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Kids Gone Wild!


7. Hateful Talk
"My 3-year-old son says 'I hate you!' to his dad and me, even to his grandparents." -- Andrea Menta, 32, Drexel Hill, PA

"When your child says he hates you, he means it -- for that moment," says Fletcher. But he does not mean he'll hate you forever; likely, something you've done (telling him "No more cookies," or not letting him watch Barney for the fifth time) has made him fuming mad. The key is to address what made your child say "I hate you," as opposed to trying to address the fact that he said it. The latter will only have you spinning your wheels as you try to explain how, no, in fact, he does not really hate you. At this age, he doesn't have the reasoning skills to be able to respond, especially when his emotions are running so high. A simple "I guess Mommy made you angry just now, but you still can't have a third cookie" works. When he's calmer, talk to him about how words like "hate" hurt others' feelings.

8. Dreamy Destruction
"My 7-year-old daughter wanders around doing things without thinking -- things she knows better about, like squeezing a bottle of shampoo into the sink, or writing with a marker on the back of a chair. What can I do?" -- Karen Cann, 33, St. Clair Shores, MI

First, make sure there's no physical reason your daughter's focus seems to have slipped, says Brown. Is she getting enough sleep? Could she have a neurological problem? If the change seems very swift or severe, ask your pediatrician for advice. But chances are good that this is just a benign, idiosyncratic -- and passing -- phase. If no destruction of property is involved, "let her know you don't like what she's doing, but otherwise don't make a big deal out of it," says Miller, because the more fuss you make, the more you might unwittingly prolong the phase. If she is causing damage, bring it to her attention and assign a consequence -- helping you clean the dining room chairs is an obvious one. Also, "use her behavior as a reality check," says Miller. "When busy parents are pulled in multiple directions, they may be guilty of paying lots of attention to negative behavior, and little attention to good behavior." So when your daughter does something positive with those markers, like draw a colorful picture, pile on the praise.

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