Let child know in advance the rules for holiday meals


November 13, 1994|By BEVERLY MILLS

Q: How should parents handle discipline during gatherings of extended family? My daughter's cousins are not disciplined the way we discipline her. I don't want to be too hard on my daughter, but it is difficult when you're spending a holiday dinner together and all the other kids are unruly, and you want your child to sit and finish dinner.

-- C.H., Victoria, B.C.

A: Children need to know ahead of time what the day will be like and what they can and cannot do.

"I encounter this all the time with my 3-year-old," says Sara Valk of Atlanta, Ga. "I think if you prepare the child in advance, they can understand that some children behave badly, but they are still expected to follow certain rules."

Parents also need their own plan of action for the entire day.

"We've been through that with our children, where things just unraveled," says Dr. Thomas Lickona, author of "Raising Good Children" (Bantam, $5.95).

"What we did the next time was think about what went wrong and make a plan that heads off problems before they occur," says Dr. Lickona, an education professor at State University of New York, Courtland.

Part of the plan should include some outdoor run-around time before the meal to blow off steam, Dr. Lickona says.

Parents could also agree to take turns monitoring and distracting small children so things don't get out of hand. Perhaps you could bring along a quiet activity such as a craft, new coloring book or video that can be pulled out if small pots start to boil over.

Even with a bag of tricks, lots of parents say you have to be realistic.

Kate Flannery, a mother from Berwyn, Ill., says, "If your daughter doesn't eat all her meat and veggies, so what? It won't stunt her growth. Give the child a break and relax on the discipline for one day."

However, lots of other parents find that approach doesn't work for them.

"I have the same exact problem," says Donna Ciezki of Palatine, Ill. "I just stick to my discipline, even though it is the holidays. I found that consistency is most important. As they get older, you'll find that it pays off. You'll be able to take them anywhere."

While the key to effective discipline is indeed consistency, don't set your children up to fail, urges Teresa Langston, author of "Parenting Without Pressure" (Pinon Press, $12).

"Holidays are stressful for kids," says Mrs. Langston, a parent educator in Orlando, Fla. "They're excited to the max, they've eaten candy all day and they're running on sleep deprivation.

"Expecting an 8-year-old to sit quietly at the table for an hour just isn't realistic."

While a reporter at the Miami Herald, Beverly Mills developed this column after the birth of her son, now 5. Ms. Mills and her husband currently live in Raleigh, N.C., and also have a 3-year-old daughter.


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