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My three-year-old daughter makes spit bubbles or gathers spit, threatening other children or us as soon as she gets into a bad mood about anything. This has been going on for months; we have tried everything, including leaving her alone. She bawls when we do that and throws herself on the ground, screaming and becoming almost unconscious. We have also tried explaining that nobody loves her when she does such things, that she becomes unlikeable (other children do sometimes run away when they see her in our colony playground). Our elder son, 7, is also fed up. Sometimes, I have even hit her lightly on the back when she does it, but she just laughs.

Many parents grapple with this behaviour in their three- or four-year-olds. It is a form of aggression that children resort to when being punished or shouted at. Parents have tried measures ranging from the draconian/cruel (putting a bit of chilli in the mouth, washing the mouth with soap, etc.), to time-outs and rewards for not spitting.

Some of these work, but may not be in keeping with your parenting style. Isolating a child who is spitting is something s/he hates, and the punishment can rapidly turn into a meltdown. They are simply not ready to face the cause-effect nature of their action and its impact through your reaction.

One parent, exhausted after trying to drag the child into the bathroom as punishment, thought of a new strategy. He would jokingly bring out a bowl designated as “the spitoon" when the child started the spit-bubble spitting. At first, this enraged the child, but amused the sibling, and finally the fraught atmosphere turned light. Eventually, the child began to feel a bit silly, and stopped the behaviour.

You (or her brother, father, etc.) could also simply leave the room when the child starts such behaviour. Not in an angry way (because that will have her crying and shouting for you), but casually. No audience means no pay-off for aggression or bad behaviour.

It would be useful, perhaps, to simply stop spelling out or describing the behaviour. Saying “stop spitting" or “if you spit I will…" etc. gives the action some kind of legitimacy. As does glaring or saying “yukk, shee".

Withdrawing privileges like simply playing with her is a good idea, but you could do it not so much as a challenging action, but as a kind of inevitable one. You could say, “Oops, sorry", and leave, or clearly disengage from the toys you and she are playing with. This is a tangential way to make children take responsibility for their actions.

Our 18-year-old son will be leaving for undergraduate studies in the US. Many of his friends too have left. Most of them fly home for holidays, or their parents fly there. We cannot afford that. We have arranged for some friends and relatives in the US to have him over during short breaks like Easter and Christmas. But he is not happy about this. We have both been students in the US on scholarship and did not visit home for two years. How do we convince him?

Maybe 18 is too young, and you could have him finish junior college here and then go, when he is ready to engage with other people in a more self-assured way. Also, by the time a child is 17, he should have enough awareness about the value of money, the concept of affordability, and an appreciation of what parents can and cannot do. Firstly, it is important that you appreciate your own efforts for your child. This will help you be unapologetic about how you plan his stay, and the arrangements for his holidays. It will also help you to keep a distance from the peer pressure he is feeling. It will get you off the “convincing" mode.

Many parents are keen on their youngsters sidestepping the Indian college system altogether and going abroad. In this anxiety and eagerness, it is important not to have your child dictate what he will and will not do. It would be a good idea to have children in this situation meet other youngsters (and there are such youngsters), who discover the opportunities in the American system for summer jobs, or get partial grants to travel to India as part of course work, etc.

Even if the old argument of “we did it that way, why can’t you?" does not work with young people, what you are proposing for him is not outlandish or outmoded—that he manage his next two years without travelling back home. You have not simply thrown him in at the deep end and asked him to manage; going by what you’ve written, you have made arrangements for him.

While he is experiencing some hesitation and social awkwardness about being with strangers or acquaintances during the vacations, that is something he will have to deal with. And this will no doubt be a useful personality-honing experience.

This is a good time for you to gently but firmly pull him out of his self-absorption and point out that other people are opening up their homes to him. Do not try to convince or coax him.

Gouri Dange is the author of More ABCs Of Parenting and ABCs Of Parenting.

Also read | Gouri Dange’s previous Lounge columns.

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