Parenting Dilemmas: Dr. Phil's Advice

  Dr. Phil speaks with parents who say their little ones are testing them every single day by stealing, cursing, biting and getting naked at the neighbors! See more of their stories and get Dr. Phil's advice:   Stealing Eric and Patty's 8-year-old son has been stealing various items since he was 4 — and it's only getting worse.
  • Children are products of their family system. This is not an isolated act and the child should not be a scapegoat for what may be a family problem. Think about what kind of disruption has taken place in the child's life. Is the child a product of divorce? Did you move recently? Was there a dramatic change in this child's life? Think about why the child's behavior may have started.
  • It's important not to spoil a child during the most formative years of his/her personality. If a child gets what he wants when he wants it with no consequences whatsoever, they learn absolutely no impulse control or self-discipline.
  • Does the child's stealing lead to undivided attention for him? Be aware that that may be rewarding him/her.
  • To stop this behavior, you have to find the child's currency, and take it away. To start with, try removing everything from the child's room except for a mattress, box spring, sheet, blanket and pillow. Then, make him earn back creature comforts with good behavior. Secondly, find a consequence that is in kind. For example, if he steals something worth $8, make him do an unpleasant job until he earns back that $8, plus $8 more. Then the extra $8 has to be given to a needy child.
  • Remember, commando parenting means taking radical steps to stop bad behavior. Keep in mind that right now a child might be stealing a toy, but in a short period of time, it may be a car.
Cursing Karen and Matt are frustrated that their 4 1/2-year-old son Dylan has picked up the horrible habit of cursing.
  • Children can be fast learners. If you're child is cursing, it's most likely because someone modeled that behavior in front of him/her. The most powerful role model for a child is their same-sex parent. And the opposite-sex parent is a close second. Don't fight in front of your child and watch your own mouth.
  • Be aware that your reaction to the swearing can be the reward for the child. Never laugh or let them get away with it.
  • Never give in to try to control the behavior. There must be immediate consequences for that behavior. And the child never gets his/her way when they behave in that manner.
  • It's time for commando parenting. That means you have to do whatever it takes to stop that behavior, even if it means you have to be late for work, take time off of work, or stay in for the weekend to address it. You need to withdraw any positive attention, introduce a negative consequence immediately, like a time-out without any distractions, and you've got to see it through.
  • Use age-appropriate discipline techniques and be consistent. Expect the behavior to get worse before it gets better.
    Biting Miren and Scot's 19-month-old son is going through a biting phase. How can they stop the behavior before someone gets hurt?
  • Remember to use age-appropriate discipline techniques. If time-outs don't work on your child, it may be that he's too young.
  • Be aware of your reaction to being bitten. It's a powerful reward for a child to know he's gotten mom and dad's immediate attention.
  • Kids explore with their mouths; it's a communication tool and it can be effective for them.
  • The first step is response stopping. When you see the child getting frustrated, opening his mouth and preparing to bite, you have to immediately get his attention and stop him. That means eye contact and saying with authority, "No biting."
  • After response stopping, you want to redirect. Physically move your child to something else, to distract him from whatever was making him want to bite. When you disrupt the sequence, then he's out of the impulse.
  • Communicate for your child. Tell him what you know he wants, so he knows you understand. "You're mad because you want that toy. You want that toy, don't you?" Don't give him what he wants, but telling him what he wants makes him feel he's understood.
  • Never bite your child back. You may suppress the behavior instantly, but it's confusing to him and the child may have a bad reaction to that later.
    Getting Naked Beverly and Shea keep catching their 4-year-old toddlers getting naked together. Should they be concerned and how do they stop it?
  • Relax. This is not a sexual behavior in any way. This is a free, unrestricted, natural and normal behavior. They are simply curious, and it's not bizarre. It's not relevant to them. Kids don't understand what being naked means.
  • Don't send a negative message by being too rigid about it. You don't want your child to think they are bad or dirty.
  • You do want to socialize your child. You have to teach them certain standards, like not getting naked in public, eating with their fingers, etc.
  • If you want to suppress the behavior, supervise them closely and communicate to them that they can't do that. But don't overreact. Tell them, "Put your clothes back on" in the same manner you would say, "Don't climb on the counter."
  • It will likely stop on its own when modesty kicks in.

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