5 Common Parenting Problems You Probably Have: How to Tackle Them
Good behavior is the key to a happy, well-adjusted child. It’s also the golden ticket for parents! But modifying undesirable behavior to desired behavior takes time. And patience. We’ve identified five common problems that parents encounter, complete with solutions, so you can enjoy a happier, well-adjusted family.
Common Parenting Problem #1: Getting Your Tuned-Out Child to Tune In
Hello? Hello? Is anyone in there? Kids of all ages have an innate ability to tune out. But can you blame them? With all the distractions in their lives—the Internet, video games, live chat, social media—it’s no wonder our kiddos have become masters of blocking things out. But you, Mom and Dad, are not acceptable members of your kid’s blackout list. They need to learn to listen to you.
“It’s the single most common question I get,” said Dr. Michele Borba, internationally recognized expert and author on children, teens, parenting and moral development. “We’ve become a non-listening society, but as parents, we need to expect our children to listen to us.”
The best way to help children learn how to be better listeners is to give them warm-up time. Something as simple as “Hey, I need your attention,” is a good start, Dr. Borba explained. In my house, I use a technique that grabs their attention (I hope!) with a promise of a non-lecture. It goes something like this: “Hey, I need 30 seconds to tell you something.” As silly as that may sound, it works…as long as I stick to 30 seconds).
Tips to get children to listen
- Punctuate directions with a period: “I need you to go to bed now,” as opposed to a question like, “How would you like to go to bed now?”
- Have them repeat directions: Having your child repeat back to you what you said is a big help. It ensures he’ll listen, but you’ll also be on the same page.
- Make eye contact: Teach your child, when you are talking with them, to make eye contact. Dr. Borba suggests having children focus on the eye color of the person who is speaking. It’s a sure-fire way eliminate outside distractions.
Common Parenting Problem #2: Whine. Whine. Repeat. Whine. Whine. Repeat.
It’s draining, isn’t it? One of my three children was a golden-gloves whiner. Thinking back on it, their persistence was rather amazing. But wow, was it ever so challenging for me.
“The single most important thing about whining to remember,” explains Dr. Borba, “Is that it is attention-getting.”
Attention-getting and apparently very effective. Some research shows that, on average, parents give in to a child’s whining after nine attempts. I would have suspected far fewer attempts.
Good news, though, for the parents that don’t want to suffer through those nine agonizing attempts. There is a way to navigate past the whining. And, according to Dr. Borba, it starts with parents nipping it in the bud and staying calm while doing so.
- Ignore it: That’s easily said and hard to do, but the process to end it begins with ignoring.
- Create signals: Develop signals to remind the child to stop. It can be as simple as a hand signal suggesting the action, “stop.”
- Get positive: Reinforce positive ways to ask for things. This doesn’t mean you have to give in and give them what they want, but it’s important to point out the positive way they asked for something.
And the crucial key to stopping a whiny child? Start the process of making it unacceptable when they are very little.
Common Parenting Problem #3: Back Talk
When I was a child, it was called being “lippy.” And it was one of the worst things a parent could call a child. Whatever it’s called today, it’s serious. “We are seeing this at an earlier and earlier age,” said Dr. Borba.
“We’re a reality television show society,” she explained. “Our children see that talking back or being sarcastic gets the laugh.”
This is just another reason to monitor their media diet.
Our children are also seeing their peers talk back to their parents and get away with it. And that behavior continues, often into the school setting with teachers.
But there’s hope. And a fix.
“We need to treat back talk like we treat whining,” explains Dr. Borba. “Because whining escalates to back talk.” And all of that leads to a total breakdown of respect. And, as the parent, respect is something you should expect. Expect respect.
When you are the recipient of back talk from your child, simply say the word, “freeze.” Teach them, over time, that when you use this word, you perceive that they are not using the appropriate words to communicate with you. Then give them a chance to start over.
And with older children? Using the word “freeze” may not work. If not, simply ask them to leave, then come back and try again once they feel ready.
Common Parenting Problem #4: Turning “Me” to “We”
Many of us are guilty of it. We try to instill in our children a firm understanding of who they are in our lives. And suddenly, somewhere, they start to think that they are the center of the universe.
“We’re becoming a ‘me, me, me’ society,” explained Dr. Borba. “But our job as parents is to stretch our children from ‘me’ to ‘we.’”
How do we do that?
- Spread the wealth: Focus some of your praises on the team, as opposed to your child alone. For example, point out how well the entire class did on a project, or celebrate the accomplishments of their soccer team, not just their individual effort.
- Help them serve: Find ways for your children to help others. It might be as simple as raking leaves for a neighbor.
- Do it together: Volunteer as a family because it gives your kids the taste of helping others. And it’s the best antidote to self-centeredness.
- Don’t ignore it: Model accordingly everyday. When you see someone who is sad, talk about it. When you see a homeless person, talk about how you feel.
Dr. Borba explains the world is changing. “Research shows that incoming college students display less empathy and more narcissism.” It’s a dangerous trend that can only be reversed if children further develop their emotional identification and their ability to understand feelings. This starts with their own feelings and then moves to better understanding the feelings of others.
Common Parenting Problem #5: A Child that Hits
This is a tough one for many parents. I know firsthand. But if you are raising a hitter, the most important step you need to take as a parent is to admit it.
“Acknowledge it,” said Dr. Borba, “because hitting is a behavior that will escalate, and it will become entrenched by the age of eight.”
- Evaluate if your child is modeling behavior, possibly yours. If so, the first step towards modifying behavior starts with you.
- If your child is in school, talk to his teacher to determine if hitting is a problem outside the home.
- Determine if there are certain social settings where your child is more likely to hit.
- Observe your child’s ability (or inability) to use words when they are frustrated or angry.
Your understanding of the details behind your child’s hitting will help you develop a plan to change behavior, which starts with a conversation, adjusted for his age:
“I’ve noticed that when you get angry or frustrated you hit, and that is not allowed. Everyone gets angry at times. I get angry. Grandma and Grandpa get angry. But when we are angry we use words. Or we walk away. So you need to know that anytime you hit, you’ll take a ‘time out’ so you can calm down. and I can help you figure out a better way to show your anger.”
Be sure to have this conversation when things are calm and not in the heat of the moment. And be diligent in removing them from the situation each and every time they hit (or, better yet, when you see a scenario develop where hitting is likely to occur).
Then focus on giving them tools to better express their anger. The best way to teach new behavior is to role play. So when you are watching a television show or movie with your child, and you see an example of someone handling their anger properly, stop the show and point out what your observed. “Look at what they did when they were angry. I bet you could use words like that, don’t you?”
Changing behavior takes time. And parenting is a marathon. Not a sprint. Take everything one step at a time, Mom and Dad. Your stick-with-it-ness and consistency will pay off.