Parent Advice

Parent Advice by Nancy Nedland

Nancy Nedland M.A.,R.Y.T.

Nancy Nedland holds a Master’s degree in counseling Psychology and has worked with children throughout her entire career.

My child listens to her teacher and she listens to her coach, but she doesn’t seem to listen to me. What can I do?

First of all, let me congratulate you. I hear you say that you are raising a child who is respectful and responsive in authoritative relationships outside of your home, that’s wonderful and it is what we hope for all of our children. I understand that you are concerned that your child does not show you the same respect she shows to other adults outside of the family. In teacher/child and coaching relationships boundaries are often very clearly defined and the child has a strong sense of what is and is not allowable. This is not always the case at home and because there is more gray area, so to speak, the child often perceives more room for negotiation. She may feel that you don’t necessarily mean what you say when you repeat it three or four times. More efficient than repetition is the tactic of offering controlled choices and following through. For example, you could ask your child if she would like to brush her teeth now or in five minutes, giving her some power to choose, but ultimately the follow through is up to you. This language is helpful in countless situations from toy clean-up to leaving a playground to helping with chores. Another helpful method of adding structure for a child is to state expectations in a “first….then” format. An example might be “First you need to make your bed, and then it is time to play…” Ultimately, the child feels safer when she knows that you mean what you say; it is a form of trust. To allow a child to be free within clearly defined limits is the goal; this lessens our need for words and makes the words we speak truly worth listening to.

What can I do when my child complains about being bored?

Understand that we all experience boredom at times; it’s a normal emotional response. Boredom has more to do with attitude and attention than it does with activities; however, so there is no need to be in a rush to offer a list of suggestions of what to do when your child says this. Our children’s lives are highly scheduled and they are relatively unfamiliar with the practice of filling their own free time. Give them the time and space to practice this by setting clear limits on what is and is not acceptable and then allow them time to come up with their own ideas. Often a child makes this statement to a parent in order to get a reaction; we can help by responding in a way that let’s them know that boredom is normal and healthy and can stimulate creativity. Something along the lines of “sounds like you have some planning to do, let me know how I can help” might set them on the course to independent problem solving. When we view boredom as an opportunity for free choice and help our children to see it this way, we save ourselves a lot of negative communication. When we see that our child is not utilizing their free time we may pose a question such as “Would you like to find yourself something to do or would you like me to help you find something to do?” The family can come up with a job/activity jar at the beginning of the summer; full of jobs/activities that are suitable for all family members. This could be the time to choose a job/activity for them….or to offer them. Options could include household chores, playing
a game or painting a picture. With a positive approach and response; boredom need not be a dreaded word.

I have such a hard time getting my child to go to bed at night, how much sleep does my child actually need?

According to the National Sleep Foundation 3-6 year olds need between 11 and 13 hours of sleep each night. This may sound like a lot, but they are very busy growing physically and intellectually all day long, and if they are going to school and not napping, they are burning energy constantly.

It sometimes seems like children gain more energy as the day goes on, but often “hyper” or over-activity is a sign of fatigue and a warning to parents to help the child find calm and quiet time instead of more stimulation.

Preschoolers need the security that a structured bedtime routine provides and if the routine is followed consistently, bedtime will become nearly effortless and a time when you can enjoy a sweet and peaceful connection with your child.

A typical bedtime for preschoolers is between 7-9 pm with a wake up time of between 6-8 am. Obviously, you will need to consider your family’s schedule when determining your child’s bedtime, but try to choose a time that you can stick to give or take a few minutes each night.

3-6 year olds are naturally charming and have a way of talking us out of our intended routines, but they truly thrive on structure and will quickly begin to enjoy your bedtime rituals. If you develop a routine and stick with it for at least 7 to 10 days, you’ll notice that your child begins to look forward to this time with you and that struggles for “one more story” or “just one sip of water” will lessen naturally.

A bedtime routine need not take more than 30 minutes and your child can complete some of the tasks independently.

A suggested routine: 6:45 pm Pajamas, Bathroom, Brush Teeth

7:00 pm Quiet time; stories or books (establish the number of stories or books that you’ll read at bedtime and stick with that number)

7:15 pm Tuck in, Kiss Goodnight, Lights Out

The best way to assure that your child gets a good night sleep is to do yourselves the favor of developing a structured bedtime routine and sticking with it no matter what!
My child has a hard time separating when I drop off at school. Is there something I can do to help with this transition?

A reluctance to separate from parents is a normal, healthy response and it is also a good indication of a strong attachment in the parent child relationship. The child’s difficulties usually subside within a few minutes of the parent’s leaving when the parent leaves the child in a respectful and matter-of-fact manner.

The child’s anxiety is heightened and prolonged however when the good bye is prolonged and in any way ambivalent. Naturally, loving parents feel somewhat guilty or reluctant to say good-bye to their child when s/he is visibly upset and or begging them not to go. If the child picks up on this discomfort, a power struggle ensues. Keep in mind that it does your child no good what so ever to be able to manipulate you in this way.

The best way to address anxiety at drop off is to offer reassurance that you are coming back and that they will be OK, then say good bye quickly and cheerfully, giving them the message that you have confidence in their ability to cope. During your time at home together you can have conversations about many of the brave things that your child has done or use examples of characters from movies or books that you have enjoyed.

You can get a bit more creative and develop your own personal good-by ritual including a special handshake or a type of hug or kiss that you think of together. Children in this developmental stage are very reassured by routine of any kind and may quickly start looking forward to this kind of good-bye.

It unnecessarily complicates the good-bye process to tie their behavior to an external reward or bribe and it can be confusing to the child. When s/he is feeling sad or anxious it is best to let them know that they can share those feelings, but that their feelings aren’t in charge of your behavior. Saying something like “I know you’re sad and I’ll miss you too” can offer a great deal of reassurance and let them know that you understand. A better type of reward is to let them know that you look forward to spending some special time with them when you both get home after school and make it a regular habit to listen to your child’s feelings about things.

The changes must come from you in order to see a difference in your child’s behavior. When you can show your child that you are relaxed and confident at drop off you will begin to see positive change in your child.

There are many wonderful story books that you can read together that address this issue and it may be helpful to make a trip to the library together. I can suggest The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, The Good Bye Book by Judith Viorst and I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas . I’m sure the librarian can suggest several more titles.
My child is reluctant to go to school in the morning and sometimes says that she’d rather stay home with me. What can I do?

The fact that your child wants to spend time with you is evidence of a healthy and bonded relationship between the two of you. You need not feel guilty about separating from them for a few hours during the day, but you can help your child to feel more comfortable going to school by creating a regular school preparation routine. Preschool aged children thrive when they are clear about expectations and schedules and it is worth the effort to create this essential regularity for them; especially if their school schedule varies from day to day. (ex. They only attend preschool on Tuesday and Thursday mornings) One of the easiest ways to help your child become aware of his or her schedule is to give frequent verbal cues about what is coming next (ex. Today is our day off together and tomorrow is a school day). You may also want to add the step of choosing a school outfit to your bedtime routine on school nights, reminding your child when you tuck them in that tomorrow is a school day and you will wake them up to help them get ready. It is fine to allow the freedom of sleeping in and having “pajama mornings” or even “pajama days” on your child’s days off from school, but it is most helpful to children of all ages to have an established morning routine on school days which includes dressing for school when they get up. The more “relaxed” they feel about getting ready for school, the more reluctant they will feel about transitioning from the comfort of PJs and cartoons….it is only natural. A healthy breakfast can be enjoyed once they are dressed and their room is tidied according to your family’s expectations and after hygiene needs are taken care of and any other preparation is complete, there may be a few minutes to relax before heading out the door. I strongly recommend waiting to turn on the television until all members of the family are ready for school and perhaps to keep it off entirely if your child(ren) has difficulty turning off the television in order to get ready for school. The school preparation routine is similar to the bedtime routine and need not take longer than 45 minutes. If your child is a very early riser it is fine to allow time for television before beginning this routine, but it is important to clearly mark the time when “school preparation” begins. If your child attends preschool later in the day, it is essential that this routine still be established but it can begin much later in the morning and it is not necessary for them to get up early in order to feel “prepared” for their day. When a child is aware of his/her schedule and feels prepared for his/her day by following a regular routine; transitions to school and other activities become much less complicated.