Eichenstein said parents must keep toddlers safe and help them learn to overcome their immediate urges, like taking a toy from another toddler. Social demands intensify for preschoolers, who must learn to delay gratification, adapt to their parents' clock and not bite friends. Learning daily routine, cooperating with the rules and speaking politely while making eye contact are victories at this age.
Limits become very important in grade school, she said, as children learn to shift well between home and school. Waking up on time, getting homework done and starting to help with chores are important.
The boundary battles heat up in middle school as peers become very important, Eichenstein said. As kids go to sleepovers, playdates and birthday parties, strong boundaries are needed. Parents need to pull the plug when a child is too tired or over-stimulated. They have to monitor relationships and make sure homework is done.
As for the teen years, "although teens think they are capable of making good decisions, the neurology of the teen brain research says otherwise. Their executive functions, in terms of making good judgment, decisions and overseeing how they are doing in general is still weak. Parents need to take the lead here and make sure that their behaviors are aligned with their goals for themselves, as well as your goals and expectations for them," she said.
Curfews, unsupervised parties, social groups and driving are all fodder for boundary setting, she warned.
McNerney said distraction works better with young children than punishment does. For older kids, he suggested "passive" punishment that doesn't require their cooperation. It's the difference between telling a child to clean his room as punishment, which requires action, or simply taking away his phone.
Bober offers a final word of encouragement: "When it is the most difficult to deal with your child, when you feel like you can't stand them, that's when they need you the most."
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