Did You Say Something, Mom?

Dear Mr. Dad: I hate to admit it, but my children won’t listen to me—especially when I ask them to help around the house. As a result I end up doing everything myself. The other day, I asked them to help me wash the car, which was filthy. I waited, asked again, and nothing. So I went outside and did it myself. A few weeks before, I told them to take the dog for a walk, they ignored me and the dog ended up pooping on the carpet (you gave this as an example a few months ago—I can’t believe it actually happened), so I had to clean it up. I’ve tried giving them more warnings and have even threated to take away some of their privileges, but they just say things like, “Why should we wash the car? It’s not ours” or “He’s your dog—you’re the one who adopted him.” I’m getting angrier and angrier at them. Something has to change, but what?

A: You have every right to be angry, but you should direct that anger toward yourself. In a word, what needs to change is you. Or, more accurately, the way you allow your kids to treat you. By giving them endless warnings, making empty threats, and then doing yourself what you asked them to do, you’ve taught them several important lessons: (a) They don’t need to respect you, (b) If they ignore you long enough, you’ll eventually give up, (c) it’s okay to not be a team player.
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Ask More from Your Kids and Do Less for Them

Emma Jenner, author of Keep Calm and Parent On.
Topic: Raising children by asking more from then and doing less for them.
Manners and respect; boundaries and consequences; scheduling and routines; communication; self-esteem; trusting your instincts; quality time.

Conquer Your Stress + Keep Calm and Parent On

Doni Wilson, author of The Stress Remedy.
Topic: Master your body’s synergy and optimize your health.
How to analyze the sources of your stress and determine how your body has been affected; understanding synergy; how imbalances create weight gain, cholesterol problems, and more; leaky gut and how it could be compromising your entire system.

Emma Jenner, author of Keep Calm and Parent On.
Topic: Raising children by asking more from then and doing less for them.
Manners and respect; boundaries and consequences; scheduling and routines; communication; self-esteem; trusting your instincts; quality time.

Whose Kids Are These, Anyway?

Dear Mr. Dad: My son has two young children and a few years ago married a woman who has two children of her own. My son and his wife are having some financial troubles and my wife and I have volunteered to help them out with babysitting whenever they need it, which is quite often. My son’s children are pretty well-behaved when they come to my house. They help set and clear the table, say “please” and “thank you,” participate in mealtime conversations, and so on. They’re not perfect, but who is? My daughter-in-law’s kids are a different story. They’re rude, disrespectful, refuse to help out, criticize the food we prepare for them, and generally act like they’re living in a hotel. It’s gotten so bad that I’m about to tell my daughter-in-law that her children are no longer welcome in my house, but I’m afraid that might end up hurting my son’s marriage. His wife truly believes her children can do no wrong. What should we do?

A: Ah, welcome to the wonderful world of grandparenting in the age of blended families. You’re absolutely right to worry about throwing a wrench into your son’s marriage. But you also need to be concerned about how his stepchildren’s behavior might affect your relationship with him. There’s also a serious risk that as your biological grandchildren see what their stepsiblings get away with, they’ll start imitating them. So you’ve got to put an end to this problem right away. Unfortunately, no single approach will work every time, so here are a number of strategies that will allow you to attack this problem from several angles at once.

  • Do NOT talk directly to your daughter-in-law, at least not alone. From your description, she’ll just get defensive and will end up painting you as the bad guy. That will put your son in the awful position of being in the middle between you and his wife.
  • Treat all four children the same. If anything you do comes even remotely close to favoritism, again, you’ll be branded as the bad guy.
  • Talk directly to all four kids at once. Tell them—without singling anyone out—that there are some behaviors going on that are simply not acceptable and that if things don’t change in a hurry, you’ll make a report to their parents.
  • Call a family meeting; you, your wife, son, daughter-in-law, and all four kids. Tell them that you have certain rules in your house and that rude, disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated. Ask the kids to create consequences (don’t use the word “punishment”) for breaking the rules. Chances are they’ll come up with things that are harsher than anything you would have. The added bonus is that when they break the rules they won’t be able to gripe about the punishment.
  • Talk with your son and his wife. Tell them that you often have trouble with the kids and that you need their help establishing some rules. Be very careful that you don’t single out your daughter-in-laws kids. It’s critical that she and your son support you by telling the kids that when they’re in your house, they play by your rules. And that violating those rules will result in serious consequences. This is critical. The kids have to hear from their own parents that you’re the supreme authority in your home.
  • This one is hard but it has to be done. Tell your son and daughter-in-law that if the behavior doesn’t stop, they will have to make other childcare arrangements.

Hey, Are You Spanking My Child?

Dear Mr. Dad: My mom watches my 3-year-old son while I work part-time. I appreciate her help but it bothers me that she spanks him when he misbehaves or disobeys. I’ve been meaning to speak with her about this, but have been holding off because I can’t afford to hire a babysitter and I don’t want to antagonize my mom. What do you suggest?

A: Boy, that’s a tough one. On one hand, it’s comforting—not to mention more convenient and less expensive—to have your son cared for by a loving relative while you’re at work. On the other, if you and your mom can’t reach an agreement on how to discipline your child, you’ve got a real problem—regardless of the financial savings or the convenience factor.
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Setting Limits

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have been talking a lot about the importance of setting limits for our two children, ages 5 and 7. We know we must do this but we aren’t sure how to go about it, especially since the kids continually challenge us on every new rule. But it’s so exhausting. Any suggestions?

A: You’re absolutely right to be talking about setting limits. Boundaries are essential for raising well-behaved kids, especially in this age of “anything goes.” I wish you would have started your discussions a few years ago (and you probably do too), but it’s never too late.
Why is it so important for parents to set boundaries–and for the children to respect them? Well, start by thinking of your family in a larger context. Every civilized society has rules and regulations. Some may be reasonable and others less so, but just imagine what the world would be like if everyone made and followed their own rules, while ignoring and breaking everyone else’s. (To a child, that might sound like paradise, but as adults, we can hopefully see the larger picture.)

Unfortunately, children aren’t born with a pre-loaded set of rules. So if we don’t teach them the difference between good and bad behavior, healthy and dangerous habits, kind and hurtful actions, how will they ever know what’s positive and acceptable and what isn’t?

Okay, now that we’ve got the philosophy of limit-setting down, let’s talk about how to start establishing rules and how to make sure they’re the right ones for your family. Here are some guidelines I think you’ll find helpful:

  • Boundaries should be reasonable and clear to a child. It’s sometimes a delicate balancing act, but you’ve got to find the middle ground between being too lenient and too strict.
  • Limits should be age-appropriate. What works now for your 5 and 7-year-old, won’t work for a teen. And in fact, what works for your 5 year old probably won’t work for the 7 year old.
  • Be flexible. As your children get older, you’ll need to modify your house rules accordingly.
  • Make sure the kids understand why each rule is necessary. You may say, for example, that they’re not allowed to go to a friend’s house alone because they’re too young to cross the street by themselves. Explaining the reason behind each boundary will show them that you don’t make the rules arbitrarily just to curtail their freedom, but, rather, to protect them in a potentially unsafe environment. That said, make sure your children understand that while you’re happy to discuss certain rules, there are some—health and safety issues, for example—that are non-negotiable.
  • Establish clear consequences for breaking rules. Kids have to be held accountable for their actions so they grow into responsible and trustworthy adults. When—not if—they test the boundaries or break the rules, be prepared to enforce the consequences right away. If you don’t, the kids will learn that breaking rules is okay or that there’s always one more “last warning.” That’s not a lesson that will serve them well in adulthood, when the consequences for bending or breaking the rules will be harsher.

All in all, setting boundaries isn’t going to be easy—we want our children to love us and don’t want them to be mad at us, which is exactly what will happen when they inevitably bang up against the rules. But it’s our job to stand firm. The result will be more respectful, better-mannered kids who will grow into responsible, likeable adults.