens at school, and learning is not just dependent on formal lessons. Families that are involved, interested, and curious can foster learning all the time.
  4. Show your kids that you have a positive attitude toward learning. Your children watch how you react when you try to master a skill, show interest in a new topic, spend time at a museum, do puzzles, read and seek answers.
  5. Follow-up on your child’s interests by providing materials, books, and experiences on things they want to learn about. There’s no limit to the ways you can follow-up on your child’s interests.
  6. Help your children find activities they’re interested in that meet their needs and allow them to explore a hobby or skill as fully as they desire.
  7. Encourage your children to go beyond the school’s lessons when they show an interest in an academic subject.
  8. Talk to your children regularly about their schoolwork, their interests, and current events that are at their level of understanding.
  9. Have a lot of discussions that revolve around sports, the environment, history, popular entertainment, space exploration, fashion, music, or animals. As long as the subject is interesting to your children, the talk will be valuable.
  10. Listen carefully to their opinions and questions. That way, they’ll learn to see themselves as an important part of family talks.
  11. Don’t give negative judgments about your child’s progress or compare your children’s achievements to their siblings or their friends. They’ll do better academically without that pressure.
  12. Leave a dictionary and encyclopedia out - yes hard copies! - that can be read, explored and discussed at the kitchen table. Increase your child’s vocabulary by using new words and post new words on the refrigerator.
  13. Take trips to the zoo, museums, nature centers, concerts, events, and children’ plays together. Watch educational programs together, particularly ones on nature. Talk about what you watch and experience together.
  14. Make learning a pleasurable, shared experience, and your children will join in.

Your relationship with your child’s teacher also fosters school success:

  1. Listen carefully to suggestions from your child’s teacher.
  2. Let teachers know if there are problems at home. Read school newsletters and notices, attend meetings and comfortably discuss your child’s behavior. Ask questions about what you can do at home to foster learning and more cooperative behavior.
  3. Respect the teacher’s standards, be mindful of your expectations and tone, and work cooperatively with your child’s teacher.

Finally, a fun, loving, and nurturing home that emphasizes the value of learning, honesty, being nice and a generosity of spirit, will help your child develop school success! 


It's So Important to Discipline Kids

Robin Goldstein, Ph.D.
Author, The New Baby Answer Book
www.drrobingoldstein.com

Setting limits is hard, frustrating and time-consuming. But, it is an extremely important part of parenting.

Parents who don't set adequate limits do their children a great disservice. They reinforce unacceptable behaviors because children quickly learn that they can act as they want.

Learning right from wrong is a slow, gradual process.

2 year-olds need constant watching. Distract them when they don't behave the way you want them to. Saying "no" to issues of safety is the beginning of limit-setting.

3 year-olds have trouble sticking to limits. Stay close by, offer frequent reminders and get involved with your child. When your child acts inappropriately, remove her from the situation and involve her in something else that will foster positive behavior.

Most children under 5 are motivated to change their behavior "because mommy said" or when warned by a punishment, not because they understand how their negative behavior impacts others. So, the motivation not to hit their brother comes from wanting to watch TV, play outside or use the computer - not from thinking about someone else's feelings. That's okay!

Sometimes connect a restriction to an activity, "If you want to ride your bike, you have to stay in front of the house," or "If you want to play outside, you have to keep your jacket on." Follow-through.

Time-outs sometimes work. If you use "time-out," tell your child she can get off the step or chair when she's ready to play nicely. "Time-out" should only last as long as is necessary for him to calm down and change his behavior.

It's also okay to firmly say, "You may not do that!"
Parenting is the most challenging job we do. Your day-to-day actions can guide your child’s character and behavior in positive ways.


Is it Normal for My Child to Speak Rudely to Me When He’s Angry?

Robin Goldstein, Ph.D.
www.drrobingoldstein.com

“Be quiet, Dad. You never let me do anything!” “I don’t like you.”

“You’re not fair! Leave me alone!”

When your child is allowed to spontaneously express his anger, he may say rude, hurtful things because he’s too young to consider his parents’ feelings. In the heat of the moment, he says what he’s thinking and he doesn’t understand adult reasoning.

Anger at parents is a normal part of growing up. Learning how to express negative feelings in acceptable ways is very important, but it takes time. It also takes patience on the part of parents. Yet many parents react harshly. “Don’t you dare talk to me that way!” “I don’t want to hear that tone of voice.” If parents overreact toward their child for his disrespectful words, he may learn that feeling angry is bad and that angry thoughts shouldn’t be spoken.

While some parents overreact, others feel helpless when faced with outbursts. “Should we allow this behavior?” “Why does he talk this way?” “Am I setting enough limits?” Many parents grew up with strong restrictions on their speech. “Don’t ever say that again. It’s not nice.” Parents may be reluctant to impose similar controls on their child’s expressions of anger, yet they feel uncomfortable listening to their child say things they would never have said as children.

Your child needs a chance to speak his angry thoughts, but you also need to put limits on how he expresses himself. If certain words or attitudes are unacceptable to you, tell him. “It’s alright for you to be mad at me, but you have to change your tone of voice.” “When you stop name-calling, I will listen to you.” “I don’t like it when you talk to me that way.” “You’ll have to find another way to tell me you’re angry.” Not only do such statements guide your child toward better ways of expressing anger, they also demonstrate a respectful way of communicating that you’d eventually like him to adopt.

As you help your child control the way he speaks to you, consider his age; a young child lacks communication skills, an older child needs reminders and limits. Also, remember that your child is greatly influenced by your behavior. If you expect your child to speak respectfully, be a good example. Don’t say or yell, “Get over here this minute!” “Stop acting like a baby.” “You better listen to me!” Instead, talk to him and treat him as you would like him to treat others.

With patience, limits and guidance, your child will gradually learn to express most of his feelings appropriately. However, if you become concerned that he can’t control his anger, consider seeking outside help such as a parenting class. The way you treat this issue now will set the tone for communication with your child later.


Being Shy is Really Okay

Robin Goldstein, Ph.D.,
Author, The New Baby Answer Book
www.drrobingoldstein.com

Many people believe that shyness is an undesirable trait. Actually, shyness is a personality characteristic, not a flaw. And, reserved kids are often nice, well-behaved, and generous. Although they’re shy in some circumstances, they can also handle many situations well. One 5-year-old who wanted to try a hoola hoop that another child was using told her mother, “At first I was shy and then I just asked her if I could use it.”

Shy children are often fine in small groups of two or three children or in one-on-one conversations with an adult. A shy child who’s involved in an interesting project won’t appear shy. It’s only when she’s focused on that her shyness becomes apparent.

While shyness should not be seen as a problem for a child, it can certainly be frustrating for parents. You may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed when your child doesn’t respond as other children do.

You can help yourself and your child by avoiding uncomfortable situations and helping your child when necessary. For instance, many shy children don’t like to be put on the spot to say hello or otherwise talk on demand. If your child appears unlikely to respond to an adult’s questions, you can matter-of-factly respond for her and then quickly steer the discussion away from her. The alternative, trying to force your child to talk, will only make her feel worse and will probably be ineffective and make you feel uncomfortable. If you generally arrange situations so your child doesn’t feel focused on, everyone will feel better.

Sometimes your child will come home from school or play feeling frustrated because she couldn’t participate comfortably. She may be whiny or demanding. Accept that she needs understanding and an outlet for her feelings. If she feels comfortable enough and if she’s old enough to talk about her feelings and experiences, she may tell you about shyness and how it sometimes interferes with activities, “I was too shy to sing.” Certainly as she gets older, an accepting atmosphere at home will make it easier for your child to share her thoughts.

You may be convinced that your child will always be shy, but it’s hard to predict the paths your child will take. Some kids who are extremely shy during the preschool and elementary years gradually become more outgoing. In any case, the most important thing you can do for your child is to accept her as she is and help her find activities and situations that make her feel good. Your love, involvement, encouragement and acceptance will always benefit your child as she goes through the fun and challenging parts of growing up.


Is your child self-confident?

Robin Goldstein, Ph.D.
www.drrobingoldstein.com

Author, The New Baby Answer Book: From Birth to Kindergarten, Answers to the Top 150 Questions about Raising a Young Child

One of the most important tasks you have is to consistently let your children know they are capable, loved, and worthy of attention. Their self-esteem is based largely on feedback you give them. If you show you value them, they’ll generally feel good about themselves. If you concentrate on their faults and don’t encourage them, they may develop a poor self-image.

Some parents are not supportive. In an effort to improve their children’s behavior or to express frustration and disappointment, they speak harshly. “You’re not a good listener.” “Stop acting like a baby?” “What’s wrong with you?” “You know better!” “You’re not nice.” Children who hear these messages learn that they can’t easily please their parents or live up to their standards.

They gradually start to believe that their skills, abilities, personality or appearance aren’t good enough. In such circumstances, it’s hard for children to develop confidence.

Some parents who speak negatively to their children were themselves criticized as children and may have grown up with a lack of confidence. Even though they once struggled against harsh words and treatment, they repeat the pattern with their own children.

It’s important to think about the messages you give your children. Are you encouraging self-doubt? Are your expectations too high? Do you respect their feelings? Are you too demanding? Do you say things that make them feel shame and guilt? Are you hard to please? Do you dwell on their weaknesses and take their strengths for granted? Do you spend enough time with them?

Give your children more verbal rewards. Praise their capabilities (“You can pour your own milk!”) and accomplishments (“You built that tower by yourself”) and point out their talents (“You learned that song!”) and endearing traits (“You’re so nice to your sister”). Ignore or minimize their faults. Encourage your children when they try new activities and offer support when they need it.

When you treat your children in positive ways, they’ll feel good about themselves. This will help them build confidence. As they grow, improved self-esteem will help your children feel happier, more satisfied, and more successful!


Become a More Patient Parent!

Robin Goldstein, Ph.D.
www.drrobingoldstein.com
Author, The New Baby Answer Book: From Birth to Kindergarten, Answers to the Top 150 Questions about Raising a Young Child

At times, all parents lose their patience, especially when rushed, busy or feeling badgered by their children’s demands. “I’ve got to get to work.” “I’m trying to pay bills. Don’t make so much noise.” “I can’t read to you right now.”

Impatience due to circumstances is often mild and temporary. More harmful is constant criticism and rudeness. “Don’t be so messy! I’ve told you a hundred times to put your toys away.” “I’m tired of you whining.” “Hurry up! You’re so slow.”

If you become intolerant when things don’t go your way, and react with harsh impatience, it hurts your child’s self-confidence, harms family relationships, and causes your child to become less, rather than more, cooperative as he copies the treatment he’s received.

Impatience is also shown when you don’t make time for your child. It takes a reordering of priorities to put aside your interests and answer your child’s questions, look at his art project, take him on a walk, sit on the floor and play with him, read a book to him and genuinely take an interest in his activities.

Becoming a more patient parent takes purposeful effort and requires a change in attitude, priorities, or behavior.

Think about your tone of voice when you talk to your child—try using the same tone you’d like your child to use. Don’t shout, put him down, roll your eyes in frustration, or say, “I’m waiting!” In the long run, your child will respond more positively to your calm words and requests than to rude orders.

Make the decision to spend more time with your child. Put your work down, spend less time on the phone and computer, text less, turn the TV off and get involved with your child. And always know, that it’s more important to spend time with your child than to have a clean house.

While these suggestions are not always easy, there are definite benefits. Your child will have you as a model of more tolerant, patient behavior. He’ll feel better about himself because you’re interested in him. And the relationship between the two of you and your family will improve.


In Stores My Child Wants To Touch Everything

Robin Goldstein, Ph.D.
Robin is a Parenting Consultant and Author of, “The New Baby Answer Book.”
She can be reached at her website:  www.drrobingoldstein.com

We all like to touch interesting and attractive objects. In stores adults are easily drawn to gadgets they can manipulate and pick up. Children also want to handle what they see in stores.

Touching is one of the main ways your child learns about things around her, especially in new surroundings. Young children explore with their hands and often can only “see” something by feeling it. One three-year-old told her mother, who was holding an interesting object right in front of her daughter’s eyes, “I can’t see that far.” The child was really saying that she wanted to touch it.

When children shop with their parents, struggles often develop as parents pick up, handle, and buy items, and children want to do the same. And because most stores try to display their products in the most attractive and appealing ways possible, the temptations for a child to touch are great. Parents usually keep their children from handing merchandise because they worry about items getting broken. While it’s true that young children don’t understand the consequences of breaking things, it’s also true that most children, if properly supervised, won’t hurt items in a store. You can hold fragile objects for close-up viewing or gentle touching, and can patiently allow your child, within limits, to pick up interesting merchandise. Your child is just as interested as you are in touching objects she finds interesting. Just look around at how often adults pick up and closely look at items in stores. And, be aware of how often you say, “Don’t touch!”

Sometimes your child will be satisfied and more cooperative in a store if she’s just given enough time to examine a few objects. Parents are often in too much of a hurry while shopping to wait while their child looks at shoes on display, toys on shelves, boxes of paint brushes or piles of scarves. But many struggles can be avoided if you slow down a bit and allow an extra few minutes to accommodate your child by looking at what she’s interested in. Remember, your child is continuously receiving mini lessons in learning to value herself and her interests by the way you treat her.

If you recognize and are more patient with your child’s need to see, touch and explore, shopping will become easier and more enjoyable for everyone!


My Child is Afraid of Monsters by Robin Goldstein

Robin is a Parenting Consultant and Author of, “The New Baby Answer Book.”
  She can be reached at her website:  www.drrobingoldstein.com

All children have fears. Frightening images are a normal part of a child’sinternal world.  If your child tells you - or shows you by his timid behavior - thathe’s afraid of monsters, understand that his fears are very real.  Hereally believes monsters exist.  Try to get your child to express his fears. Talking will help him deal with them. And, since young children don't understand reality from fantasy very well, you may want to keep your child from watching scary TV shows, movies or playing scary video games. If your child tells you about a scary dream that included monsters you might want to ask him, "What can you do so that the monster won’t come back into your dream again?” When children talk about a better outcome to a scary dream or talk about pushing the monster away or beating up the monster, they begin to feel that they have some power over their fears. You might also ask your child, "How can mommy and daddy help?" Manyyoung children want the light left on in their bedroom or in the hallway. Try to accept your child's answers and solutions. Accommodating children in ways they find comforting offers an additional advantage; it helps them learn to be kind and considerate of others. While some parents find that using a “monster repellent” spray (mixing ingredients and putting it in a spray bottle) helps, it may also reinforce the notion that monsters are real. If you create a spray to get rid of the monster, you are letting your child know that you also believe that monsters are real.  Since fears escalate at night, it may be helpful to know that children simply feel better and safer when their parents are close by. During those moments a hug, distraction or helping your child think of fun think of fun things - a recent birthday party or outing - can also help to gradually train your child to change his thinking when he's having unpleasant or scary thoughts. In the meantime, patience, understanding and some middle-of-the-night comfort will get you and your child through this very normal phase.


Why Does My Child Say, “Only Mommy Do It”?

by Robin Goldstein
Robin is a Parenting Consultant and Author of, “The New Baby Answer Book.”
  She can be reached at her website:  www.drrobingoldstein.com

Between the ages of 20 months and 3 years, some children just won’t let their dads help them. When a dad tries to comfort his child during the night, get her dressed, get her some juice, or even fasten her seat belt, she may resist: “No! Only Mommy Do It!” Young children are often strongly attached to their mothers, and during this brief developmental phase they sometimes reject their father’s help.

This stage can be very frustrating. A dad who wants to take an active role in caring for his child may find it hard to understand his young child’s resistance and rejection. At times he may feel like giving up and telling his wife, “You take care of her. Why should I even try?” His feelings may be hurt and he may even show signs of resentment towards his child.

The mom’s role, too, is difficult during this stage. It’s hard for her to see her husband rejected and hard to try and persuade her child to allow him to help. There’s also more pressure on the mother to take over the work of childcare. With this extra pressure of the “only mommy do it” phase, mom may feel frustrated about always being the one to get up at night, give comfort, and get the child ready in the morning.

One mother no sooner got into bed after feeding her two-month-old baby, when her three-year-old daughter called out for water. The tired mother asked her husband to respond, but their daughter refused his help. “Not you. I want water from Mommy.” To avoid a middle-of-the-night struggle, the mother got up, but the encounter was unpleasant for both parents.

Some parents try reasoning with their child (“Mommy’s tired”) or forcing her to accept her father’s help, “If you want a drink, you’ll have to let Daddy get it.” Sometimes these statements work, but sometimes tears and tantrums follow. It may be easier to give in, at least during the night, and have mom get the drink so the family can go quickly back to sleep rather than deal with a struggle.

If dad is unable to help his child because she rejects him, he can still help his wife by taking over additional household responsibilities or caring for the couple’s other children. And both parents should try not to let the father’s feelings of rejection interfere with their basic relationship, including being loving, playful with their child. In the course of development, this stage of “only Mommy do it” is rather short.


How Can I Help My Child Adjust to First Grade

Robin Goldstein is a Parenting Consultant and Author of, “The Parenting Bible.”
Robin can be reached at her website:  www.drrobingoldstein.com

Problem: My child is having trouble adjusting to first grade. She seems a little anxious and unsure of herself when she goes off to school in the morning. She was a happy kindergartener but now needs extra help and encouragement as she adjusts first grade. How can I help her?
Insight: First grade is the beginning of “real school” and a sign of growing up; and it’s very different from kindergarten and preschool. There are new demands, expectations, and experiences. Developmentally, first graders are busy, hard working, and excited to learn. They’re also more sensitive to how others perceive them and they frequently compare themselves to others.
Strategies: There are many ways to help your child adjust to first grade. Here are some tips:
Do understand that a child’s adjustment is sometimes affected by her home situation. If she has a new sibling, she’s just moved, or if there’s tension between her parents, she may enter first grade feeling insecure or fearful.
Don’t overlook the fact that your child will have an easier time adjusting to first grade if she has friends in her class and if she has a warm and attentive teacher.  A caring teacher knows that first graders arrive with varying academic skills, social skills, and experiences.
Do know that your child may feel less anxiety about first grade if she went to kindergarten at the same school. It may also help if she has all the school supplies (and a few extra to share) she needs to begin a successful year. 
Don’t forget that adjusting to new situations takes time. Difficulties adjusting are usually temporary. Don’t’ belittle or judge your child negatively because she’s hesitant.
Do realize that first graders can easily feel insecure if other students read and write at a higher level. They’ll feel inferior if they’ve been placed in a low reading group. Children know the difference between a high and low reading group, even when groups have cute names: “leopards,” “lions,” “grasshoppers.”
Don’t say, “Why can’t you be like other kids?” in a moment of frustration while your child is adjusting. This won’t help her.
Do be careful about putting pressure on your child to do well. She really wants to be a successful learner and to please you.
Don’t minimize the importance of being understanding and supportive as a way of helping her get over her initial anxiety.
Do stay in close contact with her teacher. She’ll give you a fuller picture of your child’s behavior. While you see your child go off hesitantly, her teacher may see her joining in class activities and getting along with other children.
Don’t be unwilling to tell the bus driver or the parents you carpool with about your child’s reluctance to go to school. They can probably help make things easier.
Do consider asking another parent to give her a ride in the morning. Some kids have an easier time adjusting and separating if they aren’t with their parents during the moments before school starts. Your child may be entertained or distracted if she goes to school with another family.
Don’t forget that a “love note” to carry in her pocket or a reward, for entering school with a smile and not crying during the day, at the end of the day helps many children.
Do encourage your child to invite classmates to your home and talk about other ways of getting to know kids. Have her join an after-school activity that other first graders are involved in. This will help her feel more connected to the school.
Don’t hesitate, if after several weeks, you see no improvement in her attitude toward first grade, to talk to the school counselor or principal and ask him/her to observe your child in the classroom and offer suggestions.
Do know that even if she’s not quite ready for the demands of first grade, it’s likely that she’ll adjust as long as you continue to be patient, offer help with her work, and seek support from the school.
Don’t fail to understand the importance of helping her with her homework. Don’t expect her to complete it without reminders, your involvement and interest. She’s too young to independently do her work on her own. Be mindful of your words and tone when pointing out her mistakes.
Do make sure she’s not going off to school hungry. Let her eat raisins from the box, a nutritious strawberry smoothie, leftovers or a breakfast bar. And make sure mornings are as stress free as possible.

Bottom Line: All new beginnings take time to adjust to. Be your child’s cheerleader. Be there for her. Believe in her. Listen to her. Encourage her. As you help your child get through life’s challenges, there’s no better help than your love and support.


That Wasn’t Nice, Now Say You’re Sorry!

Robin Goldstein is a Parenting Consultant and Author of, “The Parenting Bible.”
Robin can be reached at her website:  www.drrobingoldstein.com

Problem: When my 4-year-old son hurts his sister or a friend, I want him to apologize.  After coercing him, I usually have success getting him to say he’s sorry, but he says it quickly and quietly which makes me wonder if he really means it. How important is it for kids to apologize? 
Insight:  Young children are -by nature- egocentric which simply means that they focus on their own needs and wants without considering others’ feelings.  This explains why you’re the one initiating the apology and why you don’t observe your son’s genuine feelings of being sorry when he hurts another person.  When kids reluctantly mutter, “Sorry,” it’s clear they don’t feel remorse for hurting someone else.  In fact, when they say, “I didn’t do it” or “But, I had it first” they’re letting you know that they believe (in their 4 or 5 year old way of thinking) they did nothing wrong. That’s just the way kids think.
Strategies: It’s often not easy for kids - or adults - to apologize for their negative actions or words. Yet, there are ways to respond to children's’ behaviors that will help them learn to take responsibility for their negative behaviors.  These do’s and don’ts will help you understand this problem from a developmental perspective.  
Don’t neglect to listen to your son’s side.  He won’t offer sincere apologies until he has the experience of having his side of a disagreement heard.  Children (and adults) who feel unheard often defend themselves and refuse to apologize even when they know they’re wrong. 
Do understand that at times, all young children grab, hit, knock over each other’s blocks, say mean things, and refuse to share.  Set firm limits on inappropriate behavior rather than force your son into making insincere apologies. Kids need to know that doing unkind things and being aggressive towards others is simply not allowed. 
Don’t forget that if you don’t want your son to treat others in negative ways, you need to supervise closely so that you catch it before it happens. Distract, re-direct, and get involved. This will help him learn positive ways to treat others. 
Do know that when apologizing becomes the main consequence for unacceptable behavior, your son may decide that it’s worth hitting others or knocking over their toys, because he knows that all he has to do is say ‘sorry’ afterwards and he may be excused.
Don’t enforce an apology because it’s a quick and easy way to deal with misbehavior.  Hearing your son apologize can also be very unsatisfying, particularly if he’s done something dangerous such as throw sand in a playmate’s face. 
Do help your son find ways to resolve conflicts.  Encourage him to use words to express his disappointments.  Help him with suggestions:  “I wanted to play the fish game by myself.”  Have family time when everyone says something they’re sorry for. Set the example, “I’m sorry I yelled at you today.”
Don’t overemphasize apologies.  He will learn that he can easily get off the hook; “But I said I’m sorry.”
Do understand that the real motivation for your son to change his behavior comes not from the fear of having to apologize, but from the fear of disappointing and angering you, and as he gets older, his friends. 
Don’t overlook the emotional parts. Your son may not make genuine apologies because he may be too embarrassed or ashamed to admit wrongdoing and at other times he may not like being put on the spot.  He may deny his actions, “I didn’t do it,” because he fears his parents’ reactions and disapproval.   
Do have your son help remedy a situation:  “Since you pushed over your friends’ castle, you have to help her put it back together.” 
Don’t hesitate to state, “I’m not going to let you hit him.” Or “You may not want to play with her, but I’m not going to let you hurt her.”   
Do know that since your son imitates your behavior, it’s important for you to model considerate behavior by apologizing to others, “I’m sorry for being late.”  Apologize to him when you overreact, bump into him, or take him away from play to rush out for your own reasons.  If you apologize whenever the situation calls for it, your son will eventually copy your words and actions.
Don’t neglect to understand that a child who doesn’t want his parents to get angry at him, may apologize on his own for misbehavior.  Such an apology comes from within and is much more sincere than an apology he’s forced to make.
Do explain to your son, as he gets a bit older, what it means to apologize.  “When you apologize, you tell someone that you feel sorry you hurt them.”  Explain that kids need to apologize if they make someone feel sad or tease someone or lose or break something that belonged to someone else. 
Don’t underestimate the importance of building his self-esteem so that he learns to feel secure enough to apologize to others.  A child who is insecure will be more reluctant to apologize because he will feel that it’s an attack on himself-who he is.
Bottom Line: All important learning starts in the home.  Everyday you teach your son right from wrong, and how others should be treated.  Acknowledge the hurt you do to others. Take responsibility for situations. Learn from your mistakes. And, thank you for bringing this issue to my attention.  We can all use reminders on the value and importance of those two simple words, “I’m sorry.”


Don’t Lie, Tell Me The Truth!

Robin Goldstein is a Parenting Consultant and Author of, “The Parenting Bible.”
Robin can be reached at her website:  www.drrobingoldstein.com

Problem:  While hard to admit, my kids don’t always tell the truth; “I didn’t do it!”  “It wasn’t me.”  “I didn’t leave food in the basement.”   When they lie, I tell them, “Lying is not acceptable.”  And I threaten, “If I find out you’ve lied, you’ll be punished.”  I’m having trouble winning this battle.  Your suggestions would be appreciated.
Insight:  It might surprise you to know that most kids, at times, lie. And, while there are a number of reasons why kids lie, typically they lie to avoid getting in trouble. With patience and determination, you can teach your children the value of honesty. 
And, keep this in mind as well.  We often tell children not to speak the truth if it might hurt someone else’s feelings.
Strategies:  You raise a common concern and a difficult issue for many parents.  Take these points and tips into consideration as you try to create more truthfulness and trustworthiness in your family-values all parents should work towards.
Don’t say, “Did you.....”  “Who told you to......”  “Which one of you.....”  Kids rarely respond honestly to those questions.  Kids often think, “If I don’t say I did it, she’ll never know.”  Set limits on negative behaviors by saying, “Listen guys, no more fighting.” “I want you both to clean this up.”  “You all need to work harder at getting along.” 
Do know it may be worth it to your kids to lie in order to avoid negative moments- being yelled at, punishment, put downs and embarrassment. 
Don’t minimize the fact that children who fear punishment may lie, hoping they'll avoid the consequences of misbehaving.  The harsher the punishment and the stricter and more inflexible you are, the more likely your kids will bend the truth.
Do try to understand the difference between exaggeration, distorting the truth and little ‘white lies.’  (Don’t we all do this?)
Don’t minimize the necessity of consistently telling your children what you expect of them.  Talk about the effect their lies have on other children -especially if they are older than 7.  Reinforce examples of honesty, and continue talking about what it feels like to be trusted and what it feels like not to be trusted.
Do expect some kids to lie because they’ve learned they can get away with it. 
Don’t neglect to see the benefits of temporarily removing your acceptance and affection when your children have lied.  Since kids care about pleasing their parents, they’re reluctant to risk losing their approval.   
Do know that by age 6 or 7 children know lying is wrong and often feel guilty about doing it.  Guilt serves a useful purpose.  It’s an uncomfortable feeling and a strong deterrent to negative behavior.
Don’t neglect to pay attention to the way you talk to your kids about lying. Don’t shout, “You’re lying again!”  Instead, show some understanding of their position, “I think you made up that story because you were afraid I’d get mad at you.” “Sometimes people don’t tell the truth because they’re worried about getting in trouble.” “I think you lied because you thought I wouldn’t let you go to your friend’s birthday party.”
Do expect to hear minor lies.  These lies usually involve things kids don’t want to do, such as brush their teeth or take a shower.  A child will say, “I washed my hands,” when she hasn’t.  And they commonly lie when confronted with open-ended questions from teachers or other authority figures- (“Jason, were you playing around?” “Maria, are you wasting time over there?”).  Many kids will answer “No” because they hope to avoid a reprimand and believe they won’t get in trouble for lying in such a situation.  
Don’t forget that lying occurs among peers especially about possessions because they want to have the same things their friends have.  They lie to give themselves a sense of belonging or out of a competitive desire to impress their peers.  
Do keep promises you make to your kids. 
Don’t underestimate the impact on your kids when they hear your excuses and questionable honesty:  “I’m so sorry I can’t make the meeting tonight, I’m not feeling well.”  “Sorry officer, I wasn’t aware I was speeding.”
Do consider professional help if your children repeatedly lie. There may be other dynamics and issues that are contributing to this behavior.
Bottom Line: Ultimately, the best way to get your kids to become more honest is to strengthen the ties between you. Spend more quality time with them.  Praise, encourage and compliment them.  Help them feel a greater sense of self worth.  Set solid, but age appropriate, limits on negative and inappropriate behaviors.  And, don’t make excuses for people who lie, be mindful of the lies your children hear you say, and always do your best to behave the way you want your children to behave. 


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