Parenting advice: Help for raising children of all ages

Nov 15, 2012

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

Thanks for joining the Family Almanac today!

Marguerite, I'd appreciate it if you could suggest some ideas for keeping the holiday season reasonable with kids -- from a physical/scheduling standpoint and from a gifts standpoint, especially kids 5 and under. Perhaps it could even be a column. Thanks!

Thanks for joining the Family Almanac today!

It took years for me to figure it out, but these tips really do make the holidays go much smoother.

Beginright now  by asking your children what they're going to give for Christmas--not what they want to get.  They'll tell .oyou what they want whether you ask them or not.  A drawing, a used book from Salvation Army,  a pack of emery boards, a poem that your four-year-old spouts off and you quickly right it down.  Even a small child wants to do her part.

Prepare a festive igh-protein breakfast the night before, with the orange juice in a pitcher in the fridge (and coffee ready to be brewed), so you'll only have to cook the eggs in the morning.  Limit sweets in their stockings too because a big sugar rush, without much protein, will give you a big meltdown.

Before Christmas, get rid of any broken toys, give away outgrown toys and put about a third of the toys you keep to pull out on a dreary February day.  Too much muchness makes children unhappy.

Leave the toys at home and take a family walk after breakfast so you can talk about what's really important to you:  your family.

As a live-in grandmother, how do I deal with a 4-year-old who runs crying to her mother (my daughter-in-law) whenever she doesn't want to do something. Then her mother will not back me up about picking up toys and clothes, getting dressed etc.

You really have to leave the parenting to the parents, which is hard to do but it's essential because your granddaughter knows her mom won't back you up and she'll pull that trick again and again.  Just quietly go to your room when you're annoyed and let this young family have their turn at parenting.  They'll learn what you learned but it will take years (just as it probably took for you).

My husband and I married late and had boy/girl/boy in quick succession. They are now 42, 41 and 39 and each has 3 more widely-spaced children, ages 11/7/4, 9/6/4 and 9/5/2. Our daughter never gave us any trouble, but each middle grandchild is a holy terror, by turns whiny, aggressive, mean to their other sibs and more. The 7-year-old still throws tantrums! Their parents try to spend tme with each child individually and so do we. If anything the middle kids get more attention, which the older ones resent. I have a friend in her 70s who still resents what she feels was excessive attention paid to her younger sister when they were children. How can we help prevent a similar dynamic from developing in our family?

Children will act in ways that get the most attention--even if it's bad attention.  The trick to use: give your grandchildren no attention at all when they're acting up--even if you have to send them to their rooms--and plenty of attention when they're good.  You'll be surprised how quickly the behavior of the middle children changes, although at first it will probably get worse for a few days. 

Please address the topic of parental alienation. This affects more people than is commonly discussed. Like a death, but in some ways worse (no closure.) I have a BPD teen who went to live with dad and shut me (mom) out like a light switch.

My heart hurts for you.  It sounds silly to say so, but try not to take it personally.  Your daughter is just trying to find some way to deal with her bipolar condition and you're the safest person to shut out.

Write notes to her though and keep a journal but only write about your love for her; her attributes, etc. so she will know that you really care.  Don't mail these notes to her though, but tell her that you have written them and that you will be glad to share them with her when she's ready.  She will want to read them one day but in the meantime, respect her need to have a distance between you.

Our 17-month-old has learned how to get out of his crib and now we are thinking about moving him to a toddler bed to avoid any more thuds in the middle of the night. Are there any good tips for helping with the transition because leaving him in his crib seems dangerous at this point?

What a rascal he is!  There's really nothing for it but a toddler bed, which will be much easier to get out of but much safer.  Expect a lot of midnight adventures

I am a reasonably well-off widow with 4 grown children, 3 of whom are doing well. My 35-year-old daughter, who has never married, has 3 children under 10 whose fathers are not in the picture. To the displeasure of her siblings and some of my friends, I have allowed them to live with me for over a year rent-free. I enjoy the grandkids and have plenty of room, but agree this is not a permanent solution. The problem is, my daughter will not take any steps towards self-sufficiency. I am willing to pay for college, community college, or some sort of certificate, but she refuses to go. She has no job skills and poor people skills, but I can't support her forever. But I can't see myself throwing them out in the street, either. She says she'll marry a rich man, as her sisters did (but they also have good jobs) or that her children will support her in her old age. What's a caring mother and grandmother to do?

Some people never see consequences, but instead of telling this daughter what you're willing to do for her--college, etc.--tell her that it is comforting for you to have her live with you because she can take care of you when you get old or sick.  And keep a record of any money you give her, and have it deducted from her inheritance after you die.  It's one thing to let your daughter live in your house rent-free; it's quite another thing to give her more money than you give your other children.  Also, you might have her get a physical and some birth control, which she can pay for herself.

Is it right to discuss sex wtih kids?

Absolutely.  In fact, it's as essential to talk with them about sex, early and often,  as it is to tlak with them about nutrition or values. Use clinical names, rather than slang but don't expect it to be easy to talk about sex with your own children.  Some books that might help: he Sex-Wise Parent; How to Talk with Your Kids About Sex and anther new one, Talk to Me Firs by Deborah Roffman, an excellent sex teacher.  There is another sex educator who is also very good and whose first name is also Deborah but I can't find her books on my shelf. 

Our 3 1/2 year old daughter has had a year full of change. Her twin brothers came in May after I was on bed rest for 10 weeks; my husband and I went from trading off telecommuting to me staying at home, him working full-time; and she started preschool this fall. In general, she has adapted fairly well, and is a very gentle big sister so far. However, while I know 3 is a very trying age, the intensity of her tantrums has got me concerned. She will go through periods, especially when she's tired, where she will scream, hit, and kick for at least an hour -- always at home, and always directed toward us. If we put her in her room, we have to hold the door closed, as she will pound against it trying to get out. She is as big and as strong as a four-year-old, so it's hard to hold her until she calms down. Talking doesn't work with an irrational three-year-old, though we tell her during the tantrum that because we love her we won't let her be out of control like that, and that she can choose to calm down, and that we can help her do that. The hardest thing of all is keeping our own temper. It seems that when she's scared she lashes out, and we don't find out until much later that some past event scared her. It would be much easier if she acted scared. But she doesn't, and we get exasperated and yell, which just escalates her own response. We are tired too, with six-month-old twins. Apart from holding, talking, and putting in her room, what gets through to a preschooler in the midst of a rage?

Instead of locking your daughter in her room--which could be pretty scary for her, you might do as the Norwegians do:  pick her up, go to a quiet corner and hold her in your arms saying "I love you" all the while.  She'll weep and carry on but she should shape up much sooner.  Also, make sure she isn't eating any dyes or preservatives because they send some children around the bend and then they'll have a tantrum and tell you what's bothering them because the wrong foods (and gluten and dairy too) can make a small problem seem very big and keeps them from calming down.  Also, is there anyone in your family who could stay with the children for a few days so you and your husband can go to a b and b and sleep.  You have such a great little family but you can't enjoy them if you're so tired.  And do read "Your Three Year Old" which is a grand and positive description of this age or "Mollie is Three" which is a wonderfully sensitive account of children who are 3. 

You'll make it, honey, but you'll make it more easily if you can find someone to walk the twins around the block for an hour while your daughter is at nursery school and you can take a nap.

I am SO excited you are here today and answering questions. Thank you in advance! My son is just over 3 years old. (Three years, 2 months.) We've been potty training for probably 6 months. He's got peeing down just fine, and wears underwear all day except during his nap and overnight. Poop is another story. He is aware on a sensory level when he needs to poop, at which point he asks for a pull-up so he can do his business. Every time, we try and convince him to try on the toilet instead... even going so far as to offer a treat or incentive just for TRYING--not necessarily success. He outright refuses. We have a stock of lollipops and stickers at the ready, but nothing works. We've always been low key about this process, so I don't think there was ever a scarring moment that turned him against pooping in the toilet. And in theory it's not a huge deal to me, except that I fully believe he is capable of making this transition. Also, he can't move up to preschool until he's completely toilet trained, so we need to be in pretty good shape with pooping in about three months' time. Any ideas? We thought about getting a BIG gift... something he's been asking for...and offering it up after X number of successful pooping incidents. But otherwise we're at a loss!

It seems like your little boy is getting two messages here--he's ready to use the pot but not ready enough to get out of diapers or pullups at naptime and at night.  I'd say to hell with them, and use underpants all the time, and when he makes a mess, have him help you clean it up but without fussing about it.  It's just what one does when we spill milk or pee or poop on the floor or in our underpants.  And yes, I'd offer a big bribe when he's a big boy--i. e., trained--but forget lollies and stickers.  He needs something special, not because he has had a certain number of successes but because he is indeed a big boy.  You'll know when that happens and so will he.

My husband and I are in the midst of early potty training with our nearly 3 year old son, who is doing great with #1 but stubbornly refuses to do #2 on the potty. We've removed the diaper option except for pull-ups at naps and nighttime, so his only option is going on the potty or in his underwear...in the underwear wins about 99% of the time. He also withholds going to the bathroom and is in excruciating pain as a result. We've tried incentives, praise, etc - but we think a lot of this stems from being scared the first time he did #2 on the potty earlier this year. Any suggestions on how to help him turn the corner? It's starting to affect his behavior and moods when he doesn't go, which is making us all a little crazy. I know we will continue to need patience and time on this one as well...thanks!

He won't be able to withhold his poop if you give him a little more vitamin c than he needs.  Too much causes diarrhea but a little extra C will soften the stool.  I'd also ask him if he'd rather go back to diapers fulltime for a while and then tell you when he's ready to be trained. By returning the control to him, you'll be taking away some of the fear he feels. 

Hi. My four-year-old son wakes up about once a month with nightmares. Last night, he said that there were voices telling him things. Is this something to be worried about? Or is it more, a little one who doesn't know that he can scare himself with scary thoughts? Do you have any suggestions on how to help him? (Otherwise, he's a happy, well-adjusted active child who shows none of this during the day.) Thanks.

There aren't many books on fear--Monsters Under the Bed though is a good one for you and the child's booko about Francis is quite splendid but I'd look for information about the cycles of sleep and how sleep changes and where nightmares come from and how we work out bothersome problems in our  sleep and that they occasionally get ouot of hand.  If that's not enough, I'd give him a flashlight so he can turn it on and look in dark corners; a talisman, such as a coin to wer around his neck, so he can rub it and feel safe  and maybe spray a little of your perfum e on his pillow every night to keep bad dreams away.  And please, tell him whenever you have a bad dream because it will help him see that you're fine the next morning and he'll be fine too.

I found your advice rather offputting. For people who celebrate the birth of the son of God (Christmas), family is NOT the most important thing. Why would you try to insinuate it is?

I'm sorry I offended you.  I just didn't know if these parents were religious or not and I wouldn't want to push my beliefs onto them.

My teenager is on several sports teams but doesn't socialize with anyone on the team. He is obviously a loner, which then feeds on itself because then the other kids don't even try to talk to him either. If he still seems happy, how do I make myself not be so disappointed with him not having any friends? This seems to hurt me more than him.

Some people are more introverted or isolated than others and are quite content to be that way, while others don't have the social skills to strike up a conversation.

Instead you might start expecting him to be the giver--not to the boys on his sports teams but to people who need his help much more.  Teenagers have so much to give but they don't give because they haven't been asked.  Make it a family job to volunteer somewhere and on a regualr basis.  If you make cookies each week, your son can deoier them to a nursing home or a children's hospital but call first, so he can bring it to a group of residents, rather than their caretakers.  Afterwards you can talk about it and figure out what age appeals to him most or whether he'd rather help a group clean up the riverbank or get involved in some other cause.  Whatever you do, however, he should decide what kind of volunteer work he wants to do.

I'm sorry I couldn't answer all of your questions todaybut maybe I can find space in my column to do that.

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 a 3-year-old's bedtime issues or click here for previous columns.
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