Now let’s look at some common PU behaviors that can occur at each developmental stage that we haven’t already mentioned. While every possible PU problem isn’t listed, Parent’s Toolshop® parenting classes and the next series of books (T.I.P.S.: Tools for Improving Parenting Skills) take each age group, tots, tweens, and teens, and apply the universal skills to the topics of interest for that age.



  • Crying is the only way infants can communicate, so learn the difference in their cries and meet the need. Reliable responses build trust and security.
  • Fussiness. If infants are over stimulated and fussy, use soft whispers, low lights, quiet music, rocking, and other soothing motions. Have at least five soothing activities to rotate. Be careful, however, that the soothing activity doesn’t contribute to the fussiness. Give infants time to calm down before trying a new round of soothing activities. One activity is to eliminate all stimuli (including the parent) long enough for the child to calm down. An excellent resource is The Fussy Baby, by Dr. William Sears (La Leche League, International, 1985.)
  • Putting objects in their mouths. Infants learn through touch and the tongue has more touch receptors than fingers. Childproof the home and trade dangerous objects for acceptable items.
  • Sleep problems. It is normal for infants not to sleep through the night or to need assistance going to sleep. Be careful using any technique that lets children “cry it out.” It causes children to eventually give up on parents, which breeds insecurity. We have already discussed some ideas for sleep problems and more follow in the toddler and preschool sections and later chapters. The end of the chapter lists several resources on this subject. (See “Sleeping” in the “Toddlers” section below.) 


  • Clinginess. Older infants and toddlers can be clingy, because they need to feel secure in unfamiliar situations. Be a “home base” that children can come and touch, to reassure themselves you are still there. Pat their backs or stroke their hair, without picking them up. This tells them you know they are there, but are not going to carry them constantly. As their walking skills improve, hold their hands, walk at their pace, and use descriptive encouragement to build independence. (See the “Separation anxiety” and “Delaying” sections below.
  • Curiosity. We can discourage our children’s natural desire to learn by reacting negatively to their curiosity and exploring. We can encourage children to learn by allowing them to explore safely and childproofing dangerous areas. Make a game of putting things up and exchange dangerous objects with acceptable alternatives. Use positive words to set limits and physically (gently) redirect toddlers’ to other activities.

308                                                                                      The Parent’s Toolshop


  • Delaying. Toddlers can be slow! They seem to take forever walking, coming when called, or doing tasks we want done quickly. Our gut reactions will provide quick fixes, but cause other short- and long-term problems. If we carry children everywhere, they don’t get practice walking for themselves and become clingier. If we drag them or swoop them up roughly, they are frightened and cry or resist, kicking and screaming. If we threaten to leave them, when they won’t come to us, they believe we love them so little we would actually abandon them. This breeds insecurity. If we do tasks for our young children, simply because we can do them quicker, they don’t get experience doing for themselves and are dependent longer. We want to plan ahead and leave extra time for children to do some tasks on their own. We can make deals, “You can put your coat on if you let me zip it up.” We can offer choices to walk or carry them. If they continue to dawdle, we can then pick them up, saying, “I can see you’ve decided to be carried this time. Next time, you’ll have a chance to walk.” They still might kick and scream, but the last sentence teaches them that being carried is a choice they have, not a punishment we impose. (This last technique is actually Revealing discipline. We’ll learn more discipline techniques we can use with PU behavior in Chapter 13, “Discipline Toolset.”)
  • Grabbing. Toddlers usually don’t have the verbal skills to say “I want this.” They also don’t understand ownership. To them, whatever they have (or get), belongs to them. Teach them how to ask and suggest trading objects for something they want.
  • Separation anxiety. While infants are learning trust, they can feel scared and hesitant when their main source of security, their parents, are gone. Healthy separation occurs periodically, so parents can meet their own needs without sacrificing the infant’s needs. Never sneak away while someone distracts your child. Although children may cry less, the fact that the parent simply disappears is terribly frightening and actually prolongs separation anxiety. Even if children don’t seem to understand words, tell them you are leaving, reassure them you will return, and leave them in a loving way. As they get used to this routine, they will cry less often. With time, you will find children work through their separation in quicker, healthier ways when we handle the situation lovingly and help-fully. (See “Clinginess” and “Delaying” in this section.)
  • Sleeping. It is still normal for toddlers not to sleep through the night or to need help falling asleep. Establish routines, teach self-comforting, use encouragement, and meet their security needs or the problems will increase. If you let the child cry, start with the shortest time possible, maybe three minutes. Come back to check on the child at the agreed time. Soothe them in quiet ways, but do not pick them up. Do not increase the time between your checks until they handle three minutes well. Then increase to five minutes. When they handle five minutes, increase to ten, and so on. The next night, try starting at the time limit the child handled the night before. The key to the success of this approach is that children can rely on parents coming back and the time limit does not become unreasonable.
  • Tantrums. Figure out what type of tantrum it is and respond accordingly. (See the section on “Tantrums” on page 74–75 in Chapter 3, “The Universal Blueprint.”)
  • Throwing objects teaches cause and effect. Pick up the object once, after that say “bye-bye.” If toddlers throw food, remove the bowl, saying “I can see you’re done” and offer them a towel to help clean up. You can put your hand on top of their’s to help.
  • Wants to do tasks “by myself.” Allow extra time, offer choices within limits, teach skills, acknowledge the difficulty, and offer quick tips and encouragement.
  • Whining. When children are frustrated but can’t express themselves well verbally, they will often whine. We need to teach children how to make requests, “When you want something, say ‘May I please have a _____.’” Then ignore the whining. Expect it to take some time for children to master the verbal and self-control skills they need to express their frustration appropriately. If we give children what they whine for, the whining can turn into a habit or PO problem.


Chapter 11:  PU  Toolset  (Unintentional  misbehavior)                            309



(See “Infants” and “Toddlers” sections above for behaviors that still remain in the preschool years.)

  • Bragging and telling fantastic stories are often related to a child’s age or moral development and are not necessarily intentional lies. (Since lying is usually intentional misbehavior, there is a section devoted entirely to this topic and its developmental factors in the PO Toolset.)
  • Peer conflicts. Use the Child Problem Toolbox to mediate and teach peaceful conflict-resolution skills. Instead of saying, “Be nice” or “Use words,” be specific. Describe what nice means and suggest specific words they can use. (See the “Sibling Conflicts” section of Chapter 8, “Problem Solving Toolset” for more ideas.)
  • Picky eaters. Everyone has food preferences and being “picky” can be a personality trait (PU). Do not fix special meals. Make foods child-friendly. Involve children in meal planning and preparation; they will take a greater interest in eating what they have helped prepare. Let the child pick some foods to serve themselves. Plan to have one favorite food available, in addition to new or less favored foods. If children are too young to cook on the stove or cut with a knife, let them stir, pour, or wash vegetables. Involving children in gardening is also a great way to spark interest in eating healthy foods.(See Chapter 5, “Cooperation Toolset.”)

Parents can have several bottom-line limits: eating nutritious foods before sweets, allowing a reasonable but limited time to eat, and trying foods before rejecting them. Within these bottom line limits, children can choose how much they eat, when they eat, and if they eat. Encourage children to take a little of everything. These are “no thank-you helpings.” Children’s stomachs are about the size of their fists, so allow small portions. They can always have more. Many small meals are actually better for the body than a few large meals. Appetites vary greatly during and between growth spurts. Focus on well-balanced weeks, not days; nutrition rather than timing or amount. Make mealtime conversation pleasant. Do not criticize or nag about eating habits. Do not use food or dessert as a reward or incentive to eat. If parents become controlling about food issues, pickiness can become a PO problem. (See the index for pages numbers of other advice on picky eaters.)

  • Testing limits. Be consistent and offer choices within limits. When preschoolers ask a million questions, ask what they think is the answer. (See the PO Toolset for suggestions that can prevent this behavior from turning into a PO problem.)


Early  Elementary

  • Arguing. Children enjoy using information they have learned or think others don’t know. This is why they correct others, especially parents and younger children. They might pick apart words, arguing about what you really said or meant. Encourage children to share what they are learning. If they use that information to make others feel inferior or stupid, point out the hurt feelings. If they pick apart your words, simply clarify what you meant to say and refuse to argue. If they persist, it is PO behavior.
  • Testing limits and rules. Use the Cooperation Toolset to make requests and reveal rules in positive words. Use the Clear Communication Toolset to set limits and use parent/child problem solving to reach win/win solutions.


Late  Elementary

  • More opinionated. Respect different opinions. Don’t force your opinions, just share them. They are testing morals and rules. Ask, “What do you think?” and “What would happen if you did that?”


310                                                                                      The Parent’s Toolshop


  • Noticing the opposite gender. Don’t tease. Respect their perspective and feelings. Discuss puberty before age nine. Explain emotional and physical differences between genders to help them understand immature or confusing behavior.


Junior  High

  • Criticizing parents. Don’t take this personally or get revengeful. Young teens often think of themselves as all-knowing and invincible. Express your concerns and expectations in private, using the Clear Communication Toolset. When they want more unsupervised time with peers, agree to chaperon but keep a distance.
  • Moodiness. Young teens can experience sudden and powerful hormonal changes, which influences their behavior and moods. They can be laughing about a situation one minute and crying the next, about the same situation! A junior high principal once described young teens as “chameleons on a roller coaster.” Parents need extra patience and understanding during these unpredictable times.
  • Peer Pressure. Use encouragement (not praise) and internal (not external) approval, which we learned in the Self-Esteem Toolset. Use the Child Problem Toolbox to teach decision-making skills.
  • Puberty. Respect their individual timetable. Hormones can cause moodiness and confusing feelings (body and emotions). Give them facts, share values, and provide books written for young teens.
  • Telephone use. Telephone privileges are important to teens; it is their second lifeline to their friends (after school). Young teens do much of their socializing and problem solving over the phone, because their conversations are safer and more private than at school. Parents need to find win/win solutions that don’t totally cut off young teens from their friends.

High  School

  • Asking for more freedom. Teens feel frustrated, because they are too old for “kid” things, and too young for adult activities. They usually want more freedom to “try out” adulthood. If teens have displayed responsible behavior and their parents don’t trust them and allow them to express their independence in healthy ways, teens may simply sneak to do what they want to do (a PO problem). Balance limits and freedom. Make agreements using parent/child problem solving.
  • Dating and involvement in sex are difficult issues. Teens are told to “wait,” but feel nature calling. If lines of communication are not already open, it will be difficult for teens to confide in their parents when facing tough decisions.
  • Dress styles. Every generation has its own fashion fad. It is a way for teens to identify with each other and feel different from children and adults. Respect their individual tastes. Don’t impose your own style, unless it’s a rare special occasion. Focus on internal personality qualities, rather than external appearances. Bottom-line limits should relate to safety and health. Extremely provocative styles can invite sexual victimization.
  • Driving. When teens are ready for drivers education, use two-party problem solving to express concerns about the young driver’s safety and to negotiate an agreement for keeping the privilege of driving. (It is not a “right.”) Don’t give new cars and unlimited driving privileges to teens on a silver platter; driving is a wonderful opportunity for teens to learn about and practice having adult responsibilities. Have the agreement include maintaining good grades, a job to pay for insurance and repairs, and a good driving record. Agree that if teens break the agreement (poor grades, accidents, tickets) they will give up driving privileges. (We learn more about “Restrictions” in the Discipline Toolset.) This is one agreement parent should get in writing.
Chapter 11:  PU  Toolset  (Unintentional  misbehavior)                            311

In addition to the books mentioned in this and other chapters, there are other resources that address the causes of PU behavior. Here are some possible topics and recommended resources:

Young children:

  • Parenting Young Children, with James S. Dinkmeyer (American Guidance Service, 1989).
  • Tantrums: Secrets to Calming the Storm, Ann E. LaForge, (Pocket Books, 1996).
  • Any book or resource by Doctors T. Berry Brazelton or William Sears.
  • The First Three Years of Life, Burton L. White, M.D., (Fireside Books, 1995).


  • Changes in You & Me, by Paulette Bourgeois and Martin Wolfish, M.D. (Somerville House, 1994). A book written for children nearing puberty. There is one book for boys and one for girls.
  • Created by God: About Human Sexuality for Older Girls and Boys, by Dorlis Brown Glass with James H. Ritchie, Jr. (Graded Press, United Methodist Church, 1989).


  • The Parent’s Handbook: S.T.E.P./TEEN, Systematic Training for Effective Parenting of Teens, Donald Dinkmeyer, Sr. and Gary McKay, (American Guidance Service, 1983).
  • Between Parent and Teenager, Haim G. Ginott, (MacMillan, 1969).
  • Positive Discipline for Teenagers : Resolving Conflict With Your Son or Daughter in an Atmosphere of Mutual Respect, Jane Nelsen, with Lynn Lott, (Prima Publishing, 2000).

All ages:

  • Creative Parenting, William Sears, M.D., (Everest House, 1982). Explains several developmental issues of all ages, including medical advice.
  • Childswork/Childsplay, a catalog of therapeutic games/books for parents, teachers, and therapists. An excellent resource for teaching emotional and behavior skills. Call 1-800-962-1141 or write 135 Dupont St., P.O. Box 760, Plainview, NY, 11803. Website:

Bedtime/Sleep problems:

  • The Family Bed, by Tine Thevenin. (Avery Publishing Group Inc., 1987).
  • Nighttime Parenting, by Dr. William Sears (La Leche League International, 1985).

Learning styles:

  • Seven Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing Your Many Intelligences, Thomas Armstrong, (Plume, 1993).
  • How Your Child Is Smart: a Life-Changing Approach to Learning, Dawna Markova, Ph.D., (Conari Press, 1992).

Personality traits (also called “temperaments”):

  • Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurchinka (HarperCollins, 1991).

Food allergies:

  • Is this Your Child? Discovering and Treating Unrecognized Allergies, Doris Rapp, (W. Morrow, 1991).

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder:

  • The Myth of the ADD Child: 50 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Attention Span Without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion Thomas Armstrong, (Dutton, 1995).
  • CH.A.D.D. National Headquarters, 8181 Professional Place, Suite 201, Landover, MD, 20785, 301-306-7070, fax 301-306-7090. CH.A.D.D. has parent support groups throughout the United States (call to inquire about international resources) and publishes an “educator’s manual” for teachers. For more information, check the CH.A.D.D. Web site, home page address: http://