How to Raise Kinder Kids

Ha, good luck. It’s a decades-long task, and despite your best efforts, you’ll often wonder, “How did I end up with those troglodytes?” Let these winning tips arm you for the long haul.

Little Kids.

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Photo by Cultura RM Exclusive/Erin Lester/Getty Images

Classic Move:

Calling his playgroup buddy a toilethead.

Ugh, Why?

“Two to four is the teenagerhood of childhood. They are starting to separate from parents and explore their power,” says Joyce Marter, a therapist in Chicago. Rude language can be particularly enticing at this age, too, says parent coach Nicole Schwarz, founder of Imperfectfamilies.com. It’s not malicious; it’s just exciting to get a reaction.

The Fix:

This is a great opportunity to teach empathy. “Ask, ‘What did your friend’s face look like after you said that? What could you say to help him feel better?’ The goal is to start teaching how other people are affected by what he does and says—for good and bad,” says Schwarz.

School-Age Kids.

Classic Move:

Dumping lacrosse gear at the door, waiting for his valet (you) to put it away.

Ugh, Why?

Even well-intentioned parents let their family lives revolve around their kids’ needs. “Parents think they have to provide constant attention and enrichment for kids to be competitive, and they feel guilty asking them to do anything,” says Darlene Sweetland, PhD, coauthor of Teaching Kids to Think.

The Fix:

It’s simple—kids need to pitch in around the house, says Sweetland. “Don’t present it as a favor or a chore; it is what families do for each other,” she says. Otherwise, kids lose out on learning how to anticipate others’ needs—which is more important to their future than another round of fencing lessons.

Teenagers.

Classic Move:

Slamming bedroom doors in your face, grunting when you asked how school was.

Ugh, Why?

“It’s not easy to be a teenager. They are changing cognitively, emotionally, and physically, and they are self-conscious,” says Barbara Greenberg, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the author of Teenage as a Second Language. “They want space but don’t know how to ask for it.”

The Fix:

Don’t chase or yell. Instead, validate her emotions: “It seems like you’re upset. When you’re ready to talk, I’ll be around.” Later (post–cool-off), explain a less rude way to communicate: “Mom, I need a few minutes. It’s been a rough day.” Says Greenberg, “Teens will appreciate that. They don’t like feeling out of control either.”