The Case of the Flying Slipper

Q. Last night, our five year old took off one of her slippers and flung it down the stairs at my husband because she didn’t want to go to sleep. He was outraged and stormed up the stairs, got in her face and told her she was a “BAD GIRL!” He and I have had many talks about not negatively labeling our kids. I think he should have said that throwing her slippers down the stairs was “bad,”not that she was. Actually, I thought he should have just said calmly that she should stop throwing things and get to bed and then walked away, because mostly I think she wanted to provoke him to start a scene, get attention and postpone bed-time, which is exactly what happened. Then, he and I had a big fight about it. What do you think? Are we failing as parents?

A. We’ll assume that your daughter’s decision to hurl footwear was a self-generated impulse and not inspired by news coverage of middle eastern politics. I agree that it’s not “best practices parenting” to call a child “bad” instead of criticizing the behavior. And it would’ve been great if your husband had calmed down enough to phrase his response perfectly by the time he got up those stairs. But I’m guessing she launched that slipper at the end of a long, tiring day by which point his reserves were pretty well drained. Unfortunately, as you point out, your daughter “won” that round because she got her way through negative attention, and you don’t want that to become–or continue to be–a habit. The two of you should get on the same page about how to handle future projectiles. You can do this casually when you’re (finally) in bed or, if it works better for your relationship, have a more formal, “what were we thinking?” meeting in which you deconstruct the event, each say your piece, then make amends and plan your parenting response. I suggest that you meet any future episodes of airborne footwear calmly but also with the clear message that such behavior is unacceptable and definitely grounds for consequences. Suggest to your husband that he explain to your daughter that he got angry and said something he didn’t intend. For example, he could tell her: ” I don’t really think you’re a bad girl. I know that you’re a very good one. But what you did was wrong. You are never, ever to throw things at me or Mommy–or anyone else–because you could hurt somebody, it’s disrespectful and not a nice way to try to get what you want.”

Don’t let this incident discourage you about your co-parenting abilities. You have a child who actually wears her slippers–which means you’re already way ahead of the curve.

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Should we tell our teens we smoked pot?

Q. My husband and I are having a huge disagreement over whether to be honest with our kids (10 and 12) about our pot smoking when we were teens. Neither of us was a total degenerate, but we had our share of wild times. My husband thinks it would undermine our authority and make the boys more likely to experiment if they know that we did. But I think that getting them safely through their teen years is going to require real honesty. Teens can “smell” hypocrisy and if we aren’t honest about our past we will lose all credibility. I should mention that we still do toke up on occasion, but we keep our stash well hidden from them in the top…

A: OK, I’ve heard enough. No. You should not tell your kids about your past, present or future drug use. If they ask you point blank you should lie. They aren’t old enough to hear the truth. Certainly not until after their teen years. Being a parent is a role–you aren’t meant to show every side of yourself to your kids. During adolescence, kids push against the boundaries and limits you set so they can prepare to map their own course. In order for them to do that safely, you have to hold fast to the moral-authority boundaries you set. Denying that you were ever into pot isn’t going to keep your teenager from rolling a joint. But it may (may) keep him from turning into a stoner. Telling him about the time you and your pals got some great stuff from your friend’s older brother is not going to benefit him. In fact, even telling him that you regret having smoked weed is still going to give him a more positive attitude toward smoking it himself. That’s the big take-away from a new study from the University of Illinois, one of the first to compare teen attitudes toward substance use with the messages they’d received from their parents. The researchers surveyed middle-school kids (6th through 8th grade) and found that those whose parents disclosed past substance use, even as a cautionary tale, had a more positive perspective on drugs, drinking and cigarettes than kids whose parents claimed no such history. The kids who were most anti-substance use were those whose parents sent a clear no-drugs message and hadn’t confessed to any previous drug activity.

So,don’t tell your kids the truth. Wait until the precarious teen years are behind them. For now, do this:

–Emphasize your family rule against marijuana use.

–Tell them you personally disapprove of it.

–Remind them it’s illegal for kids to smoke pot in any state.

–Recount stories about people you know, or know of, who have had really bad outcomes from drug use. (Throw in the horrors of cigarettes and alcohol, too.)

–give them advice on how to avoid social pressure to toke, snort, drink, etc.