Your Biggest Battles…SOLVED!

By Kristy Mackaben

Our living room resembles a tornado-stricken Lego Land. Our mornings often end with both kids in tears and my 4-year-old snubs his nose at almost everything on his dinner plate.
It’s safe to say we have our struggles over here. What are your biggest parenting battles?
Here are the big 5, along with solutions by experts.

Cleanup conundrums
“Clean up. Clean up. Everybody. Everywhere. Let’s clean up and do our share.”

There was a time when I sang that song joyfully as my oldest daughter sweetly put away her toys.

Life got busy, and by the time her younger brother was 2, that song was no longer a part of our repertoire. Instead I alternated between irritably ordering my son to clean up or picking up the toys myself.

This is a major parenting flop, according to parenting experts. Consistency is key. Whether you sing the “Clean up” song or simply insist your child cleans up his toys after he is finished playing doesn’t really matter, as long as you follow through.

With toddlers, it’s OK for parents to be involved with the cleanup, says Dr. Margaret Nickels, clinical psychologist and director of the Erikson Institute for Children and Families. “Make it a joint activity so you can really model for the child. It’s not about discipline. It’s just part of what we do together,” Nickels says.

Once children are a bit older they can begin cleaning up independently with specific tasks, such as placing Legos in a container or putting away stuffed animals on a shelf.

“Tell them what you want them to do instead of what not to do,” Nickels says.

Children need to understand routines, expectations and consequences, says Jennie Geartz-Ott, director of child life and family education for University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital.

Even the most compliant children will resist occasionally, and the solution is to not get involved in a power struggle, says Dr. Fran Walfish, psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child.

Only ask children once to clean up or complete a task. Repeating commands will fall on deaf ears, Walfish says. If your child doesn’t comply, Walfish advises saying “Show Mommy how you can pick up your toys or Mommy is going to help you.” This means, Walfish says, a parent will physically put a hand over the child’s hands and go through the motoric motion of picking up toys and putting it on the table or shelf and then patting the child on the back and saying good work. Children will be more likely to comply and assert their independence the next time.

Bedtime battles
Whether you have toddlers who wake in the night, big kids who refuse to fall asleep or teens who text into the wee hours, sleeping is an issue in many households.

For all kids, routine is essential, Nickels says.

Reading the same book every night or saying goodnight the same way can help kids who have trouble falling asleep. Winding down before bedtime is also important, Nickels says. “You have to slow down your whole system. You have to slow down your thinking. You have to slow down your body,” Nickels says. Before bed activities should be slow and soothing, such as calming baths and soothing nighttime stories or songs. Television and electronics should not be a part of pre-bedtime activities. And, older kids and teens should not be permitted to have electronics in their bedrooms, says Walfish.

For children who wake in the middle of the night, parents should be supportive, but disengaging, Walfish says. “Tell your child you will stay there until she falls asleep but you don’t chat with her,” Walfish says.

Morning madness
Missing backpacks. Inappropriate clothing choices. Half-eaten breakfasts. Dragging feet. Whining. Yelling. Frazzled parents. Unhappy kids.

If this sounds anything like your mornings, you are not alone.

“This is when so much fighting occurs. Kids are dillydallying and dragging their heels,” Walfish says. “Kids feel pushed and pressured. Parents feel pressured and anxious and frustrated.”

The answer is to do as much as you can the night before, says Nickels. Pack and place backpacks by the door. Prepare lunches. Choose outfits and make sure children know where everything is located, Nickels says.

“Find ways to slow things down. Anything that can be done the night before should be done. It would be a good thing to include children in getting things ready because it supports their planning skills,” Nickels says.

Though not the most appealing idea, parents should wake up 30 minutes early to ensure everything is ready and lessen the morning frenzy. To encourage younger ones, create a chore chart with pictures and check off morning responsibilities, like brushing teeth and getting dressed. By age 7, children should be more self-reliant and should be expected to get ready without much help, Walfish says.

Sharing snags
For young toddlers sharing is nearly impossible. “They don’t have the concept yet. It’s an in-process piece,” says Geartz-Ott.

Parents need to first set expectations about sharing and be consistent, says Nickels. After parents model sharing, toddlers and preschoolers can practice with their parents. At playdates, praise children for sharing. If your child grabs a toy or refuses to share, Walfish advises asking the other child how he feels.

“Equip the child who was wronged to say ‘Hey stop it!’” Walfish says. Then, the parent should physically take their child’s hands and give back the toy to the other child. “This is all while your kid is having a big ole’ tantrum,” Walfish says. “You just taught your child how to do the right thing. Then your child has to have his tantrum and the way you deal with that is with empathy.”


Picky predicaments
While my oldest child scarfs down everything on her plate, her little brother will defiantly sit at the dinner table without touching a morsel. What to do?

Walfish insists “Get off your child’s back. Never fight with your child about what comes in and what goes out of their body. Don’t argue about eating or pooping or peeing.” Bodily functions are some of the only things children can control at young ages. The solution, Walfish says, is to not cater to your child, but also do not force them to eat. “It’s a control issue,” Walfish says.

Provide a variety of foods at meals, Nickels says, and make sure at least one of the foods served is something your child will eat.

Consult a pediatrician if you are worried about growth and health of your child, says Nickels.