Q: My son always makes up stories at school. He would say that his classmate took his stationery and his teacher took them to see lions. How can I get him to stop lying?
Children of 3 to 4 years old are still learning to distinguish between reality and imagination. They would make up tales and distort facts. Sometimes, children fib because they are imaginative. They may say that they saw lions, tigers and elephants at school. They may mix up the reality and imagination. They do not understand that lying is a bad thing, or even do not know they are lying. Children around this age are not capable to cover up truth on purpose. Therefore, you do not need to be too concerned about him lying. Instead, you can help him expand his imagination by encouraging him to tell you more about his stories, and even draw them out.
From around 4 years old, children have more complex thinking. They care about what others think about them. They lie to avoid punishment or blame from parents. Sometimes, they may make up stories to set something up for advantage, or may exaggerate the truth to impress others. So first of all, you need to understand the reason behind his lie. Blaming your child would only stop him from being honest with you. Instead of pointing out his misbehaviour at once or calling him a liar, let him understand that it is alright to admit any fault; it is also good to be responsible and to try to face problems. For example, your child may claim that his stationery has been stolen by his classmate when he actually lost it. You can ask him to tell you what happened in details and listen patiently. Usually, you can find flaws in a preschooler’s lie. You need to encourage him to figure out a solution. Tell him, “I see. You lost your ruler and are afraid that I will be angry at you. I know that you did not really want to lose it. But I will be disappointed if you don’t tell me the truth. How about we ask the teacher and friends in class tomorrow and see if we can find it. Now let’s think how to prevent your stationery from being lost next time. If he claims that his stationery has been stolen by his classmate, hoping to get advantages such as new stationery from you, you should respond in the same way as above. Instead of buying the stationery immediately to satisfy him, consider use it as a reward for other desirable behaviour later. ”
Remember to praise your child for being honest if he admits his mistakes, and he will be honest with you. To explain the importance of being honest, you can read children’s books with your child, such as “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, “George Washington Chopped down a Cherry Tree”, etc. However, the key to teach your child of being honest is to be his role model.
Q: My daughter likes to talk back. She always has reasons to reject my requests and even argue for less punishment. How should I respond to her?
After entering kindergarten, children begin to have their own thoughts and opinions. They may insist on their way as the best. Therefore, your child seems to be confronting you often. You can try to understand what she really means and avoid using authority or threats to make her yield to you. Do not say something like “shut up”, “don’t be nosy”, “stop talking back, or I will…” Children cannot learn the appropriate way to express without giving them explanation. The lack of communication may also harm your parent-child relationship, making her not willing to talk with you anymore.
Some children would think that their parents neglect their feelings and try to gain attention by talking back. You can chat with your child on topics of her interest, like her favourite cartoon, popular games among her classmates, etc. By giving her more appreciation and support, she will know that her parents care about her thoughts and feelings if she expresses them in a proper way. Therefore, purposely ignore your child when she talks back, but respond to her immediately when she expresses herself politely.
When your child likes to bargain with you, you can set rules with her in advance. Remember to listen to her and discuss together the rules and consequences of breaking the rules. When your child breaks the rules, you need to consistently enforce the agreed consequences. Alternatively, praise her when she follows your commands.
Also, reflect on yourself whether you like to argue. Your child may imitate you and respond to others rudely. Therefore, be a role model and teach your child about politeness and respect in everyday life.
Q: My 3-year-old daughter wants to wear the same dress every day. She will protest when she does not get her way. What shall I do?
Children around this age do want to have control over things. Therefore, your child may be very concerned about things in her everyday life such as choosing her own clothing. There are various reasons for her to insist on wearing the same dress. For example, she feels comfortable in it, or she likes the colour and pattern a lot. Sometimes, the more you stop your child picking her dress, the more she would insist.
Therefore, you may let your child pick her own clothes. If you know that your child cannot wear her most favourite clothes for some reasons, you can let her know in advance. For example, if the dress is not dried, you can tell her, “Mom knows that you like that dress a lot, but it needs to be washed when it is dirty. Let’s choose another one for tomorrow. Would you like the pink sweater or the blue strap skirt?” Clear and consistent instruction let children understand parents’ requirement. Your child may protest at the beginning. However, you can ignore her misbehaviour and let her know that you will not fulfil her requests for her protest. She will gradually learn to change her clothes regularly.
If possible, bring your child with you when you shop for her clothes. Give her some right to choose her favourite clothes. Moreover, pay attention to the features of your child’s favourite clothes, such as texture, colour and design. Buy her some similar ones and she will be more willing to wear them. Praise your child’s outfits from time to time to enhance her confidence and acceptance in wearing different types of clothes.
Q: My son has started to play with his penis. Should I be worried? How should I explain to him the importance of personal privacy?
Children are curious about their body and they would question you the bodily features of others. To learn about their body, they would touch different parts of it, including the sex organ. It is a common phenomenon. You do not need to be shocked or worried, and do not blame your child for that. Children are sensitive towards adult’s response. Your overreaction would make him feel guilty about his exploration of his body or could even attempt to do more of the prohibited behaviour.
When you see your child playing with his penis, try to withhold your embarrassment. Be relaxed and calm. You can make use of the opportunity to teach him the body parts. For example, you can say, “This is your penis/ genital (for girl). It is an important part of your body, just like you have hands, feet and eyes, ears, mouth and nose”. Try to describe the organs with their proper names. Using too many colloquial names will confuse your child.
You need to tell your child consistently and gently that it is impolite to put his hands into his pants; and teach him the proper behaviour in the public. “You need to keep your hands outside the pants.” Try to set up some boundary with him, so that he knows which parts of his body need to be covered and which can only be touched by himself. You can teach him, “Your penis/genital is a very private part of your body. You can only touch your penis at a place when you are alone, just like when you are taking a bath.” At the same time, you can teach him to respect others’ privacy, “Similarly, the genitals of others are their private parts. You can’t touch or peep as you like.” You can also explain to him that because there are a lot of germs on his hands, he cannot rub his eyes, touch his sex organ and suck his fingers.
If your child still puts his hands into his pants in public, remind him of the agreement. You can ask him to stop or go to a place with privacy. You can also choose a gestural cue with your child, so that you can remind him inconspicuously when he forgets the rule without making him embarrassed in front of others.