Written by The Parenting Center at Children's Hospital

Bad Playdates

Q. My son's best friend, a fellow four-year-old next door, is a beast, to put it mildly. He's destructive, defiant, and doesn't heed his parents, much less me. Playdates are a disaster. How can I steer my son away from him, when he sees him next door everyday?

A. If you decide to try to keep your son from playing with the “beast”-next-door, do it with honesty. Let him know that you have a hard time with this particular child—we’ll call him “John”—and you would rather invite someone else over. Of course this will involve the risk of confrontation if your son tells John why he has not invited him over or why he can’t play at John’s house.

It is also important to keep in mind that many children go through stages that seem bossy or defiant. It would be a shame to judge this child today and find your own child being similarly judged down the road. Given the proximity, you may be better off making the visits more manageable. Try limiting the playdates by organizing them around a specific activity. John could come over to play a game or do a project for an hour. And make it clear to your son and his friend that your house rules must be followed. When rules are broken or either of them is disrespectful, playtime is over and John needs to go home.

 

Biters

Q. My nine-month-old daughter has started to bite me. It isn’t hard and she doesn’t seem angry when she does it, but I want to nip (sorry!) this behavior in the bud. Any tips?

A. You are definitely not the first parent to be surprised and dismayed to find yourself on the receiving end of a baby bite! Babies this age often explore the world around them by putting objects in their mouths. This activity, combined with emerging baby teeth, often causes infants to bite down on toys, blankets, and even caregivers. If teething appears to be the primary cause, make sure your baby has a teething toy or a chilled damp washcloth.

A nine month old is beginning to discover the power of cause-and-effect behaviors. When a baby bites, Mom usually responds loudly and quickly. The baby probably finds this reaction entertaining and may repeat the behavior. When your daughter bites you, make sure your response is boring and consistent: simply say, “No biting,” in a firm voice and redirect her attention to a toy or activity.

 

Health Obsession

Q. Is it normal for a kindergartener to be obsessed with death? We’re all healthy, thankfully (including his grandparents), but my son’s freaking out about growing up and dying one day.

A. Rest assured that your son is right on track developmentally. Fairy tales (where people die and come back to life) make perfect sense to preschoolers because they do not have a sense of permanence. Around age five, children’s thinking changes and they can now understand the concept of death being a permanent state. Often they have had some experience with loss by this time, at least with a pet or a scene from a movie. Separation anxieties often resurface as children try to make sense out of what this realization means.

Religion can comfort people and offer an acceptable explanation of death to children. You should make use of whatever religious beliefs you have. Be careful to clarify that the physical body ceases to live and grow after death. If you do believe in an afterlife be prepared for questions about heaven as a real place where we might visit our loved ones. If you do not believe that souls go to heaven, it’s o.k. to say we don’t know what happens to a person after death, but what’s important is how one lives.

You will need to reassure your son that you take good care of yourself and will probably live until you are very old. He needs to hear that there will always be someone to take care of him. Your reassurances will help him start to develop his own personal narrative and interpretation of the life cycle, something we do throughout our lives.

 

For more articles from The Parenting Center, click here

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