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"Not Until You're Older"

Your once-sheltered 6-year-old wants to watch The Simpsons and ride her bike to school unsupervised, just like the 10-year-old next door. How do you keep your little one  -- who's exposed to the stuff and stunts of older kids  -- from doing things you consider inappropriate for her age?

The Urge to Imitate

Children look to older kids for clues about how they should behave because they want to fit in  -- and get in on the fun they think they're missing, says Wayne Jones, Ph.D., associate director of the Philadelphia Child and Family Therapy Training Center. And they have trouble understanding why they can't. "They usually see a child they spend time with as a peer who should be entitled to the same privileges and no more, even if that child is several years older," says Jones.

Drawing the Line

When deciding what's right for your child, look at her readiness  -- not her age  -- on a case-by-case basis. If she's especially coordinated, for instance, she might be able to handle a skateboard before her friends. But when the answer is "Wait until you're older," here's how to help her accept it:

  • Explain your reasoning.
  • If you don't want her to ride her bike to school, remind her that she forgets to look before she crosses the street. Tell her she can't watch The Simpsons because it isn't geared to young kids. If she still pleads, state that it's a house rule. She may not be happy with your logic, but she'll see that you're not flexible on the subject.

  • Give her a time frame.
  • Let her know that she can, say, swim in the deep end once she learns to tread water. Explain that in your family, kids can pierce their ears in sixth grade and not before.

  • Empathize.
  • Knowing that you understand her disappointment and took her request seriously will make her feel that her wishes matter.

  • Offer alternatives.
  • When she wants to watch an objectionable TV show, suggest she choose an age-appropriate video instead. Or let her walk to school without you if she's with her older brother  -- a safe compromise that will help her feel like one of the big kids.