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Answering Kids' Toughest Questions

Q: "Why are you such a jerk?"

A: "[Silence]"

"This lack of respect is so infuriating, it's best to walk away and not engage," Kazdin says. "You want to avoid saying 'I'll talk to you when you don't have such an attitude.'" That just plays into your child's hand and furthers the conflict, he explains. Silence allows everyone to hit the pause button. Then when you get back at it (and say how you will not tolerate disrespect and that attitude), explain that part of the job of parents is to take care of kids and make decisions that they won't always agree with. It may not change your child's mind, but your job isn't to win his approval; it's to explain your position thoughtfully without engaging in destructive confrontations. "When you're trying to fire back, you can make a lot of blunders that will make communication difficult," Kazdin says.

Q: "Why does grandpa smell?"

A: "When people get old, they lose their sense of smell, so he might not even know he smells bad."

Then try to probe a bit. "Does it bother you to be around Grampy?" You'll want to see what she's really getting at, suggests Brush. Finally, just explain directly that older people can't take care of themselves as well because they're less mobile and their senses have dulled, so they have a harder time with their hygiene. A little sympathy can defuse the ridicule.

Q: "Why does Johnny get to play Hulk video games and I can't?"

A: "Tell me about the game."

Parents like to resort to the "because I said so" argument, but as kids get older, that's about as effective as a leadless pencil. They're going to use the "everybody else is" argument, and that's actually not as stupid as it sounds, Kazdin says. Instead of shutting him down out of hand, investigate with the other parents what's going on—how violent the game really is, for example. Ask your kid to tell you about it, to explain why he wants to play it, and then offer a compromise (after you check out the game yourself): You can play for ten minutes at a time a few days a week, and we'll see how it goes; if there's no change in your behavior, we'll talk about whether you can play more. "You can give a little slack, but you can have demands with it," Kazdin says. "The kids don't get to choose everything; it's not a buffet. But compromises can make a huge difference."