Public Whining

Q: What do I do in public when my 3 year old starts whining? When I’m home, she goes to her room for a bit, which seems to work, but I’m at a loss as to what to do in public.

Also, she’s started adding, “but…” when asked to do something. Example:

I say, “Get out from under the table or you will get hurt.”

Child responds, “But I need to look at something.”

What are your thoughts?

A: There’s nothing more grating than a whiny voice. I think all parents would agree on that score! But the fact of the matter is, most kids do whine. The key is nipping that habit in the bud and moving on.

So for the whining: Ignore her. Yes, I know that’s extreme. Whenever my kids talked to me in a whiny voice that I’ve told them is unacceptable (usually again and again), I simply act as if I hadn’t heard what was said. A reminder of how to talk in public (not in a loud voice, not whining, not interrupting) is always good, especially when accompanied by silly role playing (like you do what she’s NOT supposed to do and she offers corrections, etc.).

The “but” response is just like the “why” response (or the shrug response, etc.): She’s basically trying to avoid doing what you told her to do. I’ll bet that she doesn’t add “but” when you tell her to get on her shoes because you’re going out for ice cream. If you go back over the times when she says, “but,” I think you’ll see a patter emerge of her “butting” in response to your command that she stop what’s she’s doing and do something else.

So for the “butting”: Raise your eyebrows and stay silent. Don’t respond to her argument (because make no mistake, she’s trying to engage you in an argument as to why she shouldn’t have to obey). A steady, silent stare works wonders and she’ll likely comply (even if she grumbles about it or continues to give reasons why she shouldn’t have to do so).

Or you can shrug and repeat the original command. If she still tries to argue with you, send her to her room and put her to bed directly after supper. You can say that the doctor said she must not be getting enough sleep if she can’t obey on the first instance. That should fix things in a short order because no young child likes to go to bed early..

One final thought: stop giving explanations to your commands. “Get out from under the table” is a command. “Get out from under the table or you will get hurt” is an explanation that invites pushback—which your daughter is happily doing. Keep your commands short and sweet, and that should cut down on the “buts” as well.

Frustration With Frustration

Q: My 9-year-old son struggles with frustration and has for years. He’ll break objects, yell or become disrespectful when he reaches his breaking point. He is otherwise a typical loving boy. What can you recommend my husband and I can do to tackle this issue?

A: All kids deal with some level of frustration—as do all adults. But the biggest difference between adults and kids is that we grownups have learned how to control our frustrations (for the most part), while kids generally have not.

Image courtesy of stockimages/
Image courtesy of stockimages/

The key is to helping him is to avoid his getting to a breaking point. Some things that work—and are easy for kids to do—include breathing exercises, counting to 10, putting his head down on his desk at school, going to a “take a break” corner at home or school, etc. These are ways a child can learn to calm himself down. One of my daughters struggles with frustration–she would often erupt like a volcano and spew lava over all who got in her path. Very messy and not pretty to watch.

So we started talking about her frustration when she wasn’t frustrated. We practiced together some of the calming methods mentioned above. I encouraged her to walk away from situations when she felt herself becoming more frustrated. We talked to her teachers about allowing her to put her head down at her desk for a few minutes to regain composure or go to the take a break corner each of the classrooms have for just that purpose. Those things did help, but it took some time for her to remember to use the calming methods. She still erupts but it’s much less now and she’s much happier and not as down on herself as she was before when frustration got the better of her.

When you see your son start to get frustrated, tell him to take deep breaths. Count to ten. Run a lap around the outside of the house or jump on a mini-trampoline. He’ll need your help in redirection for a bit as he learns when he should “take a break” to avoid the blow ups.

Remember, he’s probably as frustrated with himself for blowing up as you are from seeing his struggles. These tips can help him see that there is a way to break the cycle.

Computer Usage at School

Q: Is there any hope at all of public schools teaching children without the continual use of computers? We refused to sign the computer access papers for two of ours, and yet the teachers are putting the kids on computers every day throughout the day. We will go argue our case. Again.

A: Probably not. With four kids of my own in Virginia’s public schools, we have stood firm on some things related to computer usage, such as not sending in devices with our kids (they don’t have tablets or smartphones—even my middle schooler—and share an old computer in the main area of our home with strict time limits on usage). We’ve also asked that assignments for those in the younger grades be turned in handwritten rather than typed/printed from a computer (believe me, they need the practice in hand writing!). We even have a set of encyclopedias that we send the kids to instead of allowing them to look up stuff on the computer.

Image courtesy of supakitmod/
Image courtesy of supakitmod/

And yet, we’re not Luddites. We do see the value in computers (hey, my husband and I are on them constantly for our work), but we also see the dangers from overuse. The problem today is that many educators have jumped on the electronic devices bandwagon whole hog without waiting to see if the benefits outweigh the pitfalls (including shorter attention spans and less reading ability). A more cautious approach would benefit our kids, but with many parents clamoring for their children to have the latest and greatest educational tools (and let’s face it, many times, computers and tablets are more sexy than old-school methods of learning that have a more proven track record).

So I think we as parents must shoulder some of the blame for the current atmosphere of any-learning-done-on-the-computer-is-good, so let’s do more of it. Perhaps one day the pendulum will swing more toward the middle and there will be less of a push for screens in education, but that day is not today.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel completely. There are small things you can do, but unfortunately you are not going to win the bigger fight to keep your kids off computers completely at school. In my opinion, it’s smarter to have your own rules at home, enforce them, talk with your kids about Internet safety, help them navigate computers/Internet in a safe way, and stop worrying about it. If it still really bothers you, you can always homeschool your children and limit access as you see fit.

Living With an Adult Child

Q: I have a few questions about adult children.

1) What is your advice for allowing a 22-year-old adult child to live with you temporarily?

2) What if that adult child is using and abusing drugs and/or alcohol?

3) If you have an adult child living with you who is abusing alcohol, what do you advise?

4) What, in your view, is the best way to help an adult child addicted to drugs and/or alcohol?

5) If you see an adult child under the influence of drugs/alcohol and they are going to drive somewhere, do you believe the necessary and right thing to do is call the police?

6) If you would call the police in that situation, do you tell the adult child ahead of time so that he or she is warned in advance?

Thanks in advance for your advice!

Image courtesy of auter84/
Image courtesy of auter84/

A: You weren’t kidding when you said a few questions! Let’s tackle them in order and by number.

1) Set ground rules before the grown kid moves in. Make a simple contract, listing the big rules (such as expectations as to meals, chores and household goods/space, etc.), and have both parents and the child sign it. Then give the child a copy and keep one for yourself. Also specify how long the child can live with you rent-free and what the rent will be monthly with a firm start date (such as three months rent-free, with the date rent will start kicking in as specified).

2) Personally, I wouldn’t allow any adult child of mine to live with me if I knew for a fact (or strongly suspected) alcohol or drug abuse. I would, however, offer to help said child find a safe place, treatment center, etc., to live and offer what assistance was requested or accepted.

3) One of your contract rules could be no drinking in the house. If the 22-year-old violates that, then he’s (or she’s) kicked out. You have the right to expect certain behaviors in your own home. However, your adult child has the right to drink outside the home, since he’s over 21.

4) There’s not much you can do with an adult child addicted to drugs/alcohol unless that child wants help. You can offer, then you have to step back. It’s hard, painful, but unfortunately, the only person who can want to change is the child, and unless he desires a new way to live, you have very little recourse.

5) If you can’t take away his car keys, then yes, I would call the police. You don’t want an accident on your conscious–and your child doesn’t need that, either. A 22-year-old knows that drinking and driving is illegal.

6) I don’t think a warning by a parent (“If you get in the driver’s seat drunk, I’m calling the cops!”) is going to deter that behavior. But don’t expect the child to thank you for calling the police and possibly getting him arrested for DUI.

A follow-up to this advice from the question writer: Thank you for the advice you gave me for my 22-year-old addict living with me. I am still navigating this relationship but I have reviewed your advice again and really appreciate it.

Inappropriate Language (It’s Not What You Think!)

Q: For a few months now, my 9-year-old daughter has been fixated on talking about underwear, potty stuff and kissing. She started it after a weekend visit from her best friend and their family. They are believers but let their kids have almost free reign on TV viewing. We are the opposite, so my assumption is that her friend is mimicking what she’s seen or heard on TV.

However, my daughter’s behavior is starting to rub off on my 4-year-old son as well. As a Christian family, we stress living by the Bible, do daily devotionals with the kids, are active in our church and pray a lot.

That said, I have tried not to make a big deal of her talk and, well, obsession. I thought maybe it would just go away and she would eventually forget about it if I did not stress about it. But now it has gotten out of hand. Every time she plays with her brother, I hear talk about underpants, potty and kissing. I talked with her about it yesterday, I calmly showed her why God says that our bodies are a temple for the Lord, and that kind of talk is not appropriate.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped her (her younger brother gave her away). Today I took away two of her stuffed animals which she loves and told her every time I hear that kind of talk, more toys will be taken away and she won’t get them back. I have no idea if this is an appropriate consequence. I have no idea why she is so fixated on this kind of stuff nor how to help her get un-fixated on it. I am also wondering if I should allow her to hang around this little girl anymore? I really appreciate your help!

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/

A: It sounds like you have two issues at hand. The first is that you want your daughter to stop talking about underwear, potty and kissing. The second is that you are concerned about the influence of this friend on your daughter.

Let’s tackle the first concern. Kids say the darnedest things—and sometimes, they get fixated on one subject, especially if someone (usually a parent) tells them it’s in some way forbidden. Your daughter likely has no idea why kissing, underwear and potty talk is so disturbing to you and why you want her to stop. She also likely doesn’t fully understand the whole kissing thing anyway, even if she’s seen some teens or adults kissing on TV.

It’s good that you recognize that you might be trending toward making a big deal out of this. But as you’ve seen, sometimes even ignoring a behavior or speech pattern will not make it simply disappear. Here’s my solution, one that worked like a charm when my two boys went through a potty talk stage themselves: Tell your daughter she can talk about underwear, potty and kissing all she wants to…in the bathroom with the door closed. That’s the only appropriate place for such discussions, since much of what she’s talking about concerns things best kept in the bathroom. Gently redirect her to the bathroom when you hear her start to talk about those subjects—and sure, let her brother come with her. The bloom will fade soon enough when she has to leave her playing to go to the bathroom to talk like she wants to at that moment.

Now for your second concern that this friend might be a corrupting influence. If this is the first incident, then I would probably adopt a wait and see approach. If you find more inappropriate talk, I would consider talking to the other mom or the girl herself. When my sons used very inappropriate language one day that had been picked up from a neighborhood boy, the next time the boy came to ask my sons to play, I very gently told him that my boys would not be able to play with him if he continued using language that wasn’t appropriate. He knew exactly what I was talking about and it hasn’t been an issue since.

Overall, the softer approach can often be the one that works the best, and giving our kids the responsibility to control their tongues—whether it be telling them where they can talk a certain way or that playtime would end if such language continued—is the best solution.

Until next time,


A Kid With a Chip on His Shoulder

Q: My 9-year-old son constantly expresses how he feels slighted or cheated out of things. For example, he (not us) is always comparing himself to his 6-year-old brother or 3-year-old sister, talking about the things they get to do or are given by us or others. One example: he’s complained about his brother getting to go to a friend’s house. I counter that he needs to worry only about himself and remind him that he had just done X.

That doesn’t stop him from complaining about unfairness a bit later. I’m wondering if we’ve contributed to the comparison. Our kids have chores, are responsible for certain things around the house, aren’t given much money, etc. I often say to him that fair doesn’t always mean the same thing for everyone, it means that everyone gets what they need (not want!) 

He also recently started grumbling about his daily chores and told my mother that he is the “family slave” and has to do everything around the house. Which, of course, is not true at all. Help! We’re all tired of his attitude.

Image courtesy of Mister GC/
Image courtesy of Mister GC/

A: Nothing quite frustrates a parent than an ungrateful and complaining child, especially one to whom every action is interpreted as a slight against him. But rest assured this is quite typical, especially for a 9-year-old.

Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to his unfounded and unrealistic complaints! You have options and which one you pick depends on your personality and how much fun you want to have with this problem. (Seriously, if we can’t enjoy our children, even when they’re being pain in the necks, we miss out on a lot of joy in parenting!).

Option 1: Ignore. Stop reminding him of his blessings and engaging him on this subject. When he says things that compare him to others in or outside of the family, don’t comment. If he says he’s been slighted, smile and shrug and walk away–without a word. Let him stew in his own juices on this one.

Option 2: The Chair of Complaining. When he starts to complain, hold up your hand, grab a kitchen timer, and settle yourself in the chair of complaining (really, any comfortable chair). Set the timer for a minute or two, then tell him, “You’ve got two minutes to tell me your sob story” or something like that. Then listen, nod, commiserate with him as he tells his tale of woe. When the timer goes off, put your hand on his shoulder and say, “Well, sounds like you’ve had a tough time. Buck up, it’ll get better.” Then walk away, leaving behind a very bewildered boy who probably expected you to DO something about his problem.

Option 3: Designate a “Complaining” Room. Make an unused room in the house, like a powder room or guest room, into his own special complaining room. Show him the room when he hasn’t been complaining or comparing and tell him when he feels like the world has done him wrong and wants to say something about it, he needs to go here to do it. You’ll remind him if he forgets. Then simply direct him to go to the complaining room when he starts in.

All of these options have one thing in common: It moves the complaining monkey on your son’s shoulders. He’s more than capable of figuring out how to stop–with a nice push from Mom and Dad.

Discouragement With Discipline

Q: I am trying to discipline my 8-year-old and 9-year-old girls using the 8-day Strike method as outlined in John Rosemond’s The Well Behaved Child book. Basically, that means the first four strikes are warnings, and there are no consequences. The last four strikes have consequences, with the final strike being confinement to their room.

It’s been working but my issue is my girls seem to only do what they are supposed to do when there is a consequences or if I’m around to make sure they do it. I’m discouraged. I want them to obey because it’s right—not because someone is making them. I’m afraid when they go off to college, they’ll just do whatever they feel like. You know the saying, “While the cat’s away, the mice will play.”

Am I expecting too much of them? Am I being too hard?

—A Discouraged Mama

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/

A: Ah, you’ve expressed one of the biggest concerns parents have today—that their children won’t learn to be obedient simply because it’s the right thing to do. So we get discouraged and feel our discipline efforts are not working, and then we switch to something else because we want to reach down into their hearts and make them want to choose right for its own sake.

But we can’t. In this situation, the only person who can make the choice to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do is the child. We as parents cannot change a child’s heart, no matter how much we want to or how much we can see the path they’ve chosen isn’t a good one.

However, that doesn’t mean we simply throw up our hands in despair and leave off leveling consequences altogether. No, it means we come to grips with why we’re disciplining in the first place—and with the limitations of discipline.

We discipline because we want to guide our children onto the path of righteousness. We discipline to ensure our children know—even if they don’t want to admit it by word or deed—that there is right and wrong, that doing bad things is not okay. We discipline to awaken and strengthen the child’s own fledging conscience into becoming stronger and more robust for the future. We discipline because it’s the right thing for us as parents to do.

We also recognize that consequences, no matter how appropriate, have limitations. Consequences can’t stop a child from destructive behavior in all circumstances. Consequences don’t always deter a child from misbehavior. Consequences can’t change a child’s heart.

It’s that latter truth that has parents tied up in knots. The fact that there is no perfect consequence that will make a child have an obedient heart. The most we can hope for, pray for, is that the discipline will make a child think about his or her behavior, that they will become more thoughtful and less impulsive, that they will behave better overall and not worse.

Consequences show the child that there is a price to be paid for wrongful behavior, and that’s a very important lesson. Some children learn it quickly; some children take the roundabout way and require more discipline along the road. Some children never learn it and are undisciplined even as adults.

So keep on keeping on with your discipline, and don’t worry overmuch about the future. You are laying a foundation upon which your daughters will build their lives. How they choose to use that foundation is up to them, but it’s part of our job to provide for them the firmness possible one.

Teenage Love

Q: Our 17-year-old son has his first girlfriend. He’s always been a respectful and compassionate person, who is the outwardly sensitive. But since he started dating this girl (which we do like), he’s eating, breathing, sleeping, dreaming about this girl. They’ve been dating half a year now and of course have become closer.

During the school year, he’d drive half an hour one way to see her a couple of times a week. But now that school is out, he wants to spend time with her every day. He does yard work for gas and fun money, but now he spends it all on her and their relationship.

We’ve raised our son to know right from wrong, and taught him what God has to say about sexual intimacy. We’re also trying to be understanding of their relationship, but our son also needs to understand he still has curfews and other duties at home. Any advice on navigating this would be appreciated.

A: Ah, “the course of true love never did run smooth!” That Shakespeare sure knew a thing or two about young love (the quote is from A Midsummer’s Night Dream), but for many parents of teens who fall in love for the first time, that relationship can test the bonds of family.

A few things can help you navigate your son’s first serious love relationship. First, remember that his feelings are very strong—and unfamiliar—which gives the relationship a different feel from other crushes. His feelings are as real as your love for your spouse, although you know from experience that he’s in the infatuation stage. You also know that his age means the relationship will likely not last the summer. All that means is that you should tread lightly when discussing his feelings. Try to stay on the balance beam between too harsh or realistic comments and too empathetic ones.

Second, you are still the parent! You can set limits on how often he sees the girl in person, regardless of who’s paying for the gas. Yes, he should have freedom, but all freedom comes with limits. Personally, I would make sure he has plenty of household chores to keep him occupied at home some days, as well as spending time with friends.

Third, get to know the girl. One of your limits could be that he must bring her back to your house at least once a week to spend time hanging out there. Talk to her, find out what makes her tick, have your son and his girlfriend cook dinner for your family one night, etc. Invite her family over for a barbecue. That way, you’ll have develop a relationship with her as well, and provide opportunities to discuss some of your values in the course of natural conversation.

Finally, talk to them about God, but don’t preach. Pray for them both. You could also think about starting a youth Bible study in your home once a week this summer. Ask your pastor for a good book for that, not necessarily one related to relationships, but one that would spark good discussion and consideration about spiritual things. Have your son invite his friends, and she can invite hers. But you should provide the location and the snacks, then let the kids do the study. Be available for questions, but allow them to tackle things on their own.

Remember, ultimately, your son is responsible for his own actions. It sounds like you’ve done a good job guiding him and showing him the path of righteousness. Now it’s time to step back and let him go on his own. Yes, he might make mistakes. Yes, he’s liable to have his heart broken. But that’s all part of growing up.

When College Kids Come Home

Q: My 18-year-old daughter has come home for the summer after her freshman year of college. She had a good year, but now she seems distant in her relationship with us. We’ve had some good discussions in the past few months, but now that she’s home, things have been a bit rocky.

While the strictures of the private college she attended chaffed at her, they are similar to our own “house” rules. Most of the time, her rebellion takes the form of minor things, like wanting to dress differently, but I’m worried that she will branch out now that school and the impact of her attitude and decisions will have on her younger siblings.

Image courtesy of stockimages/
Image courtesy of stockimages/

How should we handle this?

A: The transition from the freedom of college to the home of your childhood can indeed be a rocky one at times. But that doesn’t mean it has to dissolve into a very stressful situation. Here are some things to keep in mind going forward with your daughter.

  1. She’s an adult now. Furthermore, she’s had a taste of grownup freedom being away from Mom and Dad at college. That doesn’t mean she can do whatever she wants in your home, but it does mean that you give her more leeway in decisions that are not crucial. So I would not say anything about her clothing (as long as she’s buying it) and other minor issues.
  2. Ditch the lecturing. She’s trying to figure things out for herself, and that’s a good thing. Resist slipping into lecture mood and instead focus on having real, honest conversation with her. Find ways to simply talk to her, ask her about how she’s changed over the past year, what she found interesting in her classes, what she thinks about current events or movies, ask her opinion on grownup things when appropriate, etc. Encourage back-and-forth with her and listen—mostly just listen to her without interjecting your opinions as much as you’ll want to. You do know more than she does, but let her figure that out for herself.
  3. Draw up a simple contract. Outline the basics of what you’d like her to do when she’s home, such as what chores she’ll be responsible for and what things you will provide for her. Make it very simple, very basic (not more than a page at the most!). Let her go over it, then discuss it with you and be open to her suggestions. You might be surprised at the compromises she comes up with.
  4. Love her. She’s probably being rather difficult right now, and in your wisdom, you see where she might be going astray. Of course, you don’t want her to be hurt in any way, but you must let her make her own mistakes and have her own hurts. Cook her favorite foods. Suggest her favorite activities as a family. Find little ways to show her how much you love her.
  5. Don’t worry about the younger siblings. They are watching how you handle the situation much more than what the situation is. The more you love her and show her that love in your interactions, the more her younger brothers and sisters will feel safe and secure in knowing that as they test their own wings, you will be there for them.

A Returning Student Brings Summertime Blues

Q: My 18-year-old daughter has finished her freshman year of college. While it’s been a good year, she’s become rather distant in her relationship with us. We have good conversations sometimes, but most of the time she appears disrespectful toward her mother and myself.

I don’t want the summer to be a stressful time, but I’m afraid it will be, given that she seems to not want to adhere to our standards or house rules. For example, she wants to dress how she’d like. I know those are rather minor things in some ways, but we feel dishonored by her jettisoning our values in this way.

Should we discuss these issues with her now or wait and address situations as they arise? Should we ignore her disregard for our standards? Should we worry about what message that sends to the younger siblings?

Image courtesy of Ambro/
Image courtesy of Ambro/

A: The transition from the freedom of college to your childhood home can be a rocky one at times. But it doesn’t have to be! She’s still young in many ways, and so it falls on you and your wife to be the adults in this situation. Here are the main points to keep in mind when dealing with your daughter:

  1. She’s an adult now. That doesn’t mean she can do whatever she wants in your home, but it does mean that you give her more leeway in decisions that are not crucial. So I would not say anything about her clothing (as long as she’s buying) and other minor issues. On the flip side, that doesn’t mean you give her a free pass to drink or break the law.
  2. Ditch the lecturing. She’s trying to figure things out for herself, and that’s a good thing, so try to resist lecturing her and try instead to engage in honest conversation. Find ways to simply talk to her, ask her about how she’s changed over the past year, what she found interesting in her classes, in a way that encourages back-and-forth with her. And listen. Mostly just listen to her without interjecting your opinions as much as you’ll want to.
  3. Draw up a simple contract. Outline the basics of what you’d like her to do when she’s home, such as what chores she’ll be responsible for and what things you will provide for her. This should be a one-page, very simple, very basic document. Let her go over it and then discuss it with you and be open to her suggestions. Be willing to compromise yet hold to your convictions.
  4. Love her. She’s probably being rather difficult right now and in your wisdom, you see where she might be going astray. Of course, you don’t want her to be hurt in any way, but you must let her figure out things on her own–and that might mean she will get hurt sometimes. Cook her favorite foods. Suggest her favorite activities as a family. Find little ways to show her how much you love her.

Finally, don’t worry about the message her behavior might send to younger sibs. They are watching how you handle the situation much more than what the situation is. The more you love her and show her that love in your interactions, the more they will feel safe and secure in knowing that as they test their own wings, you will be there for them.