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Growing Concerns (11/16/2003)
By Dr. Martha Erickson
A question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson of the

University of Minnesota


Question: We have bought all kinds of great toys for our toddler, but most of the time she ignores them and goes right to the kitchen cupboards to play with the pots and pans. She throws a fit if I don't let her play with them, but it really is a nuisance. What can I do?

Answer: It's not surprising that your toddler loves to play with the pots and pans. They're shiny, they make loud noises, and they're what she probably sees you using-- three ingredients for successful "toys" for tots. I understand, though, that you find it irritating to have her cluttering your kitchen and getting the pans dirty.

Perhaps you can arrive at a happy compromise. Young children often love to have their own kitchen cupboard down low where they can reach it, maybe marked with a special sticker. You can fill the cupboard with interesting odds and ends just like what mom and dad use for cooking: pots and pans, big wooden spoons, plastic bowls and cups, and metal measuring spoons that jangle when shaken. You might want to put child-safe latches (available at most hardware stores) on your other cupboards to keep your things clean and organized. (This is also a great way to keep hazardous cleaning supplies away from little hands.) If you don't want to designate a cupboard for your child, you could use a small laundry basket and keep it in a corner of the kitchen.

Although your question is a relatively simple one, it does raise a larger principle of childrearing. When you want your child to stop doing something, it's important to offer here a substitute--something that is OK for her to do instead. As your child grows older, you will need to use that principle in many more challenging and complex situations, so it's good to practice now. Before long you may be reminiscing about the good old days when your child could be entertained so simply and inexpensively with a few kitchen utensils.

Growing Concerns

A question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson of the

University of Minnesota


Question: Every time our 16-year-old daughter goes out, we seem to get into a battle over what time she has to be home. She tells us that we're more strict than all the other parents, that she can never have any fun and that it's embarrassing to be the first one coming home. What is a realistic curfew, or how can we enforce it without being the "bad guys?"

Answer: Curfews can easily become a battleground for parents as their teenagers strive for increasing control over their own lives. Certainly parents need to be in charge, providing the limits and guidance that keep teenagers safe and healthy. But it helps if young people feel they have a voice in decisions. The following guidelines were helpful in our family as we worked to determine reasonable curfews for our kids:

* Instead of declaring an arbitrary curfew, first ask your children what they feel is a reasonable time for them to be home, considering all the circumstances of where, when and what the young people will be doing. In the long run, this helps teens learn to be responsible, reasonable and considerate. (In our family, we found that when we let the kids suggest a curfew, it often was an earlier time than we might have set.)

* Talk with other teens and their parents about what is reasonable. This is important, especially when the problem seems to be that "all of the other kids can stay out later." If parents and kids decide together on some community rules, then no one needs to feel embarrassed because their parents are stricter.

* Establish clearly set rules and expectations that everyone in the family understands. One of our family rules was that the kids would always let us know where they would be and when they planned to return. In the rare case where one of the kids had a problem making it home on time, they knew they could call us without getting in trouble. Now, as our kids look back on their teen years, they say they knew we trusted them and did not want to betray that trust. And, although they may not always have understood it at the time, they say they know we set a curfew because we cared about them and their well-being. A curfew is not a punishment.

* Check into whether your town has curfew laws for kids your daughter's age. Parents need to know the laws and help their children to respect them. To accommodate the fact that many teens are night owls, parents might host late-night get-togethers--maybe for videos and pizza--at home. This gives teens the chance for late-night fun, in a safe place, within the rules of the community.

Through all of your teen's striving for control and independence, remember that young people thrive when they know that parents care enough to set limits. In the short run, we may not win a popularity contest, but in the long run, our kids will know we had their best interests at heart.



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