This is where parents need to remember that they are in charge and must take control in situations like this. The most important relationship in a child’s life should be that of the child with his parent or guardian. Our job is to do everything in our power to keep our relationship with our children as strong and reliable as possible. That way they will follow our lead, take on our values and learn about life from us and not their peers.  You may want to limit and monitor your son’s interaction with his buddy from across the street and have the play dates carefully supervised so that the play is appropriate and reflects your views on healthy play. Do not get trapped into thinking that kids need a lot of time with their peers. They get ample at school without any extra help from us.

There are many things you can do to strengthen your relationship with your son. These are just a few suggestions:

·      Reduced number of play dates

·      Plan one-on-one adventures to the park or beach after school and on weekends with your son, giving him ample opportunities for healthy physical activity

·      Sit down family dinners EVERY night

·      Family game nights once a week

·      Lots of closeness each evening, reading to your son and talking with him about things that are important to him and how we need to live our lives

·      Limit all screen time

Peers can be a competing attachment for your child and the last thing a parent wants is for their child to take their lead from their peers. Parents can take back the lead by making sure that the relationship with their child is as strong as possible. It is terrifically hard work, but a lot of fun and incredibly rewarding.

 
 
You say this is only an occasional occurrence so it may be an opportunity for your son to learn to take personal responsibility for himself. First of all, you need not get involved in his homework at all. Your only job is to provide a quiet, uncluttered workspace, some basic supplies (paper, pens etc.) and the expectation that there are no screens available until homework is finished. If you develop the routine that homework and chores are done right after dinner for example, you have set the tone for what should happen. Of course this may or may not happen when you are out of the home. If the homework does not get done, you can be sure the school will deal with your child. If his chores do not get done, there will be natural consequences at home. (You may not be free to drive him to a friend’s home when he wants, as you have to finish his chores). If you are not fussed as to when the chores get done, then he should be free to choose when he does them within a time frame. (ie.: The garbage needs to be taken out sometime tonight rather than right after dinner.)

By definition children and teens are very egocentric and often cannot see the consequences of their more unfortunate choices. Only by living with the outcomes do they come to understand and begin to take responsibility and know that you will not always be there to remind, cajole and otherwise make sure they do the right thing. And you will not jump into fix things when he has not done as asked. Your job is to hold him close and let him come to terms with the things in his life that do not work for him.

If you must be away most evenings in the school week for work, then you might want to make other arrangements for your son. While he is technically old enough to be left on his own, it is a long time and he will be lonely and may look for things to occupy his time that are not necessarily good for him.

 
 
Many parents find the mornings rushed and mostly unpleasant, but the good news is there are some things you can do to make mornings work better for everyone.

First of all, make sure bedtime is reasonable. Children and teenagers need a lot of sleep, at least 9 hours per night but often more (up to 12 hours). Enforcing an early bedtime, so that your children wake up naturally rather than having to be woken up each day is a great start. This means turning off all screens at least an hour before bedtime (screens are very stimulating and make sleep difficult for some time afterwards).

Other ideas include:

  • Pack lunches the night before.
  • Lay out the next day’s clothes before bed.
  • Gather homework and pack backpacks the night before and leave by the door.
  • Showers and baths should happen in the evening
  • Back up the wake up time to about 20 to 30 minutes earlier so that there is ample time for connection and communication and a healthy breakfast for you with your children in the mornings. When the children are dressed, make time for a story or snuggle time before everyone goes their separate ways for the day.
  • Never allow screens of any type in the morning.
This way your children will be ready to go with a minimum of fuss in the morning. Sometimes children and teenagers believe they need less sleep than they really do, but this is not the case. On school nights, keeping routines simple and making time to get ready for the next day will allow the transition from sleep to getting to school much smoother. 

 
 
I can imagine that your older daughter wants alone time with her friend, which is to be expected. Likely she gets lots of playtime with her little sister so she will enjoy playing with her friend on her own. The sisters are at different developmental stages and will likely want to play differently and expecting them to play together when a friend is over may not be realistic. And, as most parents come to understand, three is often a crowd with someone usually feeling left out.

When your daughter has a play date with her friend, why don’t you take this as an opportunity to have one on one playtime with your younger daughter? You and she could have that very precious time together without her having to share you with her sister. Baking, building a fort with all the pillows in the living room or saving a special craft activity for just the two of you might make her feel special and further strengthen her relationship with you. As she grows up and has her own friends over, you could take turns having special one-on-one times with the daughter who is on her own. Your girls will come to look forward to these times with you and not see themselves as being left out of their sibling’s friendships. 

 
 
The first thing you might want to do is make sure you have all the facts. In the incident you mentioned, are you certain all the boys were having fun, including the one being buried with leaves? The supervisor may have observed things as possibly being hurtful to someone.  Another consideration is that what you and I might view as normal horseplay in our own back yards, is not often acceptable in the playground. Most schools have a ‘no touch’ rule so that everyone can feel safe and simple horseplay does not get out of hand and become hurtful.

The key here is to make sure you have good communication with your child’s school. When you have a concern or question about what has happened at school, it is always a good idea to meet with the teacher or principal so that everyone is on the same page. You may not want to form an opinion until you have all the facts. It is important to remember that the school has the same interest as you do – doing the best for children. Your child needs to know that you are there for him and that you and the school are there to help him be the best he can be.

It is possible that a time will come where the school takes a position that you cannot agree with, even after you have all the facts. In this case, you might let your child know that even though things did not work out the way you had hoped, it is okay and you will get through this together. Remembering that the school is also doing its best will help him understand that even though it has not worked out well, you and your child can weather the storm. It is important that you do nothing to make your child dislike his teacher, as we all know, when the teacher has the child’s heart, it will be a good year at school.

 
 
Sometimes a child feels pressure from adults to perform to a certain standard. This can be the result of praising a child. When we praise children, we think we are encouraging the behaviour to be repeated, but often the opposite happens. The child feels he must duplicate the action to a high standard in order to please his parents and he would rather not try, in case he does not measure up. Avoid praising your child, and instead talk to him about how he feels about his accomplishments will help. It is a great way to let him focus on his feelings rather than yours.  Children need to know that our love for them is unconditional and we are there for them when things go well and especially when there are mishaps.

Sometimes we want our children to do things before they are developmentally ready. Reading, riding a bike and even playing on the monkey bars are examples of things that a child needs to be ready to do before they have the confidence to try. We see this at school all the time. As parents and teachers we need to keep our agenda for children to ourselves. If a child thinks we need them to read, for example, they may balk with simple counter will. We can create the opportunity, but then we need to allow them to exert their natural curiosity to explore the world around them. Rewarding children or otherwise cajoling them may achieve a short-term change but very soon they will likely stop. The last thing you want is a child who will only try things or persevere for rewards rather than for the love of learning something new and interesting.  

When your child comes to you, excited about an accomplishment, focusing on his feelings rather than yours, will allow you to share his joy and him to feel good about his learning. Similarly when he comes to you in tears of frustration at something that has gone wrong, listening to his feelings and holding him close will allow himself to be sad at how things did not work, and let him adapt and move forward to try again another day. It is important not to try to fix things for him.

Continue to talk to your child about how much fun it is to try things, and have fun, even if they cannot do them perfectly. There is a wonderful book for children, called, “The OK Book”, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichenheld. It is a simple book that lets kids know that it there are a ton of things in the world to try, and we cannot be good at all of them but just being okay is just fine. 

 
 
Long ago we used to think children should work out their problems for themselves. But what we now know is that children are often not developmentally ready to do this without support to help them understand social interaction. The child who spoke to you may have misunderstood the situation or she may have witnessed an act that was hurtful to another. At school we tell children that if they witness someone being unkind and do nothing, they are part of the problem. We need to all look out for each other and when things happen, we must all help where we can. If upon investigation, the pushing did not occur then your job is to chat gently with the one who came to you to find out what was going on for her. Was she feeling left out or unhappy? The key here is to help the children in a kind and supportive way to sort through the problem, rather than to look for someone to punish.

You said that one of the reasons you did not intercede was because it was uncharacteristic of your daughter to do such a thing. For this reason alone it would be worth checking out. Is it possible your daughter had been terribly frustrated at the way the play was going and acted before she thought? Was there something else going on that precipitated such an act? As the supervising adult, it is important to wade in to make sure everyone is okay, your daughter included.

Sometimes things go too far and children do not know how to navigate the social waters successfully. Having an adult help them problem solve will teach them to notice the clues that things are not going well and let them move in a more positive direction. This does not mean you step in and try to assess blame in a situation. Instead you may simply help them change direction and remind them of acceptable social behaviour (no hitting, pushing or calling names etc.) At this age children cannot be expected to navigate play dates without mishap. It is our job to be there to assist as needed. 

 
 
Your son is still learning about social interaction and understanding social cues. This is a process that can take a long time. When two children are playing, and another joins them the dynamic changes and the play becomes more difficult to navigate. Similarly when a playmate leaves to play elsewhere, if not socially tuned in it may be thought to be a snub. As with all developmental milestones these social nuances take time to learn and some children take longer than others.

  • As a parent, you can provide good role modeling for him when you and he play together. You can speak about how it would be if another joined the play, or when you want to do something different, he then has a choice about whether he wants to join you or play on his own.
  • Limit his play with other children to short periods of time, gradually increasing it as he can manage.
  • Do not worry about his tears if he becomes upset at the interactions. Hold him close and comfort him without trying to fix the situation for him. Later when he is calm and settled and feeling close to you, speak with him about what was upsetting him about the play and how he might manage another time. If you try to fix things for him in the moment he will not build resilience and learn to manage on his own.
  • Solitary play is a wonderful thing for children. It allows them to explore the world around them and learn about themselves in the process. If he is happy on his own I would not push social play. At six years of age, children get more than enough time with other children at school. Perhaps at the end of the day or on the weekends a break from other children is a better idea for your son than organizing an activity that requires him to be with other children. 
 
 
It’s your house, so your rules – sort of.  But you may want to be cautious about which rules you impose. Your child is now an adult and should be treated as such.  He is a member of the family and should take on adult responsibilities. This includes helping out and taking an equal share of the load with regard to running the household.  While he is not contributing financially, he can contribute by assisting with housework, minding the younger children and making meals. His job is to study and do his best at school.

Your son is an adult and should not need a curfew, nor have to tell you with whom he is spending time. He is old enough to drink so there is a real possibility that on occasion he will come home under the influence of alcohol until he finds better balance. Young people need to learn their own limits and if you impose rules and treat him like he is in high school, he will never learn to take responsibility for his actions. Saying that, you should have house rules for everyone’s civil behaviour. If he is not coming home for dinner, he would need to give 24 hours notice so that whomever is cooking will not make too much food. He may need to know it is not acceptable to entertain guests in his bedroom, nor keep the family up late if he is making noise into the wee hours. 

Your older son needs to be respectful of his siblings and be a good role model for them.  Have a conversation with the younger children, and explain that their brother is an adult now and as such will have adult privileges and responsibilities that they may have when they too are adults.  The bottom line is that everyone in a family needs to be considerate of the others living in the home and must share the space respectfully. Having an open and adult conversation with your son is the first step to his treating the family and his home in a grown up way. 

 
 
Your child is behaving in an age appropriate way. Many children, boys especially are not developmentally ready to learn to read until age 7 or 8. Saying that, there are many things parents can do to ‘prime the pump’ as far as literacy goes. Starting at birth, reading is an important part of every child’s life. These suggestions apply to children from birth to at least Middle School if not beyond.

·      Read aloud to your child every single night. This has a dual advantage of encouraging an interest in reading as well as creating great opportunities for closeness and connection. Make sure the books you read are about things he is interested in. Don’t worry if he needs to squirm about as he listens. This is completely normal for many kids.

·      Severely limit screen time. This includes TV, Video Games, tablets, etc.

·      Play literacy games with your child. You can make them up or you can find ideas online. The Ministry of Education has some great activities at Learn Now BC (http://www.learnnowbc.ca/learningcentre/), or check out the teachers’ store downtown.

·      Get involved in your local library. Most libraries allow families to borrow a basket of books that can be rotated regularly, ensuring there is always something enticing to read.

·      Model reading for pleasure. When children see their parents reading for pleasure, they are more inclined to want to read themselves.

·      Provide lots of opportunities for your son to engage in active play so that he will be ready to settle for a bit to play quieter games and reading activities.

·      Make time each day for him to look at books that appeal to him. Given a choice, most kids would prefer to watch TV or play on computers; that is why it is so important to limit screen time.

·      Is there a family member your son is closely connected with? A grandma or grandpa perhaps? Sometimes it is great to set aside a half-hour a week for them to read aloud to someone else. When my son was 7, he too, was a developing reader. My mum invited him over every Saturday morning to read to her. Every time he finished a book, Grandma had a small treat for him. He loved these special times with his grandma and now that he is a 28 year old, he still speaks of his times with his grandma with love and affection. Coincidentally, he has become an accomplished reader and enjoys reading for pleasure as an adult!

·      Your son’s teachers may have suggestions about activities to support reading. The important thing is to keep all activities engaging and short in duration until he is a bit older.

·      Later if reading still does not progress you may choose to have his learning assessed by a professional. They will look at how your child learns and offer suggestions for assisting the learning process. For now, it is much to soon to follow that path.