How should I handle profanity?

All ten-to thirteen-year-olds use profanity at times. They may curse, as adults do, out of frustration, anger, or sudden pain. They may use profanity when they’re with friends as a way to feel part of the group or to act older. It’s easy for kids to learn profanity—they hear it on TV and CDs, in movies, and from peers and parents.

Most adults don’t like to hear kids swear. They may tolerate their own child’s occasional outburst but otherwise feel that cursing at these ages is rude and disrespectful. Many parents set firm limits: “You’re not allowed to use that language here.” “I don’t talk that way and I don’t want you to.” “Don’t ever use those words around adults.”

Children who are generally secure and know their parents’ expectations are not likely to use excessive profanity. One twelve-year-old said she wouldn’t curse a lot, even if her parents said she could: “I know you don’t like it.” Some ten- to thirteen-year-olds ask permission before using profanity: “I have to tell you what this kid said in school. Can I say the ‘b’ word?” After a losing soccer game, a frustrated player asked, “Is it all right to cuss now?”

Parents can usually limit profanity at home, but they have less control when their child is with peers. Experimenting is common, and he wants to be like his friends. If they use profanity, he will also.

One eleven-year-old told his mother, “Kids cuss all the time at camp. Everyone does it when they aren’t around their parents.” After school vacation, another child said, “I’ll be back with my friends, so I’ll probably start cursing again.” It’s common for kids to tell each other dirty jokes and to use profanity, especially with friends of the same sex. However, most children of these ages know it’s unacceptable to speak the same way in front of adults.

Some kids, though, don’t get clear messages about cursing. Their parents might use a lot of profanity themselves or may not communicate values. Children who don’t learn limits at home are likely to be reprimanded by other adults, including teachers, coaches, and their friends’ parents, “Please watch your language.”

If you generally feel good about your child’s behavior, try to accept occasional profanity. Continue to set limits and discuss standards of behavior. Remind him that cursing is not appropriate social behavior. Modify your own language. If you frequently curse, he will follow your example. Also, limit his exposure to movies, TV shows, and music that contain bad language.

 If he continues to use profanity, ask yourself if underlying problems are causing him anger and stress. He may be cursing in order to express his frustration. If he’s having trouble with schoolwork, peers, family members, or self-esteem, setting limits on profanity will not improve his situation. You’ll have to identify and begin to resolve his basic problems in order to see an improvement in his language.

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Will we always argue about movies, music, video games, the computer, and TV shows?

“Your music’s too loud!”

“Turn the TV off!”

“That movie is way too violent.”

“Get off the Internet.”

As kids get older, they struggle with parents over control of leisure activities. Kids want to relax with TV, satisfy their curiosity by watching R-rated movies, listen to popular music, explore the Internet, and play video games until they win. To a child, these are enjoyable—and at times fascinating—activities. She gets to do what her friends do, stay busy, find things out, and avoid stressful situations. She doesn’t always think about the value of these pursuits. She just wants to pass the time, get involved in something interesting, and have fun.

Parents do think about the consequences. They know that time spent in front of the TV or playing video or computer games is time taken away from schoolwork, physical activity, socializing, reading, and creative hobbies. And they worry that exposure through the computer and the media to violence, sex, profanity, alcohol, drugs, and questionable morality will have a harmful effect on their child.

The main issue for parents is deciding what to let their child see and do, and for how long. They must set limits, but they also have to compromise, allowing her enough freedom so that she won’t pursue forbidden activities behind their backs.

If you have rules about TV-watching, make exceptions for special programs, nights when homework is done early, rainy days, and other circumstances. Allow her to spend more time on a videogame when a friend is over or when the game is new. If she’s begging to watch a rented video that you consider marginal, watch it with her and then talk about it. And let her play her music loudly at times when no one will be greatly disturbed.

Provide alternative activities for your child based on her interests. Enroll her in classes; encourage increased involvement in extracurricular activities; have books, magazines, art materials, and games available. Suggest she read the paper. (She can find movie, music, TV, and concert reviews there.) Spend time doing things as a family. Plan trips to museums, stores, or parks, and have your child bring a friend along.

Follow your instincts. You know what’s appropriate for your child and approximately how much time she needs for homework, physical activity, socializing, and relaxing. Decide what you’re comfortable allowing her to do, and decide on your “absolute no’s.” Then don’t be swayed by what other children are permitted to do. Families rarely have identical values.

If you and your child argue about movies, try to read as much as you can about the ones she’s interested in. Talk to people who’ve seen them. If a movie seems acceptable, let her go. But if you believe it will frighten her too much, be too intense, or expose her to sights and ideas you disapprove of, say no. Don’t rigidly depend on the ratings. Some R-rated movies may be acceptable if you don’t mind your child hearing profanity, while some PG movies may glorify immoral acts and characters.

 Choose home videos as you would theater features. If a movie’s not right for your child, don’t let her see it. Restrict access to cable movies, using the control feature on the cable box if necessary, and let your child know what kinds of movies she should and shouldn’t watch when she’s at friends’ homes.

Handle TV-viewing in a similar way. Let your child watch programs that are good or at least harmless. Preview an episode of a questionable series or read about made-for-TV movies ahead of time to see if they’re acceptable. Let your child watch some music videos if she’s interested, and at times discuss the contents with her. Use electronic parental control mechanisms when appropriate. If you have a job outside the home, keep a copy of a TV schedule at work so you and your child can talk by phone about afternoon shows. Monitor how much time she spends watching. TV should be a minor entertainment, not a major occupation that takes up a disproportionate amount of time. Your child should save TV-watching for the short breaks between the truly important activities in her life.

Video and computer games, by their nature, require a lot of playing time. It’s OK to let your child occasionally spend several hours at a time at a videogame, as long as she doesn’t do it regularly and she’s devoting enough time to schoolwork, socializing, and outdoor activity. Since you won’t approve of many games, question your child closely and read reviews before making buying or renting decisions. One mother told her ten-year-old son, “You can get a game, but not one that shows any torture or killing.”

You probably view your child’s computer use as a mixed blessing—you’re glad for the time she spends on homework, research, and exploring her interests. The Internet offers amazing learning opportunities. You also may accept time spent on instant messaging as a good alternative to phone use. But you may be concerned about extended Web-surfing and on-line chatting, and justifiably worried about the harmful or dangerous content she may encounter. Again, use whatever electronic parental controls you find appropriate and limit computer use in the same common sense way you limit TV and video game time.

Finally, like many parents, you may argue with your child about her choice of music. Try to be patient. Occasionally listen with her and let her play her music in the car. She’ll appreciate your interest, and you’ll learn something about her taste and thinking. You may be surprised to discover positive messages in music you’d previously considered harsh or even harmful. In general, let her listen to the music she likes, but keep her from buying CDs you strongly object to. Educate yourself by looking for reviews and questioning other children and adult listeners. It’s hard to control what your child hears, especially on the radio, but you can express your displeasure with certain lyrics and ideas.

As long as your relationship with your child is strong and she’s doing well in school and with peers, you don’t have to worry about lyrics having a negative influence on her. If she’s having trouble at home and elsewhere, she may be more susceptible to the negative messages in her favorite songs. Rather than censor the music, try to make positive changes in her life. Strict limits alone may only encourage her to lie about what she’s doing.

When you set limits on any of your child’s leisure activities, are calm and don’t make fun of her choices. You want to criticize a program or product, not your child. Instead of shouting, “Only a stupid person would waste time on such trash,” say, “Don’t you think this program makes girls and women seem unintelligent? I don’t like our family watching shows with that message.” She might be more willing to follow your suggestions and rules if you explain your objections and treat her with respect.

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Why is my child a show-off?

“Hey, watch me!”

“Look what I’ve got!”

“I’m buying a better one!”

“See what I can do!”

All kids, particularly at ten and eleven, show off. They demonstrate their skills or show possessions they’re proud of. Bragging can be a way to get peer approval or to feel equal to others. It’s also done in fun. As long as a child is generally caring and responsible, occasional showing off is not a problem.

Some parents actually encourage their child to be a show-off. A parent who repeatedly says, “You’re the only skilled one on the team,” or, “You’re much prettier than the other girls around here,” will reinforce self-centered ways. A child who’s not taught to consider other’ feelings won’t realize that most adults and children find showing off offensive.

While some kids are encouraged in their negative behavior, most who constantly boast and act silly do so because they’re insecure or unhappy. A child who behaves this way may feel unpopular with his peers or may lack sufficient support or guidance from his parents. He may show off in order to hide disturbing feelings.

Such a child often creates problems. At school he may be the “class clown,” and at home he may argue frequently with his siblings. With friends, he may be silly and disruptive. Such acting out is a way for him to release frustration and seek attention.

If your child consistently shows off, try to find out why. Begin by asking him what he thinks, although you may find him confused and unable to explain his feelings. Ask yourself these questions: Do I spend enough time with him? Do I encourage and compliment him? Does he feel overshadowed by his siblings? Is he jealous of them? Does he have friends? Does he do well in school? Is he compensating for what he sees as a defect, such as being overweight or small for his age?

Also ask yourself if you are somehow encouraging your child to show off. Do you talk about respecting other people? Do you make it clear that bragging is unacceptable? Do you set a good example for him? If you haven’t been setting firm enough limits, let him know what your expectations are. Talk to him about the importance of being considerate, modest, and patient.

 If you have been setting limits on showing off, becoming stricter won’t necessarily change your child’s behavior. He may feel angry, pressured, and upset at not being able to please you. He may continue to show off and become louder and more boisterous to rebel and express his frustration.

Instead, help him deal with the problems that cause him to show off. If he’s doing poorly in school, work with him on lessons and assignments and talk to his teachers. If he has few friends, make it easier for him to join a team or have classmates over.

If the problem is his relationship with the family, work on changing the way you treat him and his siblings. Concentrate on his strong points rather than his weak ones. Don’t compare him to his siblings. Try to give him enough positive attention so that he feels good about himself and has less need to brag.

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How can I encourage self-confidence?

One of the most important tasks parents have is to consistently let their child know she’s capable, loved, and worthy of attention. Her self-esteem is based largely on feedback from her parents. If they show they value her, she’ll generally feel good about herself. If they concentrate on her faults, she may develop a poor self-image.

It’s normal for ten- to thirteen-year-olds to have changing opinions and fleeting self-doubts during this self-conscious stage. One moment they boast about their skills and the next moment put themselves down: “I’m a good hockey player.” “I can’t sing.” “I’m too tall.” “I’m smart and do really well in school.” “I can make people laugh.” “I stink at lacrosse.” “I’m so fat and ugly.” “I do everything wrong.”

Because kid’s feelings about themselves fluctuate, it’s important for parents to emphasize strengths rather than weaknesses. The attitude a child develops about herself during pre-adolescence, whether positive or negative, helps determine the direction she’ll go in when she enters adolescence, a period of even greater uncertainty.

Some parents are not supportive. In an effort to improve their child’s behavior or to express frustration and disappointment, they speak harshly: “You’re such a slob.” “Why can’t you be like your sister?” “What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you speak up?” “You run too slowly.” “You’ll never get to college at this rate.” A child who hears these messages feels she can never please her parents or live up to their standards. Her grades, her appearance, her abilities, or her personality will never be good enough. In such circumstances, it’s hard for her to develop confidence.

Some parents who speak negatively were themselves criticized as children and may have grown up with a lack of confidence. Even though they once struggled against harsh words and treatment, they though repeat the pattern with their own children.

Other adults, particularly teachers, can influence a child’s self-Schools rarely work hard enough at building confidence or offering praise. More often, students are reprimanded for turning in work late, making mistakes, or talking. One child may get a poor grade on a project even though she put in hours of hard work. Another who is forgetful may be embarrassed in front of the class: “You’re always turning your work in late.”

Coaches, too, can affect a child’s sense of confidence. An encouraging coach can make a child feel good, regardless of her athletic ability. A demanding coach can make even a skilled young athlete doubt herself: “One more bad pitch and you’re out.” “What’s wrong with you? Go after the ball.”

You probably know if your child lacks confidence, since a poor self-image is hard to hide. She may frequently put herself down or say, “I can’t,” “I’m no good,” or, “I’m the worst on the team.” You can tell a lot from her body language, especially if she slouches, doesn’t make eye contact, or carries her in an overly self-conscious way. If you detect a consistent pattern of negative thinking, you need to help her feel better about herself.

Start by evaluating the messages you give her. Do you encourage her self-doubt? Are your expectations too high? Do you respect her feelings? Are you too demanding? Do you say things that make her feel inferior? Do you tell her you love her? Are you hard to please? Do you dwell on her weaknesses but take her strengths for granted?

Give her more verbal rewards. Praise her accomplishments and point out her talents and endearing traits. Talk often about her successes and ignore or minimize her faults. Encourage her and offer support when she takes risks such as trying out for a school play.

Talk, as a family, about what you like in yourselves and each other, and what you have to offer: “Your smile makes other people feel happy.” “Why do you think Alison and Megan like you so much?” Discuss issues that contribute to your child’s lack of confidence: “Would being taller really make you a better person?” “What’s wrong with being shy?”

Help your child find activities in which she can succeed. If she’s not good at team sports, have her try an individual sport such as swimming, tennis, karate, or gymnastics. Encourage her to pursue special interests in computers, music, art, or dance. Involve her in community service—she’ll feel good about helping others.

If she’s discouraged about her schoolwork, help her with difficult lessons and assignments, consider hiring a tutor, and investigate special programs that might make her feel better about her abilities as a student.

Once you start treating your child in a more positive way, you should see changes in her behavior and attitudes. She may seem more confident and begin to smile more. She also may start to treat friends and family members in nicer ways as she begins feeling better about herself. In all areas of her life, improved self-esteem will help her feel happier, more satisfied, and more successful.

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How can I help my child be a better sport?

Most parents want their child to be a good winner and loser. They want him to try his best in every situation and accept any outcome with grace. They have a strong stake in his sense of sportsmanship. They believe his behavior reflects on them, and if he’s a poor sport, they’re not only disappointed and angry, but embarrassed.

Kids like to win games, have the highest grades, get the starring roles, be first in line, win elections, and get prizes. Most of the time, though, a child is not number one. Defeat and mistakes are inevitable. Occasionally a coach or teacher will give a good sportsmanship award or credit a child with trying. But there are few rewards for those who lose.

A child who is a poor sport loses control easily. He may be moody or angry. He may have outbursts and throw a tennis racket, tear up a paper with a poor grade, kick a chair, or curse at an opponent. He also may be disrespectful to a teacher, counselor, umpire, coach, or parent as he vents his frustration. On a team he may belittle his peers: “Why can’t you hit the ball?” “What kind of throw was that?” “It’s your fault we’re losing the game.”

Sometimes a child will get down on himself and question his abilities: “I’m never entering another stupid art show again.” “I always lose the camper contests. I must be the worst kid here.” “I’ll never get on a select soccer team.”

While no one likes to lose, there are several reasons why some kids become poor sports. A child may have unreasonable expectations and become upset when he fails to live up to them. His parents may encourage his high standards by overemphasizing winning: “I hope you beat this kid because I hate the way he plays and I can’t stand his father.”

Parents may be impossible to please: “You’re not trying hard enough.” “I know you could have won the science fair if you had put more time into it.” “Too bad you came in second.” Some parents don’t set firm enough limits on their child’s displays of bad sportsmanship. They encourage his misbehavior by not trying to stop it. Poor sportsmanship is sometimes a sign of low self-esteem. A child who lacks confidence may get easily upset when he doesn’t do well. Lack of sportsmanship may also indicate that he’s in over his head, frustrated because he’s competing in situations where he doesn’t stand a fair chance. A child who doesn’t enjoy competition may not react well no matter how much support he receives.

Most pool sports are aware of being out of control and would like to behavior. However, they don’t know how to handle difficult situations. They need help and guidance when they make a mistake or lose a competition.

Tell your child about how important good sportsmanship is. Talk about how other people- friends, acquaintances, famous competitors—react to success and adversity. “She lost the election, but she still promised to support her opponent.” “When that tennis player threw his racket and cursed, everybody booed.” Let him know that it’s also important to be a good winner, one who is gracious rather than cocky.

Before he enters a competition, remind him about his behavior: “You look better when you show control.” “Have fun.” “I don’t want to hear you yell or complain.” Set limits on his negative actions and discuss consequences: “If you keep throwing your helmet, I won’t let you play.” “If you can’t control your emotions, you’ll have to quit the swim team.” Praise signs of good sportsmanship. If he handles himself well reward him with a hug, a pack of baseball cards, a note, or a treat.

Evaluate the competitions he participates in. Perhaps they’re too stressful. Some kids are spurred on by competition, while others are upset by too much of it. Your child’s sportsmanship may improve in a less intense atmosphere.

If you suspect that his attitude is rooted in a poor self-image, think of ways to increase his confidence. Spend more time with him, have fun together, encourage him in all his activities.

Don’t let winning or losing affect your love and acceptance of him in any way.

Try to be a good sport yourself. Do you react angrily when things don’t go your way at work, at home, on the road, or during leisure time? Do you congratulate others on their successes? Are you gracious when you succeed? Do you put too much pressure on your child? If you change your attitude, you are likely to see a difference in his behavior.

Talk to coaches or teachers about helping your child become a better sport. Suggest they hold a team or class meeting on the values and characteristics of good sportsmanship. Look for books or articles on the subject to share with your child.

At times, he may have a legitimate reason for feeling “things aren’t fair—I shouldn’t have lost.” An umpire may make a bad call. A teacher may make a mistake. Another player may cheat. One girl became upset in gym class as the teacher continually called on the most skilled girls to demonstrate volleyball techniques. When she asked why, the teacher said, “I don’t want the other girls to be embarrassed if they miss the ball.” Your child may have a right to complain, but he should learn, with your help and guidance, how to handle situations without acting like a bad sport.

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