Dear Sara, my 12 year old daughter doesn’t seem very interested in hygiene…

Dear Sara,

I am having problems getting my 12 year old daughter, Shannon, to wash her hair. She is pretty and has a great personality but doesn’t seem to be interested in her personal hygiene. She will lie and say she has washed her hair when she hasn’t. What can I do to motivate her.


Dear Hope,

What you need to think about is why Shannon is behaving this way. Does she clean up when she is going to her friend’s homes or is this something she only has a problem with at home. Usually at this age, girls tend to get very picky about the way they look. They are beginning to want to attract the attention of the young men (or a special young man) who are in her vicinity.

Shannon may not be aware that when she neglects her hair or body that she doesn’t smell good to others. Also clean shining hair that smells good is definitely attractive to others. Try to gently explain these things to her. Also be willing to help her pick out a shampoo that appeals to her.

Sometimes when a girl is being sexually abused she will try to make herself less attractive. You should be aware of what is going on around her and see if you see any clues that could point to this. She may not be willing to discuss this for whatever reason. If you suspect anything at all I would strongly recommend counseling so that she will have someone to confide in.


Dear Sara, My wife and I are having twins…

Dear Sara,

My wife and I have only been married for a year. We found out last week that we are going to have twins in about six months. We know nothing about parenting and need to know just some basic things. I’m sure there are books but maybe you have a few basic ideas to start with.


Dear Franklin,

There are lots of things that you can include in your parenting repertoire. Here are a few:

Kids need rules. They may test the limits and try you patience but they feel more secure
if you’re in charge. If you say “no” mean it. Don’t let crying or anger manipulate you out of it.

Let them know your value system. Be a good example for them.

Give your children some responsibility. They need to know everything is not all about them.

Be positive in your interactions with your children. Don’t belittle them or put them down. Too much criticism makes them feel bad about themselves. Give them praise when the deserve it (even a little.)

Teach them the value of money.

Keep them close. Supervise them as much as possible. Make them your priority.

Tell your children you love them.

When it’s time, let them go with love. They will want their independence.


Dear Sara, I’m a stay at home mom with two kids and I have a problem…

Dear Sara,

I’m a stay at home Mom with two kids ages seven and nine. There is a little boy age five who comes over to my house all of the time. He will stay as long as four or five hours. He watches TV and will help himself to food left on the table and feels free to use the bathroom. I know his Mom is at home but I seldom see her. I’m not comfortable with this but I don’t want to hurt the little guy. How should I handle it?


Dear Tracy,

Maybe the first thing to do would be to check out the Mom to see what’s going on there. Walk back home with your little visitor and get to know her. She may be staying up at night and sleeping during the day. If she is young she may not have much experience with parenting. Another possibility is that she is using drugs and not paying much attention to her son. If this is the case you might want to contact Child Protective Services.

If you think his home life is OK then he probably is just lonely and looking for companionship. Since you haven’t set any limits for him, he probably thinks it’s Ok to stay as long as he wants.

You might just say “it’s time for you to go home now” after he’s been at your house for an hour or so. If he comes over it’s OK to say “I’m busy right now.” You could offer a cookie and send him on his way.

He sounds like a good little guy who likes your company. You may have made a friend for life.


Dear Sara, I’m thinking about divorcing my verbally abusive husband but I’m concerned about my children…

Dear Sara,

I am married to a verbally abusive man who puts me down at every opportunity. I have a really good job and I am greatly appreciated at work so my self esteem is still intact. I have an opportunity for a better position and much more money but I would have to move half way across the country. I have two children ages 8 and 10. They love their Dad and he is good to them. I want this job and to divorce my husband. What kind of an impact will this have on my kids?


Dear Valerie,

It’s not good for children to hear their mother get put down and verbally abused by their father. It gives them the idea that this is the way men should treat women. You deserve their father’s respect.

This move would be a big upheaval for your children and I think you already know this. They will have to leave their father, their school, their friends and nearby relatives. Children at this age will usually adjust pretty quickly though.

If you decide to make this move, you can try to make it seem like an adventure and point out the positives that they will encounter. You probably won’t get any help from your husband if he is already making your life difficult. If you are in a position to take care of the children financially without his help, this might make a difference in his cooperation.

For your children’s sake, don’t try to shut him out of your life or theirs. Even if you are angry and hurt, don’t express this to your children. Be sure that you make it easy for them to visit their father and try to make him welcome when he come to visit them. This is not their problem and they need your help in getting through this. Let them talk about their Dad. It’s not fair to them to have to tiptoe around your angry feelings toward him.

Divorce is always hard on children at any age so be prepared for your children to be angry and depressed. You may have to seek some family counseling.

Good luck.


Dear Sara, My son makes me feel bad after I discipline him…

Dear Sara,

My four year old son Frankie gets angry with me when I discipline him. He tells me that he hates me and doesn’t want me for a Mommy any more. I really feel bad when he says things like that. How should I deal with this?


Dear Carol,

Even four year olds know when they are having an effect on people. That’s how they learn to manipulate their environment. They will do what works. If Frankie feels that his words or his behavior in any way will change or lessen his punishment, then this is what he will do because it works in his favor.

Your job as a parent is to teach Frankie how to behave in a civilized manner. If this means putting him in time out or taking away his toys for a while then this is what you need to do.

You can say to him that you know that he is angry and doesn’t really mean what he is saying. Let him know that you love him but can’t allow him to break the rules. You can even let him know that it hurts your feelings when he says things like that but it won’t change the fact that if he doesn’t follow the rules he will have to take the consequences. If you don’t make too big of a deal out of it then he will eventually decide that this isn’t working and will stop trying to manipulate you in this way.


Dear Sara, My two year old is still not potty trained…

Dear Sara,

I am trying to potty train my two year old son and not having much luck with it. I have gotten training pants and I try to take him potty every hour or so but so far no luck and he’s definitely in diapers at night. I just can’t get it across to him what he’s supposed to do. I have a friend who says that her son was trained at age one. Is that usual for a child to be trained that early? Is there anything different I should be doing?


Dear Dina,

It’s very unusual for a child to be potty trained at age one. Mostly because they don’t have the ability to control their own bladder. Probably the child’s mother followed him around and caught him as he was about to urinate. She was trained to take him to the potty as he was about to urinate.

It seems like it takes a long time to potty train and kids still have accidents for a while but they eventually learn. You might try letting him go without training pants or diaper so that he can see and feel what’s going on. If you can catch him in progress and take him to his potty right away that might help. If he doesn’t seem to get it, don’t get frustrated, just stop for a few months and try again later.

Good luck.


Dear Sara, how can I tell my kids not to smoke when I am a smoker myself…

Dear Sara,

My problem is that I smoke. I have tried patches and gum but I can’t seem to quit for more than a week. I try to smoke outside so that my two kids won’t have to breathe second hand smoke but they know that I smoke and I feel that I am a terrible example. I want to quit and everybody tells me that it just takes “will power.” I just don’t seem to have it. How can I tell my kids not to smoke when I smoke?


Dear Carly,

I guess that you can start by letting you kids know what an addiction you have, how hard you have tried to stop and that even that you know smoking isn’t good for you that you continue to do it. When you started smoking (probably in your teens) you had no idea that this thing that you thought was pleasurable and “cool” would be bad for you and a hard habit to break.

There is enough information published and taught to kids now that at least they know they know the dangers of smoking which is an advantage that you did not have.

Smoking must still be “cool” in some circles because I’ve seen teens walking down the street with a cigarette in their hand. Even though the tobacco companies are limited in their advertising, they must still exert a strong influence.

Please don’t give up the fight to quit smoking. You want to be around to see your kids grow up. If you haven’t tried hypnosis then that might be helpful. If you are determined to quit maybe you could find a couple of other friends who have tried and failed to quit smoking, to form a support group.

Don’t give up.


Dear Sara, My 14 year old has friends who are much older than him…

Dear Sara,

I have a 14 year old son, Deke, who is a freshman in high school. He is a whiz with computers and has started hanging out with guys who are 16 and 17 who have a similar interest. As long as they came to my house and did things on the computer I was OK with it. Now they want him to go out with them to some kind of club. Should I let him go? There won’t be any grownups going.


Dear Nikki,

This is a tough spot for Deke to be in. He’s been accepted by the older guys and now he has to ask Mom if it’s OK to go out with them. It sounds like this could be trouble though. You don’t say what kind of club this is.

Hopefully it’s some kind of club for teens. If the boys went straight there and straight home and were careful drivers it might be safe, but there are a lot of things that you don’t know about.

Maybe you could postpone things for a while. Let the guys come to your house. Make them comfortable with soft drinks and pizza. Get to know them better. See if you can meet the boys parents and talk to them. Maybe the club is a safe place for teens to hang out. You could find out where it is and go by there to check it out for yourself. If kids are hanging around outside or you see signs of anything you don’t approve of, then you can say a definite no. If you decide that Deke’s friends are responsible kids and they are hanging out at a safe place then you might say yes with a curfew. Either way you’re the parent and at age 14 you have to do what’s best for Deke.


Dear Sara, my husband doesn’t want me to work but I have a college education…

Dear Sara,

I am a stay at home Mom with two kids ages three and five. I live in a neighborhood of older people who have already raised their children so I have no one to be friends with who has children. I want to go to work. I have a college education but have never worked. My husband doesn’t want me to work and said that he won’t help me out if I try to find a job. I am getting really depressed. What can I do?


Dear Ellie,

It does sound like your isolation is having a big effect on your life. Raising children isn’t easy in the best of situations and it feels like your husband isn’t very supportive. Have you and he discussed any other alternatives? Could you do a partime job or volunteer work? As your children get older and you have more time, these would be a good thing to put on a resume.

If your husband is someone who thinks women should stay home and the man should be provider then you might need to see a marriage counselor who could help you communicate with him. Your depression will probably continue if he has that much control over you. Also, please see a doctor about your depression. There are medications your can take.

If a job isn’t possible, try to get out of the house as much as you can with your children. Take them for walks or to places like the zoo or the park. You may meet other mothers in similar situations. Good luck.


Dear Sara, My wife and I aren’t sure if we should kick out our 17 year old…

Dear Sara,

I have a 17 year old stepdaughter. In her past she has had cancer and at that time she regressed to her infancy for a protection. She lately has become unruly, disrespectful and has outright disregard for her Mother’s and my authority. In the last week alone, she has gotten into her third auto accident in six months with two separate vehicles, not coming home for one or two days and getting “busted” with some friends at a vacant home.

South Carolina law states that a minor 17 years old can leave the home of record if she wishes but the parents are still responsible if he/she does leave. But, the child no matter how unruly he/she is cannot be kicked out.

Sara, my wife and I are at wits end with this girl. What can we do?


Dear Bill,

Seventeen year olds are difficult to parent because they are so close to maturity but don’t have the experience to make good decisions. It appears that South Carolina law is somewhat of a double bind when you can’t kick her out but if she decides to leave you are still responsible for her.

I’m wondering if her Mother was extremely overprotective when your stepdaughter had cancer. If she regressed to infancy this may have put them both in a symbiotic relationship where they needed each other too much. This could make the normal breaking away, leaving home situation for the two of them much more difficult. Also your stepdaughter was probably spoiled and coddled because her mother feared she could die.

What are the consequences of your stepdaughter’s behavior? Her mother may fear giving consequences because her daughter might leave but if she has no money and no car she will have a difficult time making it on her own. You didn’t mention it but are drugs a problem as well? She may need counseling for drug addiction as well as her emotional problems.

If you haven’t tried counseling, I would suggest family counseling. Give your stepdaughter a chance to express her point of view without jumping on her or criticizing her. You might also make sure that she is on birth control. She doesn’t need a baby to add to her other emotional problems.