Neighbor children present bad example

CHILD LIFE

April 02, 1995|By BEVERLY MILLS

Q: How would you handle a situation where the only other children nearby are not desirable? The other 11- and 12-year-olds in our neighborhood are into all kinds of staying out late and wandering from home. As these friends are becoming more important, my children's behavior has regressed.

-- W.C., Charlotte, N.C.

A: Consider this a training ground for raising teen-agers.

Parents from around the country say three things will help: Set clear limits, encourage neighborhood kids to play at your house and involve your child in hobbies or sports.

"We recently moved to a new neighborhood where the only child was one with a bad reputation," says Catherine Lorens of New Auburn, Minn. "We have partially solved the problem by making our home and yard available. That way, we can monitor their activities.

"We have found we're influencing that child, and he has curtailed lot of his worst activities because he has better things to do now."

Give your children less time to hang around kids you don't approve of by involving them in constructive activities during their free time, lots of parents advise.

"Put a lot of effort into helping your children cultivate friendships with other kids in other parts of your town so they will have friends from secure and stable families," says Ellie Ellerbee, a reader from Atlanta, Ga.

One way to do that, says Jackie Dickinson, is to encourage sports and hobbies.

"I had the same problem with my daughter, and one of my solutions was to find an activity that was extremely important to her," the mother from Fredericksburg, Va., says. "In her case it was swimming. I found a local swim club and got her involved. It opens their eyes to other activities and exposes them to other children."

Though these ideas may be time-consuming, they're actually the easy part. When you start to deal with the issue of setting limits, things get more complicated.

All of the parents who called Child Life agree that preteens need clear rules about curfews and where they can and can't go alone.

"Set up rules for your children and let your children see that the neighbor children's parents don't have rules, but you do," says Connie Paetsch of Cleveland, Ohio.

But having rules doesn't necessarily insure that your children will happily follow them, says a psychologist who specializes in teaching children self-discipline.

"By 11 and 12, children do need to learn to stand on their own two feet and remember who they are," says Peter Williamson, a neuropsychologist at Dean Medical Center in Madison, Wis., whose own children are 10 and 12.

"It's hard to learn that, and you can't teach it in a vacuum."

If you look at it that way, the undesirable kids in the neighborhood may actually be doing you a favor.

"A curfew is a good thing for a child to struggle with," says Dr. Williamson, author of "Good Kids, Bad Behavior: Helping Children Learn Self-Discipline" (Fireside).

"I'd rather see a child struggle with a curfew as an 11-year-old than struggle with drugs, alcohol and sex a few years from now. You're laying the groundwork now for what happens as a teen-ager."

With that in mind, Dr. Williamson says, parents need to be open and honest about the purpose of rules in a child's life.

"Tell the child, 'I know it's going to be hard for you to remember what's right for you when you're under pressure from your friends, but that's what you must learn to cope with,' " Dr. Williamson says.

Expect the child to make some mistakes.

"They're going to swear, be rude, hurt somebody's feelings and pick up things from the street," Dr. Williamson says. "And they're going to come home and show you what they've picked up. They're going to be looking for your response, and it needs to be a clear response: That's inappropriate. Remember who you are."

Parents should also expect that rules will be met with a lot of complaints.

"There'll be a lot of whining, stamping of feet and that's not fairs," Dr. Williamson says. "And the rules are going to get broken to see how much give there is. Stick to your guns. A broken curfew means they're grounded."

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.

CAN YOU HELP?

Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608.

* Big blow: "Are there any tricks to teach children how to blow their noses?" asks T.W. of Cleveland, Ohio. "My daughter is 4, and she still sucks in instead of blowing out."

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