How can we get our son to stay in bed? Q. My husband and I are at our wits' ends. We both work and hardly see each other during the day. Our 5-year-old son used to go to bed about 8 p.m., and then my husband and I could spend some time together. Recently, though, our son keeps coming out of his room and saying he needs a drink, his bear fell on the floor, he wants another story, etc. By the time we respond to all of his demands it is 10 p.m., and my husband and I are exhausted. We feel utterly irritated and frustrated. If we just tell him, "No, go back to your room," he refuses and sits on the stairs. A friend of ours suggests locking him in his room. We read your column regularly and have a feeling you won't agree to this, but what do you suggest?
A. We understand your frustration, but you're right, it's not a good idea to lock children in their rooms. It is too frightening, it's potentially dangerous, and it sets a bad example for how to respond to disagreements. In reality, your son is not acting all that abnormally for his age-he hasn't seen you all day and he wants more of your company. Nonetheless, your son needs to get enough sleep and you and your husband do need time together.
We recommend that after work, you spend as much family time as possible in activities of your son's choosing. You might consider pushing his bedtime back to 8:30 p.m. Then give him books or tapes that he can use in bed. Check to see if he needs a drink or a snack before he brushes his teeth. If he comes downstairs after his bedtime, walk him back to bed saying, "It's time for sleeping." If you are consistent, eventually he will realize there's not much to be gained in coming out of his room. Soon you and your husband should have your evenings back.
Our 5-month-old won't eat solids Q. Our pediatrician says it's time to start feeding our 5-month-old baby solids, but he's just not interested. We have tried different kinds of baby food, but he just makes a face and spits it out. He looks interested when we eat, but he can't have our food. How do we get him to eat solid food?
A. You make a good observation when you say that your baby watches you eat. Imitation is one of the most powerful forces in child development, and you can use it to your advantage. Try "eating" food your son can have. Put some baby food in a bowl and give your son a spoon and take tastes out of it yourself. He will be much more likely to try new things if he sees you eating them.
To make it fun, give him the spoon. Put a plastic mat under his highchair so you aren't concerned about a mess. If he doesn't get too upset, try offering solid foods before milk. But pay attention to your son's signals. If he doesn't want a particular food, don't try to force it. Try something else at the next meal. The way to help your son become a good eater is to keep mealtimes pleasant and avoid power struggles.
Our teen is not being honest Q. Our teenage daughter has been lying to us about where she is after school. We have forbidden her to go on single dates with boys and she says she doesn't. But when she says she is going to a friend's house and we call the friend's house, she isn't there. We think she might have a boyfriend, and we feel very strongly that she shouldn't be alone with boys at her age. We are tempted to ground her, but she is a good student and never gives us any other trouble. Suggestions?
W.B., Orland Park
A. You need to open better lines of communication with your daughter. Sit down with her and tell her that you realize she doesn't feel she can tell you what she is doing after school. Emphasize that you just want to keep her out of situations that might be bad for her. Say that you really want to know why she doesn't feel she can be open with you. Listen carefully to her point of view. For example, she might admit that she is interested in a boy and that she doesn't see why she can't go to a movie without a chaperone. You might agree to relax your rules and allow her to be with a boy in public places if she agrees to be honest about her activities.
It is often helpful to ask your teen what rules would make sense to her. She may come up with guidelines you can endorse, such as agreeing not to be alone with a boy in a closed room. If you show your daughter that you are reasonable rather than autocratic, she will be much more likely to be open. In contrast, grounding her would just make her more alienated and resentful.
Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are co-authors of the best-selling parenting book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Approach to Discipline That Makes You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person (for additional Smart Love resources visit www.smartloveparent.org). The Piepers also wrote Addicted to Unhappiness, which helps parents and other adults improve their own lives. The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents; and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.