A baby starts her journey into adulthood with very little going for her other than an inborn
potential to grow and become. Within the first few weeks of life, baby begins the lifelong process
of experiencing, exploring, and expressing herself. This is a very physical/doing time of life for
baby. She spends most of her waking hours looking, making noises, learning to hold up her head
and turn over, squirming and moving around, trying and then learning to pick things up, usually
putting them in her mouth, and gradually organizing her life around the major goals of getting to
things and getting into them. As the baby becomes a toddler (around the age of eighteen months),
the circle of her world starts to expand. There are myriad things to get into and to learn to stay
out of, to climb on and around, to explore and experiment with, to take apart and throw around.
There is a long list of things to do, such as learning to talk, to use the bathroom, and to feed
herself, figuring out new ways to get others to pay attention, finding out about rules and
restrictions, getting better at moving around without falling down - generally discovering the
As the toddler becomes a preschooler, her world continues to expand geometrically with
things to do or to avoid, experiences to have or to refrain from, with more complicated toys,
more elaborate opportunities, and with those ever-present but changing rules and restrictions.
The world of puzzles and coloring books, bicycles and roller skates, games and good manners
also begins to come into focus.
As preschooler becomes grade schooler, the circle of her world expands yet further and
rules and restrictions begin to decrease, even if only slightly. Not only is she able to do more
things, but she is allowed to, even encouraged to do more. Somewhat suddenly, it may seem to a
child, parenting adults expect her to learn how to do things that are sometimes difficult or
tedious. Fun and work are becoming interacting and interrelated parts of life.
As grade schooler moves into adolescence, the circle of her life continues to expand, and
the rules and restrictions change and lessen. The child by then has developed a fairly
well-established pattern of discovery, experimentation, and mastery; she has developed an
amazingly complex array of skills, abilities, and behaviors that can be consciously used or not,
depending on the circumstances. And still more skills and behaviors will be learned - how to
participate in team sports and group activities, what is the proper behavior in a multitude of
situations, how to do geometry, how to drive a car, how to behave on dates and in other social
situations. Gradually, the individual comes to do and act less like a child and more like an adult.
TOUCHING AND PHYSICAL CONTACT:
All infants have a strong and very real need for physical contact. Without it, the
deprivation is very real and may be permanent. The baby's need for touching and cuddling is like
food for the baby's physical and emotional growth. The infant's need for physical contact strongly
suggests that this physical/emotional/social being also needs to be 'fed.' Without such contact,
the child 'starves' physically, emotionally, and socially.
What to do? That is fairly simple. Pick up the baby, cuddle him, talk to him and make
noises at him. Try to spend a lot of time talking with him and physically interacting with him.
When giving him a bottle, hold the baby instead of feeding him in the crib or playpen. Several
times a day, pick him up and walk around, sit in a chair and rock, and be sure that his playpen or
walker is not in a room by itself. It's better for him to be around other people than to be by
himself. Talk with him and encourage other people to do the same. If someone says, 'What a nice
baby,' ask them if they would like to hold the child. The baby needs maximum physical contact
and interaction with a variety of people.
Although we do not hear much about it and mothers are usually reluctant to talk about it,
some infants do not spontaneously respond to touching and physical contact. They act as if they
would prefer to be left alone, not touched or held, and seem to really prefer being left in their crib
or playpen. What then? First, you must realize that this probably has nothing to do with you.
Mothers say, 'There must be something wrong with me since the baby does not want me to hold
her.' When baby regularly wants no interaction with you, as difficult as it may be to accept, do
not take it personally. No one really knows for sure why this happens. The child still needs to be
touched and to be interacted with physically. Continue to pick her up, interact with her, talk and
play with her, carry her around, cuddle and snuggle with her, and nurture the capacity of the
infant to interact physically with you. If you are patient, gentle, and persistent, the infant will
almost always warm up to you and enjoy the interaction; chances are greater that she will relate
more spontaneously. Also, encourage others with whom the baby interacts spontaneously to
cuddle, talk, and carry her around. The need is real; just because she seems to resist or not reach
out for physical contact and affection is no reason to deprive her.
Does this mean you should pick her up every time she cries? Yes, for the first few weeks
of life. Of course, you will not always be able to pick up the child or sit down and rock her. You
may be fixing dinner or talking on the telephone or visiting with a friend or just taking a few
minutes to relax. If you usually respond physically to the child, it will not be a problem if you
occasionally do not pick her up. Should you always hold her and rock her until she goes to sleep?
Yes, again, for the first few weeks of life. The baby should be rocked or held if she is having
difficulty going to sleep. After she is four or five months old, though, you need only be sure that
she is not hungry, does not need her diapers changed, or is not experiencing some other obvious
physical discomfort. Once you have assured yourself that the child is alright, there comes a time
when she needs to learn to go to sleep without being held or rocked. First be sure she is dry and
comfortable. Then go out of the room. If she does not settle, it is okay to gently rub her arm or
back but do not pick her up again. After three or four such episodes, she will usually begin to
develop a better pattern of going to sleep. Leaving a music box playing in the crib may soothe her
as she tries to settle down.
If you are one of those adults who has no natural inclination to pick up babies or
otherwise interact with them, there is no reason to feel guilty or self-conscious. A lot of people
lack a spontaneous interest in infants. Nonetheless, a baby needs physical contact. You must give
it to her as a part of your parenting responsibility. Be careful when you give attention not to be
uptight, angry, or resentful, for a baby can pick up these feelings. It may not be one of your
favorite things to do; still, the child will eventually grow to the point where you can talk to each
other, do things together, play games, and interact in other ways. For now, though, be physical
with the baby - interact.
Children of all ages need physical contact. This does not mean that you have to pick up
the toddler every time he wants to climb on your lap. Just talk with him, touch him, and be sure
that you spend a little time doing this each day. Children start out needing touching and physical
contact; and while they continue to need it, physical contact also becomes a means for relating to
children. For example, if you want a preschooler to slow down a little, it will be more effective if
you tell him while touching his arm. If you want to console a child and tell him that things will
be OK, it will be more reassuring if you put your arm around him while you are talking with him.
Get in the habit of touching children, playing games that require physical contact, and physically
expressing your affection and good feelings.
When should toilet training begin? First, it should not begin until the child seems to know
what the potty is for and can relate that idea to 'making messes' in her clothing. For most
children, this relationship will not become clear until they are about twenty-four months old. By
that age children have enough bowel and bladder control to participate in the toilet training
process. If you wait until the child is about thirty months old, she will probably start training
Some parents have children sit on the potty immediately after meals, as if they will
eliminate the food just consumed. But since it takes several hours for foods and liquids to pass
through our systems, it would make more sense to encourage the child to use the potty when you
yourself need to use the bathroom. She will probably be willing to try to 'go' while you are in the
bathroom modeling appropriate toilet behavior. Even if she does not use the potty, she would
probably enjoy the attention and verbal interaction.
We do know that people use the toilet immediately before going to bed and immediately
after getting up in the morning. Thus it would be good to encourage children to try to potty at
those times. It will also help to encourage them to sit on the potty a few minutes every four or
five hours. Once in a while, they will urinate or have a bowel movement when sitting on the
potty. At such times your enthusiastic approval will reinforce the behavior. If the child wants you
to look at what he has done, it is only fair to visually inspect the product of his efforts.
In addition, it will be very productive to consistently help the child change clothing after
each accident. Tell him calmly that he has made a mess and will have to put on clean clothes. If
you disapprove of the mess, so will the child. Infrequently, children will discover that messing or
wetting their pants is a very good way to upset you. If this happens, you will need to simply
ignore the behavior for a few days. Even so, you will have gotten into quite a bind with the child.
To summarize: The best approach to toilet training is to make as little an issue as possible
out of it, model good bathroom behavior, mildly disapprove of accidents, encourage children to
occasionally use the potty for five minutes or so, to potty immediately before going to bed and
immediately after getting up. Beyond that, simply stay out of it. With a little encouragement,
attention, and insistence, children will use the bathroom most of the time when they are old
enough and have developed enough physical control to do so. If a real problem develops while
you are following these guidelines, back off and ignore it for two months or so. If this does not
solve the problem, discuss it with your family physician. The likelihood is that there is no
physical difficulty but some tension or anxiety in your relationship with the child. The physician
will probably encourage you to ignore the problem for another two or three months.
Occasional 'accidents' are not uncommon for children even of six or seven. Usually they
simply have just waited too long and have not given themselves enough time to get to the
bathroom. Encourage them to head for the bathroom as soon as they are aware of the need to go.
And, the resulting 'mess' will encourage them to start a little sooner next time. In general, you
need only help them to clean up and encourage them to pay more attention to the physical
Bed-wetting is another difficulty of toilet training. It is not unusual for children ten or
eleven years old to have an occasional wet night. They may have forgotten to go to the bathroom
before bed, they may be sleeping so soundly they do not wake up, they may have debated too
long about whether or not to get up and go to the bathroom, or they may have had unusual
excitement or disappointment the day before. If the problem is more than occasional, though, it
needs your attention.
Remember that nighttime control is not an issue until a child is four or five. If there is a
problem, be sure that the child does not drink a lot of liquids in the two or three hours prior to
going to bed. (Emphasis here is on a lot. It would be unreasonable to forbid all liquids before
bed.) Next, be sure the child tries to urinate for five minutes or so before bed. She will almost
always be able to do so. Finally, if there is an accident, be sure the child (with some help from
you) accepts major responsibility for cleaning up the mess. She should take the sheets and
blankets off the bed, put them in the laundry, get dry sheets and blankets, and remake the bed.
She should also put her wet night clothes in the laundry. Since it is important that the urine not
dry on her body, the bed-wetter should take a bath or shower upon awakening. These steps
almost always eliminate the continual occurrence of bed-wetting. If not, it is time to involve the
family physician. It is unlikely that she will find any physical difficulties.
Very infrequently, school-aged children develop bowel and bladder control problems as
an expression of emotional tension. It is usually a way of externalizing hostility and anger. Upset
with the adults in their world, these children are demonstrating their capacity to irritate. It is
extremely important not to respond with punishment or reciprocal anger and hostility. Even in
these situations, responsibility for dealing with the 'mess' should remain with the child. This is a
serious problem, and both the child and the parenting adults may need counseling and
professional help. Of course, a child of any age can develop a physical problem with poor bowel
and bladder control as a symptom. Before deciding a problem is emotional or interpersonal,
always consider the possibility that the problem is physical.
Sometimes we are told that making baby talk with an infant is a bad idea. Our common
sense tells us this is not so. If the infant makes a sound, it is appropriate for us to try to duplicate
it. Pretty soon, we will find that the infant is trying to duplicate the sounds and noises that we
make. Once this happens, verbal communication has really begun. Even with an infant only a few
hours or days old, it is good to interact with sounds and words. Call the rattle a rattle. Ask him if
he would like to have some juice. Call people by their names. Talk to him about things going on
around him. Will he understand? No, not at this very early age. But the infant does need to hear
language from a variety of people. By the time the infant is fifteen to eighteen months old, he
will begin to refer to some people and things with specific words. Perhaps only mother will
understand, but nonetheless, this is the beginning of verbal communication. He will also
understand more words than he is able to produce. By the time he is two, he will understand a
very large vocabulary and will have available several dozen words for 'talking.'
How can we encourage talking and experimentation with words? Talk with the infant or
toddler, show some enthusiasm and genuine approval of her increasing ability to talk. And do not
be reluctant to use words she may not understand or be familiar with. The only way an infant or
toddler is going to learn is through exposure to new words and new verbal expressions in a
variety of situations. In addition, do not be concerned if she uses wrong words or expresses
things incorrectly. Respond as if she had the idea correct, do what is called for, and occasionally
re-verbalize the idea. For instance, a toddler says water while pointing to the refrigerator. You
respond by getting a bottle or cup of milk, giving it to her, calling it milk, and not making an
issue of the incorrect words. Gradually, the toddler will come to call water and milk by their
correct names. Similarly, the toddler may initially call people by the wrong names, call all
women Mama, or call people by their correct names sometimes and by the wrong names other
times. It is not important to correct her, for she will naturally begin to distinguish people and use
their correct names. She may also say yes when she means no, fast when she means slow, in
when she means out, and so on. Do not make an issue out of it. Just quietly verbalize the correct
How can we encourage language development in children? Talk with them, read to them,
explain things to them, answer their questions, encourage them to think about things themselves,
encourage and permit their fantasies and daydreams, explain how things work and why they
sometimes do not work. Language development in children is best encouraged by persons who
are highly verbal. If you are not particularly talkative, then you may need to make a special effort
to encourage the language development of children with whom you interact.
A special note should be made of speech problems in children. First, it is important to
understand that some toddlers and preschoolers do not talk clearly, or stutter and stammer, talk
too fast, use words incorrectly, or have other difficulties with the production and flow of speech.
Unless the child's speech is unintelligible to almost everyone, it would be a mistake to be overly
concerned. Do not make a big deal of it or try to get her to make her speech intelligible. Rather
you should first make more of an effort to understand what she is trying to say.
Even five- or six-year-olds have occasional problems with speech. By that age, it is
acceptable to gently encourage the child to slow down and speak more distinctly. Even then, it
would be a mistake to make a big issue of the problem. Ask other people if they have any
difficulty understanding the child. Ignore the problem for a few months to see if things get better.
If a six-year-old is still having difficulty, it is important to check with a qualified speech and
EATING AND TABLE MANNERS:
The development of good eating habits begins when children are quite young. At the
point where the infant begins to eat baby food and especially at the point where he begins to eat
from the table, he is developing preferences of taste and patterns of eating. It is not uncommon
for a grade-school child to have a long list of foods he does not like. Usually, this can be traced
back to habits and patterns established in early life.
Grandmother's old rule that you try at least a spoonful of everything is applicable to
children of all ages. But what if a child tries and does not like it? Encourage her to taste it again
from time to time. Of course, there will be a few things that the child will simply never like.
Nonetheless, if the rule is that she at least try everything, the 'I don't like it' list will not be so
It is a good idea to occasionally and intentionally serve the toddler or preschooler
something he has not had before. It will be fun to encourage him to experiment with different
textures, flavors, and odors. If you do this yourself in a fun way, the child will develop a sense of
adventure when it comes to trying new and unusual foods and he will express dislike for only a
few foods. Although some people may say that he is not old enough to make such an issue out of
it, if you do not deal with the problem when the child is very young, it will become nearly
insurmountable by the time he is nine or ten.
How do we deal with a child who is a fussy eater, that is, not wanting to eat when others
eat, not eating enough at meals, or wanting to snack between meals? Children should not be
allowed to snack for an hour or so before mealtime. By the time a child is three, it is quite
reasonable to withhold between-meal snacks if he does not eat enough at meals. Tell him, 'You
did not finish your lunch, so you are not getting any snack.' Or, 'You will need to finish your
dinner if you want a snack before going to bed.' Remember, young children can spoil their
appetites just like adults. And children, just like adults, are sometimes less hungry than usual,
sometimes more hungry. Forcing a child to eat more than he wants is generally a bad idea. In
addition to running the risk of his getting ill, you are encouraging the habit of eating more than
he wants. Many adults still exhibit 'waist line' evidence of the parental edict to 'clean up your
If a child does not eat much at a particular meal, he should not be allowed to snack
shortly after the meal. If he learns that there are no desserts or snacks if he does not eat his meals
properly, he will soon learn to eat meals with everyone else. Generally, there is no reason why a
three-year-old should not be expected to sit up at the table, eat a good meal, and at least try some
of every dish that is served. If the pattern for a child varies from her norm, a problem is
developing. Withhold desserts and snacks until the eating pattern improves. Insist that the child
at least try her vegetables before eating her potatoes. Discourage the child from separating the
corn from the beans before eating succotash. Almost all children can be taught good eating
These suggestions generally do not work for the adolescent, who may skip meals, eat in a
hurry, or eat nothing but junk food. Remember, a milk shake, hamburger, and fries actually make
a fairly well-balanced meal; a pizza and a salad come fairly close to good nutrition. In any case, it
is very important to keep track of what the adolescent is eating. If she is not eating fairly
well-balanced meals, then you must insist that she eat better meals, including breakfast. The
value of a reasonably good breakfast to the adolescent is worth a little pressure on your
relationship. The same applies to dinner. The adolescent may occasionally go on a crash diet; but
if she is in good health, then two or three days of this every so often will probably do no harm.
Longer diets can be quite harmful and should be forbidden. At the same time, you should respect
the adolescent's right to avoid becoming too fat or her desire to lose excess weight. In such
situations, consult your family doctor about the weight problem. From infants to adolescents, the
importance of good eating habits cannot be overemphasized. They may have more to do with the
physical, emotional, social, sexual, and intellectual development of children than most people
Table manners are an equally important but separate issue. For children to develop good
table manners they must be in the habit of sitting at the table at mealtime, eating with the family,
and being exposed to the good table manners of adults and older children.
It is important to encourage children to eat with their mouths closed. Next, see that they
sit up straight and avoid leaning on the table as they eat. Next, encourage eating with a spoon
instead of fingers, and gradually encourage them to eat most foods with a fork, encourage them
to hold the fork in their fingers instead of their fist. They should begin to learn the proper use of a
knife. By the time they are six or seven, they will also need to learn such manners as asking that
things be passed instead of grabbing for things, and not whistling or singing at the table. It is not
desirable that mealtime become a continuing hassle or series of reprimands. We want the child's
table manners to gradually improve. Since children do not learn the first or second time
(frequently not even the ninth or tenth), continuing and gentle reminders are needed.
What happens if insistence does not lead to better behavior? First, keep trying; insist
more firmly; perhaps send the child away from the table, and then allow him to return in a few
minutes. Above all, remember that the central reason for sitting down at the table is to eat. Good
table manners are related but separate. Keep your main focus on eating habits and patterns. Place
secondary emphasis on table manners. In time, both will develop.
EATING TOO FAST OR TOO SLOWLY:
A special note should be made of the problem of eating too fast or too slowly. When a
child consistently eats much too fast, gently encourage him to take smaller bites, not to take
another bite until finishing the previous bite, or to chew more thoroughly before swallowing.
Gentle reminders from time to time will usually be enough. If not, you should firmly insist that
he eat more slowly. If the problem persists, you may need to withhold dessert at those meals
where he eats excessively fast or indicate that he will have to stay at the table for twenty minutes
or so regardless of how soon he is finished. Be sure that the adults at the table are not eating too
fast, since the model set by adults has a lot to do with the eating habits of children. It will also
help to talk more slowly at the table, to plan meals for a time when there are no competing
activities or TV programs. Try to create a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere at the meal table.
The child who 'takes forever' to eat presents a different problem. She may be avoiding
food that she does not like, or she may be experiencing some dental problem that is interfering
with eating. It is more likely, though, that the child has developed a habit of playing with her
food. If there is no dental or physical problem, it is appropriate to insist that the child eat. Next,
be sure the child understands there will be no dessert if she does not finish at approximately the
same time as everyone else. Finally, and somewhat extreme, you can set a reasonable time limit
for removing all food from the table, including the child's plate, and see to it that the child
receives no dessert or snacks later on. If the child is eight or nine and the problem persists, three
or four nights of having her food removed from the table is usually quite sufficient to improve
Whether the child eats excessively fast or excessively slowly, it is extremely important
not to get into a power struggle with her over the issue. Simply respond by encouraging a change
in behavior and then insist on a change, combined with controlling the availability of dessert and
snacks and the amount of time to eat. Eventually, almost all children will modify the time
required for eating.
LEARNING ABOUT BOUNDARIES AND LIMITS:
Child-proofing the environment is not a set rule. Accidents happen, injuries occur, all
dangers cannot be avoided. We can, however, remove the most obvious and potentially
destructive objects and opportunities. At the same time, the toddler needs to learn to stay out of
things, not to pick up everything that is lying around, to refrain from tugging at or climbing on
electric cords, and the like. How do we manage this learning? Even though it is not possible to
give the toddler your complete attention all the time, it is important to check on him every few
minutes just to see what he is doing and to make sure that everything is alright. Become aware of
those times when things are too quiet or too noisy. If the toddler is being especially quiet, he is
probably asleep or getting into something he should stay out of. If there is excessive noise and
banging around, there is also a strong likelihood that he is into things he should learn to stay out
As we focus on the expanding circle of a child's world and the boundaries of that circle
and the space within it, we see that it is quite acceptable for a toddler to play (with supervision)
in the water in the bathtub, but unacceptable for him to play in the water in the toilet. It is alright
to play and experiment with toys but not with objects on the table or kitchen sink. It is acceptable
for him to get things out of the drawers or off the shelves in his room. It is not acceptable for him
to get knives or other cooking utensils out of the kitchen drawers or to play with the cans of food
on the kitchen shelf. It is alright to go through the doorway from the living room to the kitchen
but it is not acceptable to go through the kitchen doorway to the backyard. It is acceptable for the
toddler to hit his doll with a straw or newspaper but unacceptable to hit the cat with a stick. The
world of limitations and expectations is indeed confusing. As an infant, the child is allowed to do
almost anything he wants. For the toddler, this world of nearly complete freedom exists no more.
For the toddler, the world has suddenly become divided into acceptable and unacceptable
behavior. If this weren't enough, the rule makers (parenting adults) aren't totally consistent about
these limits. Sometimes it is alright to crawl into the other room and sometimes it is not.
Sometimes it seems acceptable to play with one's toys and sometimes not. If the boundaries and
limits are confusing to the toddler, how can we help him learn about such things?
A basic step is to organize the toddler's environment so as to minimize danger. If she is
allowed to play with the toys on the shelves in her bedroom, be sure that heavy toys are on the
bottom shelf, that the shelves are stable enough to permit climbing, and that objects in which she
would be most interested are easily accessible. Be sure that openings to stairways are closed to
her. Keep all poisons and other dangerous substances on high shelves, preferably locked. Do not
leave a toddler in a room where a heated iron is plugged in or where she might get into a heater
or other dangerous apparatus. It would be good judgment to place especially prized objects out of
her reach. Look around toddler's immediate environment to see what might be gotten into,
climbed on, pulled down, thrown, put in the mouth, or otherwise used by toddler in a dangerous
What happens once you become aware that a toddler is about to do something he
shouldn't? Start by firmly telling him no. Next, gently restrain him from continuing the
undesirable behavior. Then, watch him for a minute or two. He probably will go back to doing it.
As soon as he starts back, repeat the process several times if necessary. As a last resort, pick him
up and take him into another room, put him in his playpen or crib. He will learn that this
particular behavior or playing with this particular object leads to negative consequences.
As the child gets older, of course the number of boundaries and limits declines. Nine- and
ten-year-olds can handle most environmental situations and do not need to have most dangers
removed. Nonetheless, the boundaries or limits need to be enforced. Taking the child by the arm
and removing him from a dangerous situation becomes, for the adolescent, not allowing him to
drive the car for a week or so; putting a child in his playpen becomes grounding the adolescent
for a few days; and gently restraining the child shifts to the withdrawing of privileges (social or
athletic functions, for example) or the prohibition of certain activities. Learning about boundaries
and limits starts in infancy and continues through adolescence into adulthood.
Any time we consider the imposition of a boundary (especially with older children) we
should consider first whether that limit is reasonable and appropriate. Doing nothing may be
appropriate. If the limit is appropriate, then follow through in a reasonable way. Reasonableness
and appropriateness will be related to the child's age and to the particular behavior. What you can
do will expand as the child gets older. For example, by the time he is five or six, it may be
enough to talk with him about the danger or the problem.
HOW TO GET A CHILD TO STAY IN BED:
The problem of getting a child to stay in bed once put to bed is worthy of examination.
Initially, it seems that this type of behavior problem has to do with nothing other than staying in
bed. You put her in her crib or tuck her into bed. You then turn out the light and leave the room.
At that point, you are not available for direct supervision. Were you there, the child would stay in
bed, in all probability. Since you have left, she experiments with the possibility that she can
misbehave while you are not there to observe. Similar situations will develop as the child gets
older. She will be left with a baby-sitter and will test whether or not good behavior is necessary
while you are not there to supervise. The child will play at the neighbor's house and the same
problem may come up. As the preschooler becomes a grade schooler, she will go off to school
and be involved in other activities away from home. Is good behavior necessary even if you are
not there to directly supervise? Getting a toddler to stay in bed is the first step of a very complex
It is very important for the toddler to learn to stay in bed when sent to bed, for there are
lifelong implications of needing to mind when not directly supervised. The first step is to put the
toddler in bed only when you really want her to stay there. If it does not matter, then do not insist
she go to bed at all, for she will very likely get up and come back to where you are. We should
not tell children to do something if we do not mean it.
Let's look at a typical situation. The toddler becomes somewhat tired or you have decided
that it is bedtime. You send him to his room and tell him to lie down and nap. A few minutes
later, he has come back to the room where you are or you discover that he is down on the floor
playing with his toys. What to do? First, firmly tell him that you told him to take a nap and that
you expect him to do so. Next, pick him up, put him in bed, and restate that you want him to stay
there. Repeat this two or three times, if necessary. Even if you need to repeat this several times, it
is extremely important that you do not take it lightly and that you communicate clearly your
displeasure and that this is definitely not a game. Firm disapproval, obvious annoyance, and
repeated insistence will lead to his finally settling down and taking a nap.
'It is not worth the hassle,' you may say. And on any given occasion, this may be true.
But the one occasion is not the issue. The child must learn to mind and to behave reasonably
well, whether we are present or not. Discipline is, then, always for the sake of the future.
What about reports of misbehavior from baby-sitters, neighbors, teachers? Well, the old
wisdom that misbehaving away from home gets you into trouble when you get home still applies.
This gives emphasis to the reality that children must behave reasonably and acceptably whether
or not we are present. Our rules and expectations go with them wherever they are.
HELPING AROUND THE HOUSE:
Learning boundaries and limits teaches children what not to do. Learning to be helpful
around the house involves learning what is to be done or should be done. We can divide the
learning task into two areas: things that need to be done - like picking up toys, cleaning up
messes, helping to put things away, running small errands, and feeding pets; and ways not to
make work for others - like not making messes to begin with, not strewing toys all over the
house, or tracking in mud from outside, hanging up hats and coats, and putting away clothes and
Teaching a child about boundaries and limits involves more than negative discipline.
Praise and positive discipline have a very significant role as well, and are especially useful in
teaching a child to be helpful around the house. Let's go back to the child staying in bed after
being put down for a nap. Suppose there was initially a problem with the toddler's staying in bed
and you have effectively dealt with the problem through negative discipline. The toddler has
gone to bed, settled down, taken a nap, and awakened happy. Now is the time for praise and
positive discipline. With obvious pleasure and enthusiasm, you let him know you think it was
really nice the way he settled down and took his nap. You may follow up by indicating that you
are so pleased that you are going to give him a special snack or take him for a walk in the park.
Just as the negative discipline encouraged the nap taking, your praise and positive discipline will
reinforce the repetition of acceptable nap taking. Likewise, if an adolescent gets good grades or
comes home at the expected hour, mention that you appreciate his efforts and are very proud to
have such a thoughtful and responsible child.
Now let's look specifically at getting the toddler or preschooler to help around the house.
Start by setting a good example. If your room is not reasonably neat and orderly, it will be a
continuing hassle to get the toddler or preschooler to keep her room neat and orderly. If you
model responsible and helpful behavior, keep the child's environment reasonably neat, and
usually keep things straightened up, helping behavior from the child will start almost
spontaneously. The toddler or preschooler will begin to ask to help, or start helping when you are
doing something, or occasionally put things away without being asked.
The child's efforts at helpfulness should not be overlooked, even if they have not done a
very good job, made more of a mess than there was to begin with, or quit shortly after starting.
Say, 'I see you have tried to straighten things up. That is very nice. Thank you.' Don't undo your
compliment by going on to say 'Let me help you a little and we will make it really nice.' The
child thought it was really nice to begin with. To instill a sense of helpfulness in the child has
little to do with how well she does, and more with her wanting to help.
Sometimes, the child will ask if she can help. When it is really necessary to get things
done in a hurry or very neatly, then it will be much easier to say no and to complete the task
yourself. An occasional no will not hurt anything. If the answer is usually no, though, the child
will soon get the message that you do not want her help. By directly or indirectly criticizing the
child's efforts, or by not allowing her to help when she wants to, we can easily turn off just what
we want to encourage.
Once you have picked up on the spontaneous development of a helpful attitude, the next
step is to involve the child in joint activities. You want the blocks, coloring books, and crayons
picked up off the floor. You ask the child, 'Come help me pick these things up.' Be friendly but
firm. Usually he will help you. If he does not come over to help, say, 'I asked you to come help
me.' Be firm and more insistent. If he still does not come, go over and pick him up, bring him
over to where the blocks and crayons are, and say, 'Now I expect you to help me.' If he still does
not help, there is no reasonable way you can make him do it. Nor is it necessary. It is enough to
bring him over to where the blocks and crayons are and to insist he stay there until the task is
completed. Once the task is completed, and if he has not helped, you may want to make him sit
on a chair, go to his room, or experience some other negative consequence of not helping. In
general, however, asking the child to help will usually work. When it does, friendly praise is in
Once you have learned to usually accept a child's spontaneous offers or efforts to help and
to frequently ask for help, and have gotten past any problems of his refusing to cooperate or
participate, it is time to ask if you can help him. Let's look at the same example. The child's
crayons, coloring books, and blocks are on the floor and need to be picked up. You say, 'Your
blocks and things need to be put away. Let me help you.' You and the child start to put things
away. If this cooperative effort continues, all is well and you say something like, 'It is nice that
you pick up your things and put them away. I really appreciate that.' If you notice that the child
has stopped helping and is just watching, then say, 'I am not doing this myself. I am helping you.
If you do not want us to do this together, I will stop and you will have to put them all away by
yourself. Now get busy and do your share.' If he does not begin helping again, handle it as if he
had refused to begin with. If the process falters at any point, a little negative discipline may be in
order. Throughout, continuing praise and positive discipline are essential. You know you are
beginning to succeed the first time the child gets his toys out, plays with them, and then puts
them away without being asked.
The attitude and habit of helpfulness should be fairly well established by adolescence. If
hassles continue with older children, first remind them to help. After this has happened two or
three times, firmly insist they be more helpful.
Let's suppose, for example, that the grade schooler or adolescent is not keeping his room
straightened up or not cleaning after fixing a snack. Say,'I'm getting very unhappy about your
messy room and about the messes you are leaving in the kitchen.' Even stronger would be to tell
him, 'I'm getting fed up with your messy room and with the messes in the kitchen and I will not
tolerate them anymore.' If his behavior is not more helpful, it is time to use negative discipline.
In our example, you might establish the rule that his room be cleaned at least every other day
during the week or he will not be allowed to go out on Friday or Saturday nights. You might need
to tell the grade schooler that, unless messes are cleaned up after snacks, she will no longer be
allowed to fix snacks on her own. It is very important that these not be idle threats. You must
mean what you say.
Children's helping around the house may not, by itself, seem to be an important issue. The
attitudes and behavior patterns involved in this helpfulness, though, have a lot to do with how
they will get along as they grow older - with co-workers, neighbors, and so on. All children,
especially adolescents, have jobs around the house that are theirs. They should develop the
attitude that if they are to share in the rights and resources of the household, they should also
share in the work and responsibilities.
THE EXPANDING WORLD OF EXPERIENCES AND ACTIVITIES:
Using the idea of the expanding circle of a child's world, we can see that her increasing
independence and self-directed action require that we gradually reduce the rules and constraints
and encourage their autonomy. How do we handle this decrease of rules and constraints and the
increase of independence and self- determination? First, recognize that rules and constraints must
be clearly established before they can be reduced. It would be simple if we could just back off
from the rules and constraints and encourage independence. The problem is that the rate at which
we do this and the pattern of backing off vary from child to child and from time to time with each
child. Some days she can accept more responsibility and independence than other days. With
only certain things can she be more independent and responsible. For example, a five-year-old
may be able to handle the craft activities at the park more or less independently for a few days or
a few weeks. We start by staying with her during the craft hour and gradually move to taking her
to the park and coming back to get her at an appointed time. After a couple of weeks, we give her
the responsibility of walking to the craft hour and returning home independently. This goes along
quite nicely until we discover that the child is not coming straight home afterwards. We have a
serious talk with the child and things seem to straighten out for a few days. We find, though, that
the problem recurs. The child seems to accept the responsibility only part of the time. How do we
deal with this?
We start out by directly supervising the child and then moving to arrangements where she
gradually has more independence and responsibility. We may occasionally find that we have
gone too far. There is no way to be sure how much a child can handle unless we gradually let her
handle a little more than she is handling already. We give her a little more room, a little more
freedom, a little more responsibility. If she deals with this in a reasonable and responsible way,
we give her a little more room. If she has problems, though, we know we have gone too far and
must back off a little.
In our park example, we could allow the child to go to the craft period alone but arrange
to meet her at the park as soon as the craft period is over. In such situations, some parents are
inclined to punish and overreact. To forbid the child to go to the craft period at all would clearly
be excessive and would also require starting again the next time the child has to go and come
independently. It is better to back off a little. By trial and error, we can get back within the range
the child can handle. After a few days of picking the child up at the park, it will be again time to
say, 'I am going to try again to give you the responsibility of coming straight home by yourself. I
hope you will be able to handle it this time and that I will not have to treat you like a younger
child. We will try having you go to the park and then coming directly home by yourself. If it does
not work out this time, I am going to have to do something more serious about it.' You have
suggested that the child may receive negative discipline if the problem recurs. The child has
experienced your following through with these types of responses to unacceptable behavior and
will probably respond as she has learned to respond - by behaving.
Good parenting maintains a balance between the child's ability to handle situations and
the responsibilities and opportunities for which she is not yet ready. We do not vacillate between
giving a lot of freedom and almost none. Occasionally we may overdo it and occasionally we
may underdo it. Whether the issue is boundaries and limits, helping and cooperation, or
experiences and opportunities, we stay with the child at her maximum level of
self-determination, moving continually between interfering too much and not enough, restricting
too much and too little, encouraging too much and not encouraging enough.
LEARNING ABOUT RESPONSIBILITIES:
Many parents seem to think that a sense of responsibility automatically develops in a
child. They do not see themselves as having any significant role in the child's lack of
responsibility. For example, the parents of one adolescent indicated that she cannot be depended
on to come home on time, follow through with responsibilities around the house without being
nagged, and cannot be trusted to behave herself when away from home. 'We didn't think much
about it until she was thirteen or fourteen but it has gotten to be a real problem by now. It was a
problem when she was younger, but we figured she would get over it.'
How do we tell these parents that the problems they are having now with their daughter
reflect chronic parental neglect over many years? When she was two or three, they saw her as too
young to instruct her about boundaries and limits. They were more concerned about encouraging
her creativity, exploration behavior, and curiosity. Learning to mind, they thought, could wait
until later. When she was about four or five, they thought that she was too young to help around
the house or pick up her toys or keep her room neat, and much too young to make an issue of
work and responsibility. When she was a preschooler, it had gotten to be a game for her to be put
to bed and then be back up a few times before settling down. As a grade schooler, she waited
until they left the room to get back up, turn on the light, and play or read for a while. 'We didn't
think much about it. She had usually fallen asleep by the time we were ready to go to bed. We
would just turn off her light and go to bed ourselves.' When she was a grade schooler, her
parents did not make much of an issue of her being on time. It started out being alright for her to
be home within fifteen or twenty minutes of the time they set. By the age of eleven, fifteen
minutes had expanded to an hour. 'If we wanted her to be home at 4:00, we would tell her to be
home about 3:00. It worked out fairly well that way. Yes, she got into difficulty once in a while
in grade school. It didn't amount to much, and we figured the people at school had handled it. It
would have been punishing her twice if we got after her, too. We figured she was smart enough
to know she was getting into trouble. We did not feel we had to do anything about it.'
Clearly this problem has been present for years. The parents must begin to compensate for
those years of neglect. They expect the child to learn all at once. But we know children learn few
things all at once. They learn about responsibility only gradually. If we want our children to be
responsible people, we must start when they are young. Responsibility is something that we do
not teach directly to children; it is a by- product of good parenting and effective child rearing.
The need for children to develop physical skills and abilities is at least as important as
any other areas of child development. There is, unfortunately, a very strong tendency for parents
to behave as if the physical skills develop almost automatically, requiring little parenting. If you
hand a puzzle to a toddler, she may (after a while) figure out what to do with it. It is more likely
that without demonstrating what to do with the puzzle, she will soon grow bored with it, lose the
pieces, and never get to working the puzzle independently.
Another common assumption is that children somehow spontaneously know how to play.
In reality, the skills involved in playing are for the most part learned. While children show a lot
of imagination and creativity in their play, this creativity needs to be stimulated. We begin by
showing the child how to manipulate objects, what the possibilities are for playing with certain
toys, and for making up games. For example, some toys could be messed up if incorrectly used.
When this is an issue, it might be well to suggest that you and the child play together with the toy
for a while.
There are some physical skills and abilities that we cannot directly assist, for example, a
child's learning to walk. We can hold a child's hand, help her keep her balance, encourage her,
and let her know we are pleased with her new manner of getting around. Nonetheless, we cannot
walk for her and we cannot hurry the process. We cannot get the child to do things with blocks
before she is physically able to. This applies equally to the coordination required for eating, to
the developmental skills prerequisite to running and active play, and to the fine motor skills
necessary for coloring and using scissors.
With many tasks, there is no way to tell if a child is physically ready to do them until he
tries. We first gently help. If there is progress, then we continue our encouragement. If progress is
not evident, we discontinue and go back to levels at which the child can be successful, or shift his
attention to other activities.
Many parents think that if a child does not master a task after fifteen minutes or several
attempts, then more time and more tries will lead to mastery. This is true occasionally. More
often, though, continual pressure from the parents only leads the child to see that the parents are
dissatisfied with his achievement and that they expect much more than he can produce. What is
the correct amount of help? It is just enough to encourage the child to progressively improve her
physical skills, never expecting the child to do more or perform better than she physically can.
How often do we reach this right level? Not very often. Most of the time, we either push a little
too far or we are a little neglectful. Over time, though, continuing involvement will really help
the child develop physical skills and abilities.
It is important that children be encouraged and permitted to experiment with their own
physical abilities and limitations. They need to learn on their own what they can and cannot do.
They may also come up with more interesting things to do than would occur to us. How do we
make sure that this kind of self- initiated exploration and experimentation takes place? The child
needs our help but he also needs us to leave him alone. This apparent paradox is resolved if we
realize we need become involved only part of the time and once in a while, a few times a day and
for a few minutes at a time. In this way we maximize our involvement with the child and his
freedom to explore and create.
ROLLER SKATES AND BICYCLES:
There are some skills that children are sure they will be able to do without assistance, like
roller-skating or riding a bicycle. This is very unlikely. These kinds of skills can only be learned
through experience. There is almost no way we can convince a child ahead of time that she does
not know how to roller-skate or ride a bicycle. She needs to find that out before she will
cooperate enough to let us help her.
First she must get on the bicycle or on the roller-skates and give it a try. When she finds
she is unsuccessful, she may want nothing to do with the bicycle or roller-skates. Our gentle
support and encouragement will usually get her to try again, if we promise not to let her fall. We
help her to maintain balance in her initial efforts to ride or skate. This works out fine for a little
while. Now, we have to let go and let her try it on her own again, knowing that she will probably
go some distance and fall down again. We cheerfully help, let her try it on her own, and then help
again, with an ample supply of bumps and bruises being added along the way. After a while, she
will be able to ride the bike and roller-skate on her own. Even then she will become increasingly
more daring and press the limits of her abilities. Wrecks and falls will again occur. By that point,
she herself can back off where she is able to skillfully ride the bike or roller-skate, only
occasionally having an accident.
Teaching children to cook, play ball, water ski, and swim follow this same pattern. It may
be a long time before they are ready to participate in the activity as a pastime or simply for the
pleasure of it. Our role is that of teacher, consoler, and encourager - that voice that keeps telling
them not to ride so fast or recklessly, not to skate down steep hills, not to throw the ball toward
the window, not to swim into deep water, and so on. We set and enforce the boundaries and
limits even while helping children to learn about physical skills and activities.
FIGHTING AND FENDING FOR ONESELF:
Within limits, it really is true that if we do not take care of ourselves, no one else is going
to. This old adage fairly well defines the parenting tasks related to teaching children to fight and
fend for themselves. First, a child needs to learn to assert and protect her rights. Next, she must
learn that there are limits to assertiveness. Finally, she must learn when to trust that other people
will not harm her and when to turn her safekeeping over to others. In our bicycle riding example,
the preschooler or grade schooler needs to assert her right to try to ride the bicycle alone. Next,
she needs to accept the realities that wrecking the bicycle or hurting herself are not worth making
the point that she can do it herself. Finally, she must accept a little assistance in steadying herself.
A preschooler should definitely assert her right not to have her toys taken away by a younger
brother. She must learn, though, not to shove little brother or hit him in the head. Finally, she
must accept the reality that these types of disputes are sometimes best mediated by Mom or Dad.
We want to be very sure, though, that she does first try asserting and protecting her rights on her
own. If she is excessively aggressive, we will want to respond only to the excesses and not to her
asserting and protecting her rights. If two children get into an argument and immediately run to
us to tattle on each other, we should tell them they will have to work on the problem a while
longer before we are willing to intervene. (It is an interesting and frequently overlooked fact that,
when two children are in an argument, it is almost always the younger child who started it.
Typically, the older child gets blamed, when the younger child has actually caused the problem to
Should children be allowed to talk back to their parents and other adults? Not only should
they be allowed to, they should be encouraged to. The parenting task is to teach them to talk back
responsibly and effectively. Children should be encouraged to tell us when they are angry with
us, when they think we are unfair, when they feel that we are being unreasonable, and so on.
They should be able to express any idea or feeling to us - within limits. A child may say 'I am
angry with you' or 'I don't like you' but he is not allowed to tell us to go to hell. We, in our turn,
should stand as a good model of such behavior. Sometimes, it may be necessary to directly
encourage a child to express himself or talk back. For example, we may believe the child is
experiencing intense feelings that he seems to be suppressing, as if he is afraid to tell us. We say,
'Go ahead and tell me, I want to know what you are thinking and feeling.' If this is insufficient
we might say, 'If you are angry with me or if you think I am unfair or unreasonable, I want you to
tell me about that. Are you mad at me? Do you think I have been unfair?' At the same time, we
should not try to force the child to tell us what he is thinking and feeling. The child has the right
to not share his feelings with us. He says, 'I don't want to tell you.' You say, 'You don't have to
tell me if you don't want to, but I want you to know that you can tell me if you want to do so.'
You might go on to say, 'I let you know when I am having feelings or thoughts about you, I want
you to feel that you can tell me when you are having feelings or thoughts about me.' Just be sure
that you are as reasonable and open to criticism as you profess to be.