Parenting advice: Help for raising children of all ages

Sep 19, 2013

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

Weldome to the Family Almanac and thank you in advance for the great questions you send.

Dear Ms. Kelly, My three kids and my husband were out on a bike ride on one of our local paths, an activity we all enjoy. Towards the end of the ride, we suddenly came upon a woman who had collapsed on the path. Another woman was frantically trying to help her. My husband stepped in, helped the woman call for assistance, and assisted the woman as directed by 911. She apparently had a seizure, fell and hit her head on the concrete path. My husband stayed with the injured woman while others ran to direct the EMTs to our location. I stayed a short distance away with our 3 kids, 2, 6 and 11. Our 2 year old was asleep in her bike seat, and my 6 year old was curious but not too disturbed. However, my 11 year old was quite scared and kept asking me what happened to this woman and would she be alright. I looked right at my daughter, talked softly to her and told her she was breathing, we were doing everything we could for her, and we would stay until she was cared for. It seemed to take forever for the EMTs to get there - probably 10 minutes. My poor daughter just cried. I kept reassuring her, put myself between her and the woman and just talked to her. It's two days later and she's just sad and scared. We talked about what to do in such situations, I told her I would carry my cell with me when I run, and showed her my contacts and "In case of emergency" button on my phone. I reassured her she was safe, her parents were okay and we would pray for the lady who hurt herself and was obviously ill. But she's so scared. What else can we do for her? Concerned Mom

Accidents make it tough on kids who are old enough to face reality.  Your reassurance is helping your daughter a lot but it will take longer than two days to move this experience from the front of her brain to the back of it. 

You might also talk about the great job her daddy did and how important it is for everyone to step up and help people in trouble , whether they know them or not.  Empathy is a great trait to encourage.

Check out Marguerite's column today about helping a loved one cope with dementia.

I am the mom of two children in their late teens and I'm trying to decide if and when the right time is to talk with them about life insurance. I'd also like to explain why we have a life insurance policy in place and what it means. It's a challenging topic to discuss with children, but I also want my kids to be educated and prepared in the event of a family emergency. I've seen other families devastated by an unexpected death of a loved one and nearly go under financially. I'd appreciate your advice on this topic. Thank you.

Dear Ms. Kelly, I have 3 children, ages 8, 6 and 18 months. My first two were easy kids. They ate and slept well, got along wth each other, other children and adults. I admit I felt a little smug when I saw children misbehaving or having public meltdowns. To keep me humble, God sent me "Sadie." she has been difficult from Day 1, colicky, still doesn't sleep through the night, just an overall handful both at home and when I dare to venture out in public. I tried having local teenagers babysit after school, then hired professional caregivers and now pay a premium because she has been classified as "difficult." My husband works long hours and supports us well. He has a great relationship with the elder two but hasn't bonded with Sadie at all. Sometimes when she's screaming he says, can't you make her stop? I have to admit I cannot. When she was a couple months old our second child said, Mom, can't we please send her back? Sometimes I wish we could, which makes me feel guilty and like a terrible Mom. Our pediatrician says she's perfectly healthy and some children are just more difficult, and in time she will grow out of it. But what if she doesn't? I'm glad she's our 3rd rather than our first or we would have had only one child.

I too had a child--my second--with colic--for eight months.  I put him on hyperallenic formula, made with chamomile tea and carried him on my hip for hours every day.  And then one hectic afternoon--the kind when the phone and the doorbell ring and the pots are boiling over--I put him down on the kitchen floor for a minute.  And suddenly realized that he wasn't crying at all.  Instead he had eaten a bowl of the dog's dry dog food--and he never had colic again. 

I don't recommend this, of course, but babies do grow out of colic.  I think that when it goes on for more than a few months however, the child is probably reacting to something in his diet--the gluten in grains; the lactose in milk, if she drinks it yet, or something in your diet if she's breastfed.  Even high maintenance babies don't dry like this.  I'd get a second opinion.

My 11 year old daughter is bright and extremely sensitive (she was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder last year as well as having 6 of the 8 markers for ADD). She also has a ferocious temper and will snap and yell at everyone around her when she is upset or just feeling irritable. Yet, she has managed to maintain friendships that have lasted since she was four because she is also lively and affectionate. She is one of those kids who will come up with some sort of creative idea (writing a play, creating elaborate houses for Littlest Pet Shop animals out of shoe boxes, starting a club) and will draw her friends in to participate. We're all tired of the outbursts and her assumption that, because she is irritated, that means everyone else has to put up with her temper. She argues that she "can't help it". We have been working to address this for years. We've talked about calming measures (deep breathing, etc.); I've told her that I won't respond when she snaps at me and I follow through by leaving the room or ignoring her; I've snapped back at her (I have a temper, too); we've sent her to her room. I've also tried explaining to her, when she is calm, how her behavior makes the people around her feel, including her friends, and she acknowledges at those times that she has a problem but she then brings out the mantra that she "can't help it". She can't seem to get past the idea that she has no control over this. I'm really at my wits end. We tried seeing a therapist a couple years ago and she was so miserable we finally stopped. If I bring up the idea of trying it again, gently telling her that we will do this only if she feels ready, she will yell a panicked "no!!" I'm worried she will gradually alienate her friends who I see already either placating her or distancing themselves. That would break her heart as she is so social.

Many behaviors can't be prevented no matter how good the parenting. The wrong diet can send some kids around the bend, especially dyes and preservatives (see www.feingold.org for the scientific studies) but blood chemistry can affect a child too, causing depression, bipolar behavior, schizophrenia, violence, anxiety--and anger, simply because the child has inherited an inability to absorb a particular vitamin, mineral or amino acid, or to absorb too much of it.  This can be corrected however if she gets at least 50 blood and urine tests to pinpoint this chemical imbalance and takes the specific supplements to correct it.  The Mensah Clinic does this testing, either in Warrenville, Ill., or three times a year in Annapolis and I think it costs about $500-600 and the U. of Kansas does this testing too and also, I think, the Wyndham Clinic in Minnesota.  Some things are nature, not nurture--and until they're corrected your daughter may be right--she really can't help it.

Dear Ms. Kelly, one of your fellow columnists seems to feel that disrespectful, unruly children are the norm and those of us who don't like it, especially if we are childless, just have learn to cope. I fear she may be right, since whenever I'm out shopping, dining, or even at church or the library I rarely encounter polite, well-mannered children. Two of my sisters taught elementary school for 12 and 15 years but quit because it became just impossible to keep order in the classroom. We have warm, loving parents but none of us would have considered addressing them the way children do now. I must say my nieces and nephews seem to be bucking the trend, so there may be hope. I don't want little angels, just not to be cursed at when a child runs into me at the supermarket.

I don't blame you for being bothered by it.  Somehow Americans seem to swing any pendulum further and faster than anyone else, and I'm afraid you're seeing what happened when the parenting pendulum swung to the child-centered home.  Fortunately, it's beginning to swing back, but slowly, slowly.

Help! I can't seem to reign myself in with establishing parameters for allowing my children to attend birthday parties. I realize how silly that sounds, but I'm starting to feel overwhelmed, especially since we never have parties for my children. My daughters' classmates are turning 11/ 12, and while I'm appreciative that the entire class gets invited, I feel as if I am always buying another present, plus it seems like the same group of kids are having yearly parties. My daughter just likes to have fun and see her friends collectively. The class gets along very well, but it's not like many of these birthday kids are close friends of hers. We've always tried to accommodate the parties and let the kids, since they were in preschool, attend, but now I feel as if I've lost the (self) ability to simply send regrets. I mean, it's not like we'll be out of town. So, why do I feel so guilty and selfish? Will my daughter be scarred for life? Or do you do more good in the long run by just letting them attend?

It helps to keep a gift drawer of inexpensive wrapped presents labeled 'boy, 12'; 'girl, 10' rather than buy them one at a time which always costs more money.  I'd also let your daughter decide whether she wants to go to every party or not.  The mother is just asking the whole class to be polite--or because it's a school requirement--but that doesn't mean that your daughter has to go to every oen of them.  And I'd give an occasional party for your child for no reason at all or arrange some outing like a bike ride where a grown=up meets them at a certain point with snacks and drinks.

Read with interest "Therapy might bridge this gap," 9/12/13. Have 20-year-old college student who refuses to speak to parents until parents agree to accept lie that she has never had a sip of alcohol and apologize for accusing her. (Parents have seen the video clip--no doubt about it.) Parents not so upset that daughter apparently occasionally drinks, but more disappointed that she will not be honest, esp. when confronted with video. Daughter has not only been adamant about her being alcohol-free, but has strongly denounced other students (and adults!) who do drink, even occasionally. Parents concerned about the facade and that she is unable to be honest and continues the pretense by requiring parents to believe lie and to apologize to her (there are other threats too, never coming home ...). This just started two weeks ago, just after student arrived at school (far from home), with all college fees paid by parents. Student is an athlete with excellent grades. Parents not withholding money, support, or communication, just asks student to be honest. Parents have been to counselor for advice. Student still not responding.

Sometimes it's better to know the truth without demanding that the person get on bended knee and beg forgiveness.  Your friend's daughter may have had too much to drink and be too mortified to admit it yet.  It's time for her parents to back off.  Every child has the right to try and the right to fail.

Dear Ms. Kelly, I live in Anne Arundel Co., where the Dept of Aging offers wonderful free programs on dealing with all aspects of dementia. For example, to bathe a patient, use a shower seat and hand held spray, warm water, and work slowly from the feet up. Allow the patient to wear a nightgown or nightshirt if modesty is a problem. Etc. etc. I would imagine neighboring jurisdictions offer similar programs. They are definitely worth looking into. Ours was truly a godsend.

That's great advice.  Thanks so much for sending it to us.

My daughter, who loved school last year, says she doesn't like first grade. She is extremely bright (reading way above grade level) and I'm concerned that some of this may be boredom. But she visits her kindergarten teacher every morning and just seems more glum about school. Is it really that big of a change from kindergarten? How can I help her enjoy school again?

Maybe she's got a bad teacher or she's sitting next to a poky little boy who pulls her pigtails.  Can you observe in the classroom one morning?  If you are absolutely quiet, you'll be amazed at all that you see.

Whether you can observe or not, ask for a conference with the teacher and if possible, the principal, to get to the bottom of this problem. 

At what point is it OK for a person to inform parents at another table that their kids are a little too loud. I don't know why parents fail to notice their own kids are using outdoor voices at the restaurant. Last night, there was one little boy who thought it was funny to fake sneeze. He did it at least 30 times. After a while, I was tempted to shout, "Bless You" after a fake sneeze to let everyone know how loud he was being. Another time, there were three kids running around. The father made several threats to get a high chair if they didn't remain in their seats. I was ready to ask my server to bring them a set of high chairs as the father clearly had need of them.

The sneezer will be about 12 before he knows how to be funny and even then his attempts will seldom get laughs except from doting parents.  And it will be years before he knows when to quit his joke.  In the meantime, a four-ear-old thinks it is the height of hilarity if he calls someone a poo-poo head (and all children his age will too) and at eight he will be delighted when he learns how to belch and say Ralph at the same time.  Childhood is one long practice in being a grown up.  If it bothers you too much, you might find a bar that serves food as well.  Most parents don't take little kids to a bar.

We've got two wonderful kids, an 8-year-old and a 3-year-old. We live in a 2-bedroom house; the older child (daughter) has her own bedroom. The little guy had been fine sleeping in his crib in mommy and daddy's room until just recently, when he finally realized that going to sleep in the crib, and then getting taken into mommy and daddy's bed later when he woke up was wasteful, and he could just go right into mommy and daddy's bed from the get-go, with one of us to lay down with him. This isn't ideal for anyone, as the parent not sleeping with him sleeps on the couch, and the one who goes to bed with him loses an hour or two waiting for him to fall asleep, and he forgets his sleeping independence. We've talked about a toddler bed, but it would just be in with mommy and daddy since we don't have space elsewhere. Any ideas? Are we doomed until we can afford to move to a bigger house in 1 or 2 years?

Is lying down with your child really fair to him?  Going to sleep on his own had been his first step toward independence and he needs to get it back.  Can you and your daughter redecorate her room and let them sleep in the same room for a couple of years. Perhaps you could an alcove in the corner for him for his new bed.  If you put curtains around it, so he can sleep like a king, or so you can tell him. 

I have an all-too-common problem: my 18-month old is not a great sleeper. She never wants to fully wake up and play at night, she just wakes up 2-4 times/night, screaming as if she's very scared, and needs a few minutes of comforting to get back to sleep. We've tried letting her cry (stopped after 40 minutes), but I am not a fan of this method. I'm wondering if you see children grow out of this phase? Do you think switching to a toddler bed might help?

I dont think children should cry for more than five minutes, if that.  Just go in, reassure her with a pat on the back, and tiptoe out.  You might have to do that 6-8 times the first few nights, but your little girl will probably be able to put herself back to sleep in a week if you try this routine.

I have a son who just turned 1 year old. He's starting to push boundaries, which, of course, is normal. I'm not sure I know how to respond. For example, we have an entryway table with a small lamp on it. Apparently, the sound of the shade rattling on the lamp is irresistible because I just can't keep him away from it. He responds really well to behaviors that are ignored - there are several things he's done that have just gone away because I haven't given any attention for them. This one, however, I can't ignore because I don't want the lamp to fall. Any tips? Thanks.

I'd move the lamp.  Young children have little ability to restrain themselves when tempted, so from the time they crawl, until they're 3 or 4, I'd put breakables, wastebaskets and treasures out of reach because even if they can restrain themselves, their friends will not.  Also, I'd pack in your books too tightly for a small child to pull them out and I'd keep a container in every room for him to enjoy, with your pots and pans as his second favorite toy (you're the first)

The drinking, though disappointing, is really not the issue. It is student's attempt to control parents--"believe the lie and apologize to me or I will never see you again."

She'll see them again if she wants them to pay her college expenses.  Don't apologize, but don't keep mentioning the subject.  A 20-year-old has to pull away from her parents before she can grow up.

I had two easy breezy kids, followed 3 years later by the same one that the poor lady has. When he was 6yo I took him to a child psychologist. Turns out he is profoundly gifted (IQ over 160) and all that he went through in his early years was pretty textbook. Psych gave us excellent ways to parent (polar opposite to what I would have done with my 2 first angels) and guess what? I have a 13yo boy who people beg to have as their own. Just parenting differently than I thought was right, was incredible. I urge the other lady to see someone in the years to come. My son is so great right now (and I know he's just 13) that those unbelievably difficult years seem so far away.

I agree.  Every child is different--and every parent thinks--at first--that parenthood is always the same.  Guess what?  It's not!

Hi! I generally love your advice but I am a bit skeptical of your advice to get misbehaving kids tested for vitamin deficiencies, etc. In my experience much worse than a misbehaving child (which will certainly improve) is a child whose every hiccup/misbehavior is medicalized and tested and doctored. If overdone this can be very very detrimental to the long term health of the child and family. I'd just be a bit careful about recommendations to medicalize routine childhood behaviors and general aches and pains.

Ordinarily, I'd agree, but this case really didn't seem routine to me.

"Most parents don't take little kids to a bar." Sadly, not the case. If nearby kids are too loud, I ask the server to be re-seated or quickly finish if we're near the end of our meal. Depending on how bad the behavior is, I might ask for my meal to-go and eat at home. I've found saying something to the parents rarely helps - either they know and are at a loss as to what to do or they just don't care. I understand that kids will be kids, but is it too much to expect parents be parents?

Apparently it is, sometimes, with some parents.  That's when I'd go for take out and a different restaurant the next time.

My 3.5 yo simply won't stay in bed at night anymore. He will go to sleep fine, but sure enough, by 1-2am he is in our bed. I have tried sticker charts/rewards, but this doesn't work. I am exhausted since he is a loud sleeper/snorer and he wakes me up trying to sneak into bed with us. Any ideas? (He shares a room with his brother, who thankfully is a heavy sleeper.)

I'd take him right back to his bed, again and again, and maybe invest in a white noise machine to lull him to sleep.  Stickers only work for a week.

I understand the parents are upset that daughter is lying...however imagine if YOUR mom and dad saw a you-tube video of stupid stuff YOU did as a teen/college student when they weren't around and then wouldn't lay off YOU until you groveled. Just tell her you love her and leave it alone. Insisting on her fessing up is humiliating her right now.

Couldn't agree more.  This 20-year-old hasn't learned that she can't act in a way that would embarrass her if it got on the 6 o'clock news because it just may get there. 

YouTube is the 6 o'clock news in 2013 and it can be brutal.  Combine that with the impulse control center of the brain which doesn't fully mature until the early to mid-20's.  Hoo-boy.  When parents can dare to let their children go, they'll be astonished at the things their children did when they were young, but didn't tell them about it until they grew up.  It's just as well.

I see that time is up for our noon chat.  Thanks so much for joining the Family Almanac today.

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 recent columns on whether a parent should send her son to preschool or kindergarten or click here for previous columns.
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