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Withholding dessert won't change daughter's behavior


Q: We have a 7-year-old daughter who has started stealing sweets from the kitchen. This is new behavior, and we’re at a loss about discipline for her. She’s already lost all of her dessert privileges. What else can we do?

Juli: One of the things that may be complicating your response to your daughter’s sweet tooth is that there are really two different parenting issues to deal with. The more obvious issue is your concern about your daughter’s diet. It’s natural for kids to crave sugary snacks. At 7, your daughter doesn’t have the self-control or maturity to limit her intake of unhealthy food.

I wouldn’t overreact to her desire to eat sweets. Food can easily become a control issue, which can become a precursor for disordered eating in the future. Just be sure that you are modeling moderation in your own diet.

The more serious issue involving your daughter’s behavior is trust. Sneaking is a form of deception. That’s a big deal. Rather than scolding your daughter about the sweets, I would talk seriously with her about trust in your relationship. Explain to her that if she wants something to eat, all she has to do is ask. Even though you may sometimes say “no” when she asks for a doughnut right before dinner, assure her that you will be sensitive to her needs.

Instead of disciplining her behavior with no dessert, which emphasizes the food issue, consider a consequence that has more to do with building trust in your relationship.

Q: Can you suggest some ways I can connect with my daughter? It’s one of my goals for the New Year. She has a good relationship with her mom because they’re interested in the same “girl stuff.” But she’s just about to reach the teen years, and I want her to have a strong bond with her dad, too, especially before she starts dating.

Jim: I can’t think of a more worthwhile New Year’s resolution! Generally speaking, the most effective thing you can do to strengthen ties with your daughter is to make “time” for her – in both quality and quantity. According to my friend, Dr. Kevin Leman, the bond fathers develop with their daughters during times of real conversation and connection can pay huge dividends.

This is especially true for girls in the “tween” years. Dr. Leman advises that dads with daughters in this age group “date” them on a regular basis. Showing your daughter that she’s a high priority is essential for many reasons.

For one thing, it will help her seek out men who will respect her later in life. Affirming your daughter’s femininity and treating her special says to her, “Honey, seek out someone who will treat you right.” In other words, if you can demonstrate for your daughter what a true gentleman is like – someone who honors her, respects her and values her – she’ll be more likely to gravitate toward men like that when she enters the dating world.

On a regular basis, make an effort to take your daughter out to dinner, a movie, a round of miniature golf – or whatever interests her. I know it’s tough, especially when you’re likely working full time and you also need to make room on your calendar to date your wife. But it’s so important. The investment you make in your daughter now will impact her for the rest of her life.

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. | Submit your questions to: | Copyright 2010 Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO 80995 | International Copyright Secured. All Rights reserved.