- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

After I put my 5-year-old twins to bed at 7:30, they get up and play in their room, sometimes for a couple of hours. How can I get them to go to bed and just go to sleep?

A: If after you put them to bed, your children stay in their room, which I assume they do, and they get up in the morning when they are supposed to get up, which I assume they do, my advice is let well enough alone.

Put them in their beds, kiss them goodnight, and as you are leaving their room, say, “If you get up to play, please close your door and play quietly.”

In fact, I doubt you even need to say anything. Just leave, then relax and remind yourself how fortunate you are.

Q: Every morning, I send my sweet, well-behaved son to kindergarten and every evening I face a teenager. When I tell him to do or stop doing something, he gives me an “attitude” complete with rolling of the eyes and sassy talk.

I can’t believe how drastically my son has changed. Within just a few minutes of his being home from school, I am disciplining him for unacceptable behavior. The weekends are a little better.

I spoke with his teacher, and she tells me she has no problems with him. Do you have any suggestions for me?

A: The title line from song popular in 1919 asked, “How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” The reference was to young men returning from France after World War I, but the sentiment is apropos to your son, and not your son only. You are by no means the first parent who has petitioned me for advice regarding a kindergarten child who has “seen Paree” and misplaced his manners.

The problem speaks to the fact that many of today’s children, having been the recipients of all-encompassing entitlement since infancy, have little if any respect for adults. And by the way, you are mistaken that your son is acting like a teenager. Until fairly recently, American teens had great respect for adults. Your comparison needs, therefore, to be narrowed. How about, your son is acting like l’enfant terrible?

This calls for what Grandma termed “nipping in the bud.” You need to send your son a strong, unequivocal message of disapproval, one that will get his attention and persuade him to be more selective when it comes to the influence of his peers.

Are you up to being calmly intolerant? If so, when the first occasion of boorishness occurs on any given day, take your son to his room and tell him that’s where he’s staying for the remainder of the day (even if said boorishness occurs at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning). Add that you are going to relieve his tedium by putting him to bed one hour early.

Calmly make it clear that you are no longer going to tolerate misbehavior that he brings home from school. (Note: If his room, as is often the case these days, is a self-contained entertainment complex, you will need to reduce the level of stimulation therein by at least 75 percent before beginning his rehabilitation.)

Let me emphasize that for your intolerance to come across loudly and clearly, you must implement his confinement upon the first instance of misbehavior, not the second or third. It is axiomatic that the more softly a parent speaks, the more clearly a child hears.

First thing the following morning, say, “I truly hope I don’t have to do that again. I’m not going to, am I?” When you pick him up from school the next day, ask, “Are you going to force me to confine you to your room today?” I’m confident of his answers.

If my experience serves me well, the first instance of solitary confinement will serve to rehabilitate him for a few days. The second instance will suffice for a week or so. The third confinement is usually “the charm,” but be prepared for the occasional relapse.

In the final analysis, the only 100 percent guaranteed, permanent solution is to move to a remote island in the South Pacific or a mountaintop in Tibet.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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