Extreme Misbehavior – Conduct Disorder

Even before stepping into high school, John had already accumulated a laundry list of offenses. He had been involved in bullying, vandalism, fire setting, stealing, and fighting, among other aggressive or illegal activities. As if these antisocial behaviors weren’t enough, John also had other issues like abusing alcohol and prescription drugs, and threatening his parents with violence.  At 14, he was arrested for assault, and placed in a juvenile correction facility.

John has Conduct Disorder, a mental health condition believed to affect 3-10% of American children and adolescents. Conduct Disorder or CD is characterized by persistent patterns of antisocial behavior, behavior that violates the rights of others and breaks rules and laws. While most kids have natural tendencies towards episodes of lying, belligerence and aggression, children and teenagers with Conduct Disorder exhibit chronic and inflexible patterns of gross misbehavior and violence. Conduct Disorder is a serious disorder of behavior and not simply an overdose of the sort of ordinary mischief or misbehavior that all children get into. It is characterized by repetitive, consistent antisocial behavior that is not responsive to normal parenting interventions.

Conduct Disorder manifests in aggression to people and animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness or theft, and serious violations of rule such as running away, using dangerous weapons, skipping school and classes, ignoring curfews and so on. Symptoms cause severe impairment in the child’s personal, academic or social life. Conduct Disorder occurs more often among males than among females and usually coexists with other mental health conditions such as substance abuse, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, learning disorders, and depression.

What it’s Like for Parents
Conduct Disorder poses one of the greatest sources of grief and stress among parents. Symptoms can start out looking relatively normal, involving “misbehavior” such as chronic arguments with parents, disobedience and even hyperactivity. But as time goes by the gravity of the symptoms tend to escalate, alongside with their frequency. Temper tantrums can become actual episodes of violence and assault; lying to parents can become stealing from friends and classmates; and lack of respect for privacy at home can become breaking and entering somebody else’s home. Conduct Disorders can lead to cases of rape and sexual abuse, even homicide. If left untreated, Conduct Disorders can evolve into the adult disorder known as Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Receiving calls from teachers, principals and even the local police station, are common occurrences for parents of conduct disordered children and teens. Usually, there are many fruitless attempts to discipline or moderate a child’s behavior. Even counseling is insufficient because the biological nature of the disorder necessitates medical treatment as well. Because kids and teens with Conduct Disorder  suffer from a lack of empathy and emotional responsiveness, parents rarely get through to their child on their own.

What can Parents Do?
The good news is that there is hope for treating Conduct Disorders, and many programs have been found effective in both managing symptoms and restoring functionality. However, treatment is usually slow and complex. Indeed, Conduct Disorder is one of the most difficult behavioral disorders to treat. Recovery generally requires time and a combination of many different treatment approaches including different types of therapy, education, behavioral interventions and medications.

What can Help?
Early intervention helps increase the likelihood of successful treatment, which is why parents should act promptly when they notice antisocial behavior in their children. CD often begins as ODD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, a condition characterized by lack of respect for authority. Lack of empathy is also a risk factor, alongside a family history of antisocial and/or criminal behavior.

As part of a comprehensive treatment program, traditional counseling and therapy interventions can go a long way, particularly those that aims to teach positive social skills such as communication, empathy and conflict management. Emotional management techniques, such as anger management interventions can also help. Sensitivity training, especially those at residential camps where kids and teens can interact with peers (and sometimes animals like horses), have also been known to be effective.

Parents are also encouraged to join family therapy sessions and Parent Management Training or PMT. Family therapy can surface systemic factors that cause and reinforce antisocial behavior in children. Family therapy can also help parents establish more effective forms of guidance and discipline, and teach parents how to respond to disruptive and defiant behaviors.

Because of the biological factor in Conduct Disorders, getting pharmacological help is important as well. A psychiatrist can help plan the appropriate drug therapy for a child or teenager with Conduct Disorder. In addition, a psychiatrist can help manage the child’s overall program of therapy and specific interventions. Sometimes the best source of help for children with Conduct Disorder is a specialized children’s mental health treatment center where many different types of professionals offer services under one roof and the child’s program can be coordinated through one department. Ask your doctor for a referral to such a center for diagnosis and treatment of your child.

Afraid of Needles

Nobody enjoys getting a needle, but getting the occasional needle is a fact of life. Babies, kids and teens get them for immunizations as well as for blood tests and other routine medical care. Some children who have been treated in a hospital have endured intravenous injections as well. In fact, no one knows when they might have to receive a needle for emergency medical care. This being the case, it is highly inconvenient to have an intense fear of needles! Unfortunately, many kids are afraid of the pain that accompanies receiving a needle and some children have an actual needle phobia – a reaction involving irrational terror and panic.

If your child is afraid of needles, consider the following tips:

Use Emotional Coaching
If your child is afraid of getting a needle, try using emotional coaching. Emotional coaching is the naming and accepting of feelings. In this scenario, you can say such things as “I know you’re afraid the needle will hurt,” or “I know you don’t want to have the needle – nobody really likes getting needles.” Acknowledge your child’s fears without minimizing or discounting them. For instance, DON’T tell him the needle won’t hurt or that it’s not such a big deal or that he is being a baby! When you simply accept the fact that he’s fearful, it actually helps take away some of the fear. However, if your acceptance does nothing to minimize feelings of panic, it is still valuable: it shows the child that you take his feelings seriously. This helps develops the child’s emotional intelligence which, over time, helps the child have greater comfort with his own and other people’s feelings. (Emotional Intelligence also leads to success in every area of functioning.)

Be Careful Not to Reinforce Fears
Avoidance makes fears worse – don’t solve the problem by letting your child skip the needle if it isn’t absolutely necessary or if it can be taken on a later date. Moreover, try not to show excessive interest in the fear (i.e. by constantly talking about it). Make your communications and interventions on the topic brief, matter-of-fact and low-key.

Try Simple Techniques First
Some kids can be bribed out of their fear, so if offering a treat or privilege helps to distract the child from fear, then go ahead and do it. Similarly, if distracting the child at the time of the needle with a joke, a funny face, a question or a puppet will help the child get through the moment comfortably, then go for it! However, if your child’s anticipatory anxiety is way too high for such simple interventions, then consider the techniques below.

Teach Strategies to Cope with Fear
Teach your child how to use his imagination to help him stay calm and confident. Right now, your child is imagining his skin being painfully punctured. He is fixated on the moment of pain. You can instruct him to imagine the time period AFTER the needle – he can picture himself leaving the doctor’s office with a nice lollipop in his mouth, or a storybook that you’ve bought for him, or (if he’s older) the new game on his handheld device. (Of course, you don’t really have to get the child anything new; he can just imagine having one of his old favorites with him!) Imagination is strengthened by asking the child to close his eyes and cross his arms across his chest, Indian Chief style. He should then picture leaving the doctor’s office happily while he taps alternating left, right, left, right with his hands on his upper arms or shoulders. Tapping like this for one to three minutes is all that is necessary and can be repeated whenever he starts to feel fearful. Bi-lateral tapping helps the imagination take root deep in the mind where it can affect the emotional centers.   Another thing you can do, is teach your youngster breathing techniques to help calm his nerves, particularly when he is about to receive his needle. One simple technique that is easy to teach is to have your child think the word “in” while breathing in and think the word “out” while breathing out.  In addition,  you might look into a fear-busting technique called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). This is a simple form of acupressure that you can do with your child before his gets his needle. It involves tapping lightly on your child’s body on meridian pathways on the face, chest and fingers. In many cases, the technique causes the fear to completely disappear in a matter of minutes. In other cases, it brings the fear down to a more manageable level. There are many internet resources for learning EFT – a very easy and quick technique to reduce fear and other negative emotions.

A Needle Phobia May be a Genetic Condition
While fears can be acquired after bad experiences, phobic reactions are biological vulnerabilities – a child can inherit the tendency to have one or more phobias. (If a child develops panic around needles because of having had a life-threatening experience involving a needle, then it may be part of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder rather than a simple phobia.) Therefore, if your child has a complete meltdown, cries, absolutely refuses to cooperate with the doctor (or even go to the doctor), it is possible that he or she is suffering from the very common mental health disorder known as Simple Phobia. There is nothing “simple” about such a phobia from a parent’s point of view, however, since the child’s overwhelming reaction makes it extremely challenging to provide the proper medical care. Some children will calm down, however, if given a few drops of Rescue Remedy in water. Rescue Remedy is a harmless water-based remedy – a special type of Bach Flower preparation – that is used for intense upset and overwhelming experiences. It helps turn off the fight-or-flight response. Although it is useful in the moment for a child who must have a needle, proper treatment with Bach Flower Therapy can help prevent the panic from happening in the future (see below).

Experiment with Bach Flowers
Bach Flower Therapy is a naturopathic treatment that can ease emotional distress and even prevent it from occurring in the future. It treats every type of emotional disturbance (fear, panic, worry, anger, tantrums, low mood, guilt, perfectionism and so on). When your child worries obsessively (i.e. can’t stop thinking about the needle that he is going to have), you can give him the flower remedy called White Chestnut. For specific fears (like the fear of needles) you can use the remedy Mimulus. The remedy Rock Rose is used for feelings of panic. You can mix several remedies together in one treatment bottle. To do so, you fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle with water (a mixing bottle is an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold in health food stores along with Bach Flower Remedies). Next, add two drops of each remedy that you want to use. Finally, add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use. Give your child four drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until the fear is gone. Start treatment again if the fear returns. Bach Flower Therapy can help melt fears out of the system over time and can compliment any other treatment the child is receiving.

Professional Assessment and Treatment
If your interventions have not helped your child face needles more comfortably, you can have him or her assessed by a mental health professional. A short course of professional treatment may help your child manage this fear much better.

Defiant Behavior (ODD)

“I’m not eating that!”

“I can leave class anytime I want to. You don’t own me.”

“No. Make me!”

Do you have a child who is consistently negativistic, argumentative and hostile? Does it seem that every little issue in your household turns into a major battle? If so, you are probably exhausted! Parenting has turned out to be a struggle rather than the pleasure you expected it to be. And you are probably also confused – why is your child acting this way? Is there something you have done wrong? Or is there something wrong with your child?

There are  many reasons why your child may be this way, ranging from normal temperamental issues and  periods of intense emotional stress all the way  to various mental health diagnoses. In this article we will examine one possible cause of consistent defiant behavior: ODD – Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Why Do Kids Misbehave?
Misbehavior is normal for any child; part of the natural developmental process involves testing parental limits. In addition, stress can make kids irritable and less able to control their behavior or their mouths. Sick, overwhelmed, hungry or tired kids disobey, talk back, argue or even deliberately trample parents’ authority. Sometimes, simple lack of knowledge or inexperience is the culprit behind misbehavior.

However, when a child defies authority regularly and consistently – across all situations and independent of other factors like stress, fatigue and so on – it is possible that he or she is suffering from a condition called Oppositional Defiant Disorder or ODD.

What Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?
Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a chronic, pervasive pattern of being uncooperative, defiant and hostile to authority figures like parents, teachers and most adults. ODD symptoms are far more intense than ordinary misbehavior, impairing a child’s ability to function well at home or school. Sibling relationships and friendships are also affected.

Children with ODD have frequent temper tantrums and other dramatic displays of displeasure, engage in excessive arguments with adults, constantly challenge or question rules, and deliberately attempt to annoy or upset other people. They’re also prone to blaming others and exhibiting vengeful behavior. Symptoms usually occur at both home and school. ODD most frequently  occurs along with other diagnoses such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, mood disorders and anxiety disorders. ODD is estimated to affect 3 to 16% of the population of children and teens. It can manifest as early as a child’s toddler years.

What Causes ODD?
Experts point to a combination of factors including biological (e.g. an impairment on the area of the brain that manages impulse control and emotional management), social (e.g. harsh and punitive parenting techniques, stressful family transitions, difficulty relating with people) and cognitive (e.g. poor problem-solving skills, irrational thinking) issues. It is recommended  that interventions for a child diagnosed with ODD are also holistic, addressing the whole child.

What Can Parents Do?
If you suspect that your child may have ODD, consult a pediatric mental health professional for assessment, and if necessary, a treatment plan. Once a diagnosis has been made, there are strategies that parents can employ to help their child with oppositional behavior. Management of ODD may involve therapy, medication and behavior management programs to be carried out at home and school. Positive parenting styles have been found helpful as well in the treatment of children with ODD. In particular, taking the power struggle out of parenting can lessen the tendency for the child to fight authority. When parents don’t offer strong emotional reactions to provocation, kids lose interest in trying to provoke them. Parents of ODD children can take specialized parent education training.

Although many children with ODD will benefit significantly from medication, parents can also experiment with Bach Flower Remedies instead of or along with psychotropic medication. Behavioral and psychological interventions will still be required. The remedies Vine (for defiance and hostility), Chestnut Bud (for disregard for authority), Heather (for drama and the need for attention) and Cherry Plum (for loss of control) can be added together in one mixing bottle and offered 4 drops at a time, 4 times a day until the defiant behavior has significantly improved. You can find more information on Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site. Before starting your child on the remedies, note how many times a day he or she currently engages in tantrums and arguments. Record the child’s behavior for a month while the child is taking the remedies. If there is a positive effect, continue as is, but if no difference is noted, be sure to consult with your doctor and/or psychiatrist for proper assessment and medical treatment.

How to Raise Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (E.Q.) refers to “people smarts.” A person with high emotional intelligence understands both himself and others. Not only does the person understand people, but he also knows how to make them feel comfortable – he knows how to bring out the best in others. As a result, the person with high E.Q. experiences more success in relationships and at work. Kids with high E.Q. have better relationships at home and at school, with kids and with adults. Moreover, high E.Q.in children and teens is associated with better academic performance, better physical health, better emotional health and better behavior. In adults, high E.Q. is associated with better performance in every area of life.

What can you do to help foster your child’s emotional intelligence? In this article we will discuss ways one can boost their child’s emotional intelligence.

Adapt an Authoritative, Not an Autocratic Parenting Style
Parenting style has a huge influence on children’s emotional intelligence. When parents can guide their children while still being sensitive to their feelings, children have higher E.Q. Authorative parents are warm, but consistent in setting appropriate limits and boundaries. They will use discipline, but not at the expense of respectful communication and care. Their children will learn how to be sensitive to others and they will also learn how to “talk to themselves” compassionately, modelling after their parents. This gentle self-talk becomes a major aspect of their emotional intelligence, a tool they can use to reduce their stress in a healthy way.

Autocratic parents, on the other hand, don’t care that much about the child’s feelings. Instead, they focus on the rules of the household, what is allowed and what is prohibited, what the child may and may not do. Sensitivity to the child’s inner world is missing. In this case, children fail to experience parental empathy and as a result, fail to learn how to soothe their own upset emotions. They may attempt to relieve their discomfort by becoming aggressive, acting out their feelings. Eventually they may turn to comforts outside of themselves such as addictions (to food, alcohol, drugs, etc.). Acting out and addictive behavior reflects lower E.Q.

The more feeling words used by parents and educators, the more sensitive a child becomes to his inner reality. Most of us tend to use few emotion words in our dealings with children, and when we do, we often use the same few tired ones over and over.  It is important that we move beyond “mad,” “sad,” “glad,” and “scared.”  Shades of feeling are most helpful and can be used when describing our own feelings or the child’s feelings. Words like irritated, annoyed, frustrated, anxious, worried, terrified, alarmed, disappointed, hurt, insulted, embarrassed, uncomfortable, unsure, curious, interested, hopeful, concerned, shocked, elated, excited, enthusiastic, let down, abandoned, deserted, mellow, calm, peaceful, relaxed, bored, withdrawn, furious, enraged, frightened, panicked, and proud can be used DAILY to help provide an emotional education in the home or classroom. These are the regular feelings that children have in facing life, stimulated by everyday experiences, dreams, movies and even novels. Identifying a youngster’s emotional reaction and feeding it back to him, helps him to become aware of his inner processing. This information then forms the core of his emotional intelligence, providing an accurate barometer of his response to his world. From this place of inner certainty, a child is well-equipped to navigate life, knowing what he feels, what he is searching for and when he has attained it. His familiarity with the world of feelings allows him to connect accurately and sensitively with others. This prevents him from hurting other people’s feelings with words and further, permits him to achieve great kindness and sensitivity in his interpersonal transactions.

Here are some practical steps you can take to bring feelings into focus:

  1. Respond to your child. From the time your child is a crying infant to the time she is a young adult, be sure to be responsive. This means that you take her communications seriously. If she cries, try to come (instead of making her cry it out.). If she asks for something, try to answer her promptly. If she talks, you listen and respond appropriately. All of this responsiveness builds emotional intelligence because you are giving your youngster valuable relationship feedback. In the opposite scenario, in which a parent either fails to respond or responds only after a long waiting period, the child learns that people tune each other out. This causes the child to shut down. She assumes that her feelings aren’t that important based on lack of parental responsiveness and from this concludes that people’s feelings aren’t that important – the very OPPOSITE of the conclusions made by emotionally intelligent people. Quick responsiveness gives the message that people’s feelings matter. This is a prerequisite concept for emotional intelligence.
  2. Use a FEELING vocabulary. Pepper your daily conversation with “feeling” words. You can name your own feelings. Let your child know that you feel excited or dismayed or discouraged or resentful or whatever. This gives your child the vital information that everyone – including parents – has feelings and an inner life. Some people do this naturally, of course, but many do not. For instance, when a child is making too much noise, a parent may just say something like, “Can you please quiet down?” However, the Emotional Coach would say something like, “I’m starting to feel overwhelmed with all this noise going on. Can you please quiet down?” Similarly, a regular parent might give positive feedback to a child in this way, “I like the way you waited patiently in line with me at the bank today.” An Emotional Coach, on the other hand, might say something like, “I felt very relaxed with you in the bank today because you were waiting so patiently.” In other words, the Emotional Coach looks for opportunities to describe his or her inner experience. It is this description that helps the child begin to build an emotional vocabularly that will open the doors to Emotional Intelligence.
  3. Name your child’s feelings. Children feel feelings all day long but not all parents comment on them. In fact, many parents are more practical, focusing on solutions to problems. For instance, if a child is upset because there are no more of his favorite cookies left in the jar, the typical parent might say, “I’ll pick up some more for you when I go shopping this week.” While that solves the problem, it doesn’t build emotional intelligence. An Emotional Coach might say, “Oh, that’s so disappointing! You really love those cookies! I’ll pick some up for you when I go shopping this week.” The extra few words acknowledging the child’s inner world (“Oh that’s so disappointing”) make all the difference when it comes to building Emotional Intelligence. Similarly, parents often try to get kids to STOP their feelings or at least SHRINK their feelings by saying things like, “Just calm down – it’s not such a big deal” or “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” of “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” The Emotional Coach, on the other hand, accepts all the child’s feelings, giving the child the name for what is going on inside. “I can see how upset you are,” or “You’re really scared about this,” or “It so important to you,” and so on. By accepting all feelings as they are, the Emotional Coach teaches kids not to be afraid of or overwhelmed by feelings. This is a very important part of becoming emotionally intelligent.
  4. Teach your child how to express emotions appropriately. While all feelings are acceptable, all BEHAVIORS are not. It is not O.K. to hit and scream just because you feel angry. It is not O.K. to cry for an hour at the top of your lungs just because you are disappointed. Parents must teach children – by their example and by their interventions – the appropriate behavioral expression of emotions. For instance, parents can teach children to express their anger in a respectful way by saying things like, “When you are mad at your brother for touching your puzzle, just tell him ‘I don’t want you to touch my puzzle. I’m working hard on it and it bothers me when you move the piece around.’ Don’t slap his hand!” Parents will have to use the normal techniques of positive attention, encouragement and discipline to get the lessons across. It is, of course, essential, that parents are respectful themselves in the way they express their upset, fear and disappointment. See “The Relationship Rule” in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for details on how to teach the proper way to express negative emotions.
  5. Let them experience failure and disappointment. It’s understandable that parents want to protect their children from disappointment. But know that rescuing children from pain, to the point that they never get to experience life, will backfire in the long run. Children need to know how to bounce back from adversity — resilience muscles need training too! And children won’t know how it is to rebound from disappointment if they aren’t allowed to experience it to begin with. When your child gets a poor mark on a project, don’t rush to the teacher to get the mark raised; instead, use emotional coaching with your child (that is, NAME her feelings). “This mark is so disappointing! You tried really hard and the teacher didn’t appreciate it. That is frustrating!” By naming feelings, you actually help shrink them down to size. Feeling words act as “containers” for feelings. It’s O.K. for the child to be upset, or even to cry. After awhile, she’ll calm down. And this is the important part – learning that calm follows a storm. Everything in life doesn’t need to be perfect. There is such a thing as recovery. “There will be more projects, more chances to get a good grade.” You want to show the child that you yourself aren’t afraid of negative experiences or emotions. This model that life is “survivable” can really help a child cope when the going gets rough.
  6. Expand their social network. Few parents think of other people as possible teaching instruments in promoting emotional intelligence. But kids can learn more from interesting personalities and other people’s life experiences than they can from a classroom lecture. Having to adapt well to different types of people — quiet, assertive, annoying, fun-loving — can teach a child how to regulate their behavior based on the demands of an interaction. The challenges other people go through can also provide insight on how to manage one’s own trials in life. Learning vicariously through the success and failure of other people is a good way to raise a child’s E.Q. So if you can, go ahead and enroll your child in various clubs or organizations. When they’re a bit older, encourage them to volunteer in community service. Send them on mission trips. Let them talk with grandpa or grandma. Every person has a lesson to impart to a child.

Child Won’t Go to Bed

There are some young children who can’t wait to get into bed at night – but they are few and far between! It is far more common for children of all ages to try to stay up later than their bedtime, whatever that bedtime might be. In fact, a lot of adults have the same problem! Everyone wants just a little more time to finish playing that game, reading that book, watching that movie or whatever. Maybe it’s not a bad thing – at least everyone who wants to avoid bedtime is excited about life and all that it has to offer!

However, there is one down side to all this wakefulness: daytime fatigue. Kids (and adults) who go to bed too late, often have trouble getting up in the morning and/or functioning well during the day. Physical health and emotional well-being also tend to suffer when there is long term sleep deprivation. As everyone knows, lack of sleep can cause irritability and impaired decision-making. All in all, a shortage of sleep cannot be recommended. Kids NEED to go to bed on time.

If your child isn’t cooperating with his or her set bedtime, consider the following tips:

Set a Realistic Bedtime According to the Unique Needs of the Child
Children – like adults – have varying needs for sleep. Some children and teens function best on 9 or 10 hours sleep, while others do very well on 7 or 8 hours. When a child can wake up on time in the morning with little struggle and function well during the day, maintaining appropriate focus, good health and a decent mood, then he or she is getting enough sleep. On the other hand, a child who can’t wake up in the morning, is always late due to sleeping in, is chronically ill, cranky and/or underfunctioning, and is simply not getting enough sleep. Specific health issues also impact on the amount of sleep needed. For instances, many kids with ADD/ADHD and other biological disorders seem to have more trouble settling down to sleep or staying asleep at night – they may do better with a later bedtime. Wake your child up at the same time every day – the time that is most appropriate for getting to school on time after getting dressed and eating breakfast. If your child does well, he or she is currently getting enough sleep. Therefore, continue with whatever bedtime you have established. If your child is struggling, create an earlier bedtime.

In setting an appropriate bedtime, try to find a time which is only a few minutes away from the child’s ability to fall asleep. For instance, if you set a 9 p.m. bedtime, your child should easily fall asleep somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes later. You may permit your child to read until he or she gets tired. You would establish “lights out” by 9:30. However, if you put your child to sleep at 9 and he or she remains awake tiil 10 or later (despite your “lights out at 9:30” policy), the bedtime is much too early. This is true only when you have been consistently waking the child at the same time every day (the ideal time for getting ready for school).

Be Consistent
Once you establish a reasonable bedtime, be sure to stick to it. Try not to change it except on very special occasions such as vacations or holidays.

Reduce Stimulation
Parents can help their kids go to bed by helping them to wind down for the night. Reduce the excitement available around the house about one hour before your child’s desired bedtime. This means implement rules like “computer is off one hour before bedtime” and “no movies or T.V. in the hour before bedtime” and “no snacks larger than a single non-caffeinated beverage an hour before bedtime.” Your goal is to help the child’s nervous system settle down. You might permit the reading of books or the doing of puzzles in the hour because these activities are both interesting and fatiguing. They involve mental work and therefore exhaust the mind after awhile.

Help Your Child Get Ready for Sleep
For children under 10, expect to spend 45min to an hour helping your child settle down to sleep using a daily sleep routine. This routine normally includes a bedtime snack, bath, teeth brushing, getting into pj’s, and story time or talking time. Depending on the age of your child, you may follow all this with a good night kiss and allow the child to read on his or her own for awhile longer (until “lights out”), or you may actually dim the lights and lie down quietly with the child for another 10 or 20 minutes until the child has drifted off to sleep, or you may sit in the child’s room with lights off until the child falls asleep.

Address Your Child’s Fears
Some children are afraid to sleep in their own rooms alone. Help your child to feel safe and comfortable by leaving night lights on, providing intercom, and/or comfort toys. The Bach Flower Remedies Aspen (for fear of the dark, monsters and ghosts) and Mimulus (for fear of robbers or being separated from parents) can be helpful. These can be purchased from any health food store. Two drops of each in a small amount of liquid (water, milk, juice, etc) given 4 times a day, can help erradicate night time fears. (See more on Bach Flowers in the Bach Flower article on this site.)

Use the CLeaR Method to Reinforce Cooperation
When your child is cooperative with any step of the bedtime routine, acknowledge this. “I see you got your pajamas on already!” or “You came right away when I called!” This is the “C” step of the CLeaR Method (“comment”). Use an appropriate label (the “L” step of the CLeaR Method). “That was so Speedy!”  “You’re such a good Listener!”  For settling into bed at the end of the routine, consider using a reward (the “R” step of the CLeaR Method). “Since you went to sleep so nicely, you can have your special cereal/muffins/T.V. program or whatever in the morning.” Learn how to use the CLeaR Method step by step in “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice” by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.)

Create a Reward Chart for Younger Kids
If bedtime problems have been chronic or severe, more intense corrective measures can be taken. One such measure is the use of reward charts. Sit down with your child and design a reward-based program of encouragement. Design something that has an escalating system of points and rewards. For instance, if your child currently NEVER cooperates with bedtime, suggest that each struggle-free night earn a special small treat in the next day’s lunch or a special small privilege to occur after school the next day. As the child becomes more compliant, put him or her on a point system, having the child earn 2 points (one for each struggle-free night) and a larger prize (for instance – a $2.00 chocolate treat or gift at the dollar store). When the child can easily earn 2 points in a row, raise the bar: have 3 points be necessary for a prize – but again, the prize is better than the previous ones (for instance, a $3.00 treat or gift at the dollar store). Then have the child earn 5 points for an even better payoff (i.e $5.00 worth of goodies) and then 5 in a row (i.e. a special one-on-one outing with Mom or Dad), 7 points (a trip to the toy store to buy some small item) and finally – for the final GRAND PRIZE – 7 struggle-free nights in a row (which earns a fantastic gift or privilege that the child has long pined for).

Similarly, uncooperative pre-teens and teens can be positively encouraged to get into bed on time. Again, set up the “payoffs” with the youngsters themselves. Say something like the following, “I really don’t want to ask you to get to bed more than once in a night. I’d be willing to work with you to help you get out of the habit of delaying your bedtime. For instance, perhaps there’s some privilege or material object that could be an incentive. I know you’ve had your eye on that new (app, purse, digital whatever). I’d be happy to give you five (two, or whatever) dollars  for every night that you just go peacefully and promptly off to bed. In two weeks (or a month…) you’d be able to buy yourself that (whatever) from that money alone! Incentives do not have to be material objects. Work with your child to see what the child would find motivating. Using incentives is a jumpstart for changing the bedtime habits of your youngster – it is not meant to be a permanent way of life! Once the child is in the habit of going to bed on time and cooperatively, it’s just a whole lot easier for him or her to continue doing it.

Use Discipline if Necessary
If all the “nice” techniques haven’t led to improvement in bedtime cooperation, now is the time to use formal discipline. Display a “no-nonsense” attitude regarding the bedtime. After the child’s bedtime has arrived, follow the rule that the child may no longer call for you or leave his or her room (unless there is a true emergency). If the child calls out or leaves the bed, use the 2X-Rule. Tell the child, “you must stay in your room quietly once your bedtime has arrived.” When the child calls out or leaves the room, repeat the rule and add the warning of a negative consequence. This can be any consequence, but a good one for bedtime problems is “from now on, when you call out or leave your room, you will have to stand against the wall for (the number of minutes of the child’s age, minus 2). Then you’ll go back to bed. Each time you call out, you’ll have to stand against the wall again, but for 1 minute longer than before.” (If the child is 7 years old or older, the increases can be 2 minutes more each time). Normally, this cures the child’s bedtime issues within a couple of days. If the child refuses to stand against the wall, review the instructions for applying the 2X-Rule in the discipline section on this site (and in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe ).

If you have picked a different consequence (i.e. “no cookies in your lunch tomorrow”), you will have to handle it differently. To begin with, consequences that occur “tomorrow” require waiting. Once the child has left the room and received the consequence, there is nothing more that you can do TONIGHT. The child may now wander around the house all night. This is because you only get to pick ONE consequence. If the one you picked is happening tomorrow, then you have to wait until tomorrow and then apply the consequence (and make sure that you DO apply it!). Use the same consequence at least 3 times before deciding whether or not it is effective. If after the third use, the child is still calling out or getting out of bed, you know that the consequence is not effective. Choose a different one and start again. See “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice” by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for detailed instructions on how to create and employ negative consequences.

Refrain from Showing Anger or Irritation
Bedtime should be a pleasant time for a child. Try your hardest not to raise your voice in order to scare your child into bed at night. If, after trying all approaches, your child is still refusing to go to bed, consult a parenting consultant or psychologist for assistance. There can be complicating factors you are not aware of and/or more strategies to try.

Dawdlers

Some kids take forever to get moving. They take their sweet time getting up in the morning and must be reminded ten times before completing any given task. They take an hour or so getting a small sandwich down! And just when you think that they’re dressed and ready to go, they’re glued to the TV screen, wearing no shirt and only one sock on, begging for 5 more minutes. Dawdlers drive their parents mad. Unfortunately, the morning rush just won’t wait – school starts at 9. The evening schedule presents its own demands and deadlines – homework, dinner, bath & bed. . Yet dawdlers are oblivious, taking their own sweet time, moving in their own little universe. What can parents do to decrease dawdler-induced stress?

If you have a child who drags his or her feet in the morning or at other times, consider the following tips:

Helping Your Dawdler
Particularly, with young dawdlers, it’s fine for parents to gently move the child along – hand the child his shirt, point him toward the kitchen table and so on. Younger children might respond to incentives or races. Some dawdlers are “spacey” (and might benefit from an assessment to make sure that ADD or some other type of challenge, isn’t at play). If the child is otherwise healthy, the Bach Flower Remedy Clematis can help increase focus and decrease spaciness, leading to a reduction in dawdling behaviors. If the child is easily distracted from his focus, the Bach Remedy Chestnut Bud can be helpful. (You can learn more about Bach Flowers online or throughout this site). If you need to insist on performance (for instance, the carpool ride is coming and the child MUST be ready on time), use a fair form of quiet discipline such as the 2X-Rule (see below and in more detail in the book Raise  Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe).

Use Positive Strategies
Instead of nagging and yelling, parents can use positive strategies to help their slow-poke youngsters. While nagging and yelling can greatly harm the parent-child relationship and even increase mental health problems for kids, good-feeling techniques can strengthen the parent-child bond and facilitate healthy development while encouraging more appropriate, timely behavior.

Positive attention itself is one such strategy. As a child is moving (ever so slowly), a parent can NOTICE and ACKNOWLEDGE progress. For instance, the parent can say, “I see you’ve got one sock on. That’s a great start.” Every time the child completes a step of his morning routine, the parent can give this sort of positive attention. On the other hand, the parent should refrain from talking to the child about his slow behavior. For instance, when the child is moving slowly, the parent should NOT say, “Hurry up – you’re moving too slowly.” Rather, the parent should wait until he or she can make a positive comment.

Positive reinforcement can also be used. If the child happens to have completed a step in a timely fashion, the parent can offer a concrete reward. “I see you’ve finished brushing your teeth before 7:30 – that means there’s time for me to give you that special breakfast treat I bought for you.” Of course, any reward can be offered, such as an extra few minutes to watch T.V., a story, a game, a kiss or any privilege. When rewarding a timely step, the parent needs to ignore other aspects of dawdling. This means that the child might still be running late but has received a reward for being on time in the early part of the schedule. The trick here is to ignore slow and late behavior and only give attention and rewards to timely and prompt behavior.

The CLeaR Method (Comment, Label, Reward) can be very helpful as well. For instance: when your child is on task, make a positive comment (“I see you’re getting dressed!”). Then offer a positive label for the behavior (“You’re a fast mover this morning!”). Finally, offer a small reward (“I think you deserve an extra treat in your lunch.”). The label “fast mover” can be very helpful in building a healthier concept of your child as a person who CAN move efficiently. Be sure to NEVER use negative labels such as “slow poke,” “dawdler,” and so on. In fact, don’t talk about “dawdling” at all – never use the words “dawdle,” “dawdler,” or “dawdling.” The CLeaR Method is explained in full in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

Use Consequences
Setting time limits can help reduce dawdling behavior. Limit setting can be accomplished with the ‘“2X Rule.” The first step of this rule is to give the time limit: “You have until 7:45 to brush your own hair.” Then, just before the deadline, repeat the limit and name the consequence: “It’s almost 7:45 sweetie – if your hair isn’t brushed in another minute, I’ll have to come and give it a quick brush for you.”  Even if the child would be angry, the parent would gently, kindly but quickly brush the hair if necessary. A steady rule can also be employed such as “From now on, if your hair isn’t brushed by 7:45, I’ll have to come in and give it a quick brush.” Such a rule can be employed for any deadline, varying the consequences: toothbrushing, bedmaking, eating, being at the door in time. The consequences must be delivered quietly, without any fuss, anger or upset. “You haven’t got any more time to make your bed, so I’ll be making it this morning and you’ll lose your T.V. show tonight (or whatever consequence you have pre-arranged with the child). When first introducing consequences to a dawdler, only concentrate on one deadline. After it is established, you can pick a second on and so on. The key to using consequences effectively is to let the consequence teach  the lesson, rather than using anger, lecturing and so forth (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for a detailed explanation on the constructive use of consequences using the 2X Rule).

Consider Possible Reasons for Lethargy
If your child has a tendency to move too slowly on a regular basis, not just during the morning rush, then consider possible medical and psychological reasons for lethargic behavior. For example, your child may lack energy and needs a carbohydrate boost. Or your child might be suffering from depression. Sometimes apparent dawdlers are really obsessors and ritualizers. If your child is taking too long because she does things over and over again to get them “just right” then a professional assessment can help you determine whether anxiety might be the culprit. If so, there are good treatments that can help put an end to the problem. If you suspect that your child’s dawdling is due to more than a bad habit, do consult your pediatrician or a child psychologist.

Refuses to Eat Breakfast

Breakfast is an important meal. For one thing, breakfast provides energy and nutrients for the first part of the day. Secondly, it’s a meal that comes after a long period of not eating (during sleep), so skipping it gives the body the impression that it is fasting and causes it to slow down its metabolism in order to preserve nutrients. This can result in weight gain! Health practitioners have always recommended making breakfast the heaviest and most nutritious serving of the day, instead of lunch, snacks or dinner since a person has time to use the nutrients and work off the calories of this earliest meal. After dinner, for example, many people are sedentary until they go to bed a short while later. There is certainly no need to ingest a large amount of food in order to sit around for a couple of hours and then go to sleep!

So what can parents when their child refuses to eat breakfast?

First, Determine Why Your Child Does Not Want to Eat
As with most things, an accurate diagnosis is half the solution. Could it be that your child doesn’t like the food you are serving? Or maybe he or she rarely feels hungry in the morning? It’s also possible that your child is always running late, and breakfast is a luxury he can’t afford (many adults have this problem too!). Knowing the specific cause of not eating breakfast can help a parent provide a tailor-fit response.

If what you put on the plate is the problem, maybe it’s time for a change in the menu. The good thing is, there are many high energy breakfast choices that a parent can choose from to break the monotony of cold cereal. Tasty muffins, fresh waffles, eggs and bagels, fruit breads, french toast, granola, various puddings, cheese and crackers, hot cooked grains, fresh baked scone, cottage cheese salads, and many other delicious and nutritious treats can be served up. If you bake them at home you can make sure that you use high protein, high fiber “ancient grains,” (like sorghum, amaranth, quinoa, etc.), nuts and nut flours (like almond flour), dried fruits, eggs and milk products. There are many cookbooks available today that offer you a wide range of nutritious options for breakfast. If time is short (as it is for most of us!), you will find many offerings in your grocery and local health food store – fresh and frozen (ready to heat & eat) wholesome breakfast foods – both ready-to-make mixes and ready-to-pop-in-the-oven prepared foods.  Of course, you can also spice up old traditional offerings — perhaps you can add fruit to that pancake, or serve non-traditional breakfast foods such as meat, poultry, salads or whatever else your child might be willing to eat.

If the problem is that your child doesn’t feel hungry in the morning, then you might consider some extra interventions. Waking a child earlier usually helps address this problem, as hunger usually take some time to kick in after rising. Give your child a small drink of lemon-water (water to which you’ve added a bit of lemon juice and optional sweetener) to wake up the digestive tract and stimulate appetite. Eliminating midnight snacks and 3 am kitchen outings will also help. You may also cut back on dinner portions, or take dinner earlier, so as to give more room for breakfast in the morning.

If constant rushing is the reason kids skip breakfast, then the solution is to make sure your child gets up on time and moves efficiently! In the meantime, prepare a packed sandwich or fruit that they can eat on the bus or while walking to school. Taking a meal on the road may not be ideal practice, but it’s better than letting your child skip the most important meal of the day. Alternatively, make a quick, nutrition-packed breakfast smoothie by blending together milk or milk substitute, fresh or frozen fruit, protein powder and optional “extra’s” like chia seeds (for fiber and nutrients), yogurt, kale, flavorings and sweeteners.

If Possible, Eat Breakfast as a Family
Never underestimate the influence of a family routine. If you establish breakfast early on as a family affair it can encourage life-long breakfast eating – a healthy practice.

Child Doesn’t Listen

“My child doesn’t listen.”

This is a common complaint of parents everywhere. If your child seems to have a serious listening problem (he doesn’t answer when his name is called and he doesn’t even move when you ask him to do something and his non-listening occurs almost always) do get his ears checked! If his ears are in working order, he may have an auditory processing deficit (words are heard fine but don’t go in the brain properly) or he may have ADD, attention deficit disorder , or in severe cases of refusing to listen he may have oppositional defiance disorder (ODD). In most cases, however, poor listening occurs because the child doesn’t feel like doing what his parents asked him to do!

It’s Your Fault
Sorry to have to tell you this, but if your child has a listening problem – and particularly if your child has a listening problem with YOU but not with his teachers or other parent – then  it’s probably your fault. This means that you are inadvertently teaching your child not to listen to you. Don’t worry – this is more common than you might imagine and it’s curable! If you want your child to listen – YOU have to stop talking. Let’s look at an example that illustrates the point:

Suppose Mother tells her 10 year old daughter to go to bed. The daughter says, “I’m just finishing this game – I’ll go in a minute.” Ten minutes pass and the child is still at the computer. Mother says again, “I want you to go to bed now.” The child says, “O.K. I’ve just got to get my pencil I left downstairs.” While downstairs, the youngster decides she’s hungry and so makes herself a little snack. Mother shouts down, “Where are you?” The daughter says, “I’m just having a glass of milk. I’ll be up in a minute.” Mother gets busy with something else but notices 10 minutes later that her daughter is still not upstairs. “HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU TO GET UP HERE AND GO TO BED?!”she bellows in exasperation. “Coming,” her daughter responds in her lackadaisical way. And the scene continues on and on like this while Mother tries to get this kid to brush her teeth, put her pajamas on and get into bed. Mother complains that her daughter “just doesn’t listen.”

Getting kids to bed seems to be a major challenge for most parents. Many parents complain that their kids don’t listen when they try to get them settled for the night or turn off the computer. But if parents are willing to ask and ask and ask and ask, then their kids learn that not even the parents are listening! The parents don’t take themselves seriously, so why should the kids take them seriously? An important rule for parents is to never ask anything more than two times. This is called the 2X-Rule (see “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice” for detailed description of the 2X-Rule). Instead of asking over and over again until you are exasperated, ask anything only two times. On the second request, give your child a choice: either do what I’m asking you to do, or there will be an unpleasant consequence of your non-compliance.

In practicality, the conversation on Mom or Dad’s part might sound like this:

Parent: Please get ready for bed now.

Parent: I asked you to get ready for bed. If you aren’t ready for bed when I get back here in 5 minutes, then such & such will happen.

(“Such & such” can be any mildly unpleasant consequence such as “you will not have a bedtime story” or “you won’t be allowed to go on the computer tomorrow evening.” Come up with a list of negative consequences or use the list and guidelines in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice. Choose a consequence that is unpleasant enough for your child that he or she will not one to experience it more than a couple of times. No negative consequence should last longer than 24 hours and even a few minutes can be effective, depending on the child. Do not use harsh punishments as these can harm the child and lead to an increase in bad behavior .)

Parent (coming back 5 minutes later and finding child still not ready for bed): I’m sorry, but you’re not in bed, so now “such & such” will happen.  

Angry parents scare children and can even traumatize them. Anger can destroy the parent-child relationship, sometimes even permanently. On the other hand, the effective use of discipline (especially using the 2X-Rule) prevents anger. Good discipline helps children behave while it keeps them emotionally safe and healthy.

Helping Kids Listen
Parents complain that kids don’t listen when kids don’t do what they’ve just been asked to do. Parents can help kids listen by using discipline when they don’t listen. Here are some behaviors that respond very well to effective discipline:

  • Getting kids into bed
  • Getting children to come to the table for dinner
  • Getting children to try a small bite of a new food
  • Getting teenagers to remember to put gas in the car
  • Getting teenagers to remember to call home
  • Getting children to stop whining
  • Getting children to stop hitting adults
  • Getting children to stop biting
  • Getting children to stop fighting with siblings
  • Getting children to stop arguing
  • Getting children to clean up their toys
  • Getting children to clean up their mess
  • Getting children to come when you call them
  • Getting children to get ready for school in the morning
  • Getting kids out of bed in the morning

Virtually any inappropriate behavior can be modified using discipline when discipline is used appropriately (in the right proportion and in the right way). Help your kids listen by listening to yourself when you speak! Never ask a child more than twice. Take your own words seriously. When you are speaking calmly, in a normal, pleasant tone of voice, you can be perfectly serious. You don’t ever need to be screaming in order to get your message across! In fact, screaming is hard on you and highly destructive to your kids. When kids don’t listen, don’t speak louder. Instead, use more clout. Speak softly but use discipline: quietly let your child know what unpleasant consequence will occur if he or she does not cooperate with your softly spoken request! Then be sure to carry through. In most cases, these strategies will help your children to listen better.

Consider Professional Assessment
If your child does not respond to any of your interventions, consider consulting a mental health practitioner for further direction.

Arguments and Arguing

Everyone has an opinion: the toddler thinks she should stay up late while Mom thinks she should be in bed early. The 10 year-old thinks ketchup belongs on every food while the parents think not. One spouse thinks dishes can dry in the drainer while the other thinks they belong in the cupboard. Sometimes, we just don’t agree.

What happens when people disagree with each other? In some households, disagreements bring people to the verge of hysteria (and sometimes beyond). There can be shouting, pushing, throwing and other aggressive or even violent displays of opinion. In some homes, there is endless argument and debate, a verbal repartee that wears everyone down. In some homes, disagreements melt silently into the atmosphere; they are barely detectable, politely expressed as a difference of opinion. What’s it like in your home?

Arguments Hurt
Respectful disagreements are a necessary part of family life. However, arguments are not. Arguments cause stress, exhaustion and bad feelings. If they are frequent, they harm relationships. It is essential that people who live together learn to communicate without arguing. A peaceful home is not one in which everyone agrees about everything all the time; it is one in which people can make their point, be heard, be flexible, give-in, compromise, move-on and work together. It is one in which everyone’s needs are considered and respected.

Teaching Kids Not to Argue
Parents can help their children learn to handle differences peacefully. They do this in two ways – by modelling and teaching appropriate behavior.

Parents who argue with each other or with others teach their children to argue. These kids are likely to grow up to argue with their spouses and their own children. It will not be possible to teach your kids to handle conflict respectfully if you don’t do it yourself.

If you are providing a good model of respectful conflict resolution, you still have to TEACH the children how to handle their own negotiations in a respectful way. The combination of the parental model and parental instruction gives the child the best opportunity to acquire this skill. However, the child’s nature is also an important factor. Some people are born to argue! Their temperament is rigid and controlling. Other people are flexible and easy-going from birth. Whatever the inborn difference in their children, parents who provide the proper model and education are doing all that is in their power to help their kids enjoy peaceful and loving relationships. The desire to argue occurs frequently when a parent must deny a child or teen something that is requested. The answer “no” often leads directly to arguments. Let’s look at the “I Don’t Argue Rule” to see how parents can help children learn to accept this inevitable part of life without argument (you can learn about this rule in more detail in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.)

The “I Don’t Argue Rule”
The “I Don’t Argue Rule”  helps prevent escalation of conflict by ending combative conversations quickly. The entire conflict lasts only two rounds. For instance, a child wants to put ketchup on everything but the parent doesn’t want him to. The child enters “round 1” saying, “Can I put ketchup on my peas?” The parent enters “round 1” saying, “no” and offering one brief reason. For example, the parent might say, “No. It’s not healthy for you to put ketchup on all your food.” This reason is not meant to be a solid all-encompassing defense. The reason is a courtesy, to help the child understand that the parent is not simply a stubborn, mean dictator. When the parent usually answers “yes” the occasional, well-considered “no” must learn to be tolerated and respected by a child, not debated. (The child should have ample room to expand his mind in active debate at the dinner table over thought-provoking discussions about life, politics, religion and any other subject of interest: his creativity and intelligence will not be stifled by the “I Don’t Argue Rule”). In order to teach the “I Don’t Argue Rule,” parents must be reasonable people who are flexible and compassionate. They must be “yes” people, rather than “no” people. Unfortunately, “no” parents actually create the conditions under which children MUST argue in order to survive.

The child then starts “round 2” with a variation on the theme (i.e whining, repeating the request louder, giving logical arguments or whatever). For instance, the child says, “PLEASE!! I WANT KETCHUP! PLEASE?” The parent pauses to think carefully on “round 2” then either changes his or her mind OR repeats the original reply. If the parent repeats the original reply, he or she adds the words, “and that’s the end of the conversation.”  For instance, the parent now says, “I’ve thought about it and I don’t want you to have ketchup on your peas – and that’s the end of the conversation.”  The child does “round 3, 4, 5 etc.” alone, whining, begging, protesting, threatening or whatever without any response from the parent. In fact, the parent does not continue the discussion in any form, but rather gets involved in some other activity. When this approach is used consistently, children soon learn that they might as well stop talking after “round 2” because nothing they say will make a difference. They therefore stop arguing completely.

While using the “I Don’t Argue” Rule, parents ignore the unpleasant tactics of their kids. The rule is meant to teach children only one point: do not go on and on and on. Debate can be fun at the right time (i.e. on the debating team!) but is stressful when it occurs in the course of normal family communication. By teaching children this important point, parents give them a skill that will help them maintain pleasant relationships throughout their lives. When parents focus on giving and accepting only respectful communication, they help their children guard their tongues and their happiness. Differences of opinion exist; fighting and arguing doesn’t have to.

Won’t Dress Properly for Cold or Wet Weather

Young people often don’t have the patience to put on layers of protective clothing – no matter if that includes jackets, scarves, hats, gloves or other items. Moreover, they frequently claim that they’re not cold – even when the thermometer clearly makes a dip. Many youngsters don’t seem to care about getting wet either: “I don’t need a raincoat,” “I don’t need boots,” “I don’t need an umbrella.” Oddly enough, mothers are often at the other extreme. This part of the population often feels chilly and is willing to layer clothing, wear extra coats and gear and do whatever is necessary to cozy up. Mothers just don’t understand why their kids don’t want to be warm and comfortable! Fathers, however, are a different story. Often, men are much like the kids, braving the elements with minimal protection (although, of course, there are many exceptions to this generalization!). However, whether it’s Mom or Dad that is concerned about the child’s lack of warmth, the underlying issue is usually about the child’s health and well-being. Parents worry that an under-dressed child may catch a cold, flu or worse. And in fact, some under-dressed children tend to do just that. There are kids who are vulnerable when they are chilled. Naturally parents don’t want a child to become sick (and feel awful and miss school and so on); just as importantly, parents may not want to be personally affected by their child’s sickness such as by having to take days off work to tend to a sick child or by catching the child’s sickness themselves. These are legitimate concerns: one sick child can cause the entire household (siblings, parents and whoever else is around) to become sick too.  Consequently, parents do really want to find a way to get their kids to look after themselves by dressing properly for weather conditions.

If your child refuses to button his coat, wear a hat, or otherwise dress appropriately for cool or damp weather, consider the following tips:

You are the Parent
Try to keep this in mind! You have both the responsibility and the right to direct your household. Your child’s behavior affects other people in the household, as explained above. You have every right to insist that he dress appropriately for the weather. Although this doesn’t guarantee that the child won’t get sick, it is one step that the child can take to protect himself. (You may have discovered other steps that the child needs to take as well such as getting enough sleep or eating enough healthy foods and so on. We’ll limit this discussion, however, to the issue of dressing warmly.) Some parents feel that it is up to the child himself to decide what he wants to wear. They reason that the child needs to learn through his own experience that under-dressing is uncomfortable and can lead to illness. In fact, personal experience IS an ideal way for the child to imbue this lesson of self-care. If you can allow your child to become a little uncomfortable (without rescuing him when he wants you to drive over to school with more clothing!), then you should. Experience is truly the best teacher. However, if this particular child gets sick easily (that is, sick enough to have to miss school) or if YOU get sick easily, then you may not have the luxury of allowing the child to experience the consequences of his own actions. In that case, remember that as a parent, you are allowed to insist that your child wear the appropriate clothing.

Use Your Regular Forms of Behavioral Management to Help Your Child Dress Appropriately
There are many ways to encourage cooperation in kids. Refer to other articles on this site (or the book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice) for detailed explanations of the main interventions that encourage cooperation with parental requests such as the 80-20 Rule, The CLeaR Method, and the 2X-Rule. Positive techniques should be employed before bad-feeling interventions (like discipline with negative consequences) are used. Therefore, if the child is listening to you and decides to wear the boots or put the sweater on, be sure to offer positive feedback (“that’s great – I really appreciate your cooperation” or “that’s very cooperative of you!”).  If the child is not listening and you yourself will be layering heavily due to inclement weather, you can use non-aggressive discipline (i.e the 2X-Rule). On round two of this conersation, your message might sound like this if  you are speaking to a nine-year-old who is on the way out the door to school, while you are on the way to work with little time to spare: “I asked you to wear your warm coat and if you do not put it on right now, then when you get home today, you will have to write out ten minutes worth of lines ‘ I need to do what my mother asks me to do’ (or use any other slightly annoying negative consequence such as losing computer privileges, losing dessert, going to bed early or whatever you think will be annoying enough to motivate the child to wear the coat next time!).  The point is that a young child doesn’t have to understand all of the parent’s thinking processes and calculations. He won’t understand until he is much older. He doesn’t have to agree with the parent either. What he DOES have to do, is cooperate with his parent’s instructions. Giving the child negative consequences for failing to comply will help him to comply eventually – not necessarily right away. You are not looking for instant results. Rather, you are looking for positive results over the long run.

If your teenage child isn’t listening to you, it will be more helpful to strengthen your 90-10 rule with that youngster (the relationship-building ratio of positive to negative communications from you to your child). Application of this rule with adolescents greatly encourages their cooperation.

Sometimes the Child Doesn’t Like His Outer Clothing
Sometimes your child’s lack of cooperation is not due so much to defiance as to simply not liking his clothing. You can always ask him why he doesn’t want to wear his coat, gloves or whatever. If he doesn’t like them, take this seriously. Kids are very sensitive to peer pressure. Perhaps their clothing isn’t “in.” Do whatever is possible to purchase clothes your kids like and are willing to wear. Even adults don’t like to wear clothing that their friends would not like. This social consciousness is actually healthy. Don’t tell your child that it doesn’t matter what other kids think; it actually DOES matter what other kids think. Being socially appropriate helps people succeed in their lives. Being out of sync with the crowd, doesn’t work well for most people. Remember the kid in your class who didn’t dress right? What did YOU think about him or her? While we’re not trying to encourage the development of a mindless, cookie-cutter kid, we ARE trying to encourage the development of a child who can read social cues and manage to fit in well with his or her peer group.

Sometimes the peer group just isn’t wearing scarves or hats, no matter what the temperature out there is. When this is the case, you may be able to find some acceptable alternative like ear muffs, 180’s, a coat with a high collar etc. Your goal is to help your child stay as warm as possible without looking “nerdy” to his peer group. Keep in mind that YOU wouldn’t want to be the only one wearing mittens in your office if no one else ever wears mittens there! Again, social norms ARE important. Of course, if your child has particular health issues, he may just HAVE to be different in order to be healthy. However, do not impose difference on a child who has pretty good resilience just because you think he should dress the way you had to dress when you were a child!

Sometimes the Clothing is Hard to Put On
A related but different reason for opposition may be that some articles of clothing are hard to put on or do up. If this is the problem, try to get easier clothing to put on.

When Your Child is Generally Uncooperative
If your child isn’t cooperating because your child just doesn’t cooperate in general, make sure you are following the 80-20 Rule and allow a week or two before seeing a turnaround in attitude. If you still don’t see improvement, consider trying Bach Flower TherapyThe Bach Flower Remedy called Vine (available at health food stores and online), will often melt away a defiant, uncooperative attitude – sometimes within 24 hours, or sometimes a little longer. The remedy is a harmless form of water, safe for infants, nursing moms, pregnant ladies and everyone else. Put 2 drops of Vine in a small amount of any liquid (water, chocolate milk, milk, tea, juice etc.) 4 times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Bach Remedies don’t interact with other medicines, herbs, foods or health conditions; they can be taken with or without food. If you still don’t see improvement after this treatment, you can consult a Bach Flower Practitioner for a more specific remedy mixture and try this method a little longer or, you can make an appointment with a mental health professional or parenting expert for further advice.