July 22, 2008
Living With Children
Q: How should we handle the noises (moaning, angry grunting), the gestures (eye rolling, swinging an arm in the air) and the posturing (door slamming, loud stomping) that ensue so often around here lately when we reprimand our 6-year-old twin boys? It can sometimes get a bit out of hand, especially the door slamming. And aren't all these gestures and motions an outward sign of disrespect?
A: To take your second question first, it's arguable whether the moaning, eye rolling, and door slamming your boys do when you discipline is a sign of disrespect. I'm inclined to view it as an example of rebelliousness, a refusal on the part of the child in question to accept that he's misbehaved and deserves to be reprimanded.Your disciplinary dilemma reminds me of one of my elementary teachers. When one of the kids in the class misbehaved, she would punish the entire class, usually keeping us in from recess or making us do additional work, or both. Knowing that "one rotten apple could spoil the whole bunch," we ended up policing one another, thus making the teacher's life a whole lot easier.
With that memory in mind, put your boys on my celebrated "Three Strikes, You're Out!" program. If either of them grunts, rolls his eyes, or slams a door after being reprimanded, they both incur a strike. They are allowed two free strikes a day. Upon the occasion of the third strike, they lose all privilege (television, electronics, favorite toys, outside play) for the remainder of the day and go to bed immediately after supper. If my experience serves me well, several experiences with this should cure their grunting, rolling, and slamming disorder.
Q: I have full legal custody of my 14-year-old granddaughter. Although her mother is in no position to deal with a child, she frequently criticizes my values and attempts to undermine my rules. Recently, for example, she sent my granddaughter home with clothing that is suggestive and seductive: skintight jeans, gaudy jewelry, skimpy tops, and "adult" underwear. I promptly told her she could wear it all she wanted, in her room. She protested that I don't understand teenagers and I'm criticizing her mom's taste. What should I do?
A: You should most definitely stick to your guns. Furthermore, I encourage you to deal head-on with the overall parenting conflict, before it gets out of hand. Tell your granddaughter that yes, you don't agree with her mother's choice of clothing for her any more than you agree with other decisions she has made in her life. You might also point out that a court of law has agreed with you on that matter.
Make your position perfectly clear. If her mother gives her inappropriate articles of clothing, she may keep them, but she must confine them to her room. If she violates that rule with a particular item, you will throw it away. In other words, she can wear the clothes within the boundaries you describe or she can do without them.
A disenfranchised mother who gives her 14-year-old daughter sexy clothes is very possibly working up to inviting her to participate, as a peer, in inappropriate activities. You need to be on the lookout for any signs that things are headed in that direction and be prepared to address them authoritatively.
At the same time, it's important that you close the generation gap between yourself and your granddaughter as much as possible. Work with her to find things she wants to do that you can support and even participate in. The more time you spend with and interest you show in her, the more likely it becomes that she will choose you and not her mother as her role model.
If things begin to go from bad to worse, consider consulting with a therapist who specializes in family situations where there is a history of inter-generational conflict.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his Web site at www.rosemond.com.
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