The Experts’ Guide to Smart Parenting
From getting your little one on the potty to prying your teen off the Internet: real-world solutions to some of the trickiest parenting problems.
Raising kids can be—heck, is—tough. There’s no course you can take, no test required, and exchanging befuddled looks with your spouse will get you only so far. To help make the process somewhat easier, we asked local experts to tackle some of the most pertinent parenting issues. Take their advice and your child (cross fingers, pray, knock on wood) may not need the services of a therapist later on.
Stopping a Tantrum
Problem: One minute your child is calmly walking by your side in the toy store, the next she’s on the ground, fists pounding on the floor, screaming she MUST HAVE the newest Bratz doll—NOW!
Solution: “Kids don’t like being out of control any more than you like them being out of control,” says Dr. Mary Versfelt, a pediatrician in Rye Brook. “The tantrum usually is the result of either being uncomfortable or unable to control the situation.” She suggests ignoring your child’s tantrum (“When you stop screaming and calm down, I’ll talk to you”) or, if it’s over something she can’t have, offering alternatives. If she wants a Bratz doll, ask if she’d like one of the doll’s accessories instead. If your child continues, however, Dr. Versfelt advises setting limits (“If you don’t calm down, we’re leaving”) instead of trying to reason with your child. By setting limits—even if that means leaving the store—you’re letting your child know that you are in control, and that can be comforting.
Visiting the Dentist
Problem: You’re happy he inherited your eyes, but you’re hoping not to pass on your fear of the dentist.
Solution: Since children can become apprehensive, Dr. Howard Bricker, a pediatric dentist based in Yonkers, says, “I tell parents not to go too much into detail about what’s going to happen.” To prepare your child, he recommends that you read books about going to the dentist (e.g., The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist or Show Me Your Smile! A Visit to the Dentist, Dora the Explorer) or show your child movies (Pinatta’s View—A Trip to the Dentist) on the topic.
Throwing a Birthday Party
Problem: Parties are not just about Pin the Tail on the Donkey anymore. From giant carnivals to full out Barney-themed bashes, throwing your child a great birthday party can require the skills of David Tutera.
Solution: Plan, plan, plan. “Every minute should be thought out with easy transitions from one activity to the next,” advises Emily Schmalholz, co-owner of Life of the Party Productions, an event planning and video production company in Armonk. Schmalholz strongly recommends having activities planned for your young guests from the minute they arrive. For instance, if you’re hosting a cooking party, the kids can decorate aprons while waiting for all the guests to arrive. Another recommendation: have lots of music.
“All kids love music,” says Schmalholz. “Music can turn a dull party into a rockin’ one.”
“Keep it simple,” advises Melanie Pien of Pied Piper Pony Rides and Petting Zoos in Patterson, NY, which literally brings animals—bunnies, ponies, goats, ducks, sheep etc.—to parties. “Kids are so overscheduled and parties can be so complicated,” she says, that less is
Problem: She comes home from school crying or flat-out refuses to go. You suspect she’s being bullied.
Solution: Communicate openly. “The most important thing is to ask questions,” says “The Bully Coach” Dr. Joel Haber, a clinical psychologist in White Plains, whose book on how to bully-proof your child is due out in June. If your child admits to being bullied, don’t blame her. “That’s the biggest mistake parents make," Dr. Haber says. "They’ll ask, ‘Well, what did you do to deserve that?’” Don’t overreact either. “If you stay cool and show care and concern, your child will know that she can trust you.”
Minding Their Manners
Problem: His Lacoste polo is a Jackson Pollock-like testament to your spaghetti and meatballs.
Solution: “A lot of parents don’t follow the regime of manners until their child is sitting there sloppily, with their elbows on the table,” says etiquette teacher Mrs. Robert Stith-Williams, who teaches Manners for Children, an after-school class, throughout the county. According to Stith-Williams, parents should start early, instructing their youngsters using simple sentences: “Pick up your napkin.” “Elbows off the table.” She also suggests that if you yourself are not sure which fork to use or which bread plate is yours, consider some etiquette training of your own.
Using The Potty
Problem: The potty is as sparkling new as the day you brought it home—a year ago.
Solution: Leave it alone. According to White Plains pediatrician Dr. David Amler, “Some
children hold back just to get more attention.” If you constantly coax your child to use the potty, your child may purposely delay the process. Instead, after introducing the concept, allow her to discover it on her own, which she will—when she’s ready, Dr. Amler assures. To help her along, give lots of positive feedback when she does use the potty; avoid criticizing when she doesn’t.
Spending Too Much Time on the Internet
Problem: He says he’ll “brb” and disappears to IM with his friends all night, instead of doing, well, anything else.
Solution: In the same way that you may have to limit phone and TV usage, Dr. Stephen A. Buglione, a clinical psychologist in Scarsdale, advises you also monitor use of the Internet, particularly when your child has homework or other priorities. “Because parents don’t understand these technologies as well as their kids, there’s a temptation to stick their head in the sand,” he says. Don’t. Instead, learn what your child is doing online, and don’t be afraid to set limits. “Think of time on the Internet and on the phone and listening to the iPod as a privilege they can enjoy after their other responsibilities are accomplished.”
Dealng with Divorce
Problem: You and your spouse have decided to split. You want your child to be impacted as little as possible.
Solution: “Research tells us that it’s not the divorce itself but the high conflict that is the problem,” says Dr. Elliott Rosen, a family therapist and the director of the Family Institute of Westchester, a training institute for marriage and family therapy based in Harrison. Children need to be reassured that the divorce is not about them. And parents should never bad-mouth each other in front of their child, he advises, since this may force a child to make choices about loyalty.
Getting A “Squirm-Free” Haircut
Problem: He can barely see with so much hair falling in his eyes. When you take him for a haircut, however, he won’t sit still long enough for the hairdresser to clip one lousy split-end.
Solution: “If a kid has a bad experience, he is never going to want to get a haircut,” says Doreen Gigante, owner of KidStyles salon in Bedford Hills. Even if he’s not getting a haircut, bring your child to the salon so that he feels comfortable with the surroundings. Having a favorite toy, stuffed animal, or video can help calm him, too.
Coping with Acne
Problem: You think breakouts are a normal part of growing up. She thinks it’s the end of the world.
Solution: “Don't minimize the effect of acne on a teenager,” says White Plains- and Bronxville-based dermatologist Dr. Neil Goldberg. “All it takes is one pimple on the wrong part of the their face on the wrong day to ruin their whole week.” Let your teen know that acne has nothing to do with diet or hygiene and that picking and squeezing will only make it worse. Acne is caused by the interaction of genetics, hormones, and stress, Dr. Goldberg says, and “should be treated like every other medical condition.”
Tackling the Tough Stuff
Problem: Her best friend moved. Her dog died. There was violence at school. Tough issues can be tough to discuss.
Solution: “Children often internalize what happens,” says Velma Jones, a licensed clinical social worker at The Therapy Center in Bedford Hills. “They think it’s their fault.” If your child is very young, Jones encourages utilizing play to help her open up. She also advises that you never shy away from talking about tough issues with your children. “Use every opportunity as a teaching moment,” Jones says.
Doing Their Homework
Problem: He would rather go to the dentist than do his homework.
Solution: Maureen Lindell, director of Bedford Prep, a tutoring service, recommends that you establish a work routine at an early age. You should also know where and when your child is doing homework, and, if possible, have him do it in a main room, such as the kitchen. If you and your spouse are working, Lindell advises setting aside time after work to check his homework. Depending on your child’s age, keep an ongoing dialogue with his teacher and, Lindell says, “don’t hesitate to hire a tutor.”
Starting to Date
Problem: She’s ready to call her boy friend her boyfriend.
Solution: Talking. Dr. Pat Colucci-Coritt, a psychologist in Harrison and Stamford, Connecticut, and director of training at The Family Institute of Westchester, stresses the importance of talking to kids from an early age about love and relationships and of teaching them to be respectful of other people's boundaries. As they get older, don't shy away from asking important questions. “If a sixteen-year-old is dating, you need to ask her if she's been sexually active. If she is, you need to talk to her about safe sex. Give her as much information as you possibly can.”
Handling Smoking, Drinking, Drugs, and Other Bad Habits
Problem: He was caught smoking or drinking, and you’re afraid (petrified?) of where it might lead.
Solution: “When any child reaches adolescence, there is a proclivity to experiment,” says Brian Gerety, the co-founder and executive clinical director of The Therapy Center in Bedford Hills. “Because a kid tries pot or drinks at a party does not mean he is an alcohol or substance abuser.” Instead of overreacting, have an appropriate consequence for your child’s transgression. He could be grounded, have certain privileges taken away, or be expected to help out more around the house.
Going Off to College
Problem: You’ve been preparing for this, but as moving day creeps near, you start to worry. About everything.
Solution: Relax. Your child probably is. According to Penny Oberg, a college counselor at Rye Country Day School, high school seniors are usually not as nervous as their parents about going off to college. Once she’s in college, quell the urge to play Savior. “Your kid will call one night and say, I failed this, I hate my roommate, the food is bad, life is just horrible, and you will immediately want to run up there.” However, if you wait and call the next day, Oberg says, odds are good your kid will have gotten over it without any help from you.