Parenting advice: Help for raising children of all ages

Feb 14, 2013

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. Lots of good questions, so let's get started!

Hi, My son is 8 years old, he sees school as punitive, and is very verbal aboout his distaste for going to school. How can I start to make steps to get him to see it a different way?

I'd observe at the school because he may be right and if he is, you'll want to talk with the principal and the teacher together and tell them what you see and ask how you can help.  Or can he switch to a different teacher? a special elective?  If the school won't cooperate, start looking for a new school--a charter, a  private school; ask for a working scholarship at a private school--i. e., they drop the tuition, you do the work to make up for it.  If that's not possible, sympathize with him and treat him to a special course in something he adores--studying bugs at the zoo; a cartooning class at the Smithsonian, a swim class.  If you follow his passion, it might make up for the punitive schooling.

If you can't find anything wrong at school however, you might look at the calendar.  Children around 7 and sometimes 8 get their first weak dose of hormones at this age and this makes them say :Nobody loves me: nobody's ever loved me; the teacher hates me'--the droning list goes on, but it also goes away a few months later when the body adjusts to the hormones.

Some kids have a unique sense of style and some of their ideas of fashion are more accepted than others. I know kids who love to wear costumes on a daily basis. For girls, it is their favorite Disney Princess. For boys, it is their favorite superhero. But, what do you do when they want something that other people may laugh at (or worse)? I am a guy and I hear kids commenting about my pierced ears on a regular basis. I am old enough to understand the consequences of my decision, but what about a five year old boy or girl who picks something extreme. While there may be nothing harmful with a boy wearing a tiara or getting his nails painted, it will subject him to questions, comments, and maybe worse from those around him. How do you protect a child who wants to be different? How do you explain that their decisions will impact how other people treat them?

I think setting limits is a good idea in this case (and in most cases).  When bullies are prevalent in a school, they always pick on the weakest child or the child who is different, so you don't want to give them that advantage. Instead let this child paint his nails or wear his tiara maybe once a week when you let him  invite a few buddies over to his house for a costume and movie  party once a week where they can dress up to their hearts' content and the bullies will never know.

Most of the time however, you encourage the child to wear clothes that play up to her looks, not overshadow them--a blue t-shirt to match her eyes; a jazzy scarf instead of a belt to hold up her jeans a pair of leggings that have pizazz. 
Basically you're telling your child that clothes are important ways to distinguish herself but she is more important than they are.  And so is he.

Hi Marguerite, My daughter is 15 months old and I have two questions. First, what's the best way to deal with early tantrums? Put her in a safe spot and ignore? Hold her even if that makes her madder? Distract her? Second, my daughter has started screaming and screeching when she wants something - whether it's food or just to get our attention. We've tried ignoring and we've tried gentle shushing, but there's still all this screaming. What's the best way to deal with it? Thanks as always for your guidance!

So many tantrums are borne of frustration, when children don't have the words to say what they mean, so before your little girl even gets to the point of a tantrum, teach her words. When she knows the color of red, tell her whether it's scarlet or magenta. Explain under and over and around by walking her under and over and around a table. Take things out and put them in.  And when you wnat to teach her a new word, put you mouth 6-8 inches from hers and say the word over and over again, because she will soon copy it and then say the word herself.

Once she has a tantrum however, you might try the Norwegian method--taking the child to another room and holding her tight while you whisper your Ilove you's in her ear until she calms down.  I think this system probably works best.

What's the best approach to teach kids about money? Does allowance really work? Interested to hear what people's approaches are here in regards to allowance, giving kids cash vs. debit cards/when to let kids have their first bank accounts.

An sllowance works but wait until your child is eight and fascinated with what it can buy and even what it feels like in his hand.  Don't attach it to the work they do however, or the grades they make.  It is simply a measure of your love.  It is your child's walking around money. There are some strings you should attach however. Every child should know that he must tithe at least 10  percent of his money goes to charity, either to the poor box at church or to the homeless man on the corner, somewhere that it's needed.  And every week he should be proud  to tell you where it went and also how much he has put in his savings bank.  A parent also has a string attached.  She should hand out the allowance at a regular time every week, and should only give a raise on her birthday, because this stops the nattering for more money all during the year. 










































DearMs. Kelly, I think I've done a pretty good job of teaching my children, ages 8, 6 and 5, not to comment on people's weight, age or other physical characteristics. However, they recently lost two beloved grandparents to terrible deaths from smoking-induced lung cancer. We tried to protect them a little, but the grandparents wanted to see them and vice versa. They promised them never to smoke a cigarette, a promise we devoutly hope they 'll keep. (Neither my husband nor I smoke.) Now when they see someone smoking, they are likely to say (usually) please stop smoking, or usually the little one, You're going to die! I've tried to explain that adults are free to make choices, even bad ones; and that many smokers would like to quit but can't. Of course there are some who say they smoke because they like it, and that they can quit any time. And there is the occasional smoker who lives to a ripe old age, albeit it with yellow teeth, smelly clothes and serious health problems. Thanks for your thoughts and suggestions.

Children say what's in their hearts and clearly your children's hearts are full of love for their grandparents.When they tell adults to stop smoking, they are merely expressing this love and you just have to suck it up and explain that smoking killed their grandparents and they don't want anyone else to die that way.  They'll understand.

Hello Marguerite, What's your feelings on childhood vaccines? I have a 6 month old baby and so far I've followed the recommended routine, but I'm getting constant pressure from family members to skip some or all of them, with some folks blatantly saying vaccinating = being a BAD mom :( I've tried to do my own research, but so much of it seems in direct contradiction. I'm curious YOUR thoughts. Thanks so much!

Some vaccines are essential--polio, pertussis for instance, but others can wait a while.  In fact, I understand that Japan requires no vaccinations until a child is 2, so you can see that the schedule varies from place to place.  There is a reputable grass-roots group inVienna,Va., on vaccinations--I can;t get to my files right now--which I'm sure is on he web.  This I do know however:  one vaccine at a time and never when a child is sick, no matter whatthe doctor says.  Giving 9-10 vaccines at once, especially to a sick child, is foolhardy.

Is there a drop-dead age for when a child should be out of a crib? Our son is 2 ½ and as yet has shown no signs of trying to climb out. We're dragging our feet because we live in a two bedroom house and his 7-year-old sister occupies the other bedroom. We haven't decided yet how to handle moving him into his own bed- share with her? A toddler bed in the corner of our room where the crib was? Something else?

The sooner you move your little boy to a toddler bed, the sooner he will be out of it.  I'd keep your son in his crib until he learns to climb out of it and then, for safety's sake, a toddler bed.

And a 4 year old gets her fired because she tells him to hush and doesn't want him to pull a boiling pot onto his head? I've been reading you forever and this is the first time ever I've completely disagreed with what I usually consider to be your excellent advice. Unless she's leaving out some serious abuse, Mom is doing that kid no favors by giving in to him on this one. I also wouldn't want to be his future teachers or day care providers.

I'm so sorry I've offended you, and others too today.  Maybe it's all the letters over all the years about childhood abuse they never told anyone about, or the spankings they got and never told anyone about--or the sitter my children hated (and I loved). Turns out she locked them in a closet if they did anything bad (and I must admit, they often did bad things).  Twenty passed before one of them thought to tell me why they disliked this sitter so much. 

I'm afraid that, in doubt, I tend to believe the child more than the adult; they're not as skilled at lying.  And I know that nannies, as well as parents, like some ages better than others and are nicer to the children when they're in those ages. 

And finally, I think that little boy's behavior about the nanny is extreme and therefore should be respected.  Maybe it could be worked out with the nanny but I don't  think i oould be worked out to the satisfaction of the little boy.  He's too scared of the old nanny to accept the new one.

I was considering attending and maybe purchasing products from Kirk Martin's Celebrate Calm series. Do you know anything about this? Would you suggest it? We have a child with ADHD and we could really use some help. I've heard good things , but I don't know. What do you think?

I'm sorry; this series passed me by but I'd like to hear about it.  Personally, I'd check to read the scientific studies on how the wrong foods can cause ADHD; it's a very common cause; it's cheap to fix and you don't have to medicate.  

Read the books by Ned Hollowell too, and check with the Mensah Clinic and its work on ADHD.  They come to
Annapolis several times a year to test children for ADHD and other problems, then correct them with missing vitamins or minerals or amino acids.  To me, meds should be the very last solution.

Hi. My son is starting kindergarten this fall. Anything i should be doing to prepare him for this big change, or any books you can suggest I read? He's done well at pre-school this year, but I'm nervous about the every-day-ness of it. Thanks.

I'd find out which class he would attend then try to finda few kids who live near you so you can invite them over for a few playdates before school starts.  Also, I'd ask for a tour of the classroom and the school and where the bathrooms are because that is a big concern at this age. 
They also want tomake sure hat there is a place for their coat and their possessions.  It's like getting a tour of the obstetrics ward before you have a baby.  It just makes you feel safer.

As for school itself, it will be a new job for him, so he will be scared at first, but he will love it.  The kindergarten teachers are usually great and their students can't wait to see them every morning.

I have to disagree with your response to the parent whose kids are telling other smokers that they will die if they keep smoking. Regardless as to whether it's coming from a place of love for their grandparents, it is still completely inappropriate to say things like that to strangers. Kids need to be taught that there are certain things they should not say to others about their habits, especially if the kids don't know that person very well (if at all). I think the kids will understand it if the parent takes that approach.

Sorry.  I thought it went without saying:  children shouldn't give this kind of advice.  But children do and then parents need to know how to handle it.

Hi Marguerite, hoping you can give me some pointers. It's looking as if I will be working 4 hours away from where my husband, myself, and 7yo son (gr.1) currently live. I will only be able to come home one weekend a month, likely, and they will likely come up one weekend a month. I know it's what needs to be done, but I don't like the idea of being away from my son for so long. So my questions are: 1) anything you can suggest to make the transition for him easier? Help him out? 2) How much should I be concerned that my (older, more traditional) husband, who has--shall we say, strong political and other related views that I don't agree with (basically, a different outlook on life) will be the sole caretaker -- i.e. without me to help sand off some of the "rough edges", so to speak? Otherwise he's a caring dad, just old school... Thanks for any suggestions!

Have a set time every night to Skype with your son, and see his school papers and hear the praise he got from his teacher.  Read a story to him each night and have him read to you which is so important in the early grades.  Send him a funny postcard every day.  Let him fax his best school papers and his best drawings to you. 
And don't worry about yoour husband's different views.  A child can tell one parent from the other and in time he will draw the best from both of you.  Distance is enough of an issue now; don' t let politics enter the mix.

And had this trouble yesterday with Tom's chat. What's up?

Producer Mari-Jane here. I am seeing the whole chat online, so I'm not sure what's going on. But I will alert our chat team to see if something is up.

Any tips on raising them? I'd love for my nearly-five-year-old to be more resilient. Are there things we can do as parents to foster this attribute? Thanks!

Children at 5 can be quite rigid and want everything just so.  For now, just introduce small adventures into her life. If you live in a well-off neighborhood, take her marketing in a slum.  If you're poor, drive through the rich part of town.  Go through alleys instead of streets or freeways.  Go to Amish country with your little girl, give her the culture shocks that every child deserves.  If you're there with her, she will feel much braver and she will want to hear more and do more and see more because of it.

Keep scrolling. There is a big white spot after the 4th entry, and then it picks up again. Using Chrome...tried refreshing multiple times.

I am a fan, Marguerite, and usually love your advice, but your answer to the question about vaccines was way off. The vaccination schedule has been developed based on the safety and efficacy of vaccines on children of a specific age - immune response can vary based on age, so the schedule is not just random. The fact that it varies from place to place is due to many other factors, and countries with less strict vaccination requirements have seen large outbreaks of measles, pertussis, and other illnesses. Vaccinating prevents terrible illnesses and deaths, much of which we don't see anymore precisely because of successful vaccination campaigns. Suggesting that vaccinations can "wait a while," with little to back up that claim, is irresponsible.

Another perspective on vaccines.

Hello. Thanks for chatting. I do believe that your response to the woman asking about vaccinations was a bit biased. The organization you mentioned is a group that does push a particular agenda with regards to vaccines. Plus, to mention your views - one at a time, not when sick, etc - without citing evidence-based research to support it feels irresponsible. The vaccine issue is a charged one, that is for sure, but with such high stakes at play, I think reputable sources should be given instead of uninformed (at least within the response) opinion. Thanks.

Dear Mrs. Kelly, I can't believe you're letting a 4 year old run off a devoted, competent nanny because she's too strict! She's only there 2 days a week, and he needs to learn that not everyone will cater to his every whim (not even his parents, IMO). I've been a librarian for over 30 years and have seen a major change from the polite, mannerly children of my early years to the noisy, rowdy little houligans of the last decade. Our now-grown kids thought we, their caregivers and the teachers at their Catholic schools were all "too strict," but they turned into caring, responsible adults and now they thank us for it. They are trying hard to raise their own children that way and would l love to give that nanny a job should these misguided parents let her go.

And I'm sure this one will be snapped up soon. I'd rather get rid of the kid! He's going to grow up to be an insufferable adult.

As a professional nanny for 40+ years, the picture of the nanny slinking off into the distance at the behest of a pampered 4 year old, and the accompanying comments, made me want to cry. Americans think a child should be able to do whatever he wants whenever he wants with (to me) catastrophic results. Everywhere I look I see out of control children who make life miserable for their parents and everyone else. A bit more strictness could lead to better maners and fewer dirty glances as they ruin meals, shopping expeditions, library outings and so much more for the rest of us.

Dear Ms. Kelly, our neighborhood parents' group met this morning (7 mothers, 2 dads) and spent most of the time discussing today's column. Not surprisingly, reaction varied based on one's caregiving experience, but most of us felt the mother should work with this well-meaning woman to try to work things out. If we changed caregivers every time a child disliked one, most of us would be unable to leave the house!

More on the nanny question in today's Local Living.

I really disagree with the idea of de-coupling work and money. And I disagree with "automatic" raises each year on a birthday. Personally, when giving money to my children, I do tie it to work that they do. When they do something other than their normal chores (so, making the bed would NOT count, but mowing the lawn would), they get paid. Thus, it reinforces the idea that hard work earns rewards rather than simply being and being loved. Otherwise, it needs to be clear that the money is a GIFT and not something the child is owed or deserves.

Another perspective...

I've been getting the Celebrate Calm newsletters for years and have been to two workshops. Families of all children, not just those with ADHD, can benefit from those workshops although if you have ADHD in your family, you might feel more desperate to attend just to find a way to learn to appreciate your child and to get some peace at home. The focus of the workshops isn't on ADHD as much as it is on controlling your own responses to your child's behavior so that you can determine what the real problem is and respond to that. So much of the time, our reactions are more a result of our own frustration or embarrassment at our kids' behavior; it doesn't help the situation or help your child learn to control themselves. How annoying that we have to change our own behavior to change our kids! But that's how it is... Kirk and his son, Casey, are very charismatic in the workshops and I suggest attending one of those. There are more in the DC area this March and April. The CDs sound so scripted and are much harder to listen to although the information is good. I wish they had a book.

Information on Celebrate Calm...

I'd like to add that the family saying vaccines=bad moms are the reason why you see things like the worst Whooping Cough epidemic since the 1940s. These people who preach because of crazy conspiracy theories instead of relying on science not only put their kids at risk, but also put the public's health at risk. She is doing the right thing by following the recommended routine.

More on vaccines...

Some new evidence shows that "flipping the classroom" from a focus on in-class lecture then assigning homework, to focusing on working with a teacher available during the class and having "homework" being study and lecture review (e.g. Khan Academy type video reviews) has been effective. Considering that most students begin to have homework motivation problems starting at age 10 - could this 'flipping the classroom' approach be the answer - make home study time instead of homework time?

That would certainly be an interesting experiment, and I bet it would work well--if the kids listed to the lectures.  Basically a child learns best by doing, but if they can't do the work, they have other stretngths.  Some children learn by seeing, some only learn if they're moving and as I remember, the fewest learn by listening, although that is how most teachers teach.


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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 an unmotivated first-grader or click here for previous columns.
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