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Tyrants of a certain age

Published March 31. 2012 09:01AM

When did the world turn upside-down? When did children become the bosses in their families? Was I asleep like Rip Van Winkle when it happened? Suddenly, I see parents who are being ruled by their offspring. On what historic day did this reversal of roles first occur?

Perhaps it happened when parents decided that two working adults were necessary to maintain the family's economic lifestyle. Maybe it occurred when a young parent decided that her own parents had been wrong to be so dictatorial and she decided to be different. Or, maybe it came about because kids today are smarter, shrewder, and less compliant. But, whatever the cause, Houston, we have a problem.

Spotting a little tyrant is easy. His caregivers are constantly trying to please him or satisfy his needs and wants. If something doesn't make him happy, he immediately (and loudly) lets someone know. Family life revolves around the child. Everyone's schedule is affected by his schedule. People tiptoe around during naptime; eat when they're not hungry because he is; pick up toys, food, clothing and anything else the little tyrant discards; and watch videos or play games that threaten to put cobwebs in their brain.

When the LT goes out into society, he doesn't care about the general public. In a quiet restaurant, he screams loudly when he is forced to sit in a highchair and eat like a normal person. His food gets thrown around and his parents' food gets cold as they attempt to placate their offspring.

In a library, he careens through the building, carrying a book, yelling for his devoted slave to read to him. In the supermarket, he races down the aisles (because he screams if someone tries to make him sit in the cart) and takes ground level aim at candy and snacks. If his parents are foolish enough to take him to a movie, he wriggles around and disrupts everyone. In church, he bangs on the pew and gives the congregation lots of reasons to pray.

When a LT goes to school, the teacher has her hands full. He expects her to treat him as the prince that he is at home. He won't share, demands constant attention, and voices his displeasure whenever something bothers him. And, he always wants to be first or else he pouts.

In past historic eras, whenever a country had a tyrant as its President or leader, it didn't take long for a revolution to topple him. People will not stand still for a despotic ruler. They chafe at his control and plot and plan his demise. History has shown us that - if tyrants don't change - they lose their power and sometimes their heads.

Apparently, parents of a LT don't realize that they have the power to topple this character. They can create a different atmosphere in their home and in the child's outside world. All it takes is a little strength of will. I have a few suggestions for parents who may believe that their child is turning into a tyrant.

1. Although you love your child to pieces, his life is equal to yours. You both share the same home, the same time schedule, and the same world. Make your needs and wants equal to his. Without being selfish or arbitrary, make sure that you, too, are happy.

2. Insist on a few simple rules. He will be quiet in the library, the church and the movies - or you will remove him from the premises and he will suffer some form of retribution for his poor behavior. No physical punishment necessarily, just time away from a favorite toy or no TV or quiet time in his room or no snack or no dessert.

3. He will sit in the cart at the grocery store or walk nicely beside you without running. If good behavior ensures, he may choose one item to add to the cart.

4. In a restaurant, he will remain seated, be reasonably quiet, and eat what he chooses from the menu. Actually, bringing along a favorite toy, a book, or a coloring sheet is not a bad idea. Some restaurants even challenge adult patience.

5. At home, he is expected to play alone when Mom and Dad need to get work accomplished or need to discuss something. Arts and crafts projects at the kitchen table are a good idea while Mom makes dinner. Naptime should be regular and non-negotiable. If he is a light sleeper, Mom should plan to do noisy housework after he wakes up. Perhaps she could sit quietly and read a book or do a quiet chore while he naps.

6. The family should have consistent rules and regulations, regular nap and bed times, and require that each member of the family have responsibilities. No matter how young a child is, there is something he can do to help at home (put toys away, take his dish into the kitchen after dinner, put dirty clothes in the hamper).

Little tyrants can single-handedly destroy family life. It is the job of the parent to make sure that doesn't happen - short of decapitating the tyrant.


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