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Today's Family Magazine

BACK TO SCHOOL: How to Survive the Elementary School Years

By Kimberly Blaker

You survived potty training and the terrible twos; you've reclaimed your bed, and your child is now somewhat self-sufficient.  Life ought to be smooth sailing from here on, right?  Perhaps.  That is if you don't take into account the elementary school-age battles that lie just ahead.  But don't sweat it.  The following tips will help you ride out this adventuresome yet trying stage.

Tattletales.  Does your child tattle every time a sibling or playmate breaks a rule?  Kids tattle for many reasons.  Sometimes they don't understand the difference between tattling and telling about something important.  Other times, kids are looking to get another into trouble.

So explain the difference between tattling and telling.  Tattling is when someone breaks a rule (or when there is no rule), and breaking the rule is relatively harmless.  Telling, on the other hand, is when another child does something that could cause harm to oneself or others. Make a rule that you don't want to hear any tattling, but that telling is okay and even necessary.

Lying.  Every child tells a lie at some point or another.  Even most adults are guilty of occasional white lies.  Still, teaching kids to be honest is vital to developing into trustworthy adults and their ability to form intimate relationships.

Talk to your child about how lying diminishes yours and others' ability to trust your child.  Explain how it can impact your child's relationships. Then, if you catch your kid in a lie, explain how his or her future freedom and privileges are dependent on how well you can trust your child.

Also, to build your kid's trust in you, practice being open and nonjudgmental.  This will go a long way toward your child's openness with you.

Media overload.  With the overwhelming variety of media available to kids, it's hard to know where to draw the line. But the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends kids be limited to no more than two hours of entertainment-based screen time per day.

To gain cooperation, invite your child to help you establish media use rules.  List the various forms of media used by your child, including TV, video games, computer, and cell phone.  Establish a total number of hours per day your child can use media.  Then ask them to help you break down how much of that time can be spent on specific forms.  Also, discuss the measures you'll take if rules are violated.

Chore wars.  As your child grows, so should his or her responsibilities.  In the elementary years, kids can pick up their rooms, set and clear off the table, sort their laundry, fold laundry, put away their clean clothes, bring in the mail, rake leaves, and dust, among other simple tasks.

So have your child choose a small number of simple chores.  As your kid grows, increase the amount or level of difficulty.  To gain cooperation, set a regular schedule for each task, and offer daily or weekly rewards or an allowance.

Homework hassles.  This is a routine challenge for many parents. So hold a meeting with your child to discuss homework.  Explain that you're going to set some rules.  Then give your kid a couple of choices to increase cooperation.  One option might be 30 minutes of free time or media time after school before having to begin homework.  Another option could be to do chores and free time right after school.  Then homework will start immediately following dinner.  But avoid saving homework until late in the evening.

Also, find a distraction-free location in your home that is always for homework.  Then require your kids to put their phones on the charger, away from the area when doing homework.

Name-calling and teasing.  Sometimes when kids call each other names, they're just playing.  If they're going back and forth at each other, both laughing and having a good time, it probably isn't a big deal.  As long as it's play, balanced, and no one's feelings are getting hurt, you can let it go.

But if it's one-sided, mean-spirited, or the child on the receiving end seems angry, upset, scared, or hurt by it, it's usually best to intervene. First, try to empower the teased child, and encourage him or her to tell the other to stop.  If necessary, take a more direct approach, and make clear to the child doing the teasing how hurtful the behavior is and that it isn't acceptable.

The birds and the bees.  The question of where babies come from, and discussions of puberty can leave even the most open-minded parents fumbling.  So, prepare in advance for the inevitable discussions so you can answer questions in the best way possible and without showing discomfort.  Your comfort is essential to making your kid feel comfortable and will lead to more openness from your child as he or she matures.

To get started, during the early elementary years, read Where Did I Come From? or another age-appropriate book to your child.  This takes the guesswork out of what to say and how to say it.

In the later elementary years, discuss puberty and sex more completely.  Many kids reach puberty by the age of 10.  So make sure your preteen is fully prepared for the changes that'll take place.  By late elementary, some kids are already talking about it amongst each other and are full of misinformation.  So having this discussion is crucial to ensure your child is accurately informed about sex.

Defiance.  As kids grow, they become more independent – and with independence comes defiance.  To deal with defiance, lay out the rules ahead of time, so you and your kids know the consequences.

When your child is defiant, remember the following.  Consistency is crucial to being effective.  Also, don't argue.  If your child tries to debate you after you've already stated the issue and laid down the consequence, calmly say you've already made up your mind, and you're done discussing it.  Then leave the room, so you're not tempted to argue or give in to badgering.