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My spirited son (as defined by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka in "raising your spirited child") will be 4 yrs old in one month. I've always found that allowing him to watch tv ends up being a huge battle and constant behavior problems so I'd generally kept it off unless I put it on for them to watch. He's gotten too clever and he's now figured out how to plug it in if I've unplugged it and how to plug in the cable if I've taken that off. And he's gotten manipulative about it, he'll turn it on the minute I'm not in the room or the minute he knows I can't hear that it is on even after me telling him not to turn it on. I'm sure it's become a game and a power struggle with him but I'm getting frustrated with the issue. He's also started to wake very early (5:45am) and I'm sure the draw is to see if he can watch tv. I wonder if it has become the forbidden fruit? It's not that I want to ban it entirely but I also don't want him to think he can go behind his parent's backs if we're not watching. He doesn't list to "you can watch for this time" and he continues to turn it on at every chance. I run a home daycare so my only real rule needs to be that it is not on when the other kids are here as then I have 5 kids glued to the tv! I need some advice to end this struggle once and forall.


Jim Taylor, Ph.D. Replied: I can fully appreciate your frustration with your son, yet giving in to that frustration or allowing your son to win those power struggles will only hurt your son's development in the long run. I can't promise that you will "end this struggle once and for all;" unfortunately, that's not the way raising children works. What I can do is suggest some strategies that you can use that may, in the long term, alter your son's behavior. Keep in mind that I am making some assumptions based on the limited information that you have provided and some may be incorrect. "Spirited" is a nice euphemism, but it is only a make-parents-feel-better label for what in reality is a difficult child (I don't mean to come across as harsh or insensitive, but rather honest because only with an honest look can solutions be found). The bottom line appears to be that sufficient expectations and consequences have not been placed on him (at least not consistently enough or for a sufficient duration), your son doesn't respect your authority, and, as a result, he lacks self-control. Though the "forbidden fruit" theory is quite popular (and may or may not have validity), I also find it to be a rationalization for not standing up for what you value and doing what is expedient (which is always the easiest road to take). I believe that if you believe in something strongly enough and you communicate that message clearly and consistently, then children will simply not have a great interest in that which is forbidden. You say something rather instructive: "my only real rule needs to be that it is not on when the other kids are here as then I have 5 kids glued to the TV." If that's the case, then your son is not doing anything wrong by watching TV whenever he wants. So it sounds like you are sending him mixed signals. The simple fact is that you need to be tough on your son. When I say tough, I don't mean angry or cruel with him. Rather, by tough, I mean that you know what is best for your son and are willing to do what is necessary whether he likes it or not. There are several ways to be tough with him. First, set clear expectations: "You are only allowed to watch TV when you have my permission for as long as I say so and at no other time." Second, establish firm consequences: "If you don't meet my expectation, X will happen." Unfortunately, there are no universal consequences for children. Some basic guidelines, though, are to take away something that he values (e.g., a toy or special time with you) and then give him the power to earn it back with good behavior. Third, make sure he can't sidestep your expectations by making it impossible for him to turn on the TV by himself. Finally, and most difficult, be persistent. You have to administer consequences every single time, no matter how tired or frustrated you are. In being tough, you send some very clear messages: 1) you are in charge; 2) your son will be held accountable for his behavior; and 3) you will not give in. I'm confident that, in time, he will get the message, give up the fight, and change his behavior.
Posted On 2008-04-29 18:11:44
Deborah Maragopoulos Replied: I suggest you turn off the cable. Then lock up the DVD's. You have a clever little boy whose talents can be better diverted in educational activities. We didn't have cable when our children were young. Not that we didn't watch movies with them, they loved the Disney videos, but no TV, not for any of us. Some may see this as a sacrifice for the parents, but it turned out to be a blessing. We never used the television, even videos, as a babysitter. Instead our children learned to entertain themselves. When most families were glued to their television sets, we were playing games in the evenings. They learned mathematics through card games, how to spell through word Yatzee, and skills of strategy through games like Monopoly and Clue. Even as young as four, we would team up with the kids to play a variety of board games. We spent a lot of time outside discovering nature, rollerblading, riding bikes and inside during foul weather doing crafts or turning the family room into a castle, spaceship or Legoland. Our daughter attended a home day care where the inventive mother had interactive activities—a wading pool full of mud or to celebrate a birthday—Jello!! I would pick up my little pumpkin tired, a bit sticky but chattering about all the fun!
Posted On 2008-04-28 20:06:20
Dr. Vicki Panaccione Replied: For now it's the TV; later on it will be other issues. The older he gets, the potentially more serious the issue. You need to send a very clear, strong message that he needs to listen to you and follow the rules. This has become a game to him, and he needs to understand that sneaky, manipulative, defiant behavior will not be tolerated. I recommend that you take drastic action to make it clear who is in charge: Put the TV in your bedroom, or another room and keep it locked when you are not in there.
Posted On 2008-04-13 16:40:06
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