Parenting advice: Help for raising children of all ages

Feb 20, 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!

My son is 3 and a half and has little interest in potty training. He will go on the potty when prodded, and is always proud of himself when he does, but will not go on his own. Advice?

Disposable diapers make it so easy that many children don't bother to be trained, especially around 2 1/2 and 3 1/2.  Either wait a little longer, or just put diapers away and switch to underpants--not those expensive training pants--but cheap ones so you can buy many of them and buy colorful, jazzy ones so he won't want to pee in them as much as he pees in his diapers.  Do this when you're going to be home for a long weekend or preferably a week, with nothing else going on.  Also have him sit on the potty as soon as he gets up from his night or his nap, about 15-30 minutes after a meal and before he goes to bed but don't make a big deal about potty training and have him help you clean up the puddles and bring you new underpants when he has an accident.  When a child knows that you're not kidding around, he won't be so recalcitrant.

We are having technical difficulties and trying to get that first question back to Marguerite to retrieve her answer. Bear with us!

I dropped in unexpectedly on a friend last week and her nine-year-old son was sitting in their family room watching tv. The strange part was, he was dressed in girl's clothing. His (longish) hair was in a girl's style. He wore a dress and tights and shoes with mid-heels were sitting nearby. He had on some light makeup and jewelry as well. I asked my friend about this, and she said he's been dressing like that for a number of years and "didn't mind." That seems far removed from "he wants to," and that worries me. She told me she "had him start wearing a training bra since his birthday" which also implies it's her idea, not his. I'm not sure if I should just drop this, or get involved or....?

Wearing girls' clothes is unusual--and it's even more unusual for a parent to encourage it.  It's also unkind because children between seven and young adulthood want to be like everyone else their age and sooner or later this boy is going to be really embarrassed, and bullied, if and when a classmate catches him in makeupp and heels.

You do need to get involved by talking to your friend about this and also about a child's need--or an adult's need--to wear clothes of the opposite sex.  This is not frowned upon for females, who have been wearing jeans and slacks for almost a century,  but it usually is for males.  Your friend needs to know that many of them wear women's clothes simply because it relieves their anxiety, and maybe satin boxers would do the same thing (and maybe not).  Your friend should not encourage her son to wear makeup or dress up his hair or buy him high heels however.  He's not a doll, he's a child and his feelings should be respected.  It isn't fair to withhold this respect.

Or the child maybe be trying to figure out their gender identity and the mother didn't feel like discussing it with an outsider.  

The Post's Petula Dvorak wrote an important story in May 2012 about a transgender child.

Is it bad parenting to allow a nine yr old to stay at home alone after he gets home from school from 2:30 pm tp 5:00 or 6:00. He is supposed to stay in the house but has been found riding his bike around the neighborhood.

Supervision is a parent's best friend.  You can't expect a 9-year-old to stay inside for 3 or more hours when the sun is shining and a bike is beckoning him to go outside for 'just a little spin'.  That's why your son is called a child.  He can't resist the irresistable yet because the impulse center of the brain won't fully mature until he's in his early to mid-2o's. 

You can't supervise him constantly after he's 13 or so but you can do it indirectly by giving him chores to do when he's home alone and by letting him know that you're watching him by watching out for him.  It will be years before he knows for sure that you don't have eyes in the back of your head.  But for now, he needs direct supervision or his small escapades will turn into big ones later.

Thanks for tuning in today and I'm sorry we had so much trouble with our technology!

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 a mother who is tired of playing pretend with her toddler all the time or click here for previous columns.
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