Parenting advice: Help for raising children of all ages

Nov 21, 2013

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

Welcome to you and  your questions today!

My 3 year old son has been poop potty trained since he was 2.5 years old (he will tell us he needs to go), but is completely un-interested in going all the way. We started him in underwear on his 3rd birthday, putting him on the toilet every 1-2 hours while awake. Usually he makes it dry, but if he leaks a bit, or pees on himself completely, he makes no mention to us, until we notice. He has never once told us he had to pee unless he already messed himself some. We have asked if he likes being in wet underwear, he says yes. When he says that he then fights us to keep his wet underwear on instead of getting a dry pair. Getting tired of his lack or interest in the staying dry. We don't yell at him for failing, just express our desire for him to tell us, which of course, he promises to do, but never does. Thinking of dropping the pee push and going back to diapers full time for the time being and trying again in a month or two. Thoughts, advice?

I wouldn't go back to diapers and I wouldn't push him to pee or even to tell you when he has to go but I would insist that he help you by getting fresh underwear and overalls, sopping up any pee on the floor.  If you do all the work, why should he tell you.

I'd also stay home very occasionally when he wants to go to the park because he 'might forget to tell you when he has to pee.' 

I was interested in your last chat because I can relate to one of the questions. My 28 year old son, the 4th of 5 children, still lives at home. He is a gifted musician and graphic designer but has been unable to find work in this economy. My husband and other children think we should give him a deadline to move out, but he has no money and where would he go? My husband has suggested renting him an apartment for 6 months and giving him spending money for that time, but that would cost us thousands of dollars and I don't see the point. He's good company, helps around the house, no drug or alcohol; problems. I don't want to raise a "lifetime moocher," as the last chatter put it, but honestly don't feel I am doing that. Could I please have your take?

Having a grown-up[ kid around who doesn't have a drinking or drug problem can be fantastic.  But since this is going on for quite a while, I would have him pay you rent in the form of specific jobs, in addition to the ones he already does--like cooking dinner twice a week--and leaving the kitchen clean--and whatever jobs you and your husband don't like to do.  I wouldn't give him spending money however or rent an apartment, but I would insist that he try some other line of work--housepainting or a security job on the weekends--parttime so he will accomplish something because we all need that satisfaction or we get down on ourselves.

Our 16-year-old daughter has always been laid-back. She takes everything in stride, and she always has. The flip side is that she does not care much about anything. She's quiet and introverted, very bright, but has never been very interested in getting good grades. She is distractible and forgetful, but she has been evaluated for ADHD and does not reach the threshold for a diagnosis. Her school performance is wildly inconsistent - she'll write a paper that has gets raves from the teacher, but earns a C because she handed it in late (even though she finished it early, she left it in her backpack for days.) She feels that her honors math class is too easy because everything makes sense in the lecture (and in fact, the teacher says she often completes the example problems as soon as the teacher introduces a new method, long before the rest of the class understands what is being discussed) but she doesn't do the homework and then fails the exams. She freely acknowledges that her planner helps tremendously, but flatly refuses to write down assignments and due dates. We have found nothing that motivates her. She can shrug off any punishment as easily as she shrugs off any reward. She does not take pleasure in a job well done. She has an uncle with the same temperament and brainpower who has spent his life meandering among minimum-wage jobs and has been unemployed for the past year. It's not a pleasant life, and we don't want that for her. We are at our wits' end.

I always think a physical problem should be ruled out first, so I would have an internist give her a complete workup, including a thyroid test, because a low thyroid can cause these kind of problems.  Or check and see when this Illinois clinic is doing an outreach checkup inAnnapolis, be-cause it gives a huge number of tests for about $600--more than most internists do. 

Also, I'd have her checked for ADD and I'd see if her teachers go online to list homework assignments, and finally, I'd have her see a therapist if she still refuses to write down her assignments and show them to you and empty her backpack every day so you can make sure she has turned in her work.


I know it is counterproductive. I know my kids will model my behavior. I don't loose my cool all the time. I know it is my 5 and 3 1/2 yr old kids' job to push-->push-->push all the boundaries. I'm patient-->patient-->patient-->pushed too far --> yell. Will they ever stop running in the house? Stop talking/singing too loudly? Brush their teeth when I ask? Put on their PJs in a timely way? When will they ever listen?

Yes, they will, but not at 3 and 5.  Wait until all is well and then call them to your side and explain your Nag Level.  Tell them that you don't like to yell, and therefore you won't be so patient any more.  From now on, they should know, you will have a nag level of 3, and then they must go to you and tell you that they've done whatever you've asked them to do.   And if they soon run in the house or sing too loudly, you'll tell them to stop--again--but really, what will it matter in a hundred years?

My 6 year old son, an easygoing child, had no problem adjusting to either younger sister now 3 1/2 and 10 months. I was told and read the adjustment was easier for # 2 as she was already used to sharing you with # 1. Not so! Right from the start she has been incredibly mean to # 3, pushing, slapping, pinching, taking her bottle and toys. It's wearing us all out as we have to be vigilant 24/7. Our only respite is the 3 mornings a week she spends in playcare. My husband and I don't believe in spanking, but after she pushed the baby off the couch, causing her to wail, he spanked her hard, saying I want you to know what it feels like when someone deliberately hurts you. Last week she pushed all the lunch dishes off the table, including full cups of soup. She then said the baby did it, even though thebaby was asleep in her crib in another room. I'm a SAHM who had an easy pregnancy and delivery. Of course I spend time with the baby but I also spend plenty of time with all 3 children, individually, in groups of 2 or with all 3. Are there shrinks for 3 year olds? My mother. who lives an hour away, has offered to take her temporarily, but she would spoil her rotten and I feel this would be rewarding bad behavor. But short of putting the whole family on prozac I have no idea what to do. I thought I was a pretty good mother until this came along. Can you help?

That poor little girl--and I mean the 3 year old.

Of course you can't  put up with her mean behavior but you can't help feeling sorry for her. 

Fortunately, there is therapy for young children--play therapy, art therapy, etc.  I can't remember a name of one off the top of my head but you might contact GW University and see if Catherine Williams, an art therapist who is a professor emeritu, could suggest someone for you even though she has retired.  She's excellent so I'm sure her referrals would be great too.

My 8-month-old daughter (5 months adjusted preemie, if that matters) used to sleep through the night, but then she got a cold. She would wake up coughing during that time, which of course I understand. The problem is, it seems to have disrupted the sleep habit, because now that she's better, she is still waking up at night. She isn't crying or fussy, just ready to play. It takes, on average, an hour and a half before she will go back to sleep. I have stopped feeding her when she wakes up, instead just holding her quietly in the darkened room, and while she is going back to sleep without eating, it doesn't seem to be happening any faster. Any suggestions besides just waiting it out? Should I not be picking her up when she is awake if she doesn't cry (I don't believe in CIO), but just let her talk to herself in her crib and see if she goes back to sleep?

I don't think there is a law that says a mother has to play with her baby just because the baby wants to play.  If she's not crying, just let her be so she can learn to put herself to sleep again.  And if she does cry, go to her, pat her, say "I love you" and go back to bed, even if you have to go to her every five minutes.  She'll readjust in. a week.

Hello, My sister is going through a difficult (and recent) phase with her 3 year old son's behavior at day care. It sounds like it is normal (yet frustrating) 3 year-old-boy behavior. I've spoken to a lot of friends with sons and it seems like lots of boys do go through similar phases (I remember another nephew of mine was a HANDFUL). She and her husband are working to try to curb it but the day care does not seem to want to work with them to figure out a game plan and collaborate to address this on two fronts. They offer no constructive suggestions or solutions they can try. Instead, they seem to just focus on implicitly blaming her and pinning her son as a "problem child." When he acts up, they just call her to pick him up, which she worries is just reinforcing for him the idea that if misbehaves, mommy will come and get him. She is at a loss for what to do, given that this is her first child so she is still learning the ropes. She is being made to feel like an awful mother, which she isn't. She is loving, and firmly tries to discipline him. Her husband backs her up, as do I, when I visit. As she doesn't live in this area, I can't help other than listen (and it breaks my heart to hear her like this). Even worse, she feels alone, like her son is the only one out there with this issue. I suggested she talk to her pediatrician, but would love to point her to other experts she could talk to. Could you also suggest any books or other resources she could look to for expert advice (given that the teachers at the day care don't seem to care)? She seems reluctant to turn to friends as most were SHMs, so their situations are different. She is also thinking she will need to switch day cares, given that they don't use the same discipline system she and her husband do (time outs), which could be sending mixed messages to the little boy. Thanks!

Once gain, I'd rule out possible physical problems first, by taking all dyes, preservatives and salycilates out of her son's diet, because they make some children go bananas.  To get this diet--and read the scientific studies that back it up--go to  America is way behind Europe in this area.

I'd also read Your Three=Year-Old (Dell is the publisher) one of a year-by-year series that explains how young children fall apart and come together each year. I'd quit using time-outs more than once a twice a week, because they stop working quickly if they're too frequent, and IU would definitely change day cares.  A parent needs support, not complaints

My son, who will be five next month, has gotten into the terrible bad habit of constantly picking his nose. I cannot seem to get him to stop. I have tissue boxes in every room and always get him to blow his nose when I see him doing this. Perhaps the air is too dry in our house and we need to install some humidifiers. But any thoughts on how to get him to stop? Or is this just an age thing and he'll stop on his own. Thanks much.

I'm tempted to suggest a little Tabasco on his finger tipswhich would probably stop pthe problem pretty quickly but it would be unkind. 

Instead, a picture of him, picking away, that you take on your camera phone so he could see what nose picking looks like?  A look of disappointment on your face, which a child hates to get more than anything else? However, your hand on his shoulder as you lead him to the bathroom should work best, if you quietly tell him that this is something that we do in private.

Your thoughts are great, but I'd like to add to them. One of my kids struggled early and we had him tested and found he was profoundly gifted. He has many of the same struggles as the 16yo. What helped us the most (and we did start early) was the WISC IV and Educational testing. It let us know that there were different ways to raise a good kid. I mean SURPRISINGLY different good ways. Our other two were easy and nice and we thought we knew it all. Just realizing that our son's mind worked differently and responded differently helped us change our parenting. My son is only 13yo, but he is so dang easy and kind and nearly always turns in his work. I am more watchful with him, but finding out that he learned differently (even though we saw it - we didn't connect that with parenting differently.) was the best thing for him and for us.

That's a great response because this young girl is clearly gifted but she's like the rest of us--she isn't gifted in everything.  The WISC-R is great particularly if you also read Howard Gardner (of the Howard Gardnere School of Education at Harvard!) who explains the discrete kinds of intelligence so well: music; ;math/logic; linguistic; spatial; kinesthetic; interpersonal; intrapersonal and the eighth one, which he added a few years ago, and whose name I forget but it is the intelligence that librarians, curators, etc., have:  the ability to sort, seriate and classify.  Gardner explains the first seven in his book, Frames of Mind, and the eighth intelligence in a later book.

Thanks so much! What would you suggest for disciplining in lieu of the frequent use of time outs? She does also do things like gently and firmly saying "we do not hit" or "be gentle." When he does misbehave she does explain that it is not okay and makes him apologize.

I like'we don't hit' and 'be gentle' much better, and always, always teach a child to apologize and try to get them to hug when he does it.  It's hard to keep your angries in your pocket when you hug.

My husband is so hard on our boys, although particularly on the older one, expecting what I think is far more than reasonable from a 1st grader. From sitting still at the table to getting distracted or delaying getting dressed, it seems that anything contrary to my husband's desired outcome can be cause for yelling at the kid. I've tried talking with him about it, and sometimes there are glimmers of improvement, but I'm really at my frustration limit. I've mentioned family therapy but he thinks we need to "try harder first" to fix it on our own. What's a mom and spouse to do?

I'd go to a parenting class together, and the class I'd go to would be sponsored by PEP--Parenting Encouragement  Program, which is based in Kensington but courses are taught all over the metropolitan area and I've never seen a program any better than this one.  The trainers are volunteers but they have been trained for two years and are excellent.

I'd also give him a book from the Dell series--by Carol Haber, I think--who has written one book for each year.  They are based on the 80 years of testing done by the Gesell Institute and every parenting expert cribs from Gesell because their longitudinal tests follow children for 15 years.  It's hard for parents to know what behavior to expect from a child if he isn't from a big family or if his own father was too demanding too.

Thanks so much for  joining me and the Family Almanac today.  As usual, I learn from your questions too.

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 staying in touch with your ex-husband's relatives or click here for previous columns.
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