Parenting advice: Help for raising children of all ages

Aug 14, 2014

Family Almanac columnist Marguerite Kelly discussed the ups and downs of parenting, and tips for helping children through challenging times. The viewpoints expressed in this discussion belong to Marguerite Kelly alone.

Thanks for joining us today. Marguerite is here and ready to go, so let's get started. Send us your parenting and family questions!

Welcome to the Family Almanac today.

Dear Marguerite, how do you handle a situation where one child is substantially more gifted than his or her sibs? Our 9 year old son, the second of 5 children, is a musical prodigy, not as a musician, although he does play, but as a composer. He has won several prizes and competitions including some for much older children. It's fascinating to watch him, as he uses both hands to write on both staffs simultaneously. He works very hard, to the point we sometimes have to make him break away to do other schoolwork, get some exercise or just have a little fun. He's quiet and reserved but this has brought him a lot of local and even some national attention. The problem is that some of his siblings really resent this. We want all of our children to feel special and respected, and to support and cheer on each other, but this can be challenging when there is a superstar in the house. I imagine the same would hold true for athletes, A+ students, and many others. Fortunately we are pretty well off so no one is suffering financially because of his special gift.

I think I'd introduce all the children to Frames of Mind, the excellent book by Howard Gardner, of the Howard Gardner School of Education at Harvard, no less.  He has found at least eight distinct, discrete intelligences and says that nobody is equally good at all of them and everyone is especially good in 1-2 of them.  Music is the oldest one, followed by math/logic; linguistics; spatial (the architect, the interior designer); kinesthestic (the kid who runs to the place where the baseball will land before it's hardly left the bat); interpersonal and intrapersonal--a person who works well with others and a person who understands himself--seven intelligences, to which Gardner has since added an eighth:  the ability to sort and seriate and classify--the museum curator and the librarian.  Once the sibs understand that they too have special gifts, even if they're not on the level of your young composer, make a big point of stressing their strengths and encouraging them to bring their strengths as far as they can.  They don't have to be great in everything, but they should stretch their talents as much as possible.  By encouraging their abilities, they should be less jealous of their prize-winning brother

Dear Mrs. Kelly, I manage a fast food restaurant in a heavily-touristed part of Washington, DC. Starting last March a well-dressed, polite little boy began coming into the restaurant after scool. He would order a meal, pull out a dollar or some coins and look dismayed when we told him we needed more money. Almost without exception, another patron would pay for his meal and often give him more money besides. When we asked him if he had enough money to pay for his food, he always said yes, but then the same rigamorole would occur. We sometimes told patrons "he does this every day." but when it looked as if he wasn't getting his food he would tear up and that always worked. He told us his name was Eric but would not tell us anything about huis school or family. He wears a school uniform that none of us recognize and he looks to be healthy and a healthy weight.. We know he catches a certain bus after he eats but have never tried to follow him further. My queston, of course, is what should we do if this starts up again in September? What he's doing is not illegal, plus he's a child! But I know I would want to know if my child was eating a fast food meal every afternoon, especially if he or she was having someone else pay for it. We're not trying to be hardhearted. We even have a fund to sometimes buy meals for those who are truly destitute, But that doesn't seem to be the case here. We would greatly appreciate your thoughts on how best to deal with this situation.

I can see your concern.  Either this little boy is hungry or he's indulging his love of fast food because his parents don't allow it.  In either case, he's being quite manipulative and that's a problem that will only get worse unless it is stopped.  The manager and one of the staffers at your restaurant should call him aside the next time he orders and find out his last name and where he goes to school.  

Once you have this information you (or the manager) should ask him why he wants this meal every day; why he pretends that he has enough money to cover his order and why he thinks other people should pay for it.  If you're kind and gentle when you say this, he may actually tell you the truth, but whether he does or not, give him a menu with the prices on it and tell him that he may not order food if he can't pay for it unless he will accept a donation from the fund.  And then call the school counselor and tell her about the problem.  Everybody's got a story and so does this little boy.  Whether he's really hungry for food or for attention is irrelevant.  He's hungry and he needs a friend.  Do your best to fill that need without letting him lie to you or your other customers  

Our 3 year old son has taken to asking for multiple trips to the bathroom during bedtime or after getting tucked in. We are trying to balance supporting his potty training with determining when it is a stall tactic. He also often sits on the toilet for a long time before having a bowel movement or being sent back to bed. Is there a certain amount of time that toddlers should be sitting on the toilet?

A toddler needs to know that pottytime is not getting-around-mommy-and-daddy time, which he clearly thinks it is.  Make the emphasis on 'big boys just go to the potty without hanging around'.  And because you know that he is a big boy, you're just going to let him go once at bedtime, and when he's even bigger, you will expect him to go to the potty before bedtime.   And then go with him, wait with him and do very little talking, because it's your attention he's looking for, not the toilet.  When he doesn't get it, he will do something else  to get it.  Be sure to give your attention freely if he makes a good choice, and very little attention if he makes a bad one.  This works for all kinds of problems, not just the pottytime.

I'm a 42 year old elementary school tescher. My twin sister teaches 4th grade in the same county. So we're aware of questions surroundig twin names, separate classrooms, etc. But there's a new phenomenon that leaves us flummoxed: twins with the same name, such as Philip/Phillip, Sean/Shawn, Mary/Merry etc I raised this at an Educators' Conference and it turns out we're not alone. One school even has a Taylor/Taylor, one boy and one girl. Another has brothers (not twins) named Derek, Dereck, and Derrek. Can Derreck be far behind? What on earth are these parents thinking? More importantly, how can we deal with this? Obviously Taylor 1 and Taylor 2 doesn't work. We try to use nicknames, if they have them, middle names, made-up names? Should we ask the parents how they'd like us to handle this? But we've tried and gotten some really loopy answers. Clearly the best answer is to put them in separate classrooms, but some parents don't want this or it's not an option if we only have one 3rd grade. Any input you can provide would be much appreciated! Thanks very much.

Here's a question I've never had before!  What could the parents have been thinking of?

Fortunately, many, many children change their names or their nicknames in their late teens as a part of pulling away and if I were making a bet, I'd bet that every Mary/Merry etc., will do exactly that.  In the meantime, I'd ask the children themselves what you and their classmates should call each one to distinguish one from the other.  It's their names, so  they have the greatest interest in the outcome.

I need advice for talking to my 9 year old about healthy eating and having a healthy view of herself. She thinks she is fat, which is in no way true. Her doctor says she's average in both height and weight. But she does eat constantly and her favorite foods are all carbs like bagels, cereal and raviolis. I talk to her about eating healthy, fruits, vegetables, etc. and for the most part, I eat the same way to provide a good role model. But what do I say to her when she says she's fat? I grew up with an eating disorder and don't want that for my daughter.

Don't make a big issue of this, but do stop buying carbs.  If you don't want your child to eat bagels, cereal and raviolis, don't have them around for her or for anyone.  A family is a team and a team works together.  Try shakes for breakfast instead--a half-banana, some fresh spinach, egg-white for protein, chia seeds, a little stevia, a half of an apple or a couple of peaches or some mango or pineapple, some almond or vanilla extract--it's quick, it's easy and you don't have to make a big fuss about eating her veggies and her fruits.  As for being fat--tell her you disagree.  She just needs reassurance as much as anything else.  And do get a subscription to New Moon, a good, healthy magazine for teen girls so she can see that fatness is a superficial concern for her.  And she is not, you are sure, a superficial person.

Hi. My 7-year-old son is having a tough time these days, pushing his little brother, not listening, throwing things in the house, having meltdowns like he's 3 again. It might be a case of needing to get back to school and a routine, but I'm not sure what to do other than timeouts, talks and getting him to bed early. Thoughts?

There's something you should know about 7-yeaer-olds.  At this age, children get a weak dose of the same hormones they'll get in puberty which makes them act accordingly until they get used to these hormones.  "Nobody loves me."  "The teacher hates me."   "Cl;yde didn't invite me to his birthday party" (even though this is the same Clyde he dislikes so much that he won't have him over for a playdate).   This goes on for a whole year, to a greater or lesser degree, and then these children turn eight and become flittergibbets and as merry as grigs.  Until then, be kind, be sympathetic and look the other way as much as you can.  

My son was recently diagnosed with autism and I'm overwhelmed. What are the first three things I need to do for him?

My deep sympathy, and my deep encouragement to remember that underneath their communication issues and their inability to interact, your son is still your dear little boy and he may pull out of this diagnosis, particularly if you see the right doctors.  

Mary Megson, a developmental pediatrician in Richmond, Va., is said to have 750 recovered autistics, because she treats the g-protein (whatever that is) and Richard Layton, an allergist in Towson, Md., has autistic patients from all over the world because so many autistics have allergies, as well as gut issues.  Parents also take their children to the Mensah Clinic in Warrenville, Ill., (or to Annapolis, where the doctors are having their 3 times a year outreach program September 9-10th) which treats autistics with many good results.  The latest thinking on autism:  that some children are born with a genetic predisposition to the disorder and something trips it--maybe it's the pesticides in the yard, the vaccinations--not the mercury they used to contain but having 9-10 vaccinations at a time, even when the child is sick--or something else that no one has figured out.  The three things:  love this child as much as you ever have; read as many new books on autism as you can find; take dairy and gluten out of his diet, because some children improve if they quit these things--and get enough help for yourself to have one afternoon a week to swim, to read a book at the library, to take yourself out of your problems for at least a little bit.  And, for the fifth thing, be receptive to new ideas.  The old ones, except perhaps for ABA, didn't work well but new ones are much more promising.  There is always hope.

What are your suggestions for helping a rising 3rd grader get ready to get back to school? It's about three weeks away and I'd like her to be in the mood (?) for it, prepared to learn, and not suffering from late summer brain drain.

Read as much to her as you can, have her read to you and listen to audiobooks in the car.  Get her to bed earlier at night and put more structure in her life.  Be excited about school yourself.  You have more influence over your child than anyone else but you have to use it.  And you will use it best if you are enthusiastic about school and all that she will learn this year. 

Thoughts on how to handle an almost 2 year old who has entered what I'm sure it a typical toddler bossy phase? She'll make demands like "Go away Mommy!", adding "please" sometimes. I want to respect her desire to be alone when she wants to, and obviously she has no sense of how to ask for this politely, but I also need to show her that I'm the mommy and she shouldn't have that level of control over my actions, right?

Young children learn their pleases and thank yous but once they've mastered this skill, they drop it.  You don't have to however.  When she tells you to go away, but doesn't say please, just   pretend that you never heard it.  A lack of respect for you should not encourage your respect for her.  
And no one needs respect more than the members of a family.  Even if your little girl says Please, the tone of her request is all wrong.  Make it a family tradition:  "In our family, we don't talk to each other that way!"  and look scandalized when she does.  That's the best way to show her that you're in charge, rather than a lecture or a time out.

Childhood is all about learning how to act, as well as everything else but it takes a while.  

Thanks so much for joining us 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 most recent columns on how to get a baby to sleep more or click here for previous columns.
Recent Chats
  • Next: