Photo credit: Denis Felix/CorbisIs your child biting, throwing tantrums, teasing his sister, or giving you attitude? Hang in there - there are solutions. Here, experts share what to do about 8 real-kid behavior problems.
1. Teasing Siblings
"My 8-year-old son teases his 3-year-old sister. He'll bug her and touch her until she goes nuts, or he takes away her favorite toys." - Jill Bigelow, 38, Brooklyn
Most teasing is simply part of the way brothers and sisters engage with each other, says Alec L. Miller, Psy.D., chief of child and adolescent psychology at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, NY. Siblings tease because they're comfortable enough with each other to say and do things they'd never try out on a friend. That said, a constant refrain of "Mom! She's breathing on me!" is never pleasant. Focus first on the tease-ee, says Miller. Empathize with her, then tell her that the two of you will just ignore the teaser. As for the teaser, try some behavior-modification techniques: He gets a treat if, say, he goes two days without poking his sister. And if you catch him actually being nice to her? "Lavish him with praise, says Miller.
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"My 22-month-old son always throws food or toys off his high chair at me." - Stacey Boal, 32, West Chester, PA
Every kid tosses food sometimes, because it's fun or because he's full. But he also could be angling for more time with you. "He could be tired, or jealous that you're paying attention to something or someone else," says Susan Fletcher, Ph.D., a psychologist in Plano, TX. When he throws, say firmly, "We don't throw," and take away the tossed toy, or remove him from his high chair, since he's clearly finished.
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"My 5-year-old daughter throws tantrums like a toddler. She has never received anything she's wanted in response to her hysterics, but the drama continues." - Sharon Miller, 40, Winchester, VA
It could be that your little girl is addicted to the role of drama queen. "Even if you don't indulge her hysterics with concrete rewards, your negative attention might be encouraging the antics," says Fletcher. Refuse to accept whining, wailing, or flailing as a form of communication. At home, tell her you'll listen once she calms down, then walk away. If you're in public, remove her from her "audience" and take her outside. Use as few words as possible - "Your behavior is inappropriate and we're leaving the store" - and don't back down.
Related: How to Tame Tantrums (Without Losing Your Cool)
4. Making Messes
"My 8-year-old son never picks up after himself. Toys, clothes, dishes, shoes - everything is left where it was last used. I'm sick of yelling." - Tara Van Den Heuvel, 31, DePere, WI
Kids are slobs because they can be - and because eventually most parents cave in and clean up for them. Instead, institute a strict system of rewards (a post-soccer- practice sundae when his dirty duds get dumped in the hamper) and consequences (no movie night if they're still on the floor after one warning). "At this age, loss of a privilege has real impact," says Miller. Dial down your house-proud standards for a while, but don't give in. It'll be worth it.
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"My 14-month-old bites me. I try to redirect him but it hasn't stopped, and I'm afraid he's going to start biting other children." - Tammy Kirkland, 36, Newnan, GA
Being the parent of a biter can be embarrassing, but biting's perfectly normal - many preverbal toddlers use physical aggression as a way to communicate. Next time he bites, react swiftly, sternly, and consistently. A firm "No biting!" and a removal from the situation, repeated every time the biting happens, will eventually do the trick, says Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, TX. And if your little chomper gets his teeth in another child? Rush to the victim's side so that your child gets the message that biters don't get hugs.
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6. Naked at Night
"My 2-year-old daughter won't stay dressed! She takes off her diaper every night. I find her there in the morning in a wet crib, with her pajamas and diaper in the corner." - Amy Rost, 34, Vandalia, MO
Toddlers delight in practicing every new skill they acquire - and the moment they learn how to unfasten diaper tabs, well, it's striptease time! How to deal? "Two words: duct tape," says Brown. You can put duct tape over the diaper tabs, as Brown suggests, or try zip-up sleepers with the extra snap over the zipper, which make it harder for little hands to do their dirty work. Give your newly nimble toddler a stuffed animal to diaper and un-diaper to her heart's content.
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7. Hateful Talk
"My 3-year-old son says 'I hate you!' to his dad and me, even to his grandparents." -Andrea Menta, 32, Drexel Hill, PA
"When your child says he hates you, he means it - for that moment," says Fletcher. But he does not mean he'll hate you forever; likely, something you've done has made him fuming mad. The key is to address what made your child say "I hate you," as opposed to trying to address the fact that he said it. A simple "I guess Mommy made you angry just now, but you still can't have a third cookie" works. When he's calmer, talk to him about how words like "hate" hurt others' feelings.
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8. Dreamy Destruction
"My 7-year-old daughter wanders around doing things without thinking - things she knows better about, like squeezing a bottle of shampoo into the sink, or writing with a marker on the back of a chair." -Karen Cann, 33, St. Clair Shores, MI
First, make sure there's no physical reason your daughter's focus seems to have slipped, says Brown. Is she getting enough sleep? Could she have a neurological problem? If the change seems very swift or severe, ask your pediatrician for advice. But chances are good that this is just a benign, idiosyncratic - and passing - phase. If no destruction of property is involved, "let her know you don't like what she's doing, but otherwise don't make a big deal out of it," says Miller, because the more fuss you make, the more you might unwittingly prolong the phase. If she is causing damage, bring it to her attention and assign a consequence - helping you clean the dining room chairs is an obvious one. Also, "use her behavior as a reality check," says Miller. "When busy parents are pulled in multiple directions, they may be guilty of paying lots of attention to negative behavior, and little attention to good behavior." So when your daughter does something positive with those markers, like draw a colorful picture, pile on the praise.
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