Q: We are having the worst time with our 6-year-old daughter. She just won't listen, follow directions or cooperate, especially in the morning. We have tried stickers, charts, checklists, contracts and other things to motivate her. Nothing seems to matter.
Her dilly-dallying has spilled into the bedtime routine as well. She and her 4-year-old sister get upset when I call them in for dinner at 4:30 since everyone else is still playing, but it takes them that long to eat and get to bed at 7 or 7:30.
During the school year I would wake up our 6-year-old 1 1/2 hours before the bus came and every morning she would be minutes from missing it even though I hounded her every step of the way.
One morning was really bad with screaming and crying by all. I even cleared the whole kitchen table with one swoop of my arm -- papers, breakfast, stuff everywhere. Everyone was shocked.
My husband has been gone from Monday to Friday for months, which hasn't helped, but his big project ends tomorrow. If things don't improve after that, do we need professional help?
A: A psychologist could test your child for attention deficit disorder, since she's so easily distracted, but frankly she sounds like a little girl who's turned dawdling into a game.
If she pulls your string, you jump and sometimes knock things off the table. Life may get tense in your house, but it never gets boring. And it will probably get much more tense unless you change your discipline.
A good child psychologist or an Adlerian parenting class could teach you and your husband how to do that, but you may be able to turn your daughter's behavior around by yourselves and pretty quickly, too.
Your daughters should respond well if you tell them that you think they're ready for more responsibilities and more freedom. And they are. From now on, let the girls play outside until 5:30 or until their friends go home -- whichever comes first -- and then have them set the table, using the stack of dishes, glasses, silverware and placemats you've put together for them.
When you sit down for dinner, set a timer, giving the children 20-25 minutes to eat, and then send them to their bath when it rings, whether they've finished their supper or not. It won't hurt them to miss some or all of their dinner for a few nights and it will teach them to eat faster, especially if you start serving dessert -- and they don't have time to get one.
Set the timer for a short bath and take them out as soon as it rings. If they haven't washed yet, that's all right: Most dirt soaks off in 10 minutes, and you can wash the rest.
Finally, schedule bedtime for 7:30, even if they have to skip their story and a visit with you to make it. You just need to give a kiss, hear prayers and have your 6-year-old set her own alarm clock.
Wake up and dress your 4-year-old yourself -- because she's 4 -- but let her big sister get up on her own and let her dally if she wants. If she isn't dressed in time to eat breakfast with her sister, call the sitter you've lined up on standby and ask her to come over. You can take the little one out for a short and exciting playdate while she sits with your older one, but without TV or fun or games.
Your daughter will gripe but don't lecture her. Sympathize, tell her you're sorry she decided to stay home and drop the subject. She'll get the message. "Redirecting Children's Behavior" (Parenting Press, 14.95), by Kathryn J. Kvols, will set you on the right track.
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