Featured Questions

  • Q: I've read plenty about how time-out is so effective and will work great, but haven't found it useful with any of my 3 children over the years. Does it really work and, if so, how should I do it?

    A: It seems Time-Out is one of those things every parent has a strong opinion about. One of those things that can be described in any number of ways, so parents really - truth be told - aren't all talking about the same thing when they debate the usefulness of time-out. Kind of like debating which "way" to parent in general - there's just a lot more detail to it than that! The fact is there are seemingly dozens of ways parents can do, and actually do, time-out. And, honestly, most of what parents describe to me as what they've historically done as time-out is NOT really time-out. So, I can see why it hasn't worked! What are some of the hallmarks of the whole time-out process that can and do make it work, as opposed to not? Take your child to time-out, instead of waiting for them to put themselves in time-out. Would the police wait for you to go to jail when you want, or would they take you to jail and that's that? If your child gets out of time-out before the time is up, take them back. Repeat as often as necessary to finish the allotted time. Again, if you broke out of jail, would the police just say "oh, well, I guess he won't stay, so we'll just let him go"? Parents should determine how long time-out is and when it is over. How long would you stay in jail if given the absolute choice? When time-out is over, your child should be directed back to square one. Either they then comply, or it's back into time-out. Repeat as necessary. Really. For example, if your son goes to time-out for refusing to pick up his toys, then after time-out he's taken back to the toys to pick them up. If not, then - well, you get the picture. Or, if your daughter hits you and goes to time-out for it, after it's finished say "if you hurt anyone again, you go right back to time-out." Stick with it! Don't even start time-out if you don't have time to see it through. Make the time-out spot as boring as possible. But, remember, a child can make the arm of a chair into a landing strip for a pretend finger airplane, and there's not much you can do about that. You can, however, require they stay in the chair until time is up and that fact alone is not fun for kids. In addition, don't forget that you're in charge of time-out and they're not. They're in charge of changing their behavior so you can praise that good behavior! It's really the praising of good behavior when it happens that helps further enhance the power of time-out when it's needed, and also decreases undesired behavior over time. Moreover, assume time-out will work! Most of the parents I've met who say it doesn't work not only fell for some or all of the pitfalls above but also assumed it would never work.

  • Q: My two young children always, and I mean always, are asking to buy every little thing at the store. It's driving me up the wall. Is...this...Normal????

    A: For young children, at least up to 5 or 6 years old, it can be quite common for them to very frequently ask to buy what seems like everything on the shelf! On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense developmentally. For instance, they tend to say whatever they're thinking at the moment, they do actually want just about everything they see and, hey, there it is just waiting to be put in the cart. Moreover, think of how they see us shop as adults. We go to the store, say "we need this" or "I want to get that" and it winds up back at home. In their minds, they want the same power, even though they, of course, aren't thinking through the fact that things cost x amount of money and you can't buy everything! Still, on the other hand, the "I-wanna-buy-that" routine can get downright tiresome, to say the least. Make sure you aren't reinforcing it by giving them what they ask for even though you already said "no." Be sure all the adults who go shopping with them are consistent and firm. If one parent, grandparent, or whoever, tends to give in - or always gives in! - then children want and expect all other adults to do the same. Wouldn't you? Try telling them, if it's the grocery store for instance, that they can choose what type or kind of something to buy, such as which cereal to buy, so they do feel they have some power over purchases. But, that they lose that choice if they whine about buying other things. Finally, consider setting up trips to the store with the sole aim of teaching them that whining about buying stuff means you will drive straight home. Kids hate having to leave a store or place they like, and this can prove a potent lesson to them. Just don't try this when it's a store you must finish shopping at, because then you probably wouldn't follow through with the lesson! Good luck!

  • Q: My two kids, ages 4 and 9, are terrified of hurricanes! We live in a state far from any coastline, and in a part of the country where there is basically no way that even any tiny remnant of a hurricane could come near us. But, any mention of hurricanes - and now even bad weather of any kind - and they look and act horrified. We barely watched any of the coverage of last season's hurricanes in the news, but I think my oldest child saw more about it and talked about it in her class at school. The 4-year-old may have seen some part of a weathercast about those hurricanes, but that couldn't have been more than a few seconds. Could they really be that scared of them?

    A: Yes, they could be, and sounds like they absolutely are, very scared of hurricanes, no matter where you live. Fears about weather are very common for children, and hurricanes can be particularly terrifying to them. Think about the descriptors we use about hurricanes, and you'll realize that in a child's mind it sounds like we are describing a living, breathing being, and a nasty one at that! Hurricanes have names, "human" names; we also describe them as "her" and "she," and how many people she killed and houses she destroyed; they have an eye (one eye, perhaps even scarier to a child than two eyes!); and, it's not uncommon to hear a news or weather person talking about one being a "monster storm." Think about what a child might see, too, in the news that would further reinforce that fear. They can actually see that eye, see the storm rotating (often looking like a huge saw blade spinning on the t.v. screen), and see "her" filling the entire t.v. screen she is so gigantic. To a child, that can mean the hurricane is so huge that it must be everywhere, including far from any coastline, and precisely where they live, too. In the case of this year's storms, the magnitude was, of course, so large that they continue to dominate the news. Children see all of that - even for a split second - in the news and all of the fear I just described takes over. Not really any surprise when you think about it from their perspective! More importantly, from your description of things I would strongly suggest taking them both to talk with a therapist about their fears to help them cope and move past this.

  • Q: My 12-year-old son has recently talked a lot about wanting to live with his father, instead of with me and his 14-year-old sister. I'm not totally sure what has initiated this, although my son has lately seemed to truly miss his father more and more. We divorced 5 years ago, and my ex lives several hours away. The problem is that he never was a very good father or role model by any stretch of the imagination. Since the divorce, he's rarely even tried to see our children. I know he can't keep a job, and is frequently lucky to make ends meet. According to friends, he is involved with some pretty unsavory characters, and it's unclear what type of activities (illegal?) he might be involved in with them. Still, I've read a lot about the importance and need for boys to know their fathers and to preferrably live with them as teenagers. Is that true? What should I do?

    A: What should you do? Well, my first thought is to strongly suggest that you do not jump at the chance to send your son off to live with dad! Why? Your son, like all kids, needs a loving, safe, and secure environment. I don't know if dad is loving or not, but you certainly do not paint a picture of safety and security with him [particularly in your unedited question]. I know a lot of people talk about "boys needing their fathers," especially as teenagers. However, as a child psychologist I know of no research or other compelling reason why a boy "needs" to live in the type of environment you describe. It just doesn't make sense. Now, with that said, you might consider calling dad or even arranging a meeting with him to get a feel for how he's doing. If you're not sure if your "sources" are accurate and honest in their description of dad currently, then by all means check into it yourself. You could even tell dad that your son has made mention of maybe living with him, and seeing what dad's reaction is. In my experience, those parents (mothers OR fathers) who aren't ready or able to parent at any given time tend to make it known that they really don't want to take that task and responsibility on. The bottom line is that if you're not sure about all of this, then check out the facts to see what, if any, relationship seems o.k. between your son and his father now. What about your son? Well, have you asked him directly why he wants to live with dad? Sometimes kids say this for a fairly unrealistic reason (e.g., "I bet dad will let me drop out of school in the 7th grade, but you won't, mom!"). Could it be that your son would be satisfied with even a regular telephone conversation with dad? The fact is, if you're unsure why your son wants this so much now, ask him. And talk about the reasons he gives you. What else? Let's say it turns out that dad really is totally incapable of being an appropriate and responsible parent at this time. At 12 years old, your son could probably understand the basic details of why that is. Other than those basic details, you can also tell him that some folks just aren't ready to be good parents when they need to be. Play it by ear, and decide then if you think it would be helpful to have your son talk with a child psychologist in person. It might be. Finally, if your son really does say - in so many words - that he just wants to be around male role models more, then consider calling Big Brothers in your local area. Other than that, I have seen parents of boys have success in either getting an adult male relative or other good role model to spend more time with them.

  • Q: Our 3 year old boy just recently started saying the word "poop" very often and then laughing heartily about it. On the one hand, it seems like a phase but, on the other hand, some family members have said it seems very unusual, and troublesome I think, to them. Is his behavior normal?

    A: In a word, yes. So normal, in fact, can you guess where the phrase "potty humor" came from? This is most common among 3 to 6 year olds and stems from their recent potty training efforts, young sense of humor, and fascination with the newfound possibilities of the human body! Your son is laughing because 1) he really is saying it in humor, and 2) at least some - if not all - other children and adults laugh at (and reinforce) it when he does so. What to do? It will decrease, and stop, over time. If you want that to happen sooner than later then, first, ignore it as much as possible. That is, no looking at him or talking to him, at all, when he does it. Second, put limits on when he can say it, who he can say it to/with, and that he cannot say it in anger (as in sort of like a pint-size curse word). Otherwise, a normal negative consequence should occur, such as going to his room where only he could hear himself say it, or perhaps having a true time-out if the particular episode warrants it. Otherwise, don't worry. Again, it's quite normal, and it won't last forever!