FOCUS ON THE FAMILY: Giving children instructions once is enough

Q: Our 8-year-old son isn't overtly rebellious, but he definitely has "selective hearing." We have to demand that he get ready for bed three or four times, for example. Is it worth waging war to make him comply instantly?

Jim: Yes, it's probably worth "waging war," at least in the long term. If you let him get away with ignoring your instructions, you're probably setting him up for heartache in the future.

Although you might not like to hear it, what you're describing sounds like a case of overly permissive parenting. It might start as a seemingly harmless compromise at bedtime. But the next thing you know, you may find yourself taking up slack for your son in all sorts of areas, making excuses to his teachers when homework is late, or coddling him when he whines and tries to manipulate you.

Dr. Kevin Leman offers some great advice for parents who tend to be too permissive. First, it's OK to get mean. Not in the sense of screaming or being abusive, of course. But parents need to establish firm rules and expectations, and be willing to administer punishment when those rules aren't followed. Your son will likely see this approach as "mean," but you're actually teaching him respect and self-discipline.

Dr. Leman also suggests that parents not issue warnings to their children. Giving an instruction once is enough. Repeating yourself can send two harmful messages to your son: 1) "Mom and Dad don't really mean what they're saying;" and 2) "Mom and Dad think I'm incompetent because they say everything three or four times."

If you feel you've been too permissive, don't despair. Your son may be shocked at first when you decide to enforce the rules more decisively, but he may just thank you later on for putting those boundaries in place. Employing these simple steps can add a huge measure of peace and sanity to your household, as well.nnnQ: Our oldest son is 8 years old and was invited to sleep over at a friend's house. I remember sleepovers and slumber parties as a kid, but things have changed since then. My husband says I'm paranoid, but I'm just not comfortable letting my son sleep over at someone else's house. What's your advice?

Juli: My advice is to trust your "mother's instincts." I would be very leery of sleepovers unless you know the child's family very well. Leaving an 8-year-old in the care of another family is not something to take lightly.

Does the family share your value system? Will it be a safe environment? Although most sleepovers are nothing more than good, clean fun, you need to be certain that your child would not be at risk. For example, most incidents of childhood sexual abuse are committed by people a child knows, including family members and friends.

Whenever your child goes over to a friend's house for a sleepover or otherwise, be sure he understands appropriate boundaries and knows that he can contact you at any time. Don't shy away from asking the parents questions, like who will be home with the kids, what movies they might watch, and whether they will have access to the Internet. I've turned bright red while asking these questions, but my embarrassment is worth protecting my kids.

More and more families are avoiding the whole issue by adopting a "no sleepover" rule for their kids. Instead, they let their children attend birthday parties but pick them up at night before bedtime. Sure, your son may miss an exciting game of truth-or-dare at midnight, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Unfortunately, in today's environment, a little parental paranoia is warranted.

Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family, host of the "Focus on the Family" radio program, and a husband and father of two.

Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of "Focus on the Family," author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.