Parenting Q & A

Advice for the parents of a boy who doesn't listen and a girl who wants her pacifier. Plus, nighttime toilet issues, and help learning to share.


Q. When I tell my 8-year-old son to do something, he acts like he doesn't hear me. I find myself constantly yelling to get his attention. What should I do?

A. Yell no more -- a nearly fail-safe solution is at hand. You might call it, "Three Strikes, You're Out!" Give your son an instruction one time, then walk away, whether or not he's paying attention to you. If, after a reasonable period of time, he has not completed the task, call a "strike" and repeat the instruction and the procedure. The third time on any given day that your son incurs a "strike," he's "out," meaning he must spend the remainder of the day in his room and go to bed one hour early. (Yes, even if he "strikes out" at nine in the morning!) During his "out," he can come out to use the bathroom, eat meals with the family, and go with you if you must run an errand. With consistent, dispassionate application, this technique promises to improve your son's hearing in short order.

Q. Our 3-year-old daughter still wants her pacifier. We only allow her to have it if she goes to her room and lies on her bed, but it concerns us that she doesn't seem to be outgrowing it. Is there something we can do to get her to give it up for good?

A. The fact that your daughter accepts your limits indicates that she's outgrowing it. At this age, quite a number of children are still using pacifiers and may continue to do so for another year or so. As long as parents limit their use to specific times and places, as you've done, this is not a problem. The same goes, by the way, for thumbs (which can't be taken away!).

In the event your daughter is still interested in her pacifier a year from now, you might inform her, perhaps on her fourth birthday, that "the doctor" says she can't use it anymore. (The doctor is almost certain to agree, but you might want to check with him or her first.) Transferring the decision to a third-party authority figure greatly diminishes the possibility of a power struggle.

Q. Our daughter will be 3 in a couple of months and still isn't night-trained. She's been toilet trained during the day since shortly after her second birthday. When can we take the diapers off at night?

A. The fact that you still put your daughter in diapers at night may be the reason why she isn't night-trained. The feel of a diaper is associated with a time when she didn't have to think about bowel or bladder control. Wearing one, therefore, delays night dryness. She might have success fairly quickly if you put her in bed in a nightshirt with nothing on underneath. Indeed, you'll have to change wet sheets for a while, but as long as her mattress is protected, this is nothing but a minor inconvenience. On the other hand, she may not be ready for night dryness. It's not unusual for children, especially boys, to still be wetting the bed by age 4 or even 5. If you take the diapers off and success isn't forthcoming, you'll just have to be patient with this stage of development.

Q. We have a 5-year-old son who's still wetting the bed nearly every night. We've tried withholding liquids after supper, getting him up in the middle of the night, and rewarding him for dryness. Nothing has worked.

A. Nearly one in four 5-year-old boys is still wetting the bed. The problem has nothing to do with the amount of liquid consumed in the evenings or, as some people think, "laziness." Children who wet the bed are usually deep sleepers. As a result, the "I'm full" signal from the bladder fails to arouse the child's brain. Instead of holding (the civilized response), the child unconsciously releases (the primitive response). Time will solve the problem, but if you'd like to hasten things along, your pediatrician or family physician can help you obtain a bed-wetting alarm system that will signal your son when he has wet the bed and eventually train him to hold until morning.

Q. What should we do with a 7-year-old son who won't share his toys with other children? He's fine as long as he's playing at someone else's house, but he has a great deal of difficulty letting go of his favorite possessions when a playmate is in his territory.

A. Before a playmate arrives, help your son pick out three to five favorite toys he doesn't want the other child to play with. Put them away with the understanding that if he decides he wants to play with one, he must share. In any case, he must share the rest of his things. Giving him this option beforehand will greatly reduce the threat he feels when someone else is handling his things. If, while the playmate is there, he still refuses to share something, put him in a "penalty box" (for example, a chair in the dining room) until he's willing. By the way, this problem is not all that unusual and isn't something to worry about. Some children are more territorial than others, that's all, and need more structure and adult guidance when it comes to learning to share.

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