Cheating Childhood

ask mr - cheating kid mug shotDear Mr. Dad: My six-year-old daughter has suddenly begun telling lies—right to my face—and she’s started cheating at games too. My wife and I can’t figure out where this is coming from. We’re a very religious family and we see lying and cheating as serious moral flaws. What can we do to stop our daughter’s behavior?

A: Unfortunately, at age six, your child may have a theoretical grasp of the concepts of honesty and integrity, but right now, she’s too busy conducting an important—and completely normal—social experiment to care.

Until now, she’s looked at the world in a rather naïve, black-and-white way, believing that everyone sees and experiences things in the same way and that everyone knows the same things. But in a great developmental leap forward, she’s now discovering what psychologists call the Theory of Mind. That’s when kids (usually around six) figure out that different people can see the same situation in very different ways, that they don’t always know what’s going on inside other people’s head, and that no one will know what’s truly going on in hers unless she tells them.

This is a perfect good-news-bad-news development. On the good-news side, there’s empathy—the understanding that someone else might feel something different than she does. Being able to put herself into another person’s metaphorical shoes will help her better understand diversity and start developing rudimentary conflict-resolution skills.

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Netflix’s Halloween Scream Team

the omenDisclaimer: I’m part of the Netflix #StreamTeam, but I’ve been a Netflix power user for years and it would take a lot more than a few free movies to influence my opinions.

I’ve got to admit that Halloween—at least the costume part—has never been my favorite holiday. Oh, I used to get dressed up and take the kids out to Trick-or-Treat, and I’ve been told that I really rock a mini-skirt. But it’s hard to get excited about being someone else when I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up.

the othersIt’s entirely possible that my parents are responsible for my ho-hum attitude about costumes. When my sisters and I were little, the punishment for any mid-October-or-later infraction was that on Halloween we had to go door to door, not dressed up and asking for candy, but wearing regular clothes and collecting money in a little orange box for Unicef.

teh flyMy kids seem to have inherited my distaste for Halloween. The older two, both of whom are living on their own in New York, don’t do much in the way of late-Octover wardrobe makeovers. And the little has zero interest in anything but the candy.

rosemary's babyOne Halloween-related thing we do, though, is snuggle up together (whoever happens to be in town) and watch movies. We used to have to plan way ahead and rent actual DVDs. But now, we leave it up to Netflix.

 

the 6th senseSo on Halloween, we’ll turn off every light in the house, put a big bowl of candy on the porch, and start making our way through our list. Here’s what’s on it:

 

 

 

buffy the vampire slayer

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • The Fly (the origina, with Vincent Price)
  • The Omen (the 1976 original)
  • Rosemary’s Baby (1968 original)
  • Scary Movie (the whole series)
  • Silence of the Lambs
  • The Sixth Sense

 

scary movie 5

Spanking Gets Results: But All the Wrong Kinds

mrdad - spanking - wikicommonsDear Mr. Dad: I was over at a friend’s house and was surprised to see her spanking her 4-year old. I’ve never hit any of my kids and don’t have any plans to do so. But after taking an informal poll of other parents I know, I was surprised to find that I’m actually in the minority. Should I rethink my no-spanking policy?

 A: Please don’t. There’s some debate about whether an actual majority of parents spank their children. For example, one study found that while 62 percent of parents in the South admit to having spanked their children, only 41 percent of parents in the rest of the country have. And according to a recent study done by researchers at Columbia University, 57 percent of moms and 40 percent of dads engaged in spanking when their children were three years old, and 52 percent of moms and 33 percent of dads were still spanking when their kids were five. But let’s not quibble over semantics. The point is that way, way too many parents are hitting their children—and it needs to stop.

I know I’m going to hear from a lot of readers who will swear up and down that spanking works. And they’re right. Spanking definitely gets the child’s attention and will usually get him or her to immediately do what you say. That’s great in the moment, but what about future moments?

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OMG, Can’t You Smell That? When Teens Don’t Bathe…

when teens don't batheDear Mr. Dad: My 12-year-old daughter won’t shower, she won’t brush her teeth, and she wears the same clothes every day—and sometimes even sleeps in them. Honestly, she’s not very pleasant to be around. Is this normal? Either way, how can I motivate her to be a little cleaner?

This probably won’t help you feel any better—and it certainly won’t do anything about the smell emanating from your sweet daughter—but what you’re describing is very common among pre-teens. Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix.

There are a number of possible explanations. First, disregarding personal hygiene is sometimes a symptom of depression. Think about other areas of her life: Does she seem withdrawn socially? Have her friendships changed? Are her grades dropping? Have her diet or sleep patterns changed? If any of those are true, call her pediatrician. He or she will know whether to call in the mental heal professionals. Plus, a few words about showering from a non-family member might make a difference.

Second, she may be too busy—at least in her mind. From your perspective, she probably spends way too much time on her computer or her phone—time that might be better spent with a bar of soap. From her perspective, she’s just staying in touch with her friends.

Third, she may be trying to get your attention. Clearly, she has.

Fourth, this could be a power play. At 12, your daughter is relatively powerless. You may get her involved in family decisions and you may give her choices, but the final decisions are yours. Not bathing, brushing teeth, or wearing clean clothes might be your daughter’s way of exerting some control. The same dynamic is common among kids who are obese or who have eating disorders. Forcing a child to eat, stop eating, or get in the shower is nearly impossible. As a parent who’s been exactly where you are, I’d much rather be worrying about a hygiene problem than a potentially life-threatening eating disorder.

Here’s what you can do to help.

  • One common pre-teen and teen refrain is “you just don’t understand me!” There’s some truth there. Pre-teens have a lot going on in their head and we rarely ask about it. A few non-judgmental questions will show her that you care and might help you get to know her better.
  • Adolescence is a time when kids want to be liked and fit in. It’s also prime time for bullying and teasing. Nobody gets picked on, bullied, or socially excluded more than kids who are visibly or olifactorily different. Explaining to your daughter that she may be jeopardizing her social life might make a difference.
  • Do nothing. Actually being excluded or teased by her peers will get the point across more effectively than anything you say.
  • Have her read the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle story, “The Radish Cure.” The fictional Mrs. Piggle Wiggle comes up with delightfully creative solutions to parenting problems. In this story, she recommends to the parents of a child who refuses to bathe that they wait until their little darling is covered by half an inch of dirt, then, when she’s asleep, plant radish seeds. Seeing the sprouts was all it took to drive the child into the bath.
  • Don’t make threats. Threatening to take away her phone or Internet time may make the problem worse. If you absolutely must make a threat, be sure you can follow through. In a moment of frustration, I told one of my daughters that I wouldn’t take her to school the next day unless she showered and brushed her teeth. Dumb move on my part.

Supporting Mr. New Guy

Dear Mr. Dad: I just heard that my ex-wife is moving in with her boyfriend. We’ve been divorced for nearly two years and she wasn’t cheating on me, but I’m furious. Plus, I’m worried about how this is going to affect my kids and my relationship with them. Why am I so upset, and what do you suggest that I do?

 A: Discovering that your former wife is having sex with someone else brings up a whole flurry of strong and sometimes-unexpected emotions, regardless of how long ago your marriage ended. Here’s what’s going on:

You’re confronting reality. When your ex moves in with someone else (or even starts actively dating), it’s hard to deny that your relationship with her has ended. It also ends any fantasies you may have had that the two of you will reconcile.

You’re curious. I think it’s basic human nature in these situations to wonder about the new guy. Love your ex or hate her, you’ll probably be curious about where the two of them go and what they do.

She may be moving in with the world’s biggest moron, and she may dump him and start dating moron number two next week, but none of that is any of your business and you can’t do anything about it anyway. (If she does start dating and the two of you are able to communicate civilly, gently encourage her not to introduce the kids and the boyfriend for a long while.)

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Is My Baby Antisocial?

baby back - google - okay to modify and reuseDear Mr. Dad: My 7-month old baby is happy and playful when he’s at home. But when I take him to my new dads’ group (yes, that’s a real thing), he seems to have zero interest in interacting with the other kids. The same thing happens at the park or anywhere else where there are other babies. I’m worried that there’s something wrong with him or that I’m doing something wrong. Is there?

Sounds to me like the only thing that’s wrong is your expectations. Until babies are about 10 months old, they’re generally not very interested in interacting with other humans except the ones they see every day and who feed them. It has to do with something called “object permanence.” Let’s say your baby is playing with a toy. If you gently take it away and replace it with another one, he won’t protest. And if you cover it with a blanket, he won’t look for it. As far as he’s concerned, it no longer exists.

But in the not-too-distant future—usually at about 10 months—you’ll notice a dramatic shift. His out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality will gradually fade as he discovers that, gasp, objects continue to exist even when he can’t see them. Now, he’ll protest if you take away something he’s playing with, he’ll get excited when he sees a favorite toy, and he’ll look around for it if it’s not right in front of him. He’ll also start paying attention to other babies.

Paying attention to other babies doesn’t mean interacting with them, though. Babies typically do what’s called “parallel play,” meaning that they’re perfectly happy to play with a toy while sitting next to another baby, but they might as well be in separate rooms.

To adults, babies engaging in parallel play look like they’re ignoring each other. And if that’s all they’re going to do, what’s the point of getting them together? The point is that it’s a stage they have to go through. Although you may not notice it, those babies are occasionally glancing at each other and they’re taking mental notes on how to steal each other’s play techniques. Today’s fleeting interactions are laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s lifelong friendships.

It’s a slow process, so don’t expect too much too soon. Over the next year or two, it’ll look more and more like little kids are playing with each other, and you may even notice some behavior that will seem very much like cooperation and sharing. It won’t be. What you’re watching is actually a live-action play called, “Toddler Property Rules in Action.” It goes like this: “If I see it, it’s mine. If I’m holding it, it’s mine. If you’re holding it and I want it, it’s mine. If you were holding it and you put it down, tough luck—it’s mine. Once something is mine, it’s mine forever so don’t even think about trying to take it from me.” Like parallel play, these rules are a normal part of child development. It’ll be a while before they can imagine that other people might have feelings.

Despite all this, there are a few things you can do to help your baby develop friendships.

  • Keep putting him in situations where he’ll be near other babies.
  • Don’t expect them to play together: Plop them down next to each other, give them toys, and step back.
  • If your baby is shy, withdrawn, or gets fussy, don’t force the issue.
  • Limit these “play dates” to a few minutes.
  • Praise anything that looks like sharing or pro-social behavior, but don’t expect to see too much of it.

photo credit: en.wikipedia.org