Parenting advice: Help for raising children of all ages

Oct 25, 2012

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

I have a 15 month old who starts having a tantrum when I try to put him in his high chair. This started this weekend. I am planning to try a booster seat with him, but I'm not sure what to do. He has always been attached to me, but it's getting more intense. He seems to be clinging to me even more. How can I reassure him I'm there for him, without him wanting to be held all the time?

You've just got a case of separation anxiety; don't take it personally--and don't get a booster seat either because he'll be over this anxiety in a month or so, if not before, and then he'll skitter from his booster seat every time he sees a spoon of spinach.

Laugh a lot, make faces, dance in the kitchen while he's eating his chicken tenders but remember--you're in charge.  He can run his own show in 30 years; right now it's your turn.

Dear Marguerite: My good friend "Tina" is married to "Bob," with a 3-year-old daughter, "Janie." Tina is the main breadwinner and Bob is the stay-at-home dad. The problem: Bob smokes a lot of pot -- though not around the baby (or so I thought). When I was visiting the other evening and helping put Janie to bed, she ran to the kitchen to say goodnight to Daddy. When I followed, I could smell that burning-hemp smell. (However, I didn't *see* any pot in the kitchen.) Tina herself never uses pot, but doesn't seem too bothered by Bob's doing so as long it's not around their daughter. (It's possible that either she didn't realize he was smoking in the kitchen that night, or wouldn't argue with him while I was there.) Should I tell Tina that I think Bob was smoking pot while Janie was still running around the house? Should I take my concerns any further? They are loving and responsible parents otherwise.

Some people get addicted to pot and some don't but, as it is with alcohol, you don't know which ones will be affected until the damage is done and then it can take years to make the longing for it go away.

So  f ar it sounds like the father is handling the problem pretty well but you'll probably want to mention this incident to his wife, as in "I was surprised to smell pot being smoked when your little girl was still awake"  but I wouldn't take my concerns any further.  You might, however, ask SAMSA, the governement agency, for their brochures on this subject and have them on hand in case Tina asks you for help.

My 9 year old daughter is a wonderful kid, I hear from a lot of parent's that their kid's consider her their best friend and, in a few cases, their only friend. I love that she's so kind to kids that have a rougher time than she at school and really finds something good in all her schoolmates. Even is she's aware of their faults - "So and so can be very bossy and people don't like to play with her, so I just tell her I'll only play when she's not mean to me." I honestly admire the way she deals with people and wish I were the same. She was recently asked to join a peer group that meets at lunch to talk through issues the group was having. I called the guidance counselor and she informed me that daughter was asked because "she's such a good friend." I didn't want to pry to much into other student's, but I asked my daughter who else is in the group and it is two little girls who I know, from interaction with them and discussion with their parents, have a hard time getting along at school and making friends. Nothing wrong with these girls, just a bit socially awkward. Both these girls consider my daughter a good friend and in some cases, cling to her and ask her to only be their friend. My daughter has told me that she always tries to bring these girls into groups, but they are only interested in playing one on one. We have discussed that she doesn't have to only play with them, but it is a nice thing to do every now and then. I'm thrilled that my daughter is this kind of kid, but I'm afraid she may end up being someone that gives too much of herself for others. Is this at all rational for me to be scared of at this age? Is there anything I should be looking out for? She's very independent and I don't see her letting a somewhat pushy kid force her into things (as I did as a child), but I worry she misses out on things she wants to do at recess or free time because she's looking out for these few kids.

According to Howard Gardner (of the Howard Gardner school of education at Harvard, no less), there are eight separate types of intelligence and clearly your daughter excels in the ones  that deal with her ability to get along with herself and to get along with other people.  She is the only one who can decide how much time to give her friends and how much time to keep for herself.  And will you worry about it anyway?  Of course you will.  That's every parent's job--to worry about their children.

I have a wonderful, cheerful, engaging 8 month old baby. She is a joy to be around, but only sleeps well if her schedule is spot on. I'm a high sleep needs person and every few months get totally worn down by bending over backwards to get her, myself, and my spouse the sleep we need. I know this season of life is short and eventually (I keep hearing 2 as a magic age) it won't be so difficult, but it seriously cuts into my enjoyment of parenting. Once I start worrying about sleep things spiral out of control a little bit - I worry about her development, my parenting, my marriage, everything. I'm sure lack of sleep on my part is playing into the problem, and maybe if sleep weren't the issue I'd worry about something else, but how do I sit back and take things as they come while still doing a good job? How do I learn to become more tranquil and simply enjoy my lovely baby?

As I said earlier, parents worry because it's their job to worry.  One way to help yourself is to put your worries on your bucket list.  Take 10 minutes each night to review the day and remember the things you did right--so you'll do more of them--and the things you did wrong, so you can figure out how to do them better the next day.  And whenyou've worried for  10 minutes, turn out the light and go to sleep.  And in the day, try to take a 20-minute nap to soothe your soul and be sure to do something every day that you really enjoy and can do it even around the baby.  If you do too many things you dislike, motherhood becomes a chore.

Dear Mrs. Kelly, My Mom told me to write you. I am a high school senior who worked full time over the summer and now work part time as a supermarket check out person to make money for college. I always wanted to have children, but now I'm reconsidering. For every happy, smiling kid I see, there are several others cryinhg, screaming, fighting with each other, etc. They run around the store knocking over displays and grab candy and tear it open, Soimetimes the parents grab candy and hand it to them. Even I know that's not a good idea! Neither the parents nor children seem very happy. My Mom says they are tired and/or overstimulated, which is the parents' fault, not theirs. Is there anything I can do to make mine don't beave ll ike this? I would find it very embarrassing, but these parents don't seem to care. Thank you for your time.


You'll never be one of those parents because you already know that it;s up to the parents to decide what a child needs, not the child.  Although you can't share your wisdom with these parents you can keep a journal about the way a parent should act so you'll be an even better parent when you have children. 

We're less than a year away from making the decision to "hold-back" or "push-forward" our son into kindergarten as his birthday makes the cut-off by just days. I've polled my neighborhood moms' listserv, facebook friends, moms, current & retired educators, and my pediatrician for their opinions & experience. My conclusion is most parents are holding back their late-bday kids; rarely has anyone regretting holding back their kids - but some that didn't wish they had yet others were fine with their kids being the youngest. What are your thoughts? Is there a prevailing wisdom or resources for this? The weight of this decision is huge. If I'm going to hold my son back I want to do it before kindergarten. I wish someone had told me not to have a kid in September!

Wouldn't you rather be the big frog in the pond rather than the one who hopped last?  To feel comfortable in school, a student first has to feel comfortable in his own skin and that is easier to do if he's one of the older children in class.  This is particularly true for boys, since they  usually act about 6 months younger than girls, and also because most teachers are women and they are often unsettled by the rowdiness of boys.  Take your time, sweetie.  And let your little boy take his time too.

My wife will be going back to work after Thanksgiving, with my son being 14 weeks old.Right now he eats around 9:30 or so (We usually can get him down around 10:30) and wakes around 2 and again around 5:30 for bottles). I handle the late night feeding and the putting him down, she handles the 2 and we trade off on the 5:30. However, once she goes back to work, that 2 am feeding is going to be really hard (he usually will be up until 3-3:30 afterwards). Is there anything we can do to transition to a more work friendly schedule or are we just going to have to accept that one of us will be completely useless each day at work?

You might take turns with that 2 a. m. feeding or you could take that one and your wife could go to bed earlier than you and get up for the 5:30 feeding and then stay up so she could start her day in a leisurely way and  get a handle on the laundry or throw supper in a crockpot.  And probably be tired at work, just like you but your son will be eating solids at 5-6 months and a little rice cereal at 9:30 will help him give up his 2 a.m. feeding sooner. 

And yes, you'll be tired but you know what?  Your son is worth it.

Hi - my wife and I are in our late 20's and finally thinking of having kids. We're not from this area originally and don't have famly closer than a 5 hour drive. Is this even possible if we both work? How does one go about even finding (good) childcare before our kids go into the school system? It really seems all so overwhelming that we for the first time are considering one of us not working, which would derail both of our careers. Any advice on how to even go about this?

Having a baby is like adding another color to your rainbow.  Life will always be more beautiful (and you will always be  more tired, more stressed and  broker than you've ever been because you won't be able to resist buying things for the baby).

As for work, Berry Brazelton and Stan Greenspan wrote a book called, I think, the 4/3rds solution, calling on one parent or the other to work a little less in their child's formative years and I agree.  It seems to work best if parents work no more than 70 hours a week, combined, but that's not always possible, so a good caregiver is essential.

When your wife gets pregant, one of you should sit in the park and watch how the nannies handle children when they think no one is looking, then go to the best nanny and ask her if she will have time for your child or if she has a friend.  Check out day care centers too, and look for the ones that pay their staffers a little bit more an hour, because their turnover will be less.  And always, always observe the class in action and read what a good pre-school is like by reading the books written by Vivian Paley--the only nursery school teacher who ever won a MacArthur.

Our teenage daughter is exhibiting behavior that is concerning to us. We have taken her to a therapist and to a psychologist. We have discussed the issues with our pediatrician. We keep hearing the same thing. It is difficult to determine if a teenager has depression and it is better to err on the side of not medicating than medicating. We are not trying to medicate just for the sake of medicating. We are worried that our daughter has an issue that people are simply afraid to state. Her behavior fits the "tests" and all aknowledge that she is not just a normal teen acting out. We are at our wit's end. Our child seems to be struggling, the experts say we are doing all we can. Yet, it doesn't seem to be working. Do we look for other doctors? Do we give it more time? Thanks!

You might go for another consult.  Brad Sachs in Columbia, Md., specializes in therapy for teenagers and has written some fine books about them and Ann Gonzalez and psychiatrist Michael Knable--both in Bethesda, I think, has a good rapport with her patients.  You also might consider family therapy because if one person in the family has a problem, everyone has a problem.  Neil Schiff, in DC, is a good one and so is Fred Brewster in Silver Spring.  Everyone needs a little therapy at one time or another especially a teenager because this is a time when hormones are jerking her strings--and some teens have more hormones than others--and nature is making her pull away from her parents and become her own person. 

As long as she knows that you love her, no matter what, she will survive.  And so will you.

What options are there when a child doesn't have much by way of gadgets, tv during the week, etc., for discipline/punishment? We have nothing left to take away. The threat of no tv on the weekend seems moot (like not disciplining at the time of an issue, but waiting until later).

The occasional bribe is okay but threats seldom work and time-outs and punishments quickly run their course.  It is much better to use positive discipline, which is not unlike preventive medicine: you step in before there is a problem, not afterwards, you look the other way a lot, and you respect your child's feelings as much as you expect him to respect your own.  And when you do have to chastise your child, do it in private but if you're so angry you think you might overreact, verbally or physically, then give yourself a time-out.  A child hates to disappoint his parents so saying "I'm really disappointed in you" and then leaving  the room, is often all the discipline he needs.  Remember, you matter more to your child than anyone on earth; it's easy to abuse your power.

My sweet exuberant second-grader is having a very hard time adjusting to her new school and we are at our wits end as to how to help her. Her birthday is two weeks after our school system's cut-off date, and based on her social development and academic level we started her in private Kindergarten when she was not quite 5. She did very well in Kindergarten and transitioned to public school for first grade fairly well, but with some ups and downs, finally settling in and making strong new friendships. This year a new neighborhood school was opened and she had to make another transition. Some of her friends moved over as well, but she is overall having a very difficult time settling in. She seems to be okay while she is there, but going to school in the morning is traumatic. If she rides the bus she cries all the way to the bus stop. If I drive her, she will hide in the back of the car and not get out at school. We have met with the school counselor, and her teacher (the counselor comes out to help get her out of the car), and gone to see her pediatrician (who recommended a pediatric therapist). Our child has always been very dramatic and sensitive, and can go quickly from "I had a good day!" to "but so-and-so was mean to me, and recess was awful, and I didn't like lunch."  We will take her to the therapist, but getting an appointment can take a while, so I'm wondering if you have any suggestions in the meantime.

You might not like my answer but here it is:

Lay down next to your little girl tonight, turn out the light so she doesn't have to make eye contact and ask her "If you could have a choice, where would you go to school?  How woould you change the school you're in?   And how about asking the teacher if you could sit with the first grade class one day so you'd know what it's like to be one of the oldest children in the class instead of the youngest? 

Once she tries this first grade class, she'll probably want to stay there--or you'll want her to stay there.  Children who are young for their class can feel out of place for years and they often have to repeat fourth or by sixth grade.  It's much easier to do it now, and it's much easier to drop back in October than to repeat the year next September.

Thanks for joining the Family Almanac today.  You're the best!

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 a 3-year-old's bedtime issues or click here for previous columns.
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