Parenting advice: Help for raising children of all ages

Jan 23, 2014

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

Welcome to the Family Almanac on this beautiful, snowbound day!

Here is a link to today's Family Almanac about helping a 3 year old who is shying away from physical activity.

My 26 year old daughter has severe ADD. She can't focus; her mind jumps around; she often interrupts and can't remember anything she doesn't write down. Fortunately with meds and therapy she is doing well, and family, friends and colleagues are largely supportive. However, she has another problem that may or may not be ADD-related: she has no tact. When meeting a new person, rather than saying Hello or Nice to meet you, she is likely to say, Where did you get that ugly purse? or Do you always wear mis-matched clothes? This doesn't happen all the time but often enough that friends and even some family members are starting to keep their distance. Last week at dinner out she asked a perfect stranger with very short hair, Did your hairdresser scalp you or do you like it that way? It turns out the woman had cancer! I apologized profusely, said my daughter is mentally ill, and paid the bill for a party of 4. Is this something I could bring up to her therapist? She honestly does not seem to realize that her questions/comments are inappropriate. I'm sure this will in time impact on her personal and professional life,if it hasn't already. Please help!

Dear Mrs. Kelly, Perhaps because I am a younger child, I did not like your answer to the mother whose older child is refusing to relinquish her room to her younger sister when she goes off to college, even though the younger has been sleeping in a closet for 12 years! Does this really seem fair to you? The oldest sounds like a spoiled brat who has undoubtedly figured out that her parents will cave whenever she turns on the tears. I have one of those myself; we're now in our 20's and she's leearning that what worked with our parents does not work with the rest of the world. I know the oldest gets more privileges, but I think parents should at least try to treat their children more or less the same. Relegating one to a closet while a large, well-appointed room is free just does not seem right to me.

I'm so sorry about that.  A couple of other people thought I was being unfair, but let me try to explain my reasoning a little better.

Children who come from happy homes often have great fears when they have to leave it--fears that quickly go away as soon as they feel safe at their new home, so I figured, why not indulge her?  She is making a huge jump into adulthood and she needs to know that she still has a place at home.

And as for the younger sister--I figured she had her big closet to sleep in and her sister's room to store her stuff in, to study in and to have company overnight.  In New York they'd call that a studio apartment.

My devout Catholic daughter is marrying an equally devout Jewish man. We are fine with that and like our future son-in-law very much. My concern is that if they have chldren, they are planning to raise the boys Jewish and the girls Catholic. I know this may never happen, but can it possibly work? In other mxed marriages I'm familiar with, either the more committed parent prevails, or the children are exposed to both religions and gravitate to one or the other as they mature. The thought of Dad and the boys going to Synagogue on Saturday and Mom and the girls going to Mass on Sunday just strikes me as weird.

I've heard of this working in other interfaith marriages but each couple has to figure out their own solutions--and then the in-laws have to say, "That's great!" whatever they choose to do. 

And it is great that you accept your daughter's fiance so well and to her marriage to someone of a different faith.  That's so, so important.  Just let them work out their situation as best they might and keep any negative thoughts to yourself, which ought to be the mantra of every in-law and every problem her children might have.

My 19 month old son stays at home with his nanny. He still takes two naps a day. He loves spending time with other children, but I do not want to put him in a day care for a few hours while he is still taking a morning and afternoon nap. At what age is it necessary for toddlers to socialize with other kids. I'm not too worried yet, but want to make sure he grows up knowing how to get along with others.

If your son hasn't given up his nap already, he'll do it really soon.  But even if he is asleep, the nanny should be taking him out for a stroll after breakfast, so he can wake up and meet the other toddlers in the park, and she should be arranging playdates with these children at the park or at your house after his afternoon naps because children like to hang out with each other even at 4-5 months.  The afternoon playdates should be between 3 and 5, however, because 5-7 is so often, and so rightfully, called Arsenic Hour.  You either want to take it or you want to give it.


My husband has a very common surname, e.g., "Jones." Mine is more unusual and melodic. Before we married 10 years ago, we decided that our children would be given my last name. My husband is completeley on board with this; in fact he suggested it. There was almost always at least one other "Jones" in his classes, and having such a common name caused problems with dinner reservations, library books, even prescriptions. Our children are 7, 6 and 4, and everything has gone well except that my in-laws refuse to accept our decision. They send cards and gifts to A, B and C "Jones," and introduce and refer to them as such. If one of us present, we always say, "Actually their name is X." The older 2 do this as well. This used to be just a nuisance, but recently they've raised the ante. For Christmas they gave the kids several presents, some of them equite expensive, with "J" or "Jones" motifs. A couple weeks ago,when my mother-in-law went to pick up my daughter from pre-school, she aid she was there for "Amy Jones," causing some consternation as no "Amy Jones" was enrolled. We've asked them nicely over and over not to do this, but to no avail. We don't want to cause a major riff, but do we have any other choice?

Sorry to take so long to answer; computer problems. 

I think your in-laws have their feelings really, really hurt and every time you correct them, their feelings are hurt a little more. 

This is time for a compromise, not a riff.  Let them call your children by their own surnames, without either you, your husband or your children correcting them but continue to use your last name for them at school, at home, at the library and when you introduce them to people they don't know.  It's better to keep your in-laws in your children's lives, and in your husband's life, than to make a name turn into an issue. 

For the past few months, my now-14 month old has been hitting me, other babies, pets, etc. - not always aggressively (sometimes it seems more like she's just curious about what will happen) but sometimes she does it in connection with anger. We've tried saying "no hitting" and removing her from the situation, but it's had no impact whatsoever. If we say it too harshly, she gets scared and cries, which stops the hitting temporarily but a few minutes later, she does it again. What's realistic for us to expect at this age when it comes to behavior like this? Is she even old enough to grasp our attempts at discipline? Anything else we should be doing? Thanks!

Hi, Marguerite. Thanks for taking my question. We are having some issues with our six year old daughter. She seems perpetually within 2 seconds of having a meltdown--my husband and I "joke" that it seems like she has a never ending case of PMS. It's getting more and more difficult to deal with the dramatics and hysteria in a sensitive way (ex. asking her to read her fluency passage twice---and she likes reading---causes a crying jag over non-existent yelling). She gets between 10 and 11 hours of sleep at night and unless it's at school, no dyes and not a lot of sugar. Any suggestions on how to deal with this would be greatly appreciated!

Some children are just more sensitive than other children, so you need to back off, to give her chores and jobs that she can do easily and don't push her beyond her limits.  She knows what she can accept better than you do.

Chores particularly will help her build her self-confidence and this is what she must do before she can dare to tryharder things.  And you might read a nice little book called Please Understand Me, about the 16 Jungian temperaments.  You'll  find your daughter in there and her temperament is probably quite different from yours, which makes it harder to understand how she feels and thinks. 

Wouldn't it be boring if we were all just alike?


My 3.5 year old boy has major temper tantrums. Yelling, screaming, crying and generally carrying on when he doesn't get his way. We try to remove him from the situation and not give in (putting him in another room, etc) until he can calm down, but he can keep going for quite some time. I know you encourage removing foods from the diet to address behavior issues, but what do you recommend doing in the moment to curb the behavior? He also has picked up the term "shut up" from day care. At first, we tried ignoring it, but it has continued since November. We tell him that we don't use that word, but that seems to just provoke him further as does putting him in timeout. I've started leaving the room after he says it, but that typically leads to a temper tantrum. His 22 month old sister is picking up words quickly, so I really don't want her to start saying it too.

Two things may be causing these outbursts (and probably more). 

Your little boy may be in a day care that's all wrong for him and possibly for the other children too because a good day care doesn't put up with "shut ups" and trash talk.  Perhaps you could observe for a morning and see what's going on.

And then there is the problem of simply be 3 1/2.  Pre-K children fall apart once a year, to grow into a new behavior, much as a crab or a snake sheds its shell or its skin to fit its body into a bigger shell or skin. 

This out-of-bounds behavior usually starts at the half-year mark and lasts for several months.  Or it starts around their birthdays and lasts for several months.  Either way, you lower your expectations, look the other way as much as you can and tell him how much you appreciate the way he hardly ever says "Shut up".

Last night, I came home from a meeting to find World War III happening in my house over broccoli. My husband was insisting that our five-year old son eat just two pieces of broccoli. Our son had refused, so my husband had taken away tv privileges, snacks, treats, and said that our son would lose one toy per day until he ate the broccoli. This is when I arrived home. I was finally able to persuade our son to eat the two (tiny) bites of broccoli, after which he said he liked it and would be happy to eat it the next time. Our son has turned into an incredibly picky eater and we're both at the end of our ropes with this and it's leaving us exhausted at the end of every meal. However, my husband's slash-and-burn approach seemed rather drastic to me (and he admitted that he'd dug himself a hole and wasn't happy how he handled things). How can we do better with this?

The same thing happened to me when our first two children had reduced their diets to peanut butter, hamburgers and hot dogs and our third child was just about to start eating table food.  The idea of cooking the parents living on peanut butter and hamburgers and hot dogs did not appeal to me and cooking two meals every night really didn't appeal.  So when my husband took a 3-day business trip I quietly told my friends that we'd be staying home for the next three days and couldn't have company because I was throwing out everything my kids ate so they could learn how to eat other foods.  And they did, although they had no treats, no desserts, no cookies and an apple for a snack. 

The first night I served a spicy spaghetti sauce, which they wouldn't eat, and I cheerfully said, That's okay,  you're just not hungry, you may be excused.  And the next night it was a stew--same thing.  The third night I prepared lamb curry and winced because my husband was coming home and I knew he'd cave.  But by then they were so hungry and I was still so cheerful that they ate everything in sight and we never had a problem with anything after that, except raw oysters.

I'm not sure that a psychologist would go along with that routine, but it was the best I could do--and it worked.

My almost 29 month old is obsessed with my ipad and with Pixar movies. If we'd let her, she would play on youtube and watch tv all day long. Obviously, we don't, but I'm curious how much screen time is acceptable for a child this age and how to wean them off.

I think that the American Academy recommends just a half-hour a day, total, for all screen time.

If you answered this question, it didn't show up in the chat.

I did answer it, and if I can retrieve the question I'll try to answer it in my column.

Thanks 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 to put a child with a September birthday in kindergarten or pre-k or click here for previous columns.
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