“When I grow up I’m going to...” How do I respond?

“I’m going to be a famous basketball player.”

“I’m going to live in a mansion and have a limousine.”

“I’m going to be president.”

Children between six and nine see unlimited possibilities. Their thinking is still magical, and they believe they’ll accomplish whatever they desire. Although they’re beginning to reason logically and organize their thoughts, they live in the “here-and-now.” If a child enjoys ice-skating, it seems logical to him that he can become a famous skater.

Kids think about the future, but they don’t think the way an adult does. They can’t put themselves in the place of someone who has worked hard to accomplish a goal. They don’t think about obstacles, expenses, time, or limited abilities. Instead, they have an innocent optimism that leads to dramatic conclusions: “When I grow up, I’m going to be a star!”

When your child tells you his grand plans, don’t feel you have to set him straight. One father, hearing that his daughter wanted to become an actress, lectured her on the practical side of working in the theater. She burst into tears.

Respect your child’s confident statements and try to learn more about his values and thinking. If he says he’s going to be rich, ask, “What will you do with all that money?” He might list what he’ll buy, but he might also say he’ll share the money with poor people. One child who said he was going to build a “Kids’ World Park” gave details about accommodating kids with disabilities.

Childhood is short. Through the years, your child will discover his own limitations and learn how the world really works. His innocence will gradually fade as he comes to terms with life’s realities. You do him no harm now by allowing him his fantasies and listening to his big dreams.

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Should I tell my child the truth about Santa?

Most young children believe in Santa Claus. They think he’s real, he comes to each home, and he brings all the Christmas presents. From earliest memory, kids are taught to believe in him and they rarely have reason to doubt until they turn six or seven. Even at those ages, many are convinced Santa is real.

Parents who encouraged their preschoolers to believe in Santa may have second thoughts when their kids get older. Is it right for a third-grader to believe Santa is real? Should parents tell the truth? Some want their children to hold onto the belief as long as possible, but other parents feel uneasy about misleading their older children.

By elementary age, most children have heard people say Santa isn’t real. Young friends say, “Santa is really your parents.” Older siblings tell younger ones, “Mom and Dad are the ones who buy the presents.” While some children discover the truth this way, some are unaffected. Their belief in Santa can’t be shaken: “Santa’s real at my house. He really comes and brings the presents, and he even eats the cookies we leave him.” In fact, children with very strong beliefs may reconvince doubters: “You’re right. Santa does bring the presents.”

Some children have a hard time giving up their belief in Santa. After all, he’s a wonderful, mystical person who brings gifts and pleasure. By the time a child is six, her vision of Santa is all-good and she no longer fears his judgment and his unusual appearance. She may hold onto her belief in him because it’s so comforting.

To find out what your own child thinks, ask, “Do you believe Santa’s real?” You may be surprised to learn she already knows the truth. Some children hesitate to share their knowledge because they fear they’ll disappoint their parents. If your child says she doesn’t believe in him, question her a little further to find out what her feelings are: “You believed in Santa for so many years. What made you change your mind? Who do you think delivers the presents?” Most likely, she’ll answer, “YOU!”

If she still believes in Santa or is only beginning to doubt him, you may be afraid of destroying her fantasy. Yet many six- to eight-year-olds are ready to find out the truth, even if they’re a bit disappointed. The truth can’t ruin Christmas for your child, because all the enjoyable and meaningful rituals will continue.

You might be reluctant to discuss Santa because you’re uncomfortable explaining why you misled your child. If she asks why you didn’t tell her the truth, or if she seems to doubt what you tell her now (“Are you sure you’re telling the truth? There really is no Santa?”), explain that having kids believe in Santa is a special part of the Christmas tradition. “When you first saw Santa, you thought he was real. We decided to go along. But now you’re asking questions and you’re old enough to understand.” Explain that your family won’t have to give up the spirit of Santa just because he isn’t real. Talk about what Santa represents - love, kindness, caring, and the spirit of giving. As your child gives up her long-held belief, show her that the values Santa represents will always be an important part of Christmas.

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When will my child give up thumb-sucking?

As children get older, it gets harder to accept some of their habits. Thumb-sucking in particular bothers many parents who find it embarrassing and frustrating. While they tolerate thumb-sucking in a preschooler, they believe it’s inappropriate for an older child.

A six-year-old who sucks his thumb probably does so less often than he once did. This is partly because he’s now occupied with school, afterschool activities, and friends. Most children these ages are inclined to suck their thumbs in private or when they’re with family members.

Even though thumb-sucking decreases with age, most parents want their child to give up the habit completely. Parents may argue with their child over thumb-sucking and end up in angry confrontations and power struggles. Some parents back off for a while and others give up in anger, at a loss for what to do.

There are a number of reasons a six- or seven-year-old (or one who’s even older) sucks his thumb. It may be a well-established habit he hasn’t felt pressured to break, or he may not be emotionally ready to stop. He may suck his thumb at night to help himself fall asleep. If he feels insecure at school he may seek comfort through thumb-sucking, or he may do it when he faces family situations he can’t control such as sibling rivalry, divorce, or constant tension.

Sometimes a six- or seven-year-old gives up thumb-sucking in response to teasing and peer pressure: “Ooh, you still suck your thumb. That’s for babies! I stopped sucking my thumb when I was four!” However, a child with a strong thumb-sucking habit may not respond at all to negative comments or care if other people watch him.

To help your child give up thumb-sucking, first talk to him about it. Pick a time when you’re both calm and tell him your feelings and ideas. Acknowledge his desire to keep sucking his thumb but let him know how much you want him to stop. You can ask for his suggestions: “How can we help you give up this habit?” Remember that while thumb-sucking is a problem for you, it may not seem like one to him.

You can suggest that your child wear a bandage on his thumb to remind him not to suck, or you can gently signal him when he puts his thumb in his mouth. This is more effective than abruptly pulling on his hand or angrily saying, “Take your thumb out of your mouth!”

Try distractions that occupy his hands - playing with clay or helping in the kitchen. You might want to work out an agreement. If he stops sucking his thumb, he gets a reward. One family kept a daily chart for their daughter, and after a week of checkmarks for not sucking her thumb, she got a special game.

Ask trusted friends for suggestions. And if one technique doesn’t work, try another. One family bought their child a fancy glove to keep her thumb covered. Some parents paint a foul-tasting liquid on their child’s thumb, or have the dentist place a special tooth guard in their child’s mouth. Don’t try either method without getting your child’s permission. You should never force such methods.

As you help your child give up his habit, create an atmosphere of respect in your home and try to keep him from feeling humiliated or embarrassed because of his thumb sucking. Then don’t let your other children make fun of him. If he seems particularly anxious, he may be feeling too pressured. You might want to slow down your attempts to eliminate his habit, or hold off for a few weeks.

Throughout this process, give lots of positive feedback; “You’re really trying hard. I appreciate what you’re doing.” Don’t be surprised if steps forward are followed by steps backward. It’s not easy for him to give up thumb-sucking, especially if the initiative is yours and not his.

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Should my child believe in the tooth fairy?

      Children under seven generally follow their parents’ lead when it comes to believing in imaginary characters. If parents encourage their child to believe the tooth fairy is real, she’s likely to go along with them. And if they tell their child there is no such thing as the tooth fairy, she’ll accept that as fact.

      Of course, she may figure the truth out on her own, especially if she’s awake when her parents put money under her pillow. “Dad, I saw you! You’re the tooth fairy!” Some kids hear the truth from older siblings. However, having older siblings can sometimes make a child believe more firmly, since tooth fairy visits have been part of household lore from the child’s early years.

      Children often ask each other, “Do you believe in the tooth fairy?” While they may take different positions, they rarely quarrel about the issue. Instead they’ll say, “Jermaine believes in the tooth fairy but I know it’s my parents,” or, “Sarah doesn’t believe in the tooth fairy but I do!”

      Children who do believe in the tooth fairy sometimes worry about getting the rituals right. If a child’s misplaced her tooth at school or at a friend’s house, or if she didn’t notice it fall out or swallowed it, she may be afraid the tooth fairy won’t visit. Another common fear is that she won’t get to keep the truth; many children are interested in their teeth and don’t want to give them up to the tooth fairy.

      When your child has one of these concerns, let her know she’ll receive a gift under her pillow whether the tooth is there or not. If you want her to continue believing in the tooth fairy, suggest that she leave the fairy a message explaining the special circumstances.

      At some point your child may ask, “Are you the tooth fairy?” Ask her what she thinks. If she really knows the truth, explain that you are and then add, “It was fun to pretend a fairy was leaving you gifts,” or, “I enjoyed thinking about the tooth fairy when I was little, and I thought you would too.”

      If you choose not to teach your child to believe in the tooth fairy, the two of you can still have fun with the idea. You can both pretend the fairy is real and you can leave your child funny notes “from the fairy.” If you don’t want to talk of a fairy at all, you can leave a special treat “from Mom and Dad” under her pillow.

      Magical thinking slowly disappears during the elementary years and eventually all children realize the tooth fairy isn’t real. Still, the myth is an enjoyable one whether your child believes or just plays along. Getting a treat - money, stickers, baseball cards, or a small toy - makes losing a tooth even more special.

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What should I tell my child when he says, “Everybody else has lost a tooth”?

      Losing a first tooth is a milestone for children. From kindergarten on, they look forward to the event as a sign that they are truly growing up. Adults often forget how important the experience is and how devastated a child can feel if he’s one of the last in his group to have a loose tooth.

      If your child is upset because he has “slow teeth,” spend time listening to him and reassuring him. Even though his problem is a mild one, don’t lightly dismiss his unhappiness because his feelings are very real. He wants to experience what his friends and classmates have gone through. If he has older siblings, he’s seen them get money or a gift along with a lot of attention for losing teeth. It’s natural that he wants to be part of this.

      He may have a kindergarten or first grade teacher who makes a fuss over lost teeth. Some classrooms have colorful wall charts showing how many teeth each student has lost, and some teachers offer special privileges on the day a tooth comes out. This can be hard for some kids, especially those with end-of-the-year birthdays who are likely to lose teeth later than their older classmates. If your child is unhappily waiting for his first loose tooth, such schools activities may make him feel worse.

      Fortunately, you can promise him that he’ll lose a tooth. While you wait, you can read him some comforting books about other children in his situation. One mother wrote soothing notes to her child, saying that the tooth fairy knew all about him and would be visiting one day. Other parents suggest that their six- or seven-year-olds wiggle their front teeth looking for a hint of movement. Even if it takes months for a tooth to fall out, a child will feel better as soon as he detects a bit of looseness.

      Occasionally, the first tooth a child loses is one a dentist extracts. If your child has to go through this procedure because of dental problems, talk to him about what will happen. If he’s anxious, let the dentist, know and ask for help in reassuring your child. If your child wants you close by during the extraction, plan to stay with him. However, if you anticipate an outburst, you might want to send him off with just the dentist and assistant. Some children are more in control of their emotions when their parents aren’t with them.

      Before and after the tooth is pulled, tell your child about the “treasure” he’ll get at the dentist’s office and the surprise he’ll find under his pillow. Even though the extraction is unpleasant, when it’s done, he’ll still have the excitement of having lost his first tooth.

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