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I answer questions from parents who live all over the world. I don’t know them but marvel at how universal parental concerns are across cultures. This email, about the very common concern of how to get young kids to mind, came from a mother I do know who is a talented surgeon and a great mom.

“My son is a sweetheart but according to his teacher he does not want to sit at story time and does not listen to requests to do so…he runs away and sits on the couch but is not willing to sit with the children and listen to the story. This is strange to us because he goes to story time at the library every week and sits through the whole thing just fine. He also listens to us very well. His teacher seems a bit timid and maybe he does not see her as an authority figure? Her advice was to “Have a talk with him.” This seems odd advice for a mother of a 2 ½ year old but I did try. Any ideas how to get him to sit with the other children at storytime??? “

Depersonalize it. What you want to get across is that there are RULES at school and at home.

Because parents have to say “No!” so often to a toddler, place yourself outside the fray. It’s not Mommy making you do something you don’t want to do. It’s the RULE.

The rule is that all the children in school sit still at story time. And they sit where they are supposed to sit. They don’t run away.

Tell your son that school is his job and you expect him to do it right like you and daddy do their jobs. Will he understand? Yes, most of it. Maybe not right away but eventually.

I suspect you are right and the teacher is not very firm. You don’t request, you TELL all the children what the rule is. It’s not, “Jeremy, please take your seat.” It’s, “Class, everybody sit down. I can’t start the story until everybody is seated in the right place.”

A child this age is egocentric and loves autonomy. He may think it’s more fun to run to the couch when all the other kids sit down. He may even try it once to see what will happen. If the teacher always lets him do what he wants, he is learning a lesson but not one conducive to being part of a classroom.

I am on a crusade to eliminate tentative behavior on the part of parents and teachers. I am not suggesting we go back to the brutal teachers found in Victorian novels. But young children have to learn how the world works which includes learning the rules. A tentative response to a child’s out-of-line behavior can be bewildering.

If the teacher or parent is tentative about a rule it promotes confusion. Does she mean it? What am I supposed to do? What do I do next time?

The adult in charge should say calmly but resolutely, “It’s Storytime. The rule is that we all sit down before I start the story.” Then the child knows what to do.