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Big Kid Discipline and Separation Anxiety

Q: Can you recommend a good discipline strategy for 10-year-olds?

A: Yes, in one word: consequences.When parents are first trying to diffuse temper tantrums and other toddler and preschool misbehavior, the positive language of “choice” is very effective. With an older child, that same language of “choice” becomes natural and logical consequences. Natural consequences occur when your child chooses to wear shorts in January, or is picky about breakfast. By picking our battles, parents can allow the child to make an independent decision and feel consequences naturally – with chills at the bus stop, or an empty tummy before a soccer game. Our hope is that our children will think twice before making the same mistake in the future.

Logical consequences are trickier and require us as parents to be on our best game. Picking our battles is key, as well as staying firm, calm, positive and consistent. Parents also need to find the currency – or that certain something – that would motivate a child to work toward good behavior, such as playtime outside or time to play a handheld game. A parent might say, “Let’s get that bedroom picked up before dinnertime, so we will have time to shoot baskets outside.” If we are confident that our child understands what is expected of him, we do not need to repeat or remind him about the expectation. But if the child falls short in completing what is expected of him, then the consequence should be implemented. In this example, the child should not be allowed to play basketball after dinner.

Enforcing consequences is never popular, and a 10-year-old will want to negotiate a different outcome. But, stay firm. If parents give in, the child is hard-pressed to learn about boundaries and limits. With consistency, the child will learn quickly that mom and dad mean what they say, and good behavior should follow.

Q: I know babies are the ones who are supposed to get separation anxiety, but I think I’m the one who can’t let go. I feel like I can’t trust anyone to stay with our 4-month-old. Is this normal?

A: I think this is completely normal, and many new moms feel the exact same way. We start caring for our little ones as soon as we find out we are expecting, and it is hard to believe that others will or can care for our child the way we do. With our babies, parents are establishing the bond of “trust.” When baby cries, we react immediately by taking care of her needs whether it is changing a diaper, filling a tummy, or consoling a bump. We let our baby know that we are there for her for anything, everything, and at any time. As new mothers, we are learning all of the nuances that make taking care of needs easier by listening to cries and knowing the routine.

As that “trust” bond develops and strengthens between parent and child, it should expand to your confidence in others to care for your baby. Having someone new care for baby will help her learn to adapt to change. Be open and honest about your reservations about leaving baby with the sitter, a family member, or childcare provider. Provide as much detail as possible about baby’s routine, eating and sleeping habits, and any tricks that could help comfort baby. At first, take short, quick outings away, and check in to make sure the time apart is successful. In time, it will become easier to leave baby, and baby will become more comfortable with others.

Michelle Johnston has worked with parents and caregivers as a family educator with Commonwealth Parenting for eighteen years. She is the mom of four.
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