Question: The "sassiness" that I have heard so much about from my friends started a few months ago with my 5-year-old daughter. She will say things to me that I actually find myself tongue-tied on how or what to say to correct her. Sometimes, she apologizes, which tells me she knows she's talking disrespectfully to me. What do you think about 10 minutes of timeout for this sort of thing? Also, on a recent vacation with another family in which there are two other girls around the same age, my daughter became very competitive. She constantly wanted to race to see who would be first, for example. Is this normal for this age?
Answer: I take it your friends think sassiness is normal for this age child. That may be true today, but sassiness was far from the norm two-plus generations ago. Furthermore, there are still a considerable number of kids this age who are respectful of adults.
It is certainly true that television and electronics in general have altered the behavior of children. Too many of today's kids, from relatively early on, pick up an inappropriate manner of talking to adults from characters on television sitcoms. After all, this sassy manner of addressing and responding to adults is almost always followed by the laugh track. This is one of several reasons why I am unequivocally opposed to allowing young children any exposure to television outside of educational programs on channels like Discovery and History.
But even without the toxicity of supposedly family fare on television, young kids often pick up sassiness from friends. When she was 8, my daughter had a friend in the neighborhood who talked to her mother like she was a servant or a peer. Amy would sometimes come home from said friend's house using the same tone with us. When this happened—and without giving her a warning—we would confine Amy to her room for the rest of the day. That curtailed her loose tongue rather quickly.
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In that regard, I seriously doubt that ten minutes of timeout is going to do the trick. If you want this to stop, and you certainly should, then you need to make an impression on your daughter. Timeout for an offense of this sort is an example of what I call "trying to stop a charging elephant with a fly swatter." I recommend the "Amy cure."
As for the competition thing, I encourage you not to give it a second thought. Kids work these sorts of things out among themselves. In fact, intervention on the part of well-intentioned (albeit anxious) adults can prevent children from going through the trial-and-error of certain social processes. Besides, it's good to know that the natural drive to compete will survive efforts on the part of many schools to squash it by doing silly things like banning dodgeball.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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