Parenting advice: Help for raising children of all ages

Apr 17, 2014

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

Hello, and welcome to the Family Almanac!

Marguerite, your response to the woman (I assume it's a woman) who lost her sister and mother was a blessing to our family. My father is a distant academic in the DC area. My sister and I, now in our late 20s, went to college in California and both now have our lives here. A few years ago our mother died suddenly of an aneurysm. Of course we went to the funeral and home for holidays ad family events but we've never become close. Our father married his grad assistant 18 months after Mom died and they now have 2 small children. My sister and I were appalled but your answer made us much more sympathetic. Ubfiortunately they are now in the midst of an acrimonious divorce. I feel sorry for everyone, especially our half-sibs. But my sister and I are belatedly trying to do the right thing and tyrying hard to (re) establish contact. Please wish us luck.

How good of you and your sister--and how mature of you--to be there for your dad, even though he wasn't that much there for you.  Everyone doesn't grow up at the same time but give him time and he probably will.

But so-called "replacement children" can bring great joy. My parents lost a teenage son when my brother and I (a girl) were 16 and 13. A grief counselor suggested they consder this and it turned out to be the right move. Our little sister is now 4 and she is a delight. Only problem, she talks just like a teenager! My mother was 41 when she was born and says she did not take hormones. I truly hope she's being honest. But comparing life before and after "Sally" is really night and day.

But does your little sister replace your brother, or does she just shift some of the love you felt for him to her?  It's a funny thing about love:  the more you give, the more love you have in yoour heart and the more you can give.

Thanks for taking my question. I have two boys: 6 and 4. The older one can get moody and sometimes uses his little brother as the reason. "You like him more than me," or "You are nicer to him than you are to me." I'm not, but he does see that I spend a little more time with the younger child as I don't work one day per week, and I stay home with the younger guy then. I have special times for each kid, and after the four year old goes to bed every night, my older child and I read to each other alone. In a way, he's an attention sucker. In another way, I'm not sure how to deal with this. Just ride it out? Thanks.

A child wants attention from his parents more than anything else--and if he gets more attention by begging for it, then guess what?  He'll beg and then beg some more.  Instead, give him lots of attention when he's not begging for it, and compliment him for being so grown-up.  Also, get a sitter for the younger child for even a half-hour a day or a week, as your special time to go out with your older son. 

We are a couple of months into potty training our 3 year old son. He has extended moments of success with some set backs every once in a while with accidents. He doesn't regularly let us know when he has to use the bathroom, so we have to monitor and tell him when it's time to go. Additionally, we are trying to figure out when to remove the diaper over night and during naps. Any tips or suggestions would be much appreciated.

It isn’t easy for a 2-year-old to go back and forth between diapers and underwear especially when he’s sleepy.  Just put him in underwear round the clock, move his potty chair next to his crib so he won’t have to move so far and so fast and be prepared for a few accidents for the next few weeks.  That’s life . . .

Marguerite gave an excellent answer. Not all of us are fortunate enough to have never lived through a war like Word War 2 and can't imagne the stress this entails. We all like to think we'd be brave and heroic, but that's probably not the case. And bravery comes in many forms. My grandfather badly wanted to enlist but had 7 children so my grandmother dissuaded him. He worked so hard at his "essential" job that he died 10 years later, with 3 children still at home. My great uncle served and when he returned divorced his wife, which was then quite unusual, because she had been a "Rosie the Riveter" and become too independent for his taste. Many people don't realize that draft laws varied widely from county to county. They also depended on how many people enlisted in a given area. Unless someone was involved in treason or some similar malfeasance, we should try to be understanding.

Understanding is the name of the game, especially when it comes to living in a family.  If we wait three days before we mail a snarky letter, we usually don’t mail it and if we hold our tongue when we want to explode we usually temper what we would have said.  You can’t have a good relationship, anywhere, if you aren’t understanding and if you don’t have good manners too.  It’s hard to remember, but all of us should live by a simple maxim—we can be as rude as we want to our boss—and take whatever consequences he gives us—but we must never be rude to our spouses, our parents or our children and especially to anyone who works for us.

A few weeks ago my 10 year old son asked me to watch a youtube video. It was a girl putting makeup on her brother. He asked "can we do that?" I put him off, but eventually agreed. He seemed disappointed in the result and I figured that would be that. Instead he asked if I had a wig or dress he could try as well. I said I didn't and he asked if we could buy some. I'm torn. On one hand, if he wants to experiment with how he looks, I don't see that as a problem. On the other, I'm afraid of... something, but I don't know what. Do you think this is just a phase or experience he wants, or could it be a lot more?

Hello, My toddler girl is turning two today and our house has not had solid sleeping nights lately. A few things are contributing: my husband was just deployed, I'm 7 months pregnant, and my daughter was moved from her crib to a bed. She used to be a champion sleeper in the crib. She wakes me up after three hours of sleeping in the bed. She also won't really take naps. I have some help with her but the lack of sleep is difficult for all of us. She's very, very clingy when we are all awake. Any hints to renew the sanity? Thanks so much.

I'd give her a special sleep-buddy--some soft stuffed animal--and tell her that he will put her back to sleep if she wakes up and holds him tight.  And if she cries--as children often do as they drift from one sleep stage to another every 2-3 hours--then go to her and watch her but don't say or do anything until she has given 2-3 sqawks.  Children often do that, then fall asleep againl.

My son (5 1/2) is a charismatic, outgoing little dude. Unfortunately, he can also be obnoxious, like many children, and is very tall for his age, so he intimidates some of his peers. We're working with teaching him how to be a "gentle giant" but the fact is that he's a 5 year old trapped in an 8 year old's body, and he's going to ACT like a 5 year old. But specifically, he's butting heads (metaphorically) with the son of some good friends of ours (also 5, although not in the same preK class). On the playground, they often argue and the other boy tells his teachers that he hates my son. This bums me out, because I adore this other couple and would love for our kids to get along. Is it worth taking the two boys out without their siblings for some kind of extra-special playdate to encourage bonding? Or do we just chalk it up to a personality clash, keep teaching our respective kids kindness, and hope they become pals eventually?

Do you know of any sibling support groups for children who have a sib with autism or other disabilities, in the DC area? We would love for our daughter to know she's not the only one dealing with the feelings and situations she is facing. Anything we can do at home to help her cope?

I don't know of any but there is bound to be one or more in this area.  Why not call the autism groups and ask them where to find some support groups for siblings of autistic children in your area.  (And then will you let me know?)

Have you had a chance to read the Atlantic Monthly article about how children's play has changed in the past few decades? I thought it was extremely interesting and was wondering if you think people will begin to change the way they allow children to play as they rethink the risks, cost, and benefits.

It's on my bedside table, both because it's a great subject and because I think the story is written by Hannah Rosen and I like to read everything she writes. 

I do think we have gone too far with our watchfulness and especially with the frequency of our "Watch outs!" and "Be carefuls"!  Children have the right to try--and the right to fail.  The more we interfere with them, or we rush in and pick up the pieces or fuss at the teacher for giving our child the bad mark that he deserved, the more we are subliminally telling the child that he is not capable of taking care of himself.  His inference is bound to be:  I'm a loser.  And that's a lousy message to give to a child.

Trying to keep this short My husband has always had an easy and close relationship to our oldest, a daughter, and a harder time bonding with our middle child, a son. Some of this has to do with my husband's deployment when our son was 18 months old, old enough to know he was gone, but not old enough to connect with him over the distance like our oldest could. Now husband realizes the problem and has worked hard to connect with our son (who is now 6) and their relationship has gotten a whole lot better. The problem is that our oldest (now 9) is really jealous of the new closeness between he father and her brother and whines and complains any time they have father/son time (she still gets father/daughter time). With a new baby around now, too, she is seems to be getting more and more jealous of both siblings. We want to help her through the changes and make sure she understands that they don't have to ruin her bond with her dad. How do we approach that conversation.

It isn't just father-daughter time that your 9-year-old needs, it's also a special area of interest that no one else shares with him--not you, not the younger children--and preferably away from the house.  It might be fishing or hiking; building a piece of furniture, like a bookcase, or anything that will involve endless one-on-one discussions about all the ramifications that are involved in any of these subjects.

You have several posted questions with blank answers. Can this be fixed?

We are having some technical problems and are trying to retrieve the answers.

My five year old has always been a decent sleeper. He was a good napper but stopped taking an afternoon nap a couple of months after his third birthday. His bedtime is 9:00 p.m. (or slightly before) and he gets up at 8:00 a.m. About two months ago, he changed from going to sleep 15-20 minutes after bedtime to sometimes staying awake two hours after bedtime. On some nights he will leave the room several times. However, on many nights he just stays in his room creating mischief: turning the lights on, opening his window on frigid nights, climbing on things etc. We have tried a variety of carrots (we'll read an extra chapter in your book tomorrow) and sticks (no tv or electronics tomorrow). These may work for a night or two but then lose effectiveness. What can we do to get him to go to sleep?

Time's up for the Family Almanac.  Thanks for being here 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 a child should continue playing on a team when she's always on the bench or click here for previous columns.
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