Parenting advice: Help for raising children of all ages

Jun 19, 2014

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

Hi, and thanks for joining us today. Marguerite is here and ready to take your questions, so let's go!

I'm having trouble locating Marguerite's previous chats--they aren't easy to find on the website. Is there a place they are all listed?

Here is a link to our online chat schedule page, which includes links to some past chats. Also, Marguerite's chats live on the On Parenting page, so if you scroll down through you will see them.

Welcome to the Family Almanac today.  And now for the questions

We are preparing for a family move in August and have one child (nearly 4) who is very close with his cousins and grandparents who currently live nearby. We will be moving about 3 hours away due to a job change. Two questions: 1). how far in advance do you suggest we tell him about the move? He is a routine-oriented child, and I anticipate that he will have a hard time with the news. I have not told him yet because, like all kids his age, he has little concept of time and I don't want him to worry about the move for weeks. 2) any tips for making this transition easier? Thank you.

We are working on retrieving the answer to that first question. Stay tuned!

Any favorite ways to keep kids busy this summer, while they are out of school? Should we go crazy trying to entertain them, or are they better left to their own devices to amuse themselves most of the time? Thanks!

Please have trips to the library, and to its story hour if they're young enough because you want their minds to stay clicking and reading seems to do it better than anything else.  Otherwise, the experts say that children lose about two months between June and September and then they have to learn stuff all over again.  You'll be giving them a big boost if you do that, but don't stop there.  A family read at night is great, with parents and children each reading a page or two and passing the book along to the next reader.  Treasure Island is a great one to start out on. 

Do charades with the kids and maybe another family too because it's generates so much laughter and every age and take some night walks with the kids. 

And by all means, teach them some skills this summer, something they can be so proud of and can show the results to your friends but choose skills that you enjoy--cooking, gardening, repairing , waxing a piece of furniture.  Self-esteem is built on a child's ability to survive in the world far more than the newer skills--like reading, writing and the ABC's.  And please, give your babes time to just be, to think, to dream, to plan how they're going to run the world--because you know, one day they will.

How normal is full-on, sustained shrieking by kids under 5? Should parents just let it continue or is this a case of lacking discipline? I have been observing a lot of this behavior and don't understand why parents rarely try to intervene and explain that loud screaming is unacceptable.

Children do anything to get their parent's attention and if they get more attention by screaming than by being quiet, guess what?  They're going to scream. 

If parents stand there and explain that screaming is unacceptable, they'll scream even more because the explanation is another form of attention.  Instead--if it's possible--I think the parent should disappear for a few minutes.  It's amazing how fast the screaming will stop and then the parent should come back into the room and effusively congratulate the child because she stopped screaming.  The best attention is given when the behavior is good, not when it's bad.

There may be books at the library that may help. When we moved 10 years ago, our son was 4, and we read the Berenstain Bears one. Also, once we took possession of our house, we ordered a new toy online and had it sent to him at the new house. He was so excited to arrive at the house and see that there was a box waiting for him. And your behavior matters a lot. My spouse and I were ecstatic that we were moving into this place, and I think the kids just fed off that, because they became anxious and excited (in a good way), waiting for the day we would move.

Personally, I hate the Berenstain Bears but to each her own.  Unfortunately, they're not many good books about moving which is a pity but whatever books about moving that these parents read, they should either be funny or they be packed with instructions to do jobs that a child can do himself because children behave much better when they're part of the action and if they feel included in i every step of the way; if the parents are happy about the move and if they always talk about the move as the adventure it is.  I think my first answer got lost in the technological fog but if it did, a couple of more points:  Tell your child now and start letting him Skype with his friends and his grandparents several times a week, putting the time and the date on the kitchen calendar because it's a big deal.  You want him to get used to doing this before you move because you'll be too busy and too tired to teach him (and maybe yourself) how to do it after you move.   Plan back and forth visits  too, because it's the planning and the memories of a trip, or a birthday party or a vacation that is much greater than the event itself.  And pack the toys last and when you get there, set up his room first, even if your own mattress is still on the floor.

Hi, Marguerite - I've been in touch before and believe passionately in parental education. the way I was raised had NOTHING to do with how I have learned to raise my own 2 children, and it took lots of classes and reading. I have an 18 and a 14 y.o. and there are always new things I have to learn, so it never really ends. How could we make parental education more accessible to parents? Should it be offered in schools after hours? Many parents aren't being reached. Can it be formalized? Many thanks - Valerie Young

Your words to God's ears as they say.  Zero to Three has some good stuff for the parents of young children and Linda Jessup's Parent Encouragement Program is superb--possibly the best in the country.  It is based in Kensington, Md., which is in many other suburbs and sometimes on Capitol Hill too, and the teachers are trained for two years.  But there's not much else unfortunately.  When my first book--the Mother's Almanac--came out in 1975 my editor told me that it wouldn't sell more than 5-10,000 copies because 'young parents don't buy books'.  My co-author and I had to remind her that they don't buy books because there were no books on parenting for parents to buy.  Fortunately, it sold 800,000 but there are a lot more parents than that out there and they need help to remind them that babies need to be talked with--not at; that all children need family dinners at least 4 times a week and that every one of them needs to be respected, not because they live in a child-centered home but because you think so well of them.  They are short, but they're still people. 

Perhaps the best way to get out information, in this age of the screen, is to put parenting onto videos.  Wouldn't that be something?

How advisable is it to let a friend know that her daughter was taunting another child, or that you saw a son of a neighbor hit someone else? My reaction as soon as I even read those words is "stop judging"... but I think I would want to know as a parent myself that my child was acting badly when I wasn't around. Do you have guidelines for this sort of thing?

I'd tell, but  in the nicest possible way--like "Is Johnny having a bad time lately?  I saw him hit Harry and that's so unlike him!"  When people say it takes a village to raise a child that means the friends and neighbors who pass along a concern, not judgmentally but kindly.  It's much better than waiting until the child goes off the deep end...

The biggest thing that helped my nephews during a move at that age was routine. The one who went to pre-k and had his routine down was fine. The one who was a year younger and was with a parent who now stayed home did not do so well. He missed the structure of daycare and much better when he was enrolled in a 3 day preschool.

That's a great reminder.  Children thrive on sameness.

I don't know, but when mine were toddlers, I just whisked them up and took them out of that situation, whether we were in the restaurant or store. My son was so distressed at being pulled out of the interesting place that he just stopped and could return, once I explained to him why we pulled him out. Stopping the scream when he got frustrated was harder, but we worked with the preschool teachers and eventually extinguished that, by giving him tools (practicing breathing when he wasn't upset, or sending him to his room to just calm down and come out when he was ready). That took several months. I just don't understand why it is okay, as you argue, to allow that to happen. I've seen it, too, recently, and to me, it looks like terribly indulgent, my-kid-does-no-wrong parenting that plagues so many families. (My kids are tweens right now.)

Oh no, I didn't mean that.  I've just found that the minute the parent walks away, the screaming stops because the child is only screaming to get her attention.  I'm not a coddler, honey, and if a child kept screaming in a public place and I had nowhere to go, I'd do as the mother responded and take him right out of the situation so he couldn't annoy anyone else.  A child will shape up in five minutes, simply sitting in a car with a silent mother.  Trust me; it works.

My son is 11 and daughter 7. I feel like lately all he does is belittle her and that the goal in interactions with her is to make her feel bad about herself. He even tried his belittling behavior on me this weekend and I put up my hand and said, I’m not participating anymore in this conversation because I don’t feel like it’s productive. My daughter is too young to realize she can opt out. I find myself constantly brow-beating him to treat her with respect, that all of us deserve respect. During a quiet one-on-one moment this weekend, I shared my opinion with him that he may end up losing his relationship with his sister forever if he can’t figure out how to enjoy her company in a way that is fun for him and respectful of her, that her thought process is different than his and that’s ok, he doesn’t need to correct everything she says. It seems like nothing I say gets through or just leads to worse behavior on his part. How do I help them have a healthy relationship? I don’t require that they love each other (though wouldn’t that be nice), but I do want them to learn to trust each other.

Eleven can be a lousy age because hormones are beginning to kick in and the educators said, years ago, "Hey, I have a good idea!  Let's put all those snarky kids in 7th, 8th and 9th grades in a building and shut the door.  We can call it junior high." 

Unfortunately, junior high brings out the worst in kids and makes them feel wretched about themselves so they often have to put everyone else down to what they think is their own level.  Talk to your boy about that; ask him if he treats his little sister so badly because he feels bad about himself--and do this in his room, at night, with the lights out.  You may be surprised how the tears start spilling  if no one is looking at him cry.

And the next time he puts his sister down, gently guide him by the hand and take him to his room until 'you feel better about yourself''.  And please, make him apologize and give his sister a hug when he comes back.

Were you close enough to stop the hitting? That would be the best response, in my opinion.

Oh for sure, stop the hitting, and the meanness and the gossip--whatever a child is doing that is--in the current vernacular--'unacceptable.  Just do it as discreetly and as quietly as possible because children hate to be chastised publicly, especially when they deserve it.  Remember, childhood and adolescence are the times when children practice how to be grown-ups which isn't easy and it takes a long, long time.  

My wife and I are having a disagreement about something and a neutral opinion would be helpful. Our almost 2 year old son is going to be transitioned out of his crib due to our second son being due at the end of September. We think he's ready to move out of the crib, but the wife and I disagree into what. I think it will be easier to transition him into a fun toddler bed (~ $100) while my wife thinks it's an unnecessary expense and we should either get a twin bed or just put him on the floor. I'm afraid the twin bed is too big/high for him and the mattress on the floor is too uninteresting and he won't want to use it... Opinions?

It's an expense, but $100?  Probably not.  Check on craig's list or the salvation Army (which, I think like all secondhand places, has to sterilize the mattresses it sells).  And take your little boy thrifting with you so he can help you find his own bed.  If he's invested in the purchase, he's more likely to stay in it because that is the biggest problem with a toddler bed:  a child can get out of it.  Which may help you consider a bassinet for the baby--also from a thrift shop.  As a dedicated thrifter, let me tell you:  Episcopalian thrift shops seem to have merchandise of all.

I think OP is projecting. My family did a similar Big Move when I had just turned four. I think kids that age pretty much go with the flow. We took some trips to visit the new house, my sister and I got to pick our rooms and what colors to paint and carpet them (I'd say "within reason" but my sisters carpet was a fairly hot pink), and we were both pretty excited about moving to the big new house as from the little old apartment. I even decided I wanted to be a furniture mover when I grew up (I'm female). I did have nursery-school friends, but not really close attachments like later in elementary school (when I'm sure I would have been devastated if I had to move away). And we still saw my grandparents fairly frequently, and remained close even before Skype.

I loved your answer.  A move is traumatic for everyone, but it's exciting if the parents are positive and the children are included in as many decisions as possible (although you of course have the final word).  It's their house too.

Oh dear, time's up for the Family Almanac.  I hope you'll come back next week!

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 a dog with separation anxiety or click here for previous columns.
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