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Cheap Tricks

As a parent, I’d love a “cheat sheet” providing concise, simple instructions to life’s most common parenting dilemmas. Perry Buffington, Ph.D. had the same idea. The Florida-based psychologist is the author of Cheap Psychological Tricks for Parents: 61 Clever, Awesome, Sneaky Devices to Divert, Deflect and Otherwise Outdo Your Youngster. He has outlined a few of his favorite “cheap tricks” he says are sure to help you navigate common parenting issues with ease.

Kids & Blood: Every kid is going to get hurt at some point. But once they see blood, they can get hysterical. To avoid this Perry says to plan ahead. Put a clean, red cloth in your first aid kit, so the next time your child gets a boo-boo, you can quickly blot the blood with the red cloth. “Out of sight, out of mind. It works like a charm,” he says.

Splinters: Instead of approaching a child with a frightening needle in hand, try scotch tape first instead. Buffington suggests first placing a piece of tape over the splinter to bind to it and remove it. If that doesn’t work, no harm done and go get the needle. If it does, you’ve solved the problem without one!

Hyperactivity: If your child is sometimes labeled hyper by teachers and relatives—before you consider Ritalin, Perry suggests an alternative approach. “Every parent I see about a hyperactive child, my first question is, ‘Is he getting enough sleep?’. My suggestion afterwards is to sign him up for piano lessons. Piano lessons makes a child focus, increases concentration, and requires a child to sit still on a bench all the while boasting his creativity,” he says.

Sleep Problems: “Few parents realize that kids before puberty need at least ten hours of sleep at night. Not only does 80 percent of a child’s growth occur while asleep, but lack of sleep can make a child hyper and wired and affect concentration and attention spans,” explains Perry. But knowing your child needs to sleep doesn’t always make bedtimes easy. For parents whose children repeatedly get up at night, Perry suggests three nights of firm, but quiet direction. Every time your child gets out of bed, do not yell, but quietly walk your child back to bed and say “nighty night.” Even if it takes ten times in one evening, don’t yell. Children like any attention—good or bad. Perry says three nights of it will typically break your child’s bad habit of getting up and start him on the path of rest.

Inconsolable Crying: Sometimes a child, especially a toddler, needs to be distracted. If your child is crying and is not hurt, does not have a fever and is not hungry, distraction may be the tool you need. This is especially so at the toddler stage where a youngster may just scream because he wants the toy or the cake on the store shelf. In situations like that, Buffington suggests whispering. “I like to get down on my knees and whisper in a child’s ear the “Three Little Bears” story. It’s a form of distraction and works really well,” says Perry.

Goodbye Struggles: Don’t ever ask a young child if he’s ready to go when you really need to leave, especially at a playdate, says Perry. “I’ve heard parents say, ‘We’re going out to dinner now, is that okay?’ It’s a horrible technique. Instead, say, ‘Time for dinner’ in an authoritative voice.” Perry calls this the “Teletubbies technique” from the children’s show in which a voice says over and over, “Time for Bye-Bye.” Buffington says parents will be surprised at the tantrums and power-struggles that may be avoided by just not giving a young child an option. “Saying: ‘time for bye-bye’ really does work,” he laughs.

Getting Children to Listen: After repeatedly asking a child to do or stop something parents often get frustrated. Dads and moms may resort to yelling, often counting first. These strategies or reactions, aren’t effective. “I don’t know why parents say, ‘I’m going to count to three and if you haven’t stopped by the time I reach three you’re in trouble!’ Of course a kid is going to wait until the parent reaches three before stopping. It’s a game to them,” says Perry. The psychologist suggests bringing back the “good, old fashioned mommy face.” For those who aren’t comfortable with a mean glare that means business, he suggests creating a signal with the child—let him pick what it is. Tell your child that when you are really upset, you’ll show the symbol, such as pointing to your nose, when he needs to stop something. Clearly, that might not work every time with an unruly child who is testing boundaries, but give him a few attempts to stop before you have to move on to another strategy. But in all cases, try not to yell, says Perry, as such attention may encourage him to misbehave again. It’s the cause and effect game that young children like. Plus, if you yell, you’ll set the bar for a child to not truly listen until you are yelling. 

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