Answers to Top Kid Behavior Issues Parents Ask

by | Oct 28, 2011 | Discipline & Behavior, Parenting, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions

Picky Eaters. Tantrums. Sleepless. Time out! Whining. Top questions moms asked me last week on  Dr. Drew Lifechanger’s and my answers

If you didn’t get the memo here is it is: There is no perfect parent. This I promise.

We’re all in this extraordinary role of trying to raise good kids together and we all make mistakes.

This week I had the pleasure of appearing again as the Parenting Lifechanger  for Dr. Drew’s wonderful new show. Last month’s show was on curbing Mommy Stress-here is the link if you’d like to see me on that segment with Dr. Drew.

This week I appeared on a fabulous panel with parenting expert who specializes in kid sleep issues, a pediatrician and two celebrities. The audience was filled with moms who all had questions about parenting. I’ve also learned that some questions are predictable:

“What to do for a picky eater? How do you curb a tantrum? Why doesn’t time out work for me? How do you get my kid to sleep in his own bed?”

The link on the show is posted on Dr. Drew’s website. Meanwhile, here are answers to the top four “What am I doing wrong?” mom questions from that audience.

TIME OUT: “It doesn’t work! Why don’t I get results???!!!

Time out is a discipline strategy in which a child is immediately removed from an activity for inappropriate behavior (like hitting, biting, defiance). Parents often complain to me that time out doesn’t work. When I dig deeper I find that there are typically four big no-nos they do. Turn these around and you’ll be more likely to get better results using Time-Out.

Here are the most common parenting Time Out mistakes and the solutions.

Using the wrong place! Find a quiet place where the child is isolated but safe. Make sure he doesn’t receive attention from others and has no access to distractions like games, toys, Ipods, computers, pets, food, TV, pals, phones. He’ll want to be there!

Setting inappropriate time. The time length is one minute for each year of the child’s age (three years equals three minutes, six years equals six minutes, and so on).

Giving attention. The single biggest parenting mistake is talking to the child during time out. Wrong move! Instead you must ignore, ignore, ignore. Any interaction with your child will only reinforce whatever misbehavior he is displaying. Your goal is to remove the attention from the child’s inappropriate action and not reinforce that misbehavior (which could increase its frequency until it becomes a bad habit).

Inconsistency! Use time out anyplace and anytime your child displays the inappropriate behavior and the minute the child misbehaves (or as soon as convenient).

Used correctly and consistently you should see a gradual diminishment of the behavior you want to curb!

ATTENTION GETTING BEHAVIORS: “What is the best way to stop a tantrum?”

Arguing, whining, pouting, sulking, and tantrum throwing are annoying but don’t generally cause a danger to anyone or damage anything if they are used to try to get the kid’s way. And here’s a big secret: kids usually use them as attention-getters because they work. Our big time parenting mistake: we give the behavior attention and so the kid wins.

REALITY CHECK: Research shows that the longer you give a tantrum attention, the longer it lasts.

REALITY CHECK: Did you know that the average kid whines at parent nine times for that treat, and at the ninth time the parent gives in!

Here are the parenting solutions:

1. Do NOT give attention-getting behaviors attention and the behavior will stop. The trick is that you must give absolutely NO attention to the child the nano second he starts the antic. Make sure the child is safe. Make sure the child is using the behavior primarily for attention getting. You can pretend to be deaf or that your child is invisible. (Two Mommy tricks that help! One mom pretends her kid is speaking in foreign tongues. Whatever works!)

2. The split second your kid uses the right behavior reinforce it! “Thank you for using that nice tone! I like that tone. Now what did you want to ask?”

3. Once you start ignoring a certain behavior you must keep ignoring. Any attention-getting behavior may increase slightly before subsiding—warning…warning…because the kid is testing you. So just don’t let him win!

PICKY EATERS: “Should I give in and be a short order cook?”

Are you just plain worn out from mealtimes become brutal battlegrounds? If so your kid is a member of the “Finicky Eater Club.”

Studies confirm there are ways to help kids be more willing to try even their peas and broccoli and that our wrong responses may even increase our kids picky eating habits.

Here are a few parenting “don’ts” to avoid that might help you reap better results at mealtimes and what you should “do” instead.

Don’t rush. Some kids—especially younger ones—take longer to eat, so make mealtime more leisurely. Let your child chew longer if needed, and give her time to eat at her own pace.

Don’t be a short-order cook. Fixing extra, substitute meals only teaches finicky eaters that they don’t need to eat what’s on their plate. So don’t cook individual dishes. Instead provide a less-favorite food with more popular ones.

Don’t insist on clean the plate. Coaxing kids to “eat more” will get you nowhere. So don’t push food, but do encourage the “One Bite Rule” (try at least one small bite but you never have to like it).

Don’t give up! Studies show that calm, repeated exposed to a new food—especially vegetables–daily for 5 to 14 days is often effective to getting kids to overcome a food aversion. So don’t give up on the food if your kid puts it in the “yuk” category the first time. Instead choose one new item at a time to introduce.

Don’t give too much: “Shrink” the food serving so it doesn’t appear so daunting: use smaller portions (even a teaspoon size) served on smaller plates.

SLEEP ISSUES “How do I get my kid to sleep!!!?

REALITY CHECK: Chronic kid sleep issues is one of the most common childhood problems these days. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine estimates that one in three kids are sleep-deprived. Could that be your child?

The result is children who are cranky, irritable, hyper, moody, have trouble focusing, have chronic headaches, are always lethargic. But there are ways to end those bedtime battles and help our kids learn better sleep routines that will help them wake up more refreshed and rested. Here are typical reasons why kids have sleep problems and the solutions:

Daytime sleep: Too long or unnecessary naps can create nighttime sleep disruptions.

Wrong bedroom atmosphere: Light “wakes-up” the brain; too warm a room increases non-REM sleep and changes sleep patterns; a neutral air temperature and darkened room are optimal

Foregoing a calm down ritual. Begin the “getting ready” process at least 20 to 30 minutes before lights-out. The wind-down time-like a bedtime book, a bath, cuddles-helps calm the child. Roughhousing, late-night practices and games and exercising close to bedtime makes it hard for kids to relax and wind down.

Watching TV! Turn off the TV, computer, or video games at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. Those quick-paced visual images rob kids sleep!

Not sticking to a routine. A regular routine conditions the body to expect to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Research finds that parents who enforce a regular bedtime have kids who are better sleepers!

Final Words

I swear the biggest parenting mistake I see is inconsistency. You try Time Out on Tuesday but let that hitting slide on Wednesday. You ignore the whine at 2 o’clock but yell about it at 3 pm. You try giving that small portion of peas on Thursday and give up by Friday. I guarantee you won’t get the results because you are inconsistent with your response. Kids need consistency-they need to know what is expected. Your consistent response will make the difference.

Kid behaviors can be changed but that change takes consistent parenting effort and a bit of time.

In fact, learning any new habit (and stopping the old) usually takes a minimum of 21 days.

So stick consistency to your plan at least 21 days. You should see a gradual diminishment of the old inappropriate behavior as the new more appropriate behavior kicks in. Also, pass your plan on to at least one other caregiver. You always get better results if you teamtag (with your parenting partner or coach or relative or girlfriend or teach).

And if you do not get the change or you see an increase in the behavior, it’s time to get help!

Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert

You can also find more solutions on my website, or by following me at twitter @micheleborba

All of the tips I provided to Dr. Drew’s audience were culled from my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. Just turn to the chapter (Picky Eater or Tantrums or Time Out or Whining or 101 other chapters) to find the solutions.

[i] One in three kids sleep deprived: J. M. Adams, “Is Your Child Getting Enough Sleep?, Parenting, June 2005, pp. 106-111.