Carolyn Hax Live: Assembling an Ikea canoe (July 17)

Jul 17, 2015

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax chats live every Friday at noon to answer any questions you might have about this strange train we call life.

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Hi everybody, happy Friday. Reminder, the now-annual Hootenanny of Wedding Horrors is Aug. 28 and the LINK is up. Add your stories all summer, as you live them. 

Hi Carolyn! I am a longtime fan of your column and chats and hope you have a strategy for me. My husband and I have 2 kids (5 and 3) who listen about as well as all other young kids leading me to repeat my questions or directions a lot. My question is not actually about the kids - I have kind of accepted that they have a learning curve - it is about my husband. Frequently, when I ask him to do something or give him information about something we are doing/are going to do, he will listen long enough to catch keywords and then proceed as if he heard everything. For example, I will ask him to grab a couple of things we need as I head to the car with the kids and he will grab the first thing and that's it. I have tried getting his attention before I start talking but he will frequently look like he is listening and even respond with an affirmative when I am done speaking, but it's like he literally just tunes in for a few seconds and then tunes back out. I am at the end of my rope dealing with a house full of people who don't listen and I am really sick of dealing with it from an adult. Is there anything I can do here or am I just stuck repeating myself for eternity? Thanks!

You can consider the possibility that he's not good at following oral instructions and needs to receive them in writing. Some people's brains are just that way--including mine, for what it's worth. The only way to keep me from forgetting to do something is to write it on a list. 

I realize this won't help you when you've got your hands full as you're walking to the car, but in that case I suggest you start your requests with: "There are [number] things I need you to grab on your way out." That way he knows how many things to listen for. And, too, you need to accept that he's not likely to bring all [number] if you're speaking vs. writing the list, and preempt any thoughts that he's doing this to you on purpose.

I am obviously not qualified to diagnose anything like this, but it might be worth a screening for ADHD or something in that family of learning issues. Either that, or skip the diagnosis phase and go straight to trying the different work-arounds that people who have these conditions use. Not everyone is wired to function in mainstream ways. 

There's an author who has good suggestions whose name is escaping me at the moment, but I'll post it when it comes back to me.

Edward Hallowell. LINK

My 11-year-old wants to bike home from summer school today. He has his bike there because he's been in a 2-week bike safety class. He knows the way home, and it's generally through quiet suburban streets, though he does have to cross one 35 mph road. He has a phone in case he gets lost. He always wears his helmet. Last night, not anticipating this request, I mentioned to my husband that son seems to be getting ready to be able to do this and is excited about it. Husband freaked out and feels 11 is too young to be able to cross the street, but can't give me an age at which crossing the street would be OK. Husband has a pattern of over-control ( e.g., wanting to wipe kids' butts after using the bathroom when kids were 6 yrs old.) I share the concern that something *could* happen to son on ride home but also worry about not letting him try what seems to me to be a basic childhood experience. I let son ride home today? (PS In case you're thinking bigger picture, husband is adamantly opposed to reading any books about child development or going to any classes/therapy.)

I wish I were comfortable saying, yes, of course, let your son ride his bike home today--because that's what you obviously think is appropriate, given your son's age and maturity level (and two weeks of bike safety class!).

However, you have to live with the if-something-bad-happens contingency, and I don't. Namely, if something bad happens, your husband is guaranteed to blame you--right?--instead of recognizing that 1. kids can't be bubble-wrapped; 2. bad things can't be prevented 100 percent, even under complete supervision; 3. something bad is unlikely to happen during a routine suburban-street bike ride, whereas some form of psychological-growth-stunting is pretty much assured when parents refuse to teach their kids to be independent through granting them age-appropriate freedom. 

So where this leaves us is right at the threshold of your decision. You need to decide whether you're ready to, and whether it's appropriate to, act unilaterally on this instead of as a team with your husband. 

You can also look back to the precedent over the past 11 years to see whether there's been a pattern of your husband's freaking out initially but eventually coming around as he gets used to an idea. If that's the case, then you can say no to the ride home today but use this as the start of the process of acclimating your husband--for a reasonable amount of time--to this idea. 



The "more" here is less about this one question and more a general statement to those at the beginning of the family building process: Questions come up fairly often about how you know if someone is right for you, or what a couple should talk about before committing, and this 11-year-old is, I think, a memorable reminder of how important it is for two prospective parents to be compatible in their problem-solving style. The spouse in this case who 1. freaks out at the prospect of change or risk, and 2. refuses to accept outside counsel, even in print, makes cooperative problem-solving almost impossible. Situations like this, where one spouse won't budge, come up all the time in this forum, in part because the half of the couple willing to do something to solve the problem is left with almost no recourse by the other's intransigence.

If you need any more reason to look for flexibility in a prospective partner, these dug-in spouses are also the ones who make for the ugliest divorces.

Can you devote your next week away to reader responses that speak well of in-laws? Women that like their mothers-in-law, men that find their wife's sisters delightful, etc. just to even things up a bit?

I can print only what I receive. 

Hi Carolyn, My fiancé and I are currently housing two guests--my fiancé's best friend and his girlfriend--for a week. They came to town about 2 weeks ago and have no solid plans to work or leave or....anything. Needless to say, they are more "go with the flow" than I am. They've been with us 2 nights now, and have already invited over strangers without checking with us, and count on us to cook meals for them and always want to hang out (I need private time to read and decompress after work). I think they way they are behaving is so very rude. I feel taken advantage of. I told my fiancé that I can't do this again (because who knows where they will need to live next) and this is the last time they are staying with us. He thinks I'm being "harsh" because we have a guest room and we should offer it up no matter what. I want to stand firm in my decision, but I also don't want to make my fiancé feel like he's choosing between me and his best friend. Help?

Declaring that it's the last time they're staying with you is reaching for the last resort first.

What I suggest you try first is figuring out how to reconcile your hosting style with your fiance's, and then from there figuring out how best to handle guests who have no idea how to be good guests. 

You, for example, need private time after work. That's fair. The two of you can have an understanding--in effect anytime someone stays with you--that you come in from work, say hello to everyone, then retreat to your bedroom for the next 30 min/hour/whatever, or you change your clothes, put in earbuds and go for a walk, or etc., while he entertains the guests and explains that you need your decompressing time. Normal as pie, no apologies. 

The dinner thing is another example--you can plan to be full-on hosts for X nights, cooking dinner and the works, but on night X plus 1 you warn your guests that morning that you're not planning to cook tonight, it's takeout or leftovers. This is for guests who deposit themselves in your living room with no plans or manners, of course, not people you've invited and are thoughtfully hosting. When people are just using your home as a place to crash, you are also at liberty to say, "Okay, Fiancee and I have to go to X function tonight--help yourselves to whatever's in the fridge, or I can recommend some restaurants."

Point being, you and Fiance have a lot of room here to figure out how to make this situation work better, if not perfectly, before you decide these people are too hopeless to allow over your threshold.

If you're still not inclined to compromise on behalf of these two, remember: This is your fiance's best friend. No doubt in your innermost circle, among family or old friends, you have at least one person who will annoy the spit out of your fiance. How you handle his nuisance people will set the tone for how he handles your nuisance people. So, when it's tempting to handle them with your dukes up, use that prospect as incentive to make the extra effort to cooperate on setting limits.


Hi Carolyn, I'll try to keep this brief. I'm really bad at breakups. Like really bad. I have broken up with two people in my life, but am still in messy contact/"friendships" with both. I genuinely can't handle the idea that someone who has become my very best friend, my family, my partner in crime for goofy ideas or adventures will just disappear from my life for a reason so stupid as that I don't think they are the person I'm going to marry and have kids with (though I have legitimate reasons for feeling that way). For context, I don't have a biological family, so maybe boyfriends become even more important to me than is normal. Continuing to maintain these "friendships" isn't an option though, because neither is purely friendship: both guys want more and long term are not okay with me dating someone else. So at some point, this messiness has to end. However, I just don't understand how someone who you date, you becomes your best friend and family -- how do people just stop speaking and never see each other again? How do you become okay with that? How do I say goodbye to yet more family members? Any guidance or advice you have would be much appreciated. Thanks so much for your help. Lost

I don't think you sound "really bad" at breakups. You make a valid point on which a lot of people agree with you, that you don't like "the idea that someone who has become my very best friend, my family, my partner in crime for goofy ideas or adventures will just disappear from my life for a reason so stupid as that I don't think they are the person I'm going to marry and have kids with." This is the bases for an untold number of warm, respectful, perfectly healthy friendships between exes.

Where I think you get into trouble is in having a blanket approach to something that is ultimately highly individual. Just because -you- see these exes as part of your family, and just because you don't have biological family members, doesn't mean these exes want to or can serve in that role for you. Some might match your warm but no-longer-romantic feelings, but some might want a clean break, and some might not want to break up at all. In those situations, you just have to accept there are limits to what you can do. In those cases, you have to identify what isn't working--say, when you reach the not-okay-with-your-dating-someone-else point--and address it head-on. "I hear what you're saying, that you're not comfortable with my dating someone new. My feelings for you are platonic now, though. That means I am going to date other people. When you're ready to accept our friendship on those terms, I hope you'll call me." 

I would also caution against seeing the people you meet, and even love, as "family members" in the sense that you will interact with them regularly for the rest of your life. Family is a relationship that exists even when you're completely estranged and don't talk or see each other for 30 years. Heck, even when a family member dies, you're still family. So considering these exes -that- kind of family, where they're part of you even when the tie is completely cut, would honor the bond while weighing you down--and weighing your relationships down--with fewer expectations. 

Are both the OP and the fiance working full-time while the friends stay with them? I'd find it rude if a guest of mine sat and waited for me to start dinner after I'd been working all day, without any discussion. Seems like we need some more detail on the terms of the invitation.

I'm not arguing that these guests aren't rude--seems pretty clear that they are. If anything, though, rude guests make it more necessary, not less, for the two of them to have a cooperative hosting strategy. 

People tend to say that couples should travel together to find out whether they're really compatible, but I'm beginning to think that it's even more illuminating for couples to host bad houseguests together. 

You skipped over the "invited strangers over..." part. I Would Not Like That One Bit. I would want to say, straight up, "Please don't invite anyone else over without checking with us, first." I would want to suggest meeting their strangers-to-us friends elsewhere, I would feel guilty about it and probably cave, and hate every second of it. I would NOT cook for them unless we had all discussed it earlier and we had all agreed on it earlier. Do not bring strangers into my house unexpectedly and unapproved. Do not. (Husband can, but guests? Heck no.)

YES yes, sorry, meant to address that. The fiance should have put a stop to that himself, because this is his friend, but his failing to do that meant OP was absolutely entitled to speak up. That needs to be another area of clear agreement: If a houseguest ever does that again, it's immediate relocation of the party to a nearby restaurant or bar.

It is a lot better if you stop viewing these behaviors as "rude" vs "different from how I would do it if I were a guest (and everybody else I know too.)" Starting from that approach, you can make a lot of headway in "Hey, I know you're are guests, but we need to discuss what we're willing to have you do, and what we're willing to do for you." (no guests without checking in first, phrased as "We're uncomfortable having people sprung on us like that, please don't do that" etc.) - Having already discussed such things with your fiance. One note on that - if he's willing to cook for them rather than telling them they need to fend for themselves some nights, that's on him. Let him do it. Just don't sign up to do it *yourself* more than you would do it for anyone else.

When my son was 3, he asked to walk across a log hovering about 3 feet over a small creek. I knew if I said "yes" and then fell, he'd get scraped up and need some bandages. BUT I knew that if I said "no" I'd be teaching him to be fearful and cautious and not trust his abilities. Either answer represented a risk. I said yes, I stood close by, and he made it across just fine. I was lucky. But it was a light-bulb moment for me. There's a risk to saying no too.

Standing O, thank you.

My mother-in-law is delightful. Ok, now you can save that one for a week away.

HA. Thank you. I am receiving lovely tributes, which I will save for a MIL love-letter column next month, even if they aren't strictly reader "advice."

I'm remembering 30 years ago when I was 10 and wanted my mom to pick me up after ballet class. She told me I was old enough to walk on my own, and she needed to cook dinner. The one time I was hit by a car while crossing a street, I was 35.

Can you meet him at camp and ride home with him? At least until you feel that he can manage on his own as well as he would with you there. As for the husband problem, speaking from experience, the times I wasn't allowed to do something that came with a reasonable explanation from my parents I don't even remember. The times I was just told no or given a load of unresolved anxiety as the reason I do remember and resented for a while--in some cases for years into adolescence. Kids can tell the difference between rationales based on reasoned concern and those based on irrational fears, and eventually he's going to stop listening to his father. If Dad's not going to change, you need to figure out an approach so that your kid will continue to respect your guidance.

I live in a house full of males (even the dog). I used to deal with that problem on a daily basis. My solution to it is to make them repeat back what I just said. It usually works although not for the dog.

I see your houseful and raise you a dog. If you ever get the dog on board, send me instructions. 

Hi Carolyn, I sympathized with "Tired of repeating myself" -- my husband is the same way (probably I am too sometimes). But I also notice that I am a lot less tolerant of those kinds of interactions when I am overtired/overwhelmed/stressed. It got me wondering: do you think some of the issues/questions you receive are symptoms of how tired/overworked so many of us are? Do you think that's even a helpful distinction (symptom vs root issue) to draw? I'm not speculating about that particular author, just wondering how you think about this in general...

I think fatigue and stress definitely can make us less flexible, but to my mind there's an even bigger culprit: expectations. This has been my experience. When my kids were little it was insanity because they were all in diapers, or all irrational toddlers, or all asking to ride home alone from summer school at once. It was easy to get overwhelmed. What we found wasn't that we were crabbier after, say, a poor night's sleep, or when the kids were particularly difficult all at once--instead, we were crabbier when we wanted to get something accomplished beyond just keeping the kids alive for another day. It could be anything, too, even completely trivial: If we wanted them to go down for a nap, we could roll with it. If we wanted them to go down for a nap asap because a game was starting that we wanted to watch, that's when tempers got short. It could be anything--be it important like getting work done, or silly like trying to get all the laundry folded before we left for the park, that was enough to drain the tolerance tank to almost zero. 

Think about packing for a trip when you're driving and rush hour traffic isn't looming if you get a late start, vs packing when you know you have a small window for getting out while it's clear. Completely different beast, right? And it's even worse if you have to make a flight. The more things we want or need to go right, the shorter-tempered we tend to get. Again, in my experience at least.

An update: I said my son could bike home. He came in absolutely glowing with pride. I'm going to have to deal with the consequences of the unilateral decision--son immediately called his dad at work and left a message saying what he'd done because he was so excited. Son and I are planning to ask dad to bike together this weekend and watch son's impressive safety skills; not sure if it will do much good but my son feels confident and trusted and I'm gonna take that as worth any flak I get.

I think the anecdote of crossing the log is your best friend here. Good luck and thanks for the update. 

Just wanted to say thanks to the poster from a few weeks ago for the step by step guidelines for finding a therapist. In the past few weeks life has thrown an incredible number of major physical and emotional whammies at me, and I was in a hugely dark and overwhelmed place. I remembered seeing the post and looked it up again--it helped me to actually start what seemed like an impossibly hard process and reach out for the help I needed. Just wanted to add that lots of therapists now also have email, and I found it easier to do a scripted email that I could paste into 'contact me' boxes or email directly to people. Email was easier to do without the risk of my crying through a voicemail message, and thus probably more intelligible:)

Yay for you, and thanks for the excuse to post that link again. I hope things are brightening for you.

I saw my letter on here again yesterday, so after reading comments thought I'd write in with an update. First, I apologized to my kids right away for not giving them a chance to fix things, and suggested we go out for burgers, a meal I like and don't have to cook. Over dinner we talked. A LOT. I told them how odd it is to feel a bit older and less useful, and that as they need me less 24/7 I miss feeling like I am doing something of value, and that I was considering a move from part-time telecommuting to a full-time job at my work (environmental nonprofit, which makes me happy.)

They asked me if their dad and I were getting a divorce, which surprised me although I guess it shouldn't have. I told them no divorce was in the works, but that I felt sad, modeling for them a marriage that they apparently see is not going very well right now. (No, my husband opted not to come to dinner.) It felt really good to talk honestly like this, they are kind and funny kids, and I hope it's something we can do going forward.

My husband.... I remember reading you once years ago saying (paraphrasing) that there's nothing lonelier than being alone in a relationship, and I have never forgotten that. I have talked to him several times over the last few months about this; I'm lonely and sad, and I told him I can't imagine he isn't lonely and sad too, and what are things we could do to find those two people who were crazy about each other, because I remember. I think maybe he is one of those people who as he's gotten older is primarily married to his job, which he's great and successful at and which he controls every detail of (we've had fights about him treating me like an employee.)

I'm seeing a therapist, reaching out to old friends, trying new activities, and now working downtown. If things don't change I will probably be divorced, and I've made peace with that. On balance, I'm lucky and loved. Reading the comments on my letter both times (and lightly edited) is a trip. Nobody who knows me would ever describe me as passive-aggressive. It's interesting all the things that people read in to letters that are more about them. But there was also a lot of love (some of it tough love!) and support. I read your column regularly, no matter where I am and what I am doing, and thank you for your years of sensible advice and Nick's wonderful cartoons.

Thank you, too, for this thoughtful update. Sounds as if you're in, if not a great place given your marriage, then a calm and promising one. 

I'm all for non-helicoptering, and it sounds like the bike ride home was a success. However, I can't agree with unilaterally going against a spouse's expressed stated viewpoint. If I said "no" about something and my husband went ahead and let the kids do it, I'd be (justifiably) furious. If I'm not okay with my spouse's "no", it's my responsibility to say "I'm not okay with this; we need to revisit the topic," not just ignore him/her and take the flak later.

I can't agree with that either, except in one narrow circumstance, which I hope this turns out to be: If making a decision in the moment was important, and if that decision was the start of dealing with the larger issue of not letting the fearful parent be the last word on all decisions involving the child's independence. The unilateral decision can't be the new normal for dealing with the fears, but it can be the I-overruled-you-just-this-once catalyst for a better plan for such things from now on.

Thanks for posting.

it is couples should assemble IKEA furniture together to see if they are compatible!

Ah. I stand corrected.

Your excellent answer in today's column ("Contempt for husband's ex-girlfriend is unbecoming") reminded me of what's called the Ben Franklin Effect. In rough terms, we are more likely to think well of someone whom we have done a favor for, than of someone who has done us a favor. Counter-intuitive, maybe, but well-established. It works both ways, too: We are more likely to mistreat someone we have mistreated before, than to mistreat someone who mistreated us. So, if this wife genuinely wants to get over herself (here's hoping), she should suck it up and do something nice for this mother of her stepchild, not because it will be reciprocated, but because she will find it easier to do later. And she needs to learn, as you pointed out.

I haven't heard of this, thanks. Will look it up.

Last month my daughter-in-laws father died after a six month aggressive illness. When she found out that my husband and I wanted to attend his funeral she asked "why, you barely knew him". Up to now she has been the best daughter-in-law, I couldn't have wished for better if I had chosen her myself. Her father has been in our lives for as long as she has and I just don't know what to make of this. Could this just be the grief talking?

Assume it is, certainly, unless you have evidence otherwise.

If she says something like this again, please do say that perhaps you did not know him well, but you know and care about her and supporting her is your main reason for going. 

I’m getting married in October. Wedding dress shopping was a bit traumatic. Short version is my mom/sister hated the dresses I picked out on my own (they live across the country), when in the same city as mom for an event, went shopping together, only because my mom was incredibly excited to do it. After three hours (!) over two days, narrowed it down two dresses. I couldn’t handle the mirrors and people looking at me anymore, and started crying. Ended up buying one of the dresses. Which is now hanging in my office (limited closet space at home), taunting me. I have to resist a daily urge to light it on fire. I could easily re-sell it and go down the street and buy the dress I loved originally, but I think it would crush my mom. Should I just suck it up and wear it? It’s just a dress, but I can’t even bring myself to try it on again.

Talk to your mom. It's about feeling close to her, and her feeling close to you. 

Thanks for all you do, Carolyn. I always love the chats. I've struggled with an eating disorder for about ten years, been in and out of therapy, and recently I've been doing...fine. Not great, but fine, and it hasn't been looming over my life which is nice. The problem is, about a month ago my boyfriend decided to start a diet. That's never been that important to me, but it will be good for him and I'm proud he's made that decision and that he's being so mindful about it. BUT, it's driving me a little crazy. He's got this app and he's calorie counting and sometimes I'll just mention a food or restaurant and he'll say "oh, I can't have that." All of which is reasonable, but it's made me start to quietly count calories and have a hard time giving myself permission to eat things (sometime even to eat meals at all). I'm not sure how to begin to deal with this. Try to find a therapist and leave him out of it? Talk to him? I don't want to make him feel bad for doing something good for him, but I don't want to go off the rails either.

Therapy, yes, since you've already dipped back into old habits. 

It's also absolutely fair and reasonable to say to your BF that you support his effort to get healthy but that your own health demands that you not get into the details of calories with him. If you suggest a food/restaurant he "can't have," then it would help you immensely if he simply suggested an alternative instead of mentioning the "can't have" part. He can use the app on his own time, particularly since so many menus are available online--he can show up ready with his numbers and decisions. If you're making food at home, he can rely on portion control for one night.

Asking this is not "mak[ing] him feel bad" any more than someone with a walnut allergy is making a dinner party host "feel bad" by warning her of the allergy. It's asking for a basic accommodation to save your life. 

When my father died, people came out of the woodwork, most of whom had never shown all that much interest in him when he was alive. This made me feel like people who hadn't "earned it" were horning in on grief. (Don't even get me started on the woman who barely knew him, but spent his funeral blubbering and singing "Amazing Grace" off-key at inopportune moments). Of course, I quickly realized grief isn't a zero-sum game, and that it wasn't my job to be the Mourning Police. But for a few days, I felt territorial and very put out by all the competing demands of death, estate, and funeral planning. I'd cut the daughter in law some slack.

My father passed away recently and very unexpectedly. I know I was a bit rude and stand offish to people in the days that followed. It absolutely does not reflect who I am. I was sad. And I didn't react perfectly. She's sad too. Give her time and please don't give this comment another thought.

Yes, you should talk to you mom, but you need to tell her that you are not wearing the dress. It's the dress that you are wearing. You might say something like "I was so excited to share the experience with you that I ended up picking a dress that I didn't like so that I could say that we went dress shopping together. Away from the experience, I realize that I really prefer the first dress. I hope that you won't mind that I wear my original dress."

Great phrasing, thanks.

Something no one else has mentioned... This is fiancee's best friend. I'm not saying it's polite behavior, but it's entirely possible this is the kind of relationship they've always had. I have friends with whom I have this kind of open, easy-going "familial" relationship, and would be delighted if they brought strangers home because I trust their taste - the more the merrier! So if the OP and fiancee haven't had a more comprehensive discussion about hosting and friendship styles, it might be time...

You sound like you're doing great, all things considered. Frankly (despite it being sad) I'm glad husband didn't go because you had such a great conversation with your kids. Good luck!!!

It is my husband's belief that all couples should go canoeing before getting married.

Assembling an Ikea canoe with rude houseguests?



I have been married for almost 6 years to a great guy and have 3 small children. My widowed MiL (Nancy) recently had a stroke and needs daily care so she moved in with us. I love her and am glad to be there for her but even though I’m a SAHM and we have hired a part-time aide, it is a lot. My husband and his younger brother (her only children) work long hours in the family business plus there is a limited amount Nancy is comfortable having her sons do for her. I asked my SiL, Lena, who I have a great relationship with, to pitch in with Mom's care. Lena is a nurse practitioner but only works 3 days a week and lives 10 minutes away yet has flatly refused to help. I know she and Nancy aren’t close but I was still shocked. I since found out that Nancy treated Lena somewhat badly early on (this was long before I joined the family) even though Nancy is, and always has been, like a second mom to me. My husband says Mom was unfriendly to Lena (she’s from a different culture/socio-economic class) but it tapered off after my niece was born – 15 years ago! I think Lena is being petty but she says she’s showing her daughter that “women don’t have to be doormats.” Needless to say, this is driving a wedge between us – am I right that she’s being vindictive or is she right that she’s simply refusing to be a martyr?

I don't think any of us gets to decide when someone who has been mistreated for her "culture/socio-economic class" is obligated to forgive based on what we think is sufficient passage of time. 

Everything else here is just details.

If it is too much for you, then do absolutely request, even insist on, more help that you've currently hired, but don't expect it from Lena or resent her for not giving it. 

Independent of the mistreatment issue, Lena did not have any say, apparently, in the decision to provide your MIL's daily care at home vs. some kind of assisted living. I can see having a real problem with watching a bunch of things decided by others--your taking her in, her not letting the sons handle much of the care, your being a SAHM, the sons' working long hours--result in responsibilities devolving to her. If i were in her place, I might pitch in occasionally out of respect for my friendship with you, but I can also see drawing a line and saying no to any more formal arrangement than that.

Hi Carolyn, hope your summer is going well. my elementary school daughter is a nail picker, and I think it's mostly an idle habit at this point. it bothers me when she will pick at a hangnail and it bleeds, but I guess it is not really that harmful in the grand scheme of things. However, if it is a nervous or mindless habit, I'd like to try to replace it with something else. I was thinking maybe she could wear a bracelet to play with or something to replace the habit. what do you think?

Sure, worth a try. There's also nothing like keeping busy to preempt an anxious habit. Not only will it distract her to focus on doing something productive, but also being productive helps build confidence and reduce anxiety.

What you and she choose for her to do is up to you, or I should say, it's up to her and where her strengths and interests lie, but think about it--do you ever see a kid who's working in a garden, reading a good book, playing street hockey, walking neighborhood pets, doing yoga or cooking dinner for the family stop to pick a hangnail?

That's it for today. Thanks everybody, special thanks to Jess, have a great weekend.

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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