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RTÉ One, Mon, 9.35pm
Families in the Wild

Q & A

Dear David...

I seem to be always yelling at my kids as they just don't listen to a word I say...HELP!

David: It can often feel that the more we shout at our children the less they seem to listen. Don't forget that, by their nature, many children are distractible. It can seem a bit of struggle to us, sometimes, to be noticed by them when we are trying to get their attention. Typically, we are busy in somewhere like the kitchen and when we need our children we shout for them to come to us.

More than likely they will ignore us because they may not have even heard us. We up the ante and shout louder or more often and eventually they might respond, but often not until we are face-to-face with them and full of anger.

Through this kind of interaction they learn that the only time we mean business is when we are directly with them.

The key to shouting less and being heard more is to go to your children when you want them to listen to you. Make sure your child is looking at you and say, calmly, once, what you want them to do. Then stay with them until they do what you ask. Praise them when they comply.

You will always find that the calmer you remain the calmer the whole house will be. Children even learn to shout less if we role-model it for them!

My eldest is always picking on the younger ones - he's become a real bully. How can I stop this?

David: Bullying within families by siblings is often something they learn from the top. Older children who seem very bullying or very forceful with their younger siblings can, frequently, be simply copying how they feel they are dealt with by their parents.

If you find that you are very bossy and dictatorial in your house then you will probably see your children interacting with each other in the same way.

To counteract bullying you need to demonstrate effective ways of talking and listening to your children and then set some expectations that they will speak to each other in the same way.

It is okay to set consequences for really hurtful behaviour by one sibling to another. Try to get the more bullying child to do something nice for their sibling to make amends for the hurt or upset they have caused.

My kids are always fighting! How do I stop them from killing each other?

David: Lots of children will fight and squabble and row with their brothers and sisters. Sometimes this is just how siblings relate. Sometimes it can be because of jealousy. Sometimes it is about evening-up some previous row or disagreement.

If you can always show through your own interactions with them how you like to speak and be spoken to with respect then they will learn to interact with each other in similar ways. Sometimes you have to intervene in their rows to help them negotiate and talk rather than simply fight.

If it is a sibling rivalry then it usually occurs because children have a perception that things are not fair in the family. Even if you strive to ensure that they are treated equally they may still feel that one child gets more from, or is more loved by, you.

Empathise with their perspective, even if you don't believe that things are unfair in the family. Remember, their antagonism towards their sibling may be all to do with their perception and not necessarily the reality.

We are working parents with huge financial pressures that the kids are picking up on as we are always fighting. We try to explain the situation to them but it's hard for them to understand.

David: Yes, it is often hard for children to understand and in many ways the most important thing is that they realise that they are not the cause of the stress in the family. So, whatever else you do, make sure to reassure them that your parental squabbling is not their fault.

After that it is up to you and your partner to sort out your stresses before they impact on the children. There is unlikely to be any magic solution to the financial trials you face, but do remember that you and your partner are much more likely to resolve them by working together than by fighting about it.

My partner and I are separated but we want to be good parents to our kids. Is there a way to do this now that we are living apart? We love our kids and don't want them to suffer.

David: It is, invariably, difficult for children when their parents separate. Most children describe feeling stuck in the middle of warring parents and they don't like it!

The most important thing you and your ex-husband can do for your children is to accept that they need to have a positive relationship with each of you. That means that, unless there is a good reason, they need to spend time with each of you.

They also need you to keep your disagreements separate from them. They need you not to talk badly about the other in front of them. They will feel a very divided loyalty if they experience separated parents complaining about, or putting down, the other.

As long as you can continue to keep communicating with each other about the children and put your differences aside enough to allow each of you to maintain a relationship with the children then you will be doing enough.

When separated parents can keep the needs of their children paramount, then their children often feel that, in time, they get the best of each parent without the stress that was present when the parents were together.

My husband has a laissez-faire attitude to disciplining the children and I feel that I always have to be 'wicked witch' always saying "no". It's causing tension between me and my husband as well as with the kids.

David: I am not surprised that your different parenting approaches are causing tension between you. It is really helpful if parents can find a middle ground that they are both satisfied with.

Negotiating the best approach to dealing with children can be difficult but any discipline is going to be more effective when it is applied consistently. When you can back each other up then children can't "divide and conquer" you both by manipulating you.

Perhaps you and your husband might want to read a parenting book (I have a couple of good ones in bookshops!) or attend a parenting course where you will see and hear different approaches and perhaps it will allow you each to compromise your current approach enough that you can agree more.

At what age do you think a child can have their own a mobile phone?

David: There is no set age. Each family is going to make it's own decision about when to allow children mobile phones. I always err on the side of later is better. However, many parents like the security of knowing that their younger child is always contactable.

Irrespective of the age at which they receive a phone you need to be clear about your expectations for how they will use it and how they will maintain their own safety, especially if it is Internet enabled.

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