Teasing Children… Where’s the line?

Dear Sara,
My sister and her husband have three girls ages eight, ten and fourteen. Her husband teases and ridicules the girls unmercifully. He has told them they’re too tall, calling them string bean and he’s made fun of budding breasts. It’s always some form of comment that he thinks is funny but is negative. I hate to butt in but I feel I need to do something, but what? He thinks it’s all a big joke but he’s belittling these girls.

Dear Lena,
When children are growing up, they need to hear the positives about themselves especially teens because they are often critical of themselves and how they look. You might think about talking to your sister first about your impression of her husband. Maybe she has already spoken to him without results. It’s hard to tell if he is being cruel or if he really thinks it’s funny.
I know that it might be difficult for you but someone needs to speak up and try to protect these girls. Let your brother in law know how it makes you feel when he makes fun of and belittles his girls. It’s important to express you feelings rather than criticize and blame. He may be angry but it could convince him to stop making his daughters feel bad about themselves. I hope you can make him see how negative his actions are.

My Child Won’t Cooperate

Dear Sara,
I have a four year old son who I can only describe as obstinate. 
He doesn't want to eat what I fix. He doesn't want to
go to daycare. He doesn't want to go to bed. I am so tired of 
having to make him do everything. I just feel drained at
the end of the day and he still wants another drink of water or
trip to the bathroom at bedtime. What can I do to make
him more cooperative?

Dear Lisa,
This sounds like quite a power struggle. Think about ways to 
handle things differently. You could ask him what he wants
to eat and just remove whatever is left. Don't fight it just
ignore it. When he gets hungry he will eat. If he can't
get you into an argument or discussion this may make it less
interesting for him.You could try giving little rewards for 
his cooperative behavior. What kind of treat would he enjoy. 
A small piece of candy for the day or a small toy at the end
of the week maybe. The bedtime routine could be a way to get
some of your attention since he hasn't seen you during the day. 
I know he's been a pest and seems to have gone out of his 
way to aggravate you but maybe he missed you. Try reading him 
a story and rub his back for a while to help him relax.
Try to get your son's cooperation in other ways than constantly 
having a power struggle.

Unrequited Love

Dear Sara,
My son is fifteen and a sophomore in high school. He is interested in sports and has friends that come over a couple of times a week and they shoot baskets in front of the garage and watch TV. He doesn’t have much interest in girls yet but there is a girl in one of his classes who is very interested in him. She lives about three blocks away and walks by our house a lot. Sometimes she will come to the door and pretend to ask him about schoolwork. She sometimes sits across the street and watches the house. I don’t want to hurt her but my son wants her to stop doing this. What’s the best way to discourage her?

Dear Karen,
If your son isn’t able to tell her that he’s not interested and doesn’t want her attentions then it’s probably up to you. The next time she comes to the door, you can answer and let her know (gently) that your son doesn’t have feelings for her and that in the long run she would be happier if she found someone else. If she persists after this you could let her Mom know what’s going on.
Feelings of love are really strong at that age and the sense of rejection is very hurtful so you might also want to alert her Mom just in case she might be feeling really sad or depressed. Kids work through these feelings eventually but it isn’t easy for them.

Paising Leads to Narcissistic Children?

Dear Sara,
I am a single parent raising a four year old girl and a six year old boy by myself. I want my children to have good self esteem so I try to praise them when they do a good job. One of my friends told me that they would be narcissistic if I praised them too much. Am I doing the wrong thing by letting them know when they please me?

Dear Isabelle,
No, you are not doing the wrong thing by letting your children know when they are doing a good job. They need to know this. Letting your child know when they have done a good job isn’t what creates a narcissist. However, thinking that your child is better than other children and treating them as special is something that can create narcissism. Children can internalize this and see themselves as more important than anyone else.
Children who are treated by their parents with affection and appreciation will feel that they are valuable human beings and will have good self esteem. Loving your kids and thinking that they are wonderful is a good thing but thinking your child is the most wonderful child in the whole world may lead to narcissism.

Chasing An Adventurous 3 Year Old

Dear Sara,
I have an extremely active three year old, Mark. I have to be constantly after him or he gets into something. He gets up before I do in the morning and will pull up a chair and help himself to the cereal. He wants to push every button and pull everything out of the drawers. I am exhausted trying to keep up with him. What can I do to protect him and get some rest for myself?

Dear Shannon,
Mark sounds like quite a hand full. The first thing you might do is to put gates on the doors and keep him in the same room with you during the day. Make sure he has some toys that will engage him in pushing buttons or turning gears. It’s a good idea to have two toy boxes and change them from time to time so he won’t get bored with them.
Think about putting a gate on the door to his room so he can’t roam around the house before you get up. He could accidentally push a button and burn down the house! If you don’t have a baby monitor in his room this is a good idea so that you can hear what he is doing. Have some toys in there so that he will have something to entertain him until you get up. Apparently he gets hungry as well so you could leave him a cup of his favorite dry cereal to snack on until you get up.
Try sitting and reading to him to get him to calm down. Give him some time to be active by taking him for a walk or to the park. He may calm down eventually or he could grow up to be a very high energy adult.
Good luck for now!

16 Year Old Bride

Dear Sara,
I am at my wits end! My sixteen year old daughter has decided that she wants to get married. Her boyfriend is 21 and has a decent job so he can support her. She has said that if she doesn’t have my permission she will just run away and get married anyway. I have told her she needs to finish high school first but she says she is just not interested in school. How can I keep her from making a mistake that she will regret later.

Dear Stephen,
Sixteen year olds are sometimes impulsive and often have ideas that are not practical. They haven’t had the experience to back up their decisions. You may want to talk to her boyfriend. He is older and hopefully some what more mature. He may be willing to postpone their marriage for a while. Your sixteen year old will probably not listen to reason from you but she might listen to him.
Is there some reason your daughter is so anxious to leave your home? Is there some conflict with others there she is dealing with? Is she having problems at school? These are things that you need to look into so that you can better understand what she is trying to accomplish. She obviously believes she will be better off married.
You might want to think about some family counseling to see if there is something going on in her life that could be resolved.

Destructive Child and Family Stress

Dear Sara,

I have an active one year old son who just started walking. He’s into everything and I have to keep a close eye on him. My aunt is hosting the family reunion this year and she has a house full of glass and porcelain objects that she has collected on her trips over the years. I have asked her to put them away for the day but she just said “it’ll be OK.” I want to go and be with my family but I think it will be really stressful. How can I handle it?


Dear Charlotte,

You’re right. This is a risky proposition for your one year old and the valued objects of your aunt. You could enlist the other members of you family to take turns entertaining your son so it won’t be totally your job to watch after him. Usually one year olds can be very adorable and no one will mind taking a turn.
If you have a portable crib he might be willing to play with his toys in there while you eat dinner. Hopefully there will be a nap time during the day.

If you see breakable objects that are at your son’s level, like on a coffee table, it would be a good idea to move them to a safe place on your own. Your son’s safety is the most important thing and your aunt can’t expect him to know the difference between toys and her collection of breakable objects.
This is a time for family to be together and share their stories and memories. There may be some stress for you but you will be glad that you made the effort.


My Son Watches Too Much TV

Dear Sara,

I have two boys ages six and eight. They seem to be doing well in school and always do their homework but any spare time they have is spent in front of the TV or on the computer. This is a lot of hours. It seems that most of the kids they hang out with are doing the same thing. I can’t help but think that this isn’t good for them but how do I change things?


Dear Judith,

You are in charge! If you limit their TV and computer time they will have to do what you say. Let them know ahead of time that you don’t feel that sitting around and being entertained by electronic devices is good for them and you want to change things. This means that you may have to be creative in finding other things for them to do. They need something to occupy part of their time.

Sports are a good way to stay fit and be part of a team. This will probably take some effort on your part since you will need to transport them and attend their games.
If you can get them interested in the library this could fill up some of the time usually filled electronically.

Also they need to be part of the family unit where you all do things together. You might consider a family game night where you order pizza and play board games.
Some time where they have nothing to do could encourage them to be more creative. When kids don’t have anything to do they will be more apt to use their imagination to fill up their time.
Allow your boys to choose some of their favorite things on TV and Internet but this doesn’t need to be their whole life.


My child just came out as gay

Dear Sara,

My sixteen year old son has told me that he is gay. I’m OK with this. I think that everybody has the right to be who they are. The problem is that he wants to have his gay friends for overnight visits. I would never have let his eighteen year old sister have her boyfriend over when she was sixteen ( or even now.) I realize there are different issues here (my son can’t get pregnant) but I am not at all comfortable with this. How should I handle this?


Dear Olivia,

You have certain values that you grew up with. These are an integral part of you. If you are not comfortable it’s OK to say “no.” Your son will just have to accept and understand how you feel. Have a talk with him and explain how uncomfortable this would make you. He may not like your rules but this is often the case between parent and child.


How can I get my two year old son to eat more healthy foods?

Dear Sara,

I am really worried about my two year old son. He hardly eats anything at all. He seems to have lots of energy and runs from one thing to another but I can’t get him to eat anything. He will eat sweets and junk food but I don’t think this is good for him. His pediatrician says that he is healthy and not to worry but I just can’t help it. How can I get him to eat?


Dear Audrey,

You definitely have the right idea in not giving your son junk food. These things might put weight on him but it’s not going to be healthy for him to get used to eating like that.

Sometimes kids at his age will limit themselves to a few things that they like. Don’t expect him to like everything or expect him to eat as much as you do. He’s a lot smaller. Offer him a choice of healthy foods and let him choose and if you don’t think he’s getting enough nutrition add some vitamins. As long as he is active and healthy he will be better of growing up thin.

You could cause more problems by focusing too much on how much your son eats. If he’s hungry he will eat. Trust his pediatrician and try to relax your vigilance a bit.