You ask the questions, child psychologist Dr Aaron Frost gives you the answers! Email your questions in to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. We are staying with a friend’s family in a house for Christmas holidays. In these kinds of situations, I always find disciplining my kids more difficult with others watching on as I feel I’m being judged. What’s the best way to deal with my kids’ behaviour problems in situations like this?
A. Never be too worried about what other people think. Normally if they are thinking anything about your parenting, they are feeling sorry for how hard it is disciplining kids in public. If they are being judgmental, then their opinions aren’t ones I would be very interested in. But there are a few things that come to mind that might make things a bit easier. Are your friends parents? If they aren’t, then the house is probably full of bright shiny breakables under waist height. There are very few things more stressful for you and your kids than chasing them around a non-child friendly house trying to make them behave like grown-ups. Whilst you can’t expect all of your friends to change their lives for your kids, perhaps that $5000 vintage Les Paul guitar the husband is so proud of could be put in its case under a bed for a week?
Q. My parents are coming from overseas to stay with us soon. When they are here, they always spoil my kids rotten with presents and sweet food and they often let my kids bend/break rules. The kids end up on a two-week sugar high and all the ‘parenting pleasantries’ that go with that. When I’ve broached the subject with my parents, they never see they are doing wrong – just that they love my kids so much. Please help!
A. My first advice would be to talk to your parents to try and get them to lay off a bit, but presuming you have and that hasn’t worked, I really think the best you can aim for is harm minimization. Have your parents considered a short road trip? Cairns perhaps? Failing that, I think it’s about taking the long view. A few weeks of sugar, sleep deprivation and being spoiled rotten isn’t going to cause any lasting harm. You have the choice between spending the whole visit on edge fighting against the tide of loving grandparents, or just lower the standards for a bit. Accept that your kids are going to be a bit feral for this visit and put all of your energy into how to get things back on course once they leave. Depending on how old your kids are, it is might be OK to be very upfront with the fact that the rules are being relaxed a bit, but that they better not get used to it.
Q. Can you settle a disagreement between my husband and I? Is it more important to reward good behaviour or discipline bad behaviour?
A. This one is easy: neither is more important – but rewarding is the most risk-free. If you rely on punishment alone, you will have about 30 things a day you want to punish. The end result is that kids just get desensitized to your punishments. Who remembers how ineffective mum was with her wooden spoon when we were kids? A good rule of thumb is to increase good behaviour with reward. The more good behavior, the less time there is for bad behaviour. The bad behavior that’s left should be rare enough that you can safely use punishment.
Dr Aaron Frost is a clinical psychologist and director of Benchmark Psychology at Mount Gravatt.