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What your child should be ready for at any age is a concern that worries and confuses parents of children of all ages.

  • When should my child be walking?
  • When should my child be using a bottle, binky diapers
  • When should my child start preschool, kindergarten?
  • When should my child go on a sleepover?
  • When should my child go to the movies alone with a friend?
  • When should my child have a cell phone?
  • When should my child learn to drive?

As you can see, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of turning points parents need to consider, and most parents don’t really know what to expect or decide. They operate from hopes, fears, and a lack of knowledge about development. Some parents worry too much about such issues and some not enough. Can I give you definite ages and expectations for readiness? NO!  Much depends on who your child is and what you are comfortable with. However, I can give you ways to think about these issues.

In the early years and, again, as adolescence begins, children are developing quickly in all ways. There are norms that are predictable and sequential, and the best reading you can do to inform yourself about these are the books by Ilg and Ames -“Your One Year Old”, “Your Two Year Old”, etc. They describe, in every area of development – social, emotional, cognitive and behavioral – what is “normal”. However, the books only provide a broad outline. You have to remember that your kids  haven’t read the books and may be a  bit ahead or behind in any area of development. Also know that the areas develop independently of each other. So, a child may be cognitively advanced while being socially underdeveloped. This unevenness is confusing for parents who are always trying to assess whether their child is “normal”.

To add to parental confusion, children develop or mature at very different rates. While development is predictable, it is also unique to each child. They can’t be taught or pushed or, in the case of puberty, held back!   Many of the answers to  your questions about readiness are determined by “nature’s timetable”. When a child is going to walk, talk, enter puberty, etc. is pre-programmed by birth, and there can be as much as a two year difference in readiness – even between children in the same family  There really are “late bloomers!   Now, while  the environment you create may help children shift from their natural pace and inclinations, you are not a bad parent if the shift is slight or not at all.  Therefore, it’s useless to compare your children to each other or to children outside the family. Doing so can only harm the self-esteem of the child unfavorably compared.

If you do try to hurry a child who is developmentally unready for a new step, you run the risk of sending them the message that they are failures and, thus, damage their self-esteem, giving them a sense of inferiority. This can happen to the most well-intentioned parent when you unintentionally – or deliberately –  manifest frustration or disappointment with one of your children regarding their progress. You may not express this directly but may do so through your facial expression, tone of voice, or body language. Respecting developmental difference will prevent you from unwittingly doing this. It’s also important to remember that rate of development is not a predictor of ultimate success!

Some children who are pushed too hard when they aren’t ready for a task get frustrated and can “act out”. Then they are at risk of being perceived as behavior problems or as having attentional issues which add extra layers to their feelings of inadequacy. This can, in turn,  can become a permanent part of their identity. Other children react to overly high expectations by developing debilitating stress which is manifested physically, emotionally or behaviorally. The main consideration is that you be aware of who each of your children is and do your best to recognize and respect his/her readiness to take on new challenges.

On the other hand, if you allow a child to lag too far behind his/her peers in age-appropriate behavior, if you set your expectations too low, there is also a danger to their self-esteem. Children are usually observant of what their peers are doing – whether that’s giving up diapers, going to sleepovers, or joining sports teams – and can feel bad about themselves for lagging behind even as they are reluctant to take the next step or to overcome  their fears. In these instances, it’s up to you to make a  parental decision to become more insistent that you child move onto the next step in development. This may involve taking away diapers, cheer-leading firmly that your child learn to swim, or discussing with them why they are unwilling to learn to drive. Sometimes this will require some assistance from an outside resource such as a parenting coach or therapist.

On the third hand, there are times when children believe they’re ready for a new challenge BUT  YOU DON’T!  As children edge towards adolescence, they may start to lobby for greater autonomy. It is within your rights, and also your responsibility, to decide if your child has the skills and maturity to move on. Just because other parents allow certain freedoms, such as going out alone with a friend, doesn’t mean that your child is sufficiently mature to handle this situation. Just because a child turns sixteen doesn’t mean you feel they are responsible or developed enough to get behind the wheel of a car. You are still responsible for their health and safety and your assessment has to prevail. However, if your child is going off to college and you still aren’t comfortable with them going out without you, you may have to look at who has the problem!

Finally, a word about significant delays. Respecting readiness does not mean turning a blind eye or deaf ear to your own observations as well as the feedback you get from your child’s school about your child’s progress.  Such input can allow you to pick  up on an area that needs special attention. Then proactive parents can provide appropriate intervention which can make all the difference in children reaching their full potential.

Susan C. Stone is a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Los Angeles for 33 years.She speaks widely to the parents and teachers of children of all ages. Ms. Stone appears regularly on both radio and television as a parenting expert and is the author of THE INDULGENCE TRAP – When too much is not Enough!

The relationship siblings have is an important one – it can impact on people’s lives and identities as much as  their relationships with their parents do. This  can be a positive impact and enhance one’s life or it can be negative and the source of continuing problems in other relationships – even into adulthood! Because of this, it’s important for parents to help make their children’s relationships as good as possible. By your behavior you  have the ability to stoke the fire of the rivalry or to lessen it.The one thing you can’t do is eliminate it! But that’s not necessarily bad news. Children learn a lot from their relationships with their siblings – how to win, how to lose, how to negotiate, compromise and share, how to be angry with someone and still love them.  Your job as a parent is to make sure that the sibling interaction isn’t harmful – either psychologically, physically or emotionally.

One important step towards minimizing sibling rivalry and keeping it from being harmful  is to NOT COMPARE your children – either out loud to them or even in your mind. No two children are alike – they have different strengths and weaknesses. Good parents respect this and teach their children to respect it. This should lead to having unique expectations and measures of success for each child. Comparisons are also often used to try to motivate desirable behavior by pointing out to a child how their sibling is doing a better job (at being mannerly, cleaning up their room, doing their homework, etc.). Now honestly, did it ever spur you on to greater heights when your parents said, “Why can’t you keep your room neat  the way your sister does?”?!  All it did was make you angry – at your parent and at your sister!  The rule of thumb is to speak to each of your children as if they were ONLY children. No comparisons allowed. However, even if you do follow this advice, you’ll find your children comparing themselves – “I’m smarter than you are”. This is an opportunity to have a discussion about respecting individual differences and your expectations for personal bests and best efforts.

Another way parents worsen sibling relationships is by, consciously or unconsciously, casting children in fixed roles. For example,  the oldest child is treated as the caretaker, the youngest has less expected from them, a good listener becomes a  confidante for the parent. Similarly,  parents also stamp children  with labels – “This is my athlete.” ” This is my scholar.” “This is my wild one”. These assigned labels and role – even positive ones – put limits on who a child might have the potential to become. Instead, try to think about who you would like the child to become and praise behaviors which manifest those possibilities. Also, be alert to negative roles that children may choose for themselves – the clown, the  helpless one, the dictator – as a way to be unique within the family. In such cases, encourage them to get attention and rewards for more desirable roles and behaviors.

Having said all this, let’s talk about the secret that many parents carry around and about which they feel guilty – favorites. Is it terrible or unnatural to have a favorite child? NO! Sometimes your personality or needs just mesh better with one child than another.  You’re human and can’t deny these responses. However, what you can control is the expression of favoritism which feeds sibling rivalry more than any other parental behavior. Now I know you don’t say things like “Susie is my favorite”. Favoritism is expressed subtly – smiling more at one child, being more lenient, using more terms of endearment, etc.  The cure for showing favoritism is  to be aware of it and to look for the specialness to appreciate in your less favored child.

While you may not show favoritism, a common manifestation of sibling rivalry is children vying to occupy the top spot, or at least tie for it.  When children try to make everything equal, this is what you’re witnessing.. Does this sound familiar? “Johnny has 12 grapes on his plate and I only have 11!”  Most parents rush to equalize the situation with the goal of not showing favoritism, often driving themselves crazy in the diplomacy of it all.  I’ll let you off the hook! It’s not your job to make everything equal – time, love, items. It’s your job to meet the unique needs of each child and to let them know that is your goal. DO NOT  engage in arguments about giving or loving equally. And when asked the immortal question   – “Who do you love the most?” – answer by listing the special things you love about that particular child.

Despite your following all this advice, your children are going to bug each other –  about territory, property, because they are jealous of a sibling’s birthday, because they had a disagreement at school with a friend, even because it’s fun!.  A sibling is a convenient place to dump negative feelings about many things. While this is inevitable, you need to set limits on how this is expressed. What is disallowed is emotional, psychological or physical harm. You can prevent some of this by not modeling name-calling, cruel remarks or physical reactions of your own in handling your anger. Other preventive measures which lessen negative sibling interaction:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. Allow children to express their anger towards their siblings to you without judging or discounting it. Getting  it off their chest lets  them feel better about the sibling.

2.Don’t reward tattling by acting on it.

3.Make sure to give children adequate time and space of their own.

4.Spend time alone with each of your child so they feel they “have” you for a time.

5.Set  rules for sharing and encourage a sharing attitude between everyone in the family.

6.Teach conflict resolution skills.

7.Foresee trouble and act to avoid it – for example, ban high conflict games, arrange seating to lessen opportunities for conflict at meals, etc.

8.Hold family meetings in which the whole family addresses a grievance of each child and seeks a solution together.

9.Utilize “team” reward charts with which children can earn special activities if the team gets along for a period of time.

10.Plan fun family activities that promote goodwill among siblings.

11. Teach family loyalty as a value.

Finally, when the arguing and bickering start, give children a chance to solve it themselves, which they often will. If they try to drag you into it, NEVER choose a winner and a loser (since  you don’t now the full story and will never know “who started it”). If the incident escalates into a damaging emotional, psychological or physical interaction, separate your children for a cool down period., then let them try to be together again ( which they usually want). If this doesn’t work, it may be a day they need to spend doing separate activities.

All of these measures will reduce sibling rivalry. However, be prepared for your children not to be compatible. Your goal should be mutual respect  and some peace. The good news is that as siblings become older, they generally have a better relationship if the bad feelings haven’t been cemented  while they were growing up.

Susan C. Stone is a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Los Angeles for 33 years.She speaks widely to the parents and teachers of children of all ages. Ms. Stone appears regularly on both radio and television as a parenting expert and is the author of THE INDULGENCE TRAP – When too much is not Enough!

As the holidays approach, most parents are scrambling to buy an abundance of the latest and hottest  gift items their children have requested or would enjoy. As parents we get almost as much pleasure – or more –  watching the delight our children experience as they open up their packages!

This is all great fun, but it misses some wonderful opportunities to parent well and to make the holidays meaningful and joyous for your children in other ways. It’s important to recognize that what children treasure is time with you and the family in a festive mode. As well, some of the greatest excitement children experience around the holidays is the anticipation of  GIVING and not just RECEIVING! Yet the majority of families don’t focus on these important elements. Here are some ways to get your children involved in the holidays that will both excite and delight them:

1. To truly capture the spirit of the season,  family time and traditions are a must.  Begin traditions of special activities for the whole family that take place around the holidays. Anything you do together each year will count. It can be baking, decorating, playing special games, traveling or visiting with relatives and friends. In the end, special time with you engaging in holidays rituals is what children crave most of all and what they’ll remember as adults.

2.  Be judicious in how many presents you buy for your own children and how extravagant they are. Don’t try to compete with other parents and remember that your children will receive presents from grandparents and friends as well.

3. Consider presents that avoid the materialism that often goes with the holidays. For example, give children coupon books for  “a trip to the yogurt store”, “an activity alone with you”, “an extra bedtime story”, “making cupcakes”, etc. These are a real hit!

4.  Very importantly, use this season to teach the values of reciprocity and generosity by including your children in gift-giving. And this does not mean spending your money on gifts so they can pass them on to others! One way is to have your children clean out the toys they’ve outgrown and donate the ones in good shape to needy children. Older children can spend a bit of their allowance to buy a new toy to donate to Toys for Tots. If there’s any way they can visit a shelter and deliver toys directly to other children, they’ll learn valuable perspectives about the blessings they have and the blessings they can bestow.

If you really want to see holiday excitement, have your children – no matter how young – make something to give as gifts to their  family members.  It can be a small pot which they paint and decorate and put a plant in, a bag of cookies you bake together, colorful felt covers that they glue on the front of inexpensive telephone books, a frame they decorate with  macaroni and you spray with gold paint, etc. Believe it or not, your children will be more excited to give out these presents than they are to receive their own. Watch the joy they experience in not just receiving but in giving !


Turkey, pumpkin pie, STUFFING (personal favorite) , family, football…all the trappings of a great Thanksgiving. But, are they? While Thanksgiving may be the least commercialized of our national holidays, the essential meaning can get lost amidst a sumptuous meal and an exciting 4th quarter. How many of us actually give thanks on this day – or any other day, for that matter? What happened to gratitude and what are we teaching our kids about it?

Now you may say you’re teaching your children to say “thank you” for favors and presents.  But, are you teaching them – and do you realize – the more subtle and bigger concept of gratitude ? This is the recognition and appreciation of all  that you have. Too often we and our children take this  for granted.  Children are understandably blase about their life style because it”s the only reality they know. But gratitude is important because it’s  inextricably linked to happiness.  If you’re not appreciative and grateful and, therefore, not teaching your kids to be so, you are not promoting happiness in them in the deepest sense. Without this perspective,  all they experience is a kind of “happiness” in the most shallow and momentary way. (“Oh boy, a new toy!”)

So, how do you both feel and teach gratitude when you live, as we do,  in a solution-oriented society which is focused on what is wrong and needs to be changed?

Begin with yourself – experiencing gratitude has to be an active mental discipline. Pick a time each day when you focus on the most basic blessings in your life – health, family, living quarters, food, faith, etc. You can add to that list according to your priorities – it might be friends, a job you love ( or these days, any job!), the ability to go to a ballgame or movie, to enjoy a starry night and so on. If you find yourself having trouble with this, try beginning your day by watching the news – you’ll quickly see how much you take for granted.

Then, how do you pass this key to happiness on to your children? First, you can model gratitude by articulating out loud those positive things you’ve identified in your own life. Simple statements such as “Boy, I reallly feel healthy today!” or “I feel so fortunate to have a wonderful child like you!” or “Would  you like eggs or cereal for breakfast – we ar so fortunate to have plenty of food and choices about what to eat”. This may elicit some questions from  your child such as “Why? Do other people not havve so much food?”.  This is a great teaching opportunity to let them know that, indeed, many people don’t have eoungh to eat and that their own situation is a reason for them to be grateful.

Second, ask your child what they’re grateful for. This is a great bedtime question, when they are more vulnerable and likely to open up. Be prepared however, they may still answer “My new action figure!”. At that point you can ask them if they’d rather have that than a nice mom and dad. If they still prefer GI Joe to you, tell them that you think they’ll change their mind some day (and hope that’s so!).Third, there are the inevitable, and very important, food and toy drives around the holidays. Make sure you and your child participate in donating. Some older children even like to donate a bit of their allowance to provide Thanksgiving dinner to those without. As children are 8 and older, it becomes important that they see to whom they are actually giving their donations so they become aware of others’ reality.

Last, establish a family tradition of each person saying what they are grateful for. You can do this on Thanksgiving – that’s a natural. However, remember that, unlike mittens or swimsuits, gratitude is not a seasonal item!   Ideally, it should be a way of thinking all year round. You can repeat the ritual of saying what each person is grateful for over Sunday morning pancakes, Friday night dinners, bedtime or any time you think your child will be receptive. It’s the repetition of the focus on gratitude that eventually makes it a part of your child’s thinking and creates real  happiness.


It’s that bewitching time of year again – Halloween. It’s become one of our most celebrated national events with a huge commercial buildup and awaited with great anticipation by kids of all ages. It’s crazy, it’s fun, it’s harmless – or is it? It can be all of the good  things as long as you prepare your children for it.

YOUNG CHILDREN: They are excited to pick out their costumes and to GET CANDY! However, there are a few things parents need to be aware of. First, while children may have a particular costume in mind, it’s important that you deem it age-appropriate. Children are exposed to such a variety of characters through the media or through older siblings that they may want to make an inappropriate decision in their costume choice. It’s your responsibility to steer them away from characters that are too scary or too mature. For example, it’s not a good idea to have a young child wear a Freddie Krueger mask. It will scare their friends and send the wrong message about the fun of Halloween. Likewise, you would want to steer a young girl away from dressing like Lady Gaga in some of her more outrageous and MTV-appropriate attire. You may want to ask yourself how your child even has knowledge of such characters. Perhaps your screening of media input needs to be tightened a bit. You also need to be aware if your child is frightened by masks or clown attire – a common phobia. You may have to explain to them that these  are only costumes, pick a Halloween activity that is controlled and benign or, if they are truly traumatized, set up a Halloween event with a few friends that takes place at home.

As to the candy, make sure you inspect it before it’s eaten. All candies should be wrapped in their original wrappers. Then there’s the question of quantity! Your child will likely end up with a cache of candy that’s way too much for them to eat without getting a serious sugar high and a few cavities to go with that.  Some parents decide to  take away some of the candy and dole it out over a period of time. Others ask their children to pick an acceptable number of pieces and then donate the rest to children who may not have experienced Trick or Treating.

Which brings me to the subject of the actual activity of Trick or Treating. There are two issues to consider with young children. If you decide to go door to door, you need to explain to young children that you are aware of which houses and strangers are safe to approach for treats. You don’t want to go against your year round teaching against approaching just any strangers. Secondly, some areas are known for their rowdy Trick or Treating behavior by older kids. One way to avoid this is to go early and be gone by the time the older kids arrive. Another option is to take advantage of the planned events found in most communities either at a mall, park or other publicly sponsored event.

OLDER CHILDREN: By the time  your child is in middle school, they may (definitely) not want you to go to each house with them. While understandable, you need to set some parameters to keep them safe. Perhaps you’ll be in a car nearby or set a very limited area for them to Trick or Treat – say, a few blocks close to your house, a gated community or a public event. They need to have a definite starting and stopping time and need to remain in a group. They need to be reminded that if someone invites them into their house for a treat, they are NOT allowed to enter. Middle schoolers and older kids also need to be reminded of your values – that they respect the property of others. The purpose of Halloween needs to remain  having silly fun but not destructive “fun” – no shaving cream, toilet papering, or egg- throwing.

It’s also a good idea to go over the candy with your older kids before they dig into it. You need to use your judgment about how much they should indulge. The idea of a donation is equally valid for older Trick or Treaters.

All this having been said, have a  HAPPY (and safe) HALLOWEEN!!!

Susan C. Stone is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice. She speaks widely – on television, radio, and in Parent Education Seminars – on topics of interest to parents and teachers of children of all ages. She is also the author of the book THE INDULGENCE TRAP.  Visit her on her website at or contact her at

Now that school is in full swing,  so are the “Homework Headaches”. This can be a daily nightmare effecting your child’s behavior, sleep and relationship with you.  There’s begging, arguing, screaming, and punishing – and that’s just your child! Hitting the bottle and popping pills are some common ways that parents deal with this. Does it have to be this way? NO! But to avoid this dilemma, it’s important to get off to a good start. Here are some tips for making this year different and more peaceful.

1. Begin with the mindset that “we” don’t have homework – your child does! Homework is one of their first independent responsibilities and there is much to be learned from this. If you do homework for your child, sit with them the whole time  or help excessively, you are taking away the opportunity for them to become self-sufficient and have confidence in their abilities to tackle hard things. They can become reliant on your presence or participation and develop what’s called a “learned helplessness”.

2. However, it’s a good idea  to begin the year by having some involvement.  Start by determining a schedule for their homework responsibilities. For young children, set up a consistent routine of coming home, having a snack and relaxing for a half hour before beginning homework. (Without using “screens” which can be hard to turn off!)  This gives them a necessary break. For children who have after-school activities, it helps to work out the best possible schedule for each day.  You want to avoid homework being done right before bed when they are exhausted, rushed and more likely  to be uncooperative. For older children who are becoming independent, having them develop their own schedule might be more appropriate with the caveat that they must get sufficient sleep in order to be healthy and ready for the next day. Older children may also have weekend homework. Have them experiment with what part of the weekend works best for them and for family plans – some like to get it out of the way on Friday; others prefer Saturday or Sunday. A time to put ‘off limits’ is Sunday night which can then feel very pressured and lead to the “homework headaches”.

3. It’s also important to decide where your child will do his’/her homework. Discuss with your child where homework will be done and make that their regular homework place. You may have to see where your child works best. Some children need the quiet of their rooms. For other  children, despite the elaborate desks, lights, bookshelves and counters you provide them, they prefer to be at the kitchen table. This is fine if they can concentrate there and not be reliant on you sitting with them. TV is incompatible with doing homework, but some children actually concentrate better with music on. You may have to experiment with your child.

4. Begin the year by helping children get started on, or remember, how to structure their homework.  Initially, sit with your child and teach them how to lay out the various assignments they have to complete and to decide in what order they want to do them. Set the routine of returning each completed assignment to their backpacks so papers don’t get lost (or eaten by the dog!).

5.  Set up the routine of your child putting the backpack with the finished assignments by the door through which they leave in the morning. This is a habit that will ensure, more often than not, that the homework gets to school. Know that if you make sure the homework gets to school – via limousine (your car), fax or email – you are robbing your child of opportunities to learn responsibility and accountability –  that what happens to them is up to them. You are being a good parent, not a harsh one, having them learn to be responsible or face the music at school. It is a lesson that serves them well all throughout their lives. You can give your child (depending on their age) a pass or two at the beginning of the year, but pretty quickly, you want to turn the full responsibility over to them. The same goes for remembering bring their homework home! At the beginning of the year,  it is ok – once or twice – to drive back to school for a paper or book. After that it’s your child’s responsibility to either obtain the homework from a friend or to show up empty-handed the next morning. What your child learns about taking care of things is much more important than presenting the homework.

6. How much help you should give with homework is not a black and white issue.  Certainly, you need to make sure, especially with young children who are learning to read, that they understand the directions on the homework. Beyond that, you only need to available as a resource for work that is confusing or hard for them. However, to stress again, this is their homework  not your’s.  If you participate too much, the message you send to your child is that you don’t believe  they are capable of doing it themselves –  a real blow to their self-esteem. It’s also a confusing when you “teach” them how to do something in a way that’s different from their teacher’s method. The same “hands off” approach applies to projects your child is assigned. I know you may walk into a classroom with your child’s finished project and see many that look like they were done in the special effects department of a movie studio. But neither children nor teachers feel good about this outcome. The children can’t take a sense of pride in their work and the teachers are smart enough to know the child couldn’t have produced such wondrous results! Also, check with the teacher to see if they want you to correct mistakes on homework when finished or if they would rather have it turned in unedited so they can see what the children have and haven’t learned.

7. Keep an eye on how long homework takes your child to complete.  If the time seems excessive or interferes with sleep, try to discern if there is simply too much homework or if your child is a slow worker. In either case, speak to the teacher about solving the problem.

Susan C. Stone is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice. She speaks widely – on television, radio, and in Parent Education Seminars – on topics of interest to parents and teachers of children of all ages. She is also the author of the book THE INDULGENCE TRAP.  Visit her on her website at or contact her at

How time flies!  It seems we were just preparing our children for the end of the school year, and now we have to ramp up for the beginning of a new year.  Some of you may be sad that the lazy, unstructured, non-lunch-packing days of summer are ending. Others are very glad to re-enter the world of  structure and, frankly, have a bit of time to themselves while their children are in school. Whichever camp you find yourself in, every parent is dealing with preparation for the new school year. This means buying school clothes and supplies, working out carpools and schedules, and planning for after-school activities.

What many parents don’t include in their to-do list is preparing themselves and their children for the transition from summer to fall.  For kids it’s more than new clothes – it’s often a new bedtime and wake-up time, new teacher, new school, new friends, new challenges. For  parents it’s helping children adjust to those changes. For some there are major transitions to negotiate  such as starting preschool or college for the first time which can be as difficult for a parent to adjust to as for the child! So…how do you help your children and yourself through these changes.

1. Begin right away to talk about school starting. Give them as much information as you have: 

For preschoolers, those starting kindergarten, middle school, high school or those changing schools – make sure they have seen the school facility and, if appropriate, the classrooms, yard, bathrooms,  lunch area, and drop-off and pick-up places.  Find out as much as about   their daily schedules and go through it repeatedly with them – a mental rehearsal. For young children, find out the last activity of the day so they can anticipate pick-up time.

For kids going off to college for the first time – Hopefully you’ve already visited the campus and they’ve gone through orientation there so they will have lots of materials to guide them, Don’t be at all surprised if they brush off any preparation you may try – they’re getting ready for one of the biggest separations in their lives and may push away anything that smacks of dependency. Plus, I’ve never met a college student who can’t locate the bathroom!

             For young children;

Talk to them about all the fun things they’ll be doing at school. Go over with them the protocols of being in a classroom – that they will be given directions to follow so they’ll know what to do, that they need to raise their hand to get the teacher’s attention, that items belong to the classroom and need to be shared. There are many good books to read to very young children about starting school and what they’ll encounter there.

             For older children:

Make sure you, and they, are clear on school procedures, codes of behavior, homework policies, etc. For children entering college, make sure they have a “go-to” person on campus for any questions they have so you can avoid being a “helicopter” parent who hovers and resolves any problems they encounter. One degree you hope they’ll graduate with is a “BI” – Bachelor of Independence.

2. Be clear from the get-go that school is not optional!

Take the approach that school is their “job”. If a child is resistant to going, from preschool to college,, there is usually some separation anxiety behind their reluctance. You can be empathic and reassuring, get help from the teacher, do more mental rehearsal, read more books, ask what they’re worried about BUT do not indicate by your words or your own sad or ambivalent demeanor, that you would waver on their going to school.  Children need to know that this is an adult decision. If your child starts school easily and then stops wanting to go, it’s important  for you to try to find out what is going on at school (or sometimes at home) that has created this change. Speaking to the teacher is often helpful.

3. Begin to institute a “school-day” bedtime and wake-up time.

Many families have a looser sleep schedule during the summer. Begin to regulate bedtime and wake-up time by 10-15 minutes every few days starting 2 weeks before school starts so there is no drastic change to implement on the first day of school.

4. Talk to children about how to make friends and join a group.

Even for adults, these can be  challenges. The one cardinal rule – for all ages – is Never ask permission to be someone’s friend or to join a group!  Doing so only empowers another child to say NO. For children under middle school age, having  a playdate before school starts with someone who will be in their class affords them a friendly face when school begins.  Depending on the age of your child , rehearse some “pick-up lines” for getting to know new kids. For young children it can be as simple as “What’s your name?” or “I like your t-shirt”.  Older kids need less direct approaches, usually ones that relate to what they may share in common with another kid – “Can I check  to see if I wrote down the right  the homework assignment?”; “Are you going to play soccer this year?”; “This teacher’s really hard!” “How long have you been at this school?”; etc.

Joining a group is a particularly hard skill. Again, teach your children never to “ask permission” to join.  Watching other kids play and then commenting or adding a suggestion is a good “on the yard” tactic for young children.  For older children – beyond preschool – joining in a game by first observing and then commenting is still a viable strategy. In the classroom, commenting on an assignment, sitting at lunch with someone or several people,  listening to the conversation and maybe adding a relevant comment, laughing at a joke, asking if anyone saw a certain show on TV can all be ways to insinuate yourself into a group. Participating in afterschool activities on campus can also provide opportunities to create commonality.

5. Prepare yourself to help your child through any initial resistance to starting school.

It can be very hard for a lot of parents to “let their children go”. From sending them to preschool for the first time to sending them off to college, we are challenged by the redefinition of our role in their lives as we lose some, or all, control over them. We lose the status of the only, or main, influence on them; we lose touch with what they are doing all day or even every day! We aren’t close by to catch them when they fall – literally or figuratively. We can also experience an emptiness of purpose and too much time on our hands. All of this can unconsciously lead us to perpetuate their dependency when what they need is independence. As the saying goes, “Good parents are slowly writing themselves out of the script”. So, prepare yourself for your child starting school. Think about how you would like to fill those now-free hours. Have confidence in the school you have chosen to take care of your child or, if your child is college bound, have confidence in how you raised them and the values you have taught that will keep them on track in the bigger world.



While the interaction between siblings can be difficult at any time of the year, summer presents special challenges.

Your kids are together more since they’re not dashing off to school where they spend much of the day apart. They also lack the structure of their school-day routine which gives them a rhythm to follow – a set time to get up, eat, do homework, take a bath, go to bed, etc. Instead, there are more times when they’re together and more time when they’re just “hanging out”. This is both good and bad. Children have a chance to play together but also more time to get on each other’s nerves! And the more different they are in temperament, the more nerves they get on!

While after a demanding school schedule kids revel in the freedom of having nothing to do, this also means there are, inevitably, times when they’re bored. And one way to relieve boredom is to do what you can to rile up your sibling or instigate fights with them!

Also, in the summer families tend to take the opportunity to travel which provides LOTS of time together. This can be a strong bonding time for kids and/or a time to drive each other crazy – to vie for your attention, to fill the down time, to protect their property rights in the back seat, to prove who Grandma loves the most.

What are some ways you can minimize the conflict?

  1. Find separate activities for your children to do. Try not to enroll them in the same classes and lessons.
  2. Schedule separate playdates for each child.  If the playdate is at your house, let each child know that the time with their friend is just for them (unless they want to include their sibling) and that you’ll do something with the other child to keep them occupied.
  3. Try to spend time alone with each of your children. Put them in activities on alternate days or use playdates or weekends to have some one-on-one time with each child. This time is a respite from having to vie for your attention and satisfies their need to have you to themselves.
  4. If the bickering and fighting is driving you crazy, set up a “Team Chart”.  Your children can earn stars on this chart by being cooperative with each other or just staying out of each other’s hair! At the end of a specified time period (say, Monday through Friday),the  “Team” can earn a special  activity (going to the beach, seeing a movie, etc. You can let them come up with the reward). This can also be used to great effect on vacations as well. If the “Team” can gthrough the day in a positive way, they can earn an ice  cream orsmall souvenir at the end of each day. This can really insure a pleasant vacation and have it be a time of  bonding and “forever memories”.
  5. This one is a biggie – make sure you have some grown-up time for yourself and for you and your partner.  You’re also used to children being away part of the day. 24/7 kidtime is a recipe for craziness! Use activities, playdates (at someone else’s house!), babysitters,etc. so you can have your own alone time.
  6. Get a big calendar, circle the day that school starts again, and cross out each day with a big red X!

Enjoy your summer with your kids but stay safe and sane.

SCHOOL’S OUT! YIPEE! (or not so much?)

How children react to the end of the school year, how you can help, and what makes for a great summer.

Many parents look back on the beginning of summer vacation and remember only the relief and sense of freedom they felt! It often represented the end of getting up early, structured time and expectations, and the beginning of lazy days swimming and hanging out with friends and family.

These may be some of the reactions your children will have, but there is a good chance there will be others as well. If you are aware of some difficult feelings your children may be having, it will be easier to understand their emotional state and behavior and to be a resource for them.

What’s not to like about school ending? First of all, it has the potential to spur a bout of separation anxiety. For some young children, they have become very attached to their teachers and saying good-bye to them can be very emotional. The better the teacher, the more likely the child will negatively anticipate being without them.

If your child will being moving on to a new school after this year – from preschool to elementary school, from elementary school to middle school, from middle school to high school– leaving behind a familiar environment where they have become comfortable and a community they know, can raise both separation anxiety and fear of the unknown that they’ll face in the fall.

For those children who are graduating high school and leaving for college, they are not only leaving the familiarity of their school, but they are leaving the nest of their home and family as well. However excited they are about being away and on their own, they are at least equally reluctant to move towards becoming independent young adults.

How can know if your child is experiencing these emotions? In some cases there is very obvious sadness and verbal expressions of the difficulty of leaving teachers, schools and friends behind. However, many children manifest these feelings by having sleep problems, becoming more contrary, exhibiting moodiness, or showing more anger than usual over unrelated issues.

It’s very typical for high school seniors to spend the summer before college fighting with their parents over almost anything. While many parents see this behavior as provocative, unpleasant, contrary to the connection they’d like to make before their children leave, and , sometimes, downright ungrateful (as they face huge tuition college bills), it helps to interpret it in a different light. Your children are putting distance between themselves and you in order to be more ok with having to leave you.

What’s the best way to handle the emotional changes your children may be going through? If your children can verbalize their sadness and/or fear, you have the easier task. The key is to empathize. Let them know that lots of kids feel that way, even that you felt that way as a child. Also let them know that those feelings of missing the teacher or school they are leaving pass quickly after they say goodbye (which they do!). Also, let them know that they will have the opportunity to visit their old teacher or old school or have get-togethers with friends who are moving on.

As to their fears about starting a new school, again, let them know this, too, is normal, that everyone feels that way starting a new situation. To the extent that you can, have them visit the new school, perhaps attend a summer program there, or, with younger children, get together with other kids who will be going to the same school (most schools are happy to provide you with contacts.) With older children, emphasize how they were able to make friends at the school which they are leaving and the abilities they’ve developed to repeat this process at a new school.

Planning Your Child’s Summer We have to acknowledge that the old summer days of lazy exploration or running around the neighborhood or hanging out at the beach are not always possible anymore. With so many moms working, children need to be someplace.

To answer that need, there are huge numbers of day camps, specialty camps, sleep away camps, and other adult supervised activities in which to place your child. Many of these sound interesting and enriching, and many are. However, one of the issues parents need to keep in mind is to not involve their children in too many different experiences.

While it may sound great to spend a week at rocket camp, another at art camp, another at surf camp, etc., this kind of schedule also presents children with the challenge of adjusting to too many new environments and having to make new friends over and over. This can take the richness out of “enriching”, depending on who your child is. To the extent that you can provide a more seamless experience, your child will have a chance to settle into a new situation.

And please, unless you’re being told by the school that your children need some academic help to be ready for the fall, DO NOT see summer as a time for learning a foreign language, honing their math skills or completing workbooks you buy. This is supposed to be a time free from such expectations. It would be great if your child enjoyed reading a bit and a trip to the library is a great family activity. Most schools do assign summer reading and for many children this is enough to get through.

If you have the option of having your child spend some days of the week or some weeks of the summer with no structured activities – do it! Hanging out with family and doing family activities, using their imagination to fill their time, and not having to be on a schedule are all great alternatives to the pressure of the school year. To the extent you can provide this, your child will return to school in the fall more refreshed and ready to roll.


Parents today seem to be confused about their role with their children – they want to be “pals” with their kids. What is this trend all about?

First, it seems to be that today’s parents identify with being youthful and feel that acting “grown-up” or “in charge” will morph them into stuffy, gray-haired, wrinkled, dorky versions of their former selves. Feeling on a par with their children means they’re still hip, relevant and ageless.

Second, parents have misgivings, and even fears, about being overbearing dictators who stomp the joy out of their children. They don’t want to appear heavy-handed or overly restrictive.

Third, and most peculiar, is a deep fear that if they set limits and boundaries for their children they won’t be loved by them! I’m seeing a generation of parents who are intimidated by the displeasure of people who are three feet tall!

Tell me, do you think your parents had these concerns? If you say “yes”, I’d really like to meet them because they are a rare breed, indeed! Parents of previous generations didn’t consider being “grown-up” to be a negative. They didn’t live in a world that worshipped a youth culture, plastic surgery, or perfect-fitting jeans. They knew they had a job to do as a parent – to socialize their children and they didn’t much like being bossed around by short people. They pretty much did what was expedient to achieve these goals.

Now, I like a pair of great jeans as much as the next person and wrinkles are not welcomed into my house. But, as a Marriage and Family Therapist for over 30 years, I see every day in my practice, the fall-out from parents not being parental. I see children who feel scared that there is no big person around to take care of them because everyone has the same degree of power and decision-making. I see children who feel unloved because, from their point of view, their parents don’t seem to care what they do. And I see children who suffer because they are growing up without internal boundaries and the ability to delay gratification and control their impulses that help them grow into responsible, non-impulsive, hard-working and caring adults who can be successful in their relationships and endeavors.

So, what does it mean to be parental? It doesn’t mean being harsh, punitive, grumpy and frumpy. It means recognizing that a family is not a democracy – it’s a benign dictatorship! It means that you’re in charge, and rightly so – to guide and protect your children who are inexperienced in this world and don’t understand health concerns, danger and safety, long-term versus short-term outcomes and much more.

It means that both you and your child understand that there are adult decisions and there are children’s decisions and that the balance of these slowly shifts from infancy to college as your children learn, in a gradual way, to make all or most of their own decisions and deal with and learn from the outcomes.

Have this talk with your child today: “Do you understand that there are grown-up decisions and children’s decisions? When you were an infant you got to make very few decisions – when you were going to sleep, eat and poop! Now you’re 3 or 6 or 12 or older, and you get to make many more decisions (of which you can name many). But we, the parents, still make the grown-up ones.”  Oddly, children find this to be a very reasonable arrangement! It often makes them more inclined to adhere to your directives if they see that certain decisions are theirs to make.

Being parental also means really knowing the difference between pleasing your child and loving your child. Simply put, pleasing is easy but harmful; loving is difficult but beneficial. If your child wants ice cream for breakfast, it will certainly please them if you agree. However, saying “that isn’t a healthy choice” is loving but likely to be met with at least a pout, maybe an argument, a slammed door or even your child packing a suitcase and announcing they’re moving down the street where the parents are nicer!

If you’re intimidated by your child’s reaction and give in, if you use your child’s face as a barometer of whether you’re doing the right thing, not only are you dead in the water as a protector and guide, but your child is deprived of the sense of being loved and valued.

It’s worth a few extra words to describe my experience with a family I saw years ago which consisted of a single mother and an 8-year-old boy. The mom had no idea how to parent and the boy was going to school if and when he felt like it. He would often stay up all night watching TV and eating junk food which he demanded she buy. However, they didn’t seek my help until the boy began cutting up the furniture with scissors. You might first think, “This unfortunate boy was a bit demented”, not to mention his mother. In truth, he was simply pushing the limits to see at what point his mother would take a stand. Well, with not too much intervention, just a little parent coaching, the mother learned to set limits and the boy was becoming compliant. The important part of this story is that the boy came in one day, plopped down on my couch and said, “I don’t know what you’re saying to my mom, but I think she’s starting to love me.”

Need I say more?

So, hitch up those jeans and become the adult in the house. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with your child and be playful, but being in charge, being parental, is the best gift you can give your child. And, I promise you, they will love you for it.

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