Maudlin and Associates ™
Karen Maudlin
Psy.D., CPCC
Kenneth Davison
Cindy Takiguchi
Manette Galván Turner
Robert Gregory
Daniel Doebler
Trevor Simpson

"I have a five-year-old who is generally a good kid but very opinionated. She also whines a lot. Where do I draw the line between letting her have her own opinion and letting her be a smart aleck?"

A. In the seventies parents and psychologists alike encouraged children to express their feelings. What they didn't realize is that children would express everything else as well and not always in an appropriate or respectful way. Fortunately today's experts recommend parents set limits for their children. While it is hard to figure out where the line is between healthy expressions of emotion and inappropriate behavior, here are some ideas to help you establish behavior guidelines:

Let your gut be your guide. If you're bothered by your daughter's behavior, you can be assured that others will be, too. When you feel irritated, let that be your signal to step in and teach her a better way to express herself.

Help her rephrase her statements. If your daughter whines, "You never let me have my friends over," physically move to her level, touch her arm, look into her eyes, and say, "I'm not sure you know what never means." If she responds with the correct definition, then ask her to restate her complaint using an "I" statement, where she expresses her need or want in a sentence that starts with the word I. For example, she might say, "I want to have Fiona over to play." Once she expresses herself this way, try to frame your response with an "I" statement like, "I understand you'd like to have her over. I like Fiona, too, but today won't work because we have MOPS. Why don't you let me dial the phone and you can ask her over for Thursday." Be sure to add positive verbal encouragement, such as, "I like it when you ask me sweetly."

Take time to teach. We can sometimes overestimate what our children are capable of. We need to remember that they only understand what someone has taken the time to teach them. A 5-year-old is still learning to be polite, to take turns, to reciprocate invitations, to look people in the eye, and to ask for something in a calm way. Your daughter also needs your guidance as she learns to control her own behavior. When she's being whiney or argumentative, gently tell her to take a time out until she has calmed down enough to talk with you. As she gets older, she'll learn to take herself out of a situation when she's upset.

Be a model. Set the example for your child by respectfully conveying your own feelings to others, especially to her. Role-play with your daughter and let her be the mother. It will make teaching proper behavior more fun.

Help her understand the consequences. If whining is a frequent problem, explain to your daughter that when people whine, they aren't very pleasant to be around. Say, "I know you want people to like being around you, so I'm going to teach you how to say what you want without whining. If you whine, I'll have you take a time out until you can tell me what you need in a different way."

Praise, praise, and praise. Notice the times when your daughter talks respectfully, politely, and thoughtfully to others. Your encouragement will go a long way.