"Meg’s approach offers concrete steps to positive change in ways that are organic and make sense."

“Meg gives advice that is breathtaking in its clarity and usefulness.”

“Her counseling is down to earth because she's walked the walk.”

"Meg's strategies are simple, straightforward and carefully conceived."

"I feel I can trust Meg's advice because she draws on personal experience."

"Meg is the greatest; I wish I had her in my life when my kids were babies."


Parenting Q & A

Meg Answers Your Parenting Questions

Want more free tips?

Sign up for the Parenting SolutionsTM e-mail newsletter.

To access past issues of the free Parenting Solutions newsletter click here.

I'm tired of my children's whining? What can I do?

Nobody likes whining, so it's understandable that it bothers you, and good that you want to do something about it. Many parents think it's natural for kids to whine so they put up with it. I think that's a bad idea, since whiny children turn into whiny teenagers... turn into whiny adults!

The solution to the problem is very straightforward and surefire. The way to put an end to whining is to NEVER RESPOND OR GIVE IN TO IT! Children (and adults) exhibit behavior that works for them. When a behavior stops working, they won't employ it anymore. So, for example, when your child whines, “I'm huuuuungry!” Simply say, “Is there something you'd like to ask for in a proper tone of voice?” Do not respond to their plea until they ask in a normal and polite tone: “Mom, I'm hungry. May I please have a snack?” Then respond immediately with “Of course! When you ask me nicely, I'm happy find a delicious snack for you.”

What about instances when you can't or aren't going to give them what they want at that moment? Well, the rule still holds. If you are not able to give your child a snack at that moment, you still don't engage in a discussion of the problem until he asks in a polite tone. Then, you can tell him that you hear that he is hungry, and you understand that it's uncomfortable, but that as soon as you get home you will take care of getting him something. Or, if your daughter whines that she, “really, really needs that Barbie doll” she sees while you're in the store, don't enter a conversation with her about it until she can express her desire in a proper tone. Say, “as soon as you tell me something about that Barbie, without whining, I'm happy to discuss it.” When she stops whining and says in a non-pleading tone, “that's a really nice Barbie. I'd love to have that.” You can respond by asking her what she likes about it, discussing it with her, and then telling her that you will put it on her gift wish list as soon as you get home for a possible present for the next holiday or birthday.

Like most parenting strategies, the key is to be consistent. If you give in to whining every once in a while, children subconsciously know that it might be effective, so they will always resort to it. If they consistently get no response to their whining, they will soon abandon the behavioral strategy.

How much allowance should I give my child? Should I withhold it if they don't do their chores?

My philosophy on allowance is that 1) it is a tool to teach children about money, and 2) it gives children some control to buy a non-essential item every so often. So, children don't really need much allowance. As a parent, you do your best to provide for their necessities and some extras, with additional opportunities for gifts on birthdays and holidays. Allowance will take care of your child's occasional indulgence beyond that. Figure out how much you need to give your children on a weekly basis to allow them to save enough for those. You can also give your child a very small allowance but give them a high monthly interest on the amount they save in their allowance ‘account.' For example, if you give your child 50 cents per week and 5% interest/month, if she doesn't spend anything for 4 months, she's already got more than $9.00. With this policy, the amount earned on interest each month at some point becomes greater than the allowance, and kids very quickly learn the value of saving.

Allowance should not be used as payment for doing chores; children should learn that members of a family contribute to a household because that's what families do – not because they get paid for it. When responsibilities are tied to allowance, children come to think that there should be a monetary reward for things they are asked to do. Likewise, allowance shouldn't be tied to good behavior. Once children are bribed with money (or anything for that matter) to behave in the way that you tell them, it is difficult to get them to listen to you at all without giving them some kind of material payoff. Instilling values in your children goes out the window when everything is tied to money.

I am trying to introduce my 4-year-old to new experiences and activities, but whenever I ask her if she wants to go somewhere new (a children's museum, a show, a different playground) she says she doesn't want to go. Should I make her?

The first issue is your child's resistance to new experiences. This is very common with young children. My youngest son never wanted to go anywhere new, yet, once he went, it was difficult to drag him away. To children (and let's face it, most adults), familiarity feels ‘safe,' and new feels ‘scary.' Young children love repetition (just think about how they ask to read the same book or watch the same DVD over and over again).

There are three things you can do to help your children develop a positive attitude toward trying new things:

  1. Prepare them as much as possible for each new experience/situation. Give them as many details as you can about what they should expect, and let them ask questions.
  2. Take ‘baby steps.' For example, say “We'll go to the museum for 20 minutes and see if we like it.”
  3. If possible, provide an incentive (notice, I did not write “bribe”). For example, “The museum is right near the library. We can stop there on the way home to pick out some books, which I know you love to do.”

The second point is whether you should make your children try something when they don't want to. The answer is “yes,” if you feel strongly about them trying it. The important thing is to know before you tell them about the activity whether or not you are going to give them a choice. If you decide that the activity is not optional, say “We're going to a children's concert on Saturday. Let's read about and listen to some of the music ahead of time so you'll really enjoy it.” On the other hand, here is an example of how you might give a choice if an activity is optional: “I think you would have a great time at the new playground I heard about. It has great slides. Would you like to check it out today?”

If you are consistent about telling on occasions when the activity is mandatory, and about asking when it is not, over time, your child will be clear about expectations and appreciate that he/she often is given a choice.

When I try to help my children resolve disputes, someone always ends up unhappy with my decision, even though I make an effort to be incredibly fair. How can I settle these conflicts without one of my kids feeling slighted?

Believe me, with four kids, I was in this situation countless times when they were young!

You can reduce the amount of time spent on high-level negotiations and even minimize the occurrence of disputes by putting the responsibility in your children's hands to work such disagreements out themselves, with the alternative being that, if they can't resolve a conflict quickly and peacefully, the discussion/activity ends and they must move onto something else. There are three important advantages of teaching your children how to work out skirmishes themselves (with NO physical contact tolerated):

  1. They will improve their ability to problem-solve.
  2. You, the parent, don't have to try to be "fair," which it is often impossible to be in at least one of the arguer's eyes.
  3. They will soon realize what is and isn't important to argue over, and that appealing to you to take a side is a waste of time.

Conversely, if you arrive at a settlement for them, at least one of them will very likely feel they didn't get what they wanted (unless, of course there is an obvious, completely fair solution, in which case, just suggest it).

Before you use this method, you must walk your children through the process until they have the tools to negotiate with each other themselves. Coach them through the exercise of each stating calmly and clearly what it is they want, each proposing a solution, and then negotiating a final solution. Once, they get the hang of it, let them try the process themselves. Eventually, you can totally remove yourself: "I'm going to get a drink of water...I'll be back in 2 minutes to see if you've worked it out or whether we should stop working on our collages and move onto something else because you can't figure out how to share the materials."

By using this technique, you give the quarrelers a clear consequence to NOT working it out, and you remove yourself. Most likely they will call you back in 30 seconds with "We've worked it out — come back!"

We found, when we used this technique consistently, our kids somehow seemed to get into far fewer arguments, and when they did have a dispute, they got out of the habit of running to Mommy or Daddy to hand down a verdict, and, instead, just solved the problem as quickly as possible themselves.

My children often ask me to buy things for them when we are out. How often should I give in to these requests?

This may surprise you, but my advice is that you never give in to children's requests to make impulse purchases. That way you avoid struggles over the issue and teach your children the very important lesson of restraint.

A terrific solution to this problem of resisting demands for toys and other things is to create a gift list for each of your children. When your children see something they want (and don't want to purchase it with their own allowance money), tell them that you will put it on their list of potential gifts for their next birthday or holiday (whichever is coming up sooner). When you return home, be sure to write the item on the child's gift list. Your children will take great pleasure in reviewing their gift lists regularly, perhaps almost as much pleasure as they would have enjoyed from having the toys themselves. In any event, the list will satisfy their immediate craving. Then, when birthdays and holidays roll around, you will know what they want and also what to request from relatives and friends when they inquire.

The gift list also lets you avoid wasteful purchases based on whims. We successfully employed this method with our children and found that often, well before the gift-giving occasion did roll around (even, on occasion, by the next time we looked at the list to add a suggestion) more than half of the items on the list were already out of favor. This process was also instructive for our kids; they saw on their own how much their wants were mere whims that changed even before the item could be acquired.

The gift list is both a great way to avoid power struggles at the store and a wonderful opportunity to teach your children a message about restraint that will serve them throughout their lives.

My son is 8 weeks old. Should I start him on a schedule? Or, is it too early?

First of all, babies absolutely thrive on schedules. The trick is getting them on one! The first few months are a little too early for a true schedule, but not too early to gently work toward that goal. Aim for when your baby is about 4-6 months to have a schedule in place, but start going in that direction now.

Here's what I suggest: Look for patterns in your baby's day. Does he tend to become fussy at a certain hour? Does he almost always seem to be ready for a nap a certain number of hours after waking up in the morning? Once you see his natural sleeping pattern, plan naps to coincide, and then try to stick to that schedule.

Remember to put the baby down before he is so tired that he is cranky (because once he's cranky inducing him to sleep, nurse, or do anything else will be harder than it should be). Observe whether he often turns fussy at a certain time, if so, a good naptime is just prior to that time every day.

So the idea is not to so much to impose a schedule, but rather to settle into a schedule that, for the most part, arises out of his natural rhythms.

Once he grows older and you've started to establish a schedule, if he starts to show signs of drifting off during a non-nap time, activate him and do what you can to keep him up until the next scheduled nap. At naptime, even if he won't sleep, make sure he spends the entire nap time in the crib. First, he'll at least rest and be free from over-stimulation at that time. Second, he'll become accustomed to resting and being in the crib at that time. Third, you never know when he'll fall asleep!

Also, after the schedule is fixed, don't forget the other end. Don't let him sleep way after the end of naptime. If he falls asleep a little late, you might allow him to sleep a few extra minutes, but don't let him throw off his schedule by sleeping an hour late.

There are certain times that established schedules don't apply:

  1. When your baby is sick: Even with a cold, the schedule will often go out the window, and you'll have to start all over when he returns to health. (By the way, one of the big advantages of having a child who has good sleep habits is that not sleeping well is a possible indication of sickness. If he never sleeps well - you can't tell!)
  2. When traveling: You can try, and a schedule is comforting, but it's just not always possible. When you return home, set right in to re-establishing the schedule as soon as possible.
  3. When your baby shows that he is ready for a change in schedule: For example, if you notice that he's never sleeping during morning nap time, but lying awake or playing in his crib...it's probably time to move the nap later or eliminate that nap altogether.

Here's why it's so important to develop a schedule once the baby is old enough: Cranky, difficult children are often cranky and difficult because they are just plain tired. Moreover, regular sleeping habits accomplish far more than insuring a child is well rested. Having regular times for sleep eliminates a prime arena for parent/child struggles down the road — when to go to bed. If you start regular naps and regular bedtimes in the first year, well before your child is likely to argue with you, then as he or she grows older, the nap or bedtime will be an accepted custom. Our children had regular nap times and were put to bed at an early hour each evening. Our determination in setting limits and routines rewarded us with happy and generally cranky-free children during the day.