How Bad Are Your Child's Behavior Problems?
photo credit: ©istockphoto.com / STUDIOGRANDOUEST
My toddler bites at daycare. Is this just a phase (fingers crossed) or is it really bad?
Yes and no. “It’s an expression of frustration [that] happens very frequently,” says Watchung-based pediatrician and sleep expert Edward Kulich, MD. “Every toddler will bite once in a while, and it’s not really a big deal unless your child is consistently aggressive.” In that case, immediately nip this behavior in the bud. A prompt time-out, encouragement to use his words and lavish praise for good behavior will help slow your bitty biter’s roll, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). If that doesn’t work, talk with your pediatrician ASAP. Biting can be grounds for expulsion from daycare, and a good daycare is hard to find.
My kid won’t stop whining—at the store when she doesn’t get what she wants, at the dinner table (yuck, carrots!) and at bedtime (sleep, again?). I usually give in. Is that awful?
It’s normal. No parent can avoid this exhausting, soul-sucking behavior. “You’d have to find the cure for childhood,” quips Kulich. Kidding aside, what’s important is limiting how often you cave, lest you make complaining a habit and reinforce the behavior. Tune them out and stand your ground. We know that taking on a kvetching kid isn’t easy (“It’s likely to make things worse before it gets better,” says Kulich), but we promise—it’ll get better.
My kid refuses to share or wait his turn. He’ll grow out of this right?
“Yes, with proper guidance,” says Kulich. Start by modeling patience and good behavior in your own life (i.e. no side eye at the Starbucks newbie). Then allow your child to experience the discomfort of waiting, along with the knowledge the world won’t end if he lends out his truck for five freakin’ minutes. He’ll also learn that sharing feels great, and delayed gratification can feel even better.
My child is disruptive in school. His teacher says he interrupts class by talking out of turn without raising his hand and is often defiant. How serious is this?
It’s a problem. “When children with learning difficulties encounter something difficult, they may act out, be defiant with the teacher or avoid the work altogether,” says Hugh Bases, MD, a developmental and behavioral pediatric specialist practicing at NYU School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital Center (he also has a private practice in Midland Park). For example, kids may get up to sharpen pencils or even just stare off into space. “It also indicates a degree of impulsiveness. Calling out or talking out of turn demonstrates difficulty putting the breaks on,” he says. “The best advice would be to provide support with simple behavioral plans and follow the pattern over time. If it persists, then further evaluation may be [needed].”
My kid is a sore loser. She gets so frustrated when she loses a soccer game or doesn’t reach the next level of a video game. Should I be worried?
Yes, but you’re not alone. “I see this issue of being a sore loser more and more in my practice,” says Frank J. Sileo, PhD, a Ridgewood-based psychologist and children’s book author (he actually wrote a book on the subject, Sally Sore Loser: A Story about Winning and Losing). Along with the emotional hit, bad sports can suffer long after the game’s over since they tend to alienate peers. Fortunately, parents can teach kids to lose (and win!) with grace by touting the importance of respect, fairness and play for its own sake. “Sportsmanship is a learned skill,” says Sileo, and kids learn it by watching you.
My tween is defiant all the time. He throws things, slams doors, yells and talks back to me everytime he doesn’t get his way. I think it’s pretty horrible—is it?
It depends. “It is very typical for tweens to test limits and boundaries, but being defiant all the time is problematic,” says Sileo. Some sass is to be expected (even tolerated) but aggressive, uncontrollable tantrums need to be addressed with clear consequences. A professional can help you re-take the reigns, because the situation is only going to get harder to manage once puberty and all those adolescent hormones kick in.
My son’s friend told me my kid swears around his friends even though I’ve told him not to use foul language. How bad is using bad language?
Eh. “It’s important that your kids know what your rules and values are, but [they’re] going to experiment with lots of things including language,” says Sileo. Kids swear for all sorts of reasons: to sound mature, seem cool or fit in. What’s important is that they respect the limits you set on language at home (and live with the consequences if they don’t). Also consider your own potty mouth. “If we use foul language, we can’t expect our kids to be different,” says Sileo. Ain’t that the effing truth.
My teen spends all her time at home locked in her room and I usually don’t know what she’s doing. Is it awful that I’m totally out of the loop?
It’s a cliché because it’s true: growing adolescents want to be alone, and that’s okay—their privacy deserves to be respected. That said, parents have every right to set rules about who can be in their rooms (friends, baes) with doors locked or closed, as well as what is and isn’t allowed behind them. “Teens are at an age when they want independence but are still very dependent. This conflict can lead to situations that may overwhelm them. Giving limits of this kind will help them feel safe,” says Bases.
We used to be BFFs. Now, my 16-year-old won’t talk to me. Is this normal?
For you? The worst. “We can’t force our teens to talk with us. This will only drive them further, away,” says Sileo. What you can do is set limits on “alone” time versus “family” time, and talk to your teen about having more one-on-ones. Let them know your door is always open. And if they actually approach you with a hot topic, listen hard and check your emotions. “When we communicate non-judgment, good listening skills and an open door, kids have a tendency to come around.” And not just because they’re hungry, need money or a ride to the movies.
My teen’s obsessed with her phone and social media—it’s become her life. Am I just old or is this really bad?
In the “it’s not news” category, kids love their phones. “[Phones] can help with feelings of belonging and closeness,” says Sileo, and most teenagers want to fit in. Unfortunately, phones can also stress kids out, monopolize their attention, use up time for face-to-face fun, mess with their sleep and even impact academics. A Brown University School of Public Health study found that for every two hours of combined digital media use per day, kids were less likely to “always” or “usually” finish their homework, complete tasks, calmly face challenges or show interest in learning new things. Good luck prying that iPhone out of your child’s hand, though.