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Behavior

Every parent has questions and our experts have answers. Read on:

There are 9 questions and answers.


1. My husband and I have four children. Our youngest daughter has taken to hitting and kicking when she does not get her way. This has happened in public as well. How do I get her to calm down and stop physically hurting others in the family?

Childhood aggression is quite common and may have multiple origins. There is some new research that links aggression among some kindergartners to low verbal skills or an easily aroused nature. Aggression is also associated with normal childhood feelings like anger, frustration and fear. Some children, usually in the pre-school years, bite or kick other children. While the behavior may be common, it can be distressing for the child and adults involved.

Parents can help children learn alternative behaviours in a number of ways:

Give attention and show affection

All children need attention and affection. This is especially true for children with siblings. A first born child gets used to a certain amount of attention and affection. They can find it very difficult to understand why they have to share the limelight with a younger child. Or, as in your case, your daughter may be feeling that she is sharing too much of the limelight with her older siblings. This can lead to her feeling rejected and isolated. Make time to pay special attention to her.

Praise good behaviour

If you have taken your daughter somewhere and she has behaved well or if she has had a good day at home, praise her. This will make her feel good and want to behave in a positive manner more often.

Watch for triggers

Try to see if there are triggers that frequently cause aggressive behaviour. It can be as simple as children regularly arguing and becoming aggressive over what television program to watch, or incidences occurring when a child is hungry or tired.

Be careful how you or others in the home react to problems

If you react to problems in the home with aggression, your children will learn from you that this is acceptable behaviour in stressful times. Therefore if they are in a situation that they find frustrating they are likely to react in a similar, aggressive manner

Discuss appropriate and inappropriate behaviour

If you have had a hard day, wait until there is a period of calm and discuss your child's actions with them in a peaceful way. Explain to your daughter the likely results of her actions. For example, let her know that when she hits or bites it hurts and that other children are unlikely to want to play with her in the future if she continues with this behaviour.

Monitor TV programs and play

There could be a link between your child's aggression and what they watch on television. If your daughter likes to watch programs that include violence then this can have a negative effect on her behaviour. In addition, too much screen time and not enough physical activity can lead to pent up frustration and energy. Ensure your child has lots of outside time and exercise.

Give warning time

Most children get frustrated and can show aggression if they are busy playing and you suddenly tell them it is time to go. If possible, let them know that it is almost time to stop playing. This gives them the chance to get used to the idea and you are likely to get a more positive response when playing time is over.

Encourage a child to discuss problems.

The more you talk to a child the easier they will find it to establish their own vocabulary and be able to express their frustrations verbally. In quiet periods explain to your daughter how she can resolve her differences through discussion and negotiation rather than through hitting and kicking.

Most bouts of childhood aggression are normal and can be dealt with effectively by applying some of the tips above. If you find that your child is still having difficulty controlling her aggressive impulses, you may want to seek professional advice from your pediatrician or a mental health practitioner.

ManitobaParentZone.ca acknowledges the assistance of Healthy Child Manitoba in responding to this question.

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2. Can you please tell me if there are any resources for me? My daughter, who is in her early teens, has had problems not going to school since September of this school year. Part of it is an anxiety disorder, however another part, I believe, is laziness. I think she's gotten used to missing at least two days a week and can't get out of this habit. I'm at my wits end and would really like help with how to correct this unusual problem.

Thanks for your question. Anxiety and school avoidance places stress on the whole family. It is always difficult as a parent of an anxious child to balance between support and protection and gently pushing a child in confronting their fears and ending avoidance. You are right in your instincts to help her get to school. Avoidance, which starts as a way of dealing with a problem, can quickly become its own problem. The first place to start is by acknowledging the problem and seeking help. You are already there.

You mention that your daughter has an "anxiety disorder". It sounds like you may already have gotten help and a diagnosis for your daughter. Going back to people and services that may have helped in the past is a good place to start.

In your letter you mention that the avoidance of school is new this year. Check with the school to see if there is anything going on in workload or with peers that may be contributing to the problem. You may well have already done this. On-going communication with a person in the school that you experience as trustworthy and supportive will also be key in working together to support your daughter in getting to school regularly.

Another option to consider is to check with a family physician or a paediatrician who knows your daughter. As well as eliminating any illnesses or physically based issues that may be contributing to the problem, your physician can be a referral source. He/she can also help with follow up if a referral to a specialist is required.

There are a number of other specialist supports in the province such as:

  • The Youth Emergency Crisis Stabilization System which can support you and your daughter to hold helpful conversations about the problem and getting to school.
    • This service can be accessed at 204-949-4777 in Winnipeg or toll free at 1-888-383-2776.
    • For Winnipeg residents the Youth Education Service can be very helpful. Access is through the phone line listed above.
  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services can help you determine if specialized help is needed and can assist you to access specialized services.
    • In Winnipeg the service is accessed through The Child & Adolescent Mental Health Program Centralized Intake System at 204-958-9660.
    • In rural Manitoba contact your local Regional Health Authority for this service.
  • The Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba (ADAM) can also assist in listing services and service providers and providing support to you and your daughter.
    • ADAM can be accessed through their website at www.adam.mb.ca. They have offices in Winnipeg and across the province.
  • There are a number of private practitioners in the province that have expertise in the area. ADAM can help you find practitioners.

In the meantime continue to:

  • Acknowledge your daughter's feelings and support her in sharing her thoughts with you or someone else she feels comfortable with.
  • Acknowledge the days she does get to school and the effort it takes to do so.
  • Encourage her to problem solve with you ways to cope with her current experience of stress.
  • Serve as a positive role model in demonstrating to your daughter effective ways that you handle stress and worry.
  • Help your daughter find ways to relax and manage those stressful bodily sensations. Techniques such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, yoga, listening to calming music or whatever she feels will be helpful.

Also ensuring that she is getting enough sleep, eating properly and getting some exercise will help her deal with the stress she is feeling no matter the cause.

For more information about these and other positive parenting strategies, please visit www.manitoba.ca/triplep.

ManitobaParentZone.ca acknowledges the assistance of Healthy Child Manitoba in responding to this question.

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3. My son is two and a half and has been bothering the two other two-year-olds at his home day care (mostly by knocking down their block towers or repeatedly shoving toys in their faces). Yesterday one of the two-year-olds defended himself so my son started to leave him alone, but today he decided to start bothering the three one-year-olds by blocking them when they're walking/crawling. He gets "time-outs" at day care (and at home when he doesn't behave). He likes to watch T.V. so when he asks to watch it, I tell him he can't because he got time-outs at day care for bugging other children. My question is – is this appropriate "punishment" for a two-year-old? What's the best way to teach him to play nicely with the other children? It bothers me that he seems to get pleasure from making other children upset. Thanks.

Toddlers are a unique combination of unlimited curiosity, short attention spans, boundless energy, and emotional intensity. Their rapid development both physically and mentally at this age is astounding and it is like they are in constant overdrive. It is quite normal for children at this age to appear selfish and demanding. No matter how sweet they can be, when toddlers get together to play, it's common for there to be some tense moments. An angry toddler is usually just a frustrated one–he's not happy at that moment and may not have the words or means to change things. Sometimes fighting toddlers are experimenting with the concept of cause and effect or testing how you'll react.

For any consequence to be effective at this age, it should happen immediately after the incident. Prohibiting an activity several hours or days later is not advisable as toddlers are just too young to fully understand the cause and effect with this much time gap. This could instead feel very punitive and have a negative effect on their sense of security and self-esteem.

Here are some ways that you and the child care staff can help your young man to develop more pro-social skills:

  • Give lots of positive attention. It doesn't take much for little ones to realize that negative behaviour gets them a lot of attention. Counter this by showing your toddler that good behaviour will earn him just as much or even more attention from you. Pour on the praise when he shares a toy, plays gently, or takes turns. For example, "Thank you for sharing your toys so nicely" lets your child know that there are positive consequences for positive behaviour. He'll soon see that doing the right thing gets him the right kind of attention.
  • Talk about feelings. Little kids don't yet have the words to say what they're feeling, so they often resort to what they do know how to do (push, bite, and hit) to get their point across. So talk about emotions often – practice showing each other what a mad face looks like, or give a musical tip on what to do when tempers flare by singing, "If you're angry and you know it, stomp your feet." Once your tot understands what he's feeling, he'll be better able to cope when that emotion pops up.
  • Talk about consequences in advance. Talking about playtime in the morning before your child goes to daycare. You can remind him to use his words if he gets upset or come up with another strategy together. Practicing together in advance is often really helpful for kids.

If a problem does arise:

  • Don't jump in too quickly. Sometimes squabbling toddlers find their own solutions and that's a good thing. As long as no one is getting physically hurt, give the children a minute or two to work things out – they just may surprise you.
  • Make sure the rules and expectations are clear. Let your child know in no uncertain terms that certain behaviour is not okay. Say something like: "it's not okay to hit, that can hurt Joey."
  • Remove and distract. No matter which one of the angry toddlers was the aggressor, after you've stopped the fight put some space between them. You may also want introduce a new supervised activity to focus on

It is important to note that any consequence that you give a child, especially a young one, should include the three R's – related, respectful and reasonable. In order for the consequence to be effective it should be related to the concern, take the toy away for a brief period if he cannot share. It should also be reasonable, not too harsh or for too long a period of time. It should always be respectful by refraining from lecturing or adding any harsh criticism.

Finally, it is important that you talk with the child care staff and identify what the consequences are while your child is in their care. Whenever possible, having consistent consequences both at home and at child care is beneficial. Open and clear communication between you and the staff will help in addressing this issue and any others that may arise.

For more information about these and other positive parenting strategies, please visit www.manitoba.ca/triplep.

ManitobaParentZone.ca acknowledges the assistance of Healthy Child Manitoba in responding to this question.

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4. My son is 10 and in Grade 5. We are having serious problems with him wanting to go on the school bus, let alone attending school. It has gotten to the point where he is physically throwing up. He cries most mornings and does not want to eat breakfast as he then throws up. We are presently driving him to and from school to try and relieve some of the stress he says he is feeling. I am getting phone calls on his breaks and he is telling me he is stressed. We have talked with the school and there is nothing going on there that could possibly be bothering him (no bullying, etc). We have also talk to the bus driver, and there also seems to be no problems. I am at a loss as how to handle this. I am hoping you can help us!

Firstly, you should be commended for the steps you have already taken here. Understanding that your son is struggling with something and wanting to help demonstrates to him great empathy and good role-modeling about handling problems head-on rather than ignoring them. Speaking with the school was a good next step to rule out more obvious issues that may be happening while he is at school.

It is not unusual for kids to go through stages of feeling stressed or anxious. Often they are unable to identify what is wrong themselves, or have a hard time articulating it. They may even be dealing with issues or feelings that they don't feel comfortable talking to their parents about. It may be time to involve a professional if this continues.

Starting with a school counsellor may make some sense. They are trained and experienced at talking to children and they also may have access to information about other things that may be going on at school. You pediatrician may also be a great source of information and guidance, particularly if there may be some issues with anxiety.

In the meantime, continue to:

  • Acknowledge your child's feelings and support him in sharing his thoughts with you or someone else he feels comfortable with.
  • Encourage him to problem solve with you ways to cope with his current experience of stress.
  • Serve as a positive role model in demonstrating to your child effective ways that you handle stress and worry.
  • Help your child find ways to relax and manage those stressful bodily sensations such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, listening to calming music or whatever your child feels will be helpful.

Also, ensure that he is getting enough sleep, eating properly and getting some exercise as that will also help him deal with the stress he is feeling, no matter what the causes. It is also a good time to make sure he is not overscheduled and getting down-time with friends and family.

For more information about these and other positive parenting strategies, please visit www.manitoba.ca/triplep.

ManitobaParentZone.ca acknowledges the assistance of Healthy Child Manitoba in responding to this question.

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5. What can I do for my two year old son who keeps taking off his diaper and peeing on the carpet? Usually in his room.

Toilet training can be challenging for your child, especially in the early stages. Toilet training is a process and most children will be fully day trained somewhere between 2 ½ and 4 years of age, and night trained by 8 years. Children who refuse to sit on the potty/toilet may not be ready for toilet training. Nagging or punishing your child will not help.

Children may be ready to start toilet training when they can:

  • say when they are wet or soiled, or want to go to the bathroom
  • wait, or control the urge to wet or soil
  • show an interest in the toilet (or a desire not to wet or soil diapers)
  • undress (or at least pull down their pants)

Your question does not provide any information regarding where your child is in the toilet training phase. Since your child is taking off his diapers, let's assume that he is ready for toilet training. It may be helpful to place a potty in your child's room as that is where he tends to urinate on the carpet. You may explain to your child, the use of the potty and let your child sit on the potty (even when he does not need to urinate) to help him/her become familiar with it, and hopefully get used to the idea. Be assured that in time, your child will transition himself and start using the potty. You may also teach your child the following steps regarding the use of the potty/toilet:

  • Tell parent or caregiver
  • Go to the potty or toilet
  • Take off pants and/or diapers
  • Do a pee
  • Flush the toilet or ask Mom/Dad to empty the potty
  • Wash hands afterwards

When teaching your son to use the potty/toilet, you may find it helpful to encourage him to sit down first. Once sitting on the toilet has been mastered, you may teach your child to urinate while standing. Another suggestion to help your child with toilet training would be to set up a fun game using a teddy bear or one of your child's favourite toys, as follows:

  • Go through the steps that teddy bear follows when he wants to pee.
  • Praise teddy bear for following the steps
  • Next, let the child pretend he is the teddy bear
  • Ask the child what he should do, for example, "what should you do when you want to pee?" or "what comes next?"
  • If the child does not know, remind him
  • Help the child to complete the step if necessary
  • Praise cooperation and success at each step

Sometimes children need a little extra motivation to change certain behaviour, practice a skill, or complete a task. Behaviour charts can be very useful in such situations. The child can earn stamps, stars, happy faces, stickers or points on a chart for the desired behaviour. In this case, the desired behaviour would be urinating in the potty/toilet. Parents may reward their child after he/she has accumulated a certain number of stamps or stickers after 2-3 days. Some of the best rewards involve activities such as family outings, special time with mom or dad, helping to bake a cake, or going to a picnic. Other rewards include small treats such as choosing a DVD to watch, choosing dinner, a new book, small toy etc.

Finally, it is important to remember that all children like being praised. Providing your child with specific and descriptive praise like "Good boy!! Thank you for peeing in the potty/toilet"; "You're such a big boy, good job peeing in the potty/toilet"; "Mom/Dad is so happy you peed in the potty/toilet" will help your child connect the desired behaviour to a positive response from you. For more information, or a more detailed discussion with a trained counsellor, please contact the Triple P Parent Line at (204) 945-4777 or toll free at 1-877-945-4777 or visit their website at www.manitobatriplep.ca.

ManitobaParentZone.ca acknowledges the assistance of Health Links – Info Santé in responding to this question.

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6. If you are a parent or caregiver of a child and you are concerned about bullying behaviours or incidents in your child's school, call or visit your child's teacher, school guidance counsellor or principal right away. Parents have an important role in working with the school to support and teach children respectful, caring behaviours as prevention of or response to hurtful incidents.

If you are a parent or school teacher looking for information on bullying, there are various resources available, from brochures to videos, activity kits and other online resources.

Brochure: NOT in my School! Learn how you can help stop bullying at school and in your community

The brochure NOT in my School! Learn how you can help stop bullying at school and in your community provides information to help members of the school community identify signs of bullying behaviours and outlines how to participate in creating respectful, safe learning environments. The message, 'It takes teamwork to stop bullying,' emphasizes that we all have a role in making this a reality. This brochure is available online or can be ordered through the Manitoba Text Book Bureau (MTBB). To order, call the Manitoba Text Book Bureau at 1-866-771-6822 or visit their website at www.mtbb.mb.ca. (Stock #80550).

Video: Not in My School video challenge

In 2008, the Top Ten Videos from the Not in My School video challenge were announced. These videos are available online as a resource for students, teachers and school communities in creating safe school climates. An online activity kit also provides classroom processes for students to explore what a safe environment looks like, make connections that are personally meaningful, and ways to apply their learning as they contribute in creating a safe and caring place to learn and grow.

To download any of the Top Ten Videos from the Not in My School video challenge (2008), go to: Top Ten Videos from Not in My School

To download and print a Not in My School Bullying Awareness Activity Kit (2008), go to: Not in My School Bullying Awareness Activity Kit

Various Other Resources

In addition to the online resources mentioned previously, the Instructional Resources Unit of Manitoba Education provides Safe School resources to educators that range from picture books to multi-media kits (videos, DVDs). See the following link for contact information and a listing of resources, with a description, under Conflict Resolution: Safe Schools.

For further information about providing safe and caring learning environments in schools, you can contact the Program and Student Services Unit at Manitoba Education by calling (204) 945-7964 or toll free 1-800-282-8069.

ManitobaParentZone.ca acknowledges the assistance of the Program and Student Services Unit at Manitoba Education in responding to this question.

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7. I have a 16 year old daughter who has a friend who comes over after school every day. They are eating me out of house and home (yesterday was a 2KG bag of chicken wings for example). I am a single mother and have explained to my daughter that I don't mind her having friends over but I cannot afford to feed the neighbourhood. I've made less expensive snack suggestions, but they don't last long. I don't want to be cheap or teach my daughter not to be generous but this is getting ridiculous and I resent that she doesn't respect that I work hard for my money and for us to have treats like chicken wings. I've tried to talk to her and explain my position, but because there seems to be no compromising, I put my foot down last night and said that's it, no more friends over after school unless I'm home. Now I am questioning if there is a better way to handle this as the truth is that I'd rather have them/my daughter watching a movie rather than hanging out at 7-11 or wherever... thank you!

Parenting teens can certainly be a challenging time. As children change and develop, the strategies we as parents use must also change and develop. Teenagers don't respond well to ultimatums or exaggerations and they also want to be actively involved in the problem solving process. They especially need to feel heard and the best way to do that is by acknowledging their feelings and trying to understand their perspective on things. Providing them with opportunities to contribute to the solutions will increase the likelihood that they will follow through and honor agreements.

It sounds like you like it that she brings her friends around and it certainly is a positive thing that they want to "hang out" at your home. Sitting down and having a good discussion about what the problem here actually is should prove helpful. You could start by letting her know that you are happy that she feels comfortable bringing her friends around, and that you want that to continue. It is important for her to hear that the issue is really that you find the expense difficult as a single parent on a budget. Are there some suggestions she has for a win/win situation here? Is it possible for her to help you come up with some low cost solutions that you can substitute i.e., popcorn, apples, etc. Would it be possible for her friend to also contribute snacks once in a while? By working with her to come up with some mutual solutions you are not only helping to brainstorm this issue but you are also laying the groundwork for working through the other issues that will arise as you navigate parenting a teen. Engaging your teen in discussion and problem solving also gives them the opportunity to feel heard and respected and serves to strengthen their relationship with you.

ManitobaParentZone.ca acknowledges the assistance of Healthy Child Manitoba in responding to this question.

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8. Can a child stay out as long as they like?

As children grow and develop, they become increasingly independent from their parents and want to spend more time with their peers. This is a part of the normal development that children go through as they move towards adulthood.

As a parent, you want your child to become independent, but at the same time, you need to set limits to guide this process. As you give your child more freedom, you need to take their maturity level, personality, and safety factors into consideration. Have discussions with your child about the topic of going out, in an open manner, rather than authoritatively.

It is important to explain to your child that there needs to be structure in a family. Your child cannot stay out for as long as they want, without having any accountability to you whatsoever. Help your child understand that with more freedom and privileges comes more responsibility. It is a good idea to make a household rule about curfew time so your child knows when they are expected to be home by. Before putting this rule in place, talk about it and preferably, try to make all household rules together with your child. This creates a great opportunity to work on healthy communication lines between you and your child.

Depending on the age and maturity level of your child, decide on a time limit that makes sense. You may want to start with letting your child stay out for a shorter amount of time – maybe just a few hours, to allow your child the opportunity to grow in this process and learn responsibility. As your child keeps the curfew rule and becomes more mature, increase the time they are allowed to stay out. In addition, make it clear to your child that you need to know who they are going out with and where they are going.

Let your child know that they can call you for a ride anytime if for any reason they feel unsafe while they are out, or if the friends they are out with decide to participate in unsafe practices (e.g. drinking and driving).

Try to make your child understand that the limits you set as a parent are for their safety and well-being, springing from your love for them. When you approach this matter from the perspective of love and concern for your child, they are more likely to see the limits you are setting in a positive light rather than as a bunch of rules to be followed.

Please keep in mind that should you have other parenting or child behaviour related questions we would be very pleased to respond to them. You may also wish to contact the Triple P Program that provides parents with helpful tips, ideas and approaches to raising children that can make a big difference in how parents interact with them.

Triple P tips and strategies are available through a Triple P (telephone) Information line that is staffed by trained Triple P counselors Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. You can access the Triple P information line to receive free, confidential parenting support based on the Triple P Positive Parenting Program by calling 204-945-4777 or toll-free 1-877-945-4777. Triple P Program resources are also available online.

ManitobaParentZone.ca acknowledges the assistance of Healthy Child Manitoba in responding to your question.

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9. What would be a fair bedtime for our children, and should their bedtime be the same? We have a girl 13 years old and a boy 11 years old; they are 18 months apart. Bedtime 9pm (read for 15-30 minutes) and lights out at 930pm OR Bedtime 930pm (read for 15-30 minutes) and lights out at 10pm. Thank you!

Sleep is very important to the health, growth, and development of children and teens. Their growing and developing bodies require a lot of energy, making sleep a crucial factor for maintaining health and well-being. Some kids need more sleep than others, but the general guideline is that children and teens between the ages of 10 and 17 need about 9 to 11 hours of sleep. Teens need more sleep because their bodies and minds are developing quite rapidly.

An adequate amount of good quality sleep allows us to function well when we are awake. Good quality sleep involves sleeping uninterruptedly and allowing the body to go through all the stages of sleep. Both the amount and quality of our sleep are important.

Children and teens who do not get enough sleep are at an increased risk for:

  • Mood swings
  • Behavioural issues such as aggression, anxiety, inattention, and hyperactivity
  • Overtiredness
  • Poor school performance and decreased learning capacity
  • Health related concerns such as obesity and hypertension
  • Depression

Therefore, it is recommended that 11 – 13 year olds go to bed at a time that allows them between 9 and 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

It is important that children's rooms are kept free of distractions such as televisions, computers etc. in order to help them soothe themselves to sleep easily. The Canadian Pediatric society recommends limiting screen time before bed. Some experts recommend eliminating screen time 1-2 hours before bedtime. Following a consistent bedtime routine can also be beneficial in terms of being able to fall asleep without much difficulty.

Although your children are 18 months apart, this does not necessarily call for different bedtimes. Bedtimes should be based on each individual child's needs, personality and also their schedules (wake up time for school, activities etc). You may wish to engage your children in a discussion to come up with an acceptable bed time. This will help them feel like you value their opinion and help them understand why a consistent bed time is important. In the end, it could increase the likelihood that they will comply with your expectations around bedtime.

For more information about the importance of adequate sleep and bedtimes, you may wish to click on the following links:

Please keep in mind that should you have other parenting or child behaviour related questions we would be pleased to respond to them. You may also wish to contact the Triple P Program that provides parents with helpful tips, ideas and approaches to raising children that can make a big difference in how parents interact with them.

Triple P tips and strategies are available through a Triple P (telephone) parent line that is staffed by trained Triple P counselors Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. You can access the Triple P information line to receive free, confidential parenting support based on the Triple P Positive Parenting Program by calling 204-945-4777 or toll-free 1-877-945-4777.

Triple P Program resources are also available online.

ManitobaParentZone.ca acknowledges the assistance of Healthy Child Manitoba in responding to this question.

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