Parenting advice: Help for raising children of all ages

Jul 12, 2012

Family Almanac columnist Marguerite Kelly discussed the ups and downs of parenting, and tips for helping children through challenging times.

My husband and I have been married for 42 happy years. A couple of glitches along the way, but we'd do it again in a heartbeat. Our children, ages 37, 34 and 29 are also happily married, as far as we know. None of them have children, and we are honestly fine with that, but all are adamant that they never will have children. I recently overheard my youngest say, "Cats and dogs, yes! [they have 2 of each] Children, never!" When I confronted her about this, I heard the usual: that there are already too many people and they like their lives just as they are. If one felt like this, OK, but all 3? It makes us wonder if what we remember as wonderful childhoods may not have been all that great.

No two people have exactly the same memories or the same  values or same beliefs or the same goals nor do they spend their money the same way.  Give your children the right to have their dreams just as you had yours.  Everyone of them may change their mind when they hear the alarm ring on their biologocial clocks--or they may not, but that's life: full of surprises. 

I have 3 children, ages 7, 5 and 4. We're pretty well off, so I dress them nicely; and they probably do have too many things, although no more than most of their friends. But 3 times in the past couple months, once on Metro, once in a restaurant, and once, of all places, at a minor league baseball game, total strangers have said to me, "Boy, are your kids spoiled!" (or words to that effect). Each time I was frazzled, they were tired and I was trying to keep them from acting out. Does this mean they are spoiled? They do seem to know what buttons to push to get their own way. Can you suggest a better way to handle this?

They may not be spoiled but they probably don't feel as good about themselves as you (and they) would like--and they never will unless they become givers as well as getters.  Check out what they can do individually and as a family because the more one has, the more one should give.  There's always a sick neighbor's dog that needs to be walked, a special needs child who needs company, a lonely child who would love to be invited to a family barbecue.

Comment: I have a daughter who proclaimed, "no kids", loud and long! But after about six years of marriage, she gave our family two adorable granddaughters! Sometimes, they do change their minds.

My sister died about 18 months ago at 43. She was one of my best friends. She left her husband, daughter and son to grieve her loss, along with a host of family and friends. We all miss her and were very, very close. We are all dealing with the loss and coming to terms with the transition in our own ways. My nephew, who was 12 when she died and will turn 14 at the end of the year seems to be having the most trouble. However, my brother-in-law "does not believe in therapy or counseling." He's a wonderful father. He just wants to "help his own children, in his way." I must respect his decision. My nephew told me privately that he wants to talk to a professional. My brother-in-law was made aware, said he would follow through on his son's request, then dropped the ball. Now, no one talks about it. How do I talk to my nephew about what he's experiencing/feeling (his grades aren't good, he cries a lot, he has few words to articulate his thoughts or mete out his emotions....they're "all jumbled up"...his words.)?

The poor guy!  Rather than talking about the problem with your brother-in-law, who must be pretty overwhelmed himself, you might gie him two books.  One is about the way children grieve at different ages called How to Help a Grieving Child--that's a bit wrong but it's by Phyllis Weatherman, the guru of children's grief, and my daughter-in-law (full disclosure here) and it's the only one like it I think.  The other is by Suzy Yetl--the name is forgotten, again--and the free  "rainbow rooms'' she started for children grieving over a death or a divorce.  They'[re in every state and many countries.  And then check around for a good grief therapist--Linda Goldman is supposed to be quite good.  in Maryland.  Just a note from you with some names, these books and a mention that your nephew told you that he wants to see a professional should give your brother-in-law the impetus he needs to make that ball roll again.

I want to start getting my family onto the Feingold program to see if it will help our family better control our moods and behaviors. How would you start the conversation with a 5 1/2 year old and 2 1/2 year old and how much detail would you go into? I think it may be fairly easy to talk about getting rid of artificial ingredients from our diet, but I have no idea how to broach why we are taking out "good for you" foods like the salicyte fruits.

You don't have to make a big deal about it, since you do the shopping or you can tell the kids that it's a science experiment.  And that you're going off of those good-for-you foods too.  Serve plenty of pears, grapefruit with honey on top, but let them drizzle the honey and shake on the cinnamon, then slip it in the broiler.  Let Feingold be more about trying new treats than about  taking awayfavorite  foods.  And check out those natural syrups you can pour over snow cones!

 I'm a 31 year old man who went out with a divorced mother of 3 for 18 months. Her kids made those featured on "Supernanny" look angelic! After her 6 year old screamed obscenities at me for refusing to buy him a treat, I said to their mother, I can't take this, and ended the relationship. More recently I've dated a single mother whose 4 year old made the earlier 3 seem civilized. I'm the 4th of 7 kids and have 17 nieces and nephews, so I know kids are loud, messy, and have meltdowns when they are tired or overstimulated. But my nieces and nephews, while boisterous, have fairly decent manners and are usually well behaved. I starting to wonder if it's me -- should I be a father or stepfather at all? I love kids, but the sight of me seems to turn them into raging maniacs.

Of course you should be a parent.  But you shouldn't be a parent to an ill-mannered child because no one should.  Letting a child get away with rudeness is cruel, because childhood is all about learning what to do, how to behave, how to negotiate, and these are the skills that parents and stepparents have to teach or they'll watch their children stagger from job to job, marriage to marriage, because they don't know how to consider the feelings and the needs of others.

My adorable (and extroverted) 10 year old daughter is game to try many new things, to her credit. But every year for the past three years at school, she's signed up to play another new sport, never returning to the one she just finished. Additionally, she was insistent in January that she wanted to learn how to ice skate. So we paid for lessons and even bought her skates. She attended lessons, but wouldn't practice on the ice during public skate. She couldn't believe she didn't pass to the next level. My husband and I aren't athletes and neither of us played sports in school, so we're not great sports examples, although we can offer companionship for practicing. So my question, is it better to let them keep trying new sports every year regardless of talent or longer term commitment to the team, or not? Also, how do you assess your child's competitive streak for playing sports? Do you just know it? I do like the idea of keeping her moving, trying new things and being with friends. On the down side are the costs of experimenting every year,  including fees/ equipment, practice time, travel time, work schedules, etc. She's still in the developmental-teams stage, so I suppose coaches are used to seeing kids one year and not the next. She's hooked on Girl Scouts and earned her first degree black belt about a year ago, so she does stay with some programs long term. I'm just confused about how best to support her involvement in sports, at and away from school, and not set limits.

What an interesting child--and yet she needs to learn how to work a little harder before she ges wht she wants.   The next time she wants to go out for a sport, ask her why and what she is going to do to prove to you that it's worth your time and effort.  If she wants to take tennis lessons, look around for a teenager who, for a fee, will bat the ball around with her, or take her to some games, and then let her talk to a tennis coach and see if she's cut out for that sport.  Some children like to be on teams; some like individual sports, like swimming or tennis.  The more you help your child define herself, the easier these decisions will be but don't go all out for each one unless you know that she is truly committed to it.

I'm 28, no kids, but I like animation, esp. Pixar, so I went to see Brave. It scared me silly! I kept repeating to myself, It's a Disney novie. It's a Disney mopvie. Lesson learned: when I do have kids, I'm going to really have to monitor what they're going to see so we don't all wind up with nightmares afterwards!

I felt that way about Tom and Jerry cartoons, both as a child and as an adult.  They may not bother all children, but they sure bothered me!

If they were just eating at home, I wouldn't be so worried. But, they attend daycare, and will need to bring all food from home when we start, which will be a big change for them. I also am unfamiliar with how to handle the colors from magic markers and other dyes that can enter through skin contact with art supplies. Will things like a cool lunch box be enough to get them over the difficult transition of not eating what everyone else gets?

I think your best bet would be to contact the Feingold Assn. and ask for a volunteer to help you walk through these early stages, and also to talk with the day care staff so they will be on board.  You might even order some candy treats frm Squirrel's Nest and ask the teacher to serve them the first day.  No dyes--and they're terific!

I am a single 42 year old professional woman, the second of 5 children. I have a good job and a good life. My sibs all married young and have a total of 11 children. They all have chaotic households. My mother spends nearly all her time babysitting, providing child care, and doing cooking, cleaning and laundry for my sibs. She says, "That's what grandmothers do." On the rare occasions I can take her out to dinner or to a classical music concert, she's too exhausted to enjoy it. She also thinks I should give money to my sibs. When I tried to take her on a cruise, she said I shuld give the money to them instead! I worked my way through college and grad school and feel I have earned what I have. I just want my Mom to be proud of me, and to be able to spend a little quality time with her. Short of marrying and having children (the latter not very likely at this point), how can I bring this about?

Some mothers have a hard time letting go--and unfortunately, your mom is one of them.  And yet she really should.  The more parents do for their grown children,and give to them, the harder it is for them to stand on their own feet. 

You can't change your mom, but you can tell her that you need her too, and then see if the two of you can set aside one or two days a month when you spend it together--at a spa, or shopping or lunch and an afternoon movie, but don't schedule things at night, because she's too tired by then to enjoy it.  But don't hand over money to your sibs unless they really need it and don't criticize them either.  We all make different choices in life, each to our own needs.

My four-year-old has a couple of tantrums a day. They're exhausting and he refuses to try to calm down. He eventually does, but these are exhausting to all involved. My husband always says, "He's four," when I try to understand what went wrong. Yes, he's four and tantrums are probably normal at this age, but he's our older child and so really, what do we know? Any references to books that would help me understand what is expected from kids at different ages? Thanks!

Try Your Four Year Old by Louise Bates Ames.  And seriously investigate the cause for his tantrums, because they shouldn't be that severe or that frequent.  I've found that a child either misbehaves because his parents don't know how to discipline him; because they don't guide him in a new direction when they see the warning signs or because his diet is wrong for him.  He may be hypoglycemic and need a little protein every two hours; he may not be able to tolerate dairy or gluten or both, which is much more common than you might tihink, or like the Feingold mom, they may not be able to tolerate dyes and preseratives.  If it seems like too much trouble to change your son's diet, please remember, it's a lot easier to change his behavior if you do.  All the time-outs and the reasonable explanations in the world can't correct a physical problem or make it go away.

All of the possibilities I've mentioned, by the way, have good websites that will explain the different issues.

I have a wonderfully behaved 14-month old girl; however, she engages in a very high-pitched squeal when she wants something or is excited. It is ear-piercing and everyone stops and stares when we are in public. Is it even possible to teach her not to do this at this age? We say 'no' all the time but it doesn't seem to make any difference.

It doesn't make any difference because a squeals get her just what she wants:  attention.  Try ignoring them, even in public.  Don't even look in her direction when she lets out another one.  She'll soon stop, I promise.

Our son (turned 2 in April) is able to climb of his crib and will do it each night. We took one side off his crib and converted it to a daybed, but he won't go down without a huge fight- absolute hysteria, lots of screaming, totally out of control, etc. He has a night light, music, white noise machine, stuffed animals in bed, and new big boy sheets. Repeatedly picking him up and putting him back in bed while remaining neutral seemed to hype him up even more. What can we do? He wants someone to lay on the floor next to him until he falls asleep, but we're hesitant to start a bad habit.

Some children really do need company at night, but could there be another way to give it, like a long satin ribbon from his bed to yours, so happy throughts and interesting dreams can travel from one to the other?  An earlier bedtime? If your son needs more sleep than most children, he might get too revved when he stays up too late.  Calm, calmactivities an hour bef0re bedtime?  Wrestling, goofy bathtime games, etc., can excite a child too much.

And if none of that works, then it's probably a few months of lying down on the floor next to him before you can have him go to sleep on his own.

My daughter is a brilliant kid going to an ivy league school with scholarship. She is beautiful, well liked by everyone. Only one thing, she is dating a convicted drug dealer, and she has been dating him for the past 5  years. How do I handle this as a parent? I don't want to driveher away from me, but I can't bring myself to invite him over for dinner and treat him as would treat a 'normal' boyfriend. Please advise.

Why not?  You'll never get to know this man unless you do and you'll never know if he is still dealing either.  But if you don't want to break bread at your own table, perhaps you could invite him to meet you somewhere so you can get to know each other and then you can find out if your assumptions are as true as you think and if he is on drugs himsel, why he got into that game himself and what was jail like anyway?  You may not like what you learn but you will proabably be fascinated by the way this man has stretched your world, which may be the same as it has done for your daughter.

Yes! They can also volunteer as a family with organizations that help clean up public parks, paint schools, etc.

I think that Marguerite is right to suggest that the kids do things to help others. But I am also wondering if they engaged in whiny or obnoxious behavior in the situations the OP described? If you're in a situation where they are not behaving properly, I'd say leave the restaurant (or wherever), make sure the kids get consequences for bad actions (like timeouts, or taking away a valued privilege), and trying to keep them occupied in the first place with games and books. Good to teach them patience, good manners, not to interrupt, etc at those ages.

Consequences are a child's best teacher but if it seems hard for a parent to do this on her own, she and her husband should take a parenting course given by PEP (Parent Encouragement Program) which explains this Adlerian philosopy so well.

Don't look at your children's plans to not have kids as a reflection on their childhood or your as a parent. This is about their desire, or lack thereof, to have children with their spouse. Lots of things may contribute to their decision. It's about them and not about you.

Good point!

Maybe the aunt could suggest he speak to his school counselor as a first step?

And that's another good point, which is why I like to hear from you all so much.  You teach me much more than you know.

Don't just stop at books. If the Dad's grief has him paralyzed to act, contact the kid's school guidance counselor. They won't be able to discuss too much with the aunt, but her concerns could prompt a proactive reaching out by the guidance staff, which could help get the kid on the right path and also relieve the dad of some of whatever stresses are blocking him from getting this boy the help he needs.

In This Chat
Marguerite Kelly
Marguerite Kelly has written the syndicated column Family Almanac since 1979. She is the author of several books, including "Marguerite Kelly's Family Almanac" and "The Mother's Almanac."

Read one of her most recent columns on monitoring a preteen's online "friend" or click here for previous columns.
John Spooner
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