I have a 4 year old daughter who is fairly smart, doesn't miss a trick and observant. I'm not sure how to talk to her about the following situation when she eventually brings it up: My mother left when I was a young girl -- no mental issues, nothing illegal, no real reason that she could ever explain. I was in brief contact with her about 20 years ago but that was it. As of now, there are no plans to ever contact her again. I know at some point, my daughter will ask about her. I'm not really sure how to explain to her that my mother just walked out. She is still alive and lives in another state. I don't want her to ever think that I could walk out on her.
From: Julia, Franklin, MA
My 5 1/2-year-old daughter has a very difficult time being left at her daycare/preschool each morning. She has been in this facility since she's been 10 weeks old and is familiar and comfortable with all of the teachers and students/kids. I keep her routine very consistent and reassure her that I'll be back for her at the end of the day. I don't linger, and I stay positive. However, she continues to cry, cling to me, and throw a tantrum every day. She will be starting kindergarten in the fall at the local elementary school, and I'm worried that she'll have an even harder time adjusting. Is there anything I can do to make this easier?
From: Kara, Owings Mills, MD
So I have a. 2 yr old daughter who is very attached to me. Being that we live on a small island and don't have family there, it's me and my husband that she sees day in and day out , she is more attached to me then daddy because I am a stay-at-home mom. Well, we are on vacation visiting some family, and I had a family emergency come up in another town that I have go tend to, so I will be leaving my daughter with my husband for a few days while I tend to the family matter. I am really nervous of how she is going to cope with being in a unfamiliar place and just with daddy and not mommy. Is there anything I can do to help prepare her or make things easier?
From: Kayla, Ketchikan, Alaska
I read your column often and I'd appreciate your advice on something. My youngest just turned five and has a pretty headstrong personality. This is good in many ways -- he is very determined and sticks with things to the bitter end, even when they are tough. But there are countless times in the day where he has decided he is doing something that I can't let him do (things like cross the road alone, not go to preschool, cook on the hot stove etc.)
In the last month or so, he has started screaming "I HATE you!" every time I want him to do something he doesn't want to do (or stop him from doing something he wants to). I stay calm and say to him, "I don't like it when you speak like that," or "We don't use that word," and sometimes I even suggest to him an alternative like, "You can say 'Mom, I'm angry at you.'" Nothing seems to help. Should I just ignore it when he says it and eventually hopefully he'll stop? Should I have a consequence to show him it is really wrong and not acceptable? He says it at least a dozen times a day (or more!) and is now also starting to say it about his siblings, too, when they make him mad.
From: Mom to 3, Boston
My 5-year-old daughter has suddenly started waking up at night and can't get back to sleep. This has happened 3 or 4 times in the last few weeks and before that she was a solid, sound, sleeper for 11 hours a night. She has a consistent bedtime routine and is fine when we leave her to fall asleep (around 7:30 and she's usually asleep by 8). But this new night-waking happens around 12 or 1 and she will cry because she's scared but she can't tell me what she's scared of. She'll say "I heard a scary noise" or just "I'm too scared to sleep!" and then for hours she will call for help or come to my room to get me every 10-20 minutes. Sometimes she needs water, sometime she has to pee, and sometimes she just says she's scared. By 4am, I'm totally frustrated and exhausted and I have no clue how to help her. It's not like a fear of monsters where we can spray water (monster repellent) or something. It's too vague for that and it's mixed in with these other demands - water, pee, books, tucking in... Is this developmental? What can I do to get her to relax and go to sleep? Even if it's only once a week, I can't function being repeatedly woken up from 1-4! Thanks for any advice you have.
From: Jessica, Belmont, MA
My 2 year old grandson DOB 4/18/11 is an only child, no others on the way. He pinches people; his parents, and other adults. He gets a certain look of mischief (a little scary) before he pinches. His parents have tried ignoring it not reacting when he does it didn't work, giving him time out didn't work, have tried talking to him as to why and how it hurts when he does it nothing seems to help. Need help, he can also be such a love gentle and sweet. HELP!
From: GG, Burbank, CA
How do you explain surrogacy to small children? Due to cancer, my cousin can no longer carry a baby. I would love to be able to do this for her, but I don’t know how to explain it to my children. My daughter is 3.5 and the last time I was pregnant, she got a baby brother (who is now 8 mths). How do I explain that this time we are not keeping the baby? Thanks!
From: Mom of Two, Rexhame. MA
I will be moving from Richmond, VA to an undecided location in Arizona very, very soon. This same situation happened four years ago, but was switched, We moved from Arizona to Virginia in November of 2009, when my daughter was in the 4th grade, (she is now in 8th and will he attending HS this following school year). She had her heart set on moving mid-year for the purpose of being able to make friends more easily and having more friends over the summer, but that is not doable, due to a surgery and a trip I am going to go on.
So, I guess I'm asking how can I help her make friends? She will have to start high school knowing absolutely nobody, and she does not want to go to a camp because the kids may or may not be going to the same HS and they probably wont be the kind of kids she will be friends with. Help! Thanks for any advice!
From: Lexi, Richmond, VAREAD MORE
Any advice for handling toddler tantrums? My 18 month old son has some trouble with transitioning from activities. For example, if it's time to leave the park, he'll flop himself on the ground and kick and scream. Or when it's time to leave in the morning to go to daycare or to the store, if he's busy playing with his toys, he'll throw a kicking and screaming fit. I try to stay calm and explain that it's time to go, and we can come back to the park tomorrow. I usually end up just scooping up a kicking toddler and putting him in his stroller or car seat. I know this is very typical toddler behavior, as he doesn't have the language skills to tell me what he wants, but I was wondering for some advice on how to handle this better.
From: Kathryn, North Shore, MA
I hope you can answer this quickly!!
In the wake of the Marathon bombings, our 9 year-old son has told us that he "absolutely will not go" to Red Sox games. We always go to at least one afternoon game with my dad and my wife's dad and my two other children, one younger, one older, all sons, it's a boys' day out. The middle boy, I'll cal him T, announced this at dinner, in front of his sibs on Wed night. There was an immediate hush at the table. My wife and I were both stricken, I have to admit. (The conversation, btw, had not been about the Marathon or about the Red Sox. He said this out of the blue.) The first one to speak was the oldest (13) who said, "No way am I letting these jerks stop me from having fun." Pause. "Right, dad?" The youngest (7) typically takes his cues from his oldest brother and said, "Yeah!" But they all looked at me.
Honestly, my wife and I had already been thinking about this. Even though we know, intellectually we can't let fear rule our lives, who can say what's right for any given family? Our job is to protect our children!
The conversation shifted, the meal went on, but my wife and I know this will come up again. T is a quiet boy, he's cautious, not fearful, but tenacious and more serious.
Please, I'd like your thoughts. BTW, both grandfathers have already said, over the phone so not in front of the boys, life goes on, don't even think about us not going to our game. Hmm. Now that I type that, maybe they are projecting my reaction? Maybe I've projected that onto T?
What to do?!
From: Peter, west of Boston.
My daughter is in third grade and has been having friendship issues. She goes to a private school where the classes are small and the girls are together for 12 years. My daughter has had one friend that she spends most of her time with at school. The friend has started to bully her by ignoring her, hissing at her when she approaches, and saying they were never friends. They have been friends and inseparable for 3 years.
I have coached my daughter and dried her tears. My daughter is turning 9 and is inviting 10 girls from school to sleep over. She is not inviting the friend who has been bullying her. She fears that she will ruin her birthday. However, she worries that the friend will hold a grudge and bully her more.
What advice should I give her. I have shown empathy for 3 months, however, it's decision time!
Thanks for your help.
From: Steve, Charlotte, NC
[This letter has been condensed. BFM]
My wife and I find ourselves in a dilemma with her daughter’s dad. He would like to take his daughter across the country – by driving – for a vacation from North Carolina to Seattle. The purpose of the vacation would be to visit his parents who recently moved from our area to Seattle. He would also like to stop on the way in Las Vegas area for a visit with his wife’s family. This would be approximately a 2-week trip. My wife’s daughter will turn 6 when the trip occurs.
Our problem [is due to his] lack of involvement with his daughter. He has custody rights to her on Wednesday evenings and every other weekend. That arrangement is not consistently met by him; he often makes excuses ...why he cannot pick her up and/or changes plans at the last second.... He is inconsistent in other areas of responsibility for his daughter as well; late (or no) child payments, does not call to speak to her on a regular basis, is not directly involved with her schooling, etc. He is a generally good person but has not necessarily built a strong bond with his daughter or taking her as a prioritized responsibility; hence our concern.
The daughter does enjoy a relationship with her grandparents prior to their moving to Seattle. She seems to enjoy spending time with her dad when it happens; other times she is reluctant to visit; she often tries to hide when he comes to pick her up; more so out of what appears to be her joking around to avoid the reality of her leaving to visit. Our nervousness also includes that she is very clingy to her mother. Mom is very protective of her well being and does not feel comfortable with the Father taking her for extended time, given his inconsistent responsibilities. I have made suggestions on how she can work with him on “building towards” a trip (i.e. she needs to work with him on building more trust prior to the trip, based on consistent actions from both sides); can you suggest an approach? I greatly appreciate any thoughts you and the readers may have; thank you in advance.
From: TCH, Cary, NC
[This letter has been condensed and edited. BFM]
My husband has PTSD and ADHD we have a 2 year old little girl. I'm struggling with whether or not it's time to leave. [I keep hearing] "he has PTSD -- don't give up on him he will get better" but my life is hell and I'm afraid it will ruin my daughter's life as well by staying with him. Here is a typical day with him: first he is addicted to a video game called eve, he is on it constantly. If you tell him he is on too much, he makes excuses, he will also argue or complain if you ask him to do anything..... He is also VERY verbally abusive calling me names like ..., idiot, stupid ... etc. When it comes to driving, he thinks he belongs in NASCAR speeds all the time and has terrible road rage. This is constant. I get frustrated, we fight and I'm just so distraught because all of this behavior is in front of my daughter. If I ask him to stop or say something like don't call me names, he says na na boo boo, and patronizes me.
I think I should leave and so I have been planning ways to keep money hidden from him, buy a car and move out. Counseling hasn't helped and did I mention EVERYTHING is my fault. He will blame me for everything. He thinks physical abuse is worse than verbal abuse, and that verbal abuse causes no harm. His explanation is because police wouldn't do anything if I called 911 and said someone was calling me names. But the negativity is killing both me and my daughter. PTSD has ruined my marriage. I don't want it to ruin my daughter.... He also threatens regularly to take my daughter away in a custody battle if I say I want to leave. HELP!!!
From: Georgette, Houston, TX
Our five year old son has always been very laid back and calm. Lately he has been acting out more with, "I can't hear you," and turning his head. He often just won't listen or comply and pushes back about the silliest things. It's usually just with us the parents, but lately have heard a few comments from the preschool as they have never had this behavior with him. No, there is nothing new, no changes, nothing different that would indicate a change. Is this normal growing pains for his age? Is there something, or some strategies, that work best here?
From: Lucy, Foxboro, MA
My 5- year- old son recently came home from school with a note saying he pushed another student in the stomach, when I asked him about it he completely lied to me. I had to get the real story from his teacher. The next day he came home with something that looked like red marks and dot around his neck and shoulders. He said some story about a chair causing it, then he told my family that my fiancé did it.... I know this cannot be true, I see how they interact and how this upsets my fiancé.
What is the deal? How can I deal with this? I'm afraid of him being taken from us!
From: Brooke, Atlanta
Hi Barbara. I love your level headed approach to your parenting advice. I wonder what you can tell me about this: my first grade daughter just doesn't seem comfortable trying her best. Her teacher says she puts in a very focused effort in school, and she learns a lot and does very well, so I can only assume this is true. However, at home, everything seems to be just a rush. To finish her homework quickly, without paying much attention. It isn't really a school issue, so I really don't worry much about this. But, then there are the activities. She has a dance recital coming up and she loves dance, has for years, but she is always the one watching the other girls to see what they are doing. I have to actually tell her to look at practices like a recital in order to see her really try. (this is only very recent, trust me I don't harp on these things). Similar in gymnastics. She loves it, but it's expensive. She's also nervous about a lot of it. Her coach says she can do everything with a spot, but always nervous on her own. It reminds me of me learning to ride a bike and insisting someone had to hold the bike. I don't know if this is a fear thing or a control issue or just about putting in any effort. I tell her she doesn't have to be the best, but she should try her best. I don't want to give up on these things she loves, but it seems like a waste sometimes to pay money to let her just run around and be silly. Is it just me?
From: Confused Mama, NorthShore, MA
My 8 year old grandson will not speak to me. In fact, he seems mortified if I even approach him to speak. He is like this with all the grown-up members of our family and other adult friends of his parents. He can talk perfectly well with siblings and other children, also his parents, but simply will not say one word to the rest of us. This is becoming socially uncomfortable for all concerned and I'm afraid my son and his wife do not take likely to my continual demands for them to seek help for him. They have had the school psychiatrist to speak to them and he said there is absolutely nothing wrong with the child. I'm sure this is the case, but he chooses not to speak to us and this cannot go on for obvious reasons. Funnily enough, when he was a toddler he did communicate but has simply ceased to do so over the last 5 or 6 years. How can I persuade my son to seek help to sort this problem?
From: GrannieTricia, Castle Douglas, UK
[This letter has been condensed. BFM]
Hi Barbara, my son Alex is 6 1/2 and will turn 7 in June 22... He has an IEP [Individual Educational Plan] for speech, sensory integration and developmental delay. He was recently diagnosed as having ADHD. He is now fully potty trained and has been since May 2012. He is extremely tiny for his age (both weight and height are in the 1% for his age) and not only appears much younger than his peers but is also perceived as a 5 year old by most adults and peers...Also, Alex tends to gravitate to children younger than him. Along with being developmentally delayed, Alex is chronologically and extremely academically behind.
Here is my problem. Regardless of these delays, the school is quite adamant about social promotion and will not retain him... I feel that he is at a disadvantage because of his IEP. I have done tons of research and am quite aware of the negative effects of retaining a child. I feel that my son does not fall into this category. There must be some evidence that retention would benefit some children like my son Alex. Please advise.
From: Tracey, Windham, NHREAD MORE
My daughter is 3 years 4 months, bright, articulate, wonderful in every way. She has been potty trained since 20 months and does not have accidents. (She is a heavy sleeper though and wears a pullup at night which is wet every morning. Naps are underwear and dry.) But, she has never, not even once, pooped in the potty. She asks for a diaper when she has to go and goes to her "window spot" to do it. Then I clean her up and she is back in underwear.
She has a genuine and deep fear of pooping on the potty. She is not constipated, goes almost daily (almost at the same time most days) and eats healthy with lots of fiber. I've tried "running out of diapers" but she withholds for days. We tried this recently and she held it in for 3 days and genuinely tried to poop on the potty but whimpered and sobbed that she is too scared. I know withholding can lead to constipation and other issues so I gave in. She won't say why she is scared exactly, just that she is scared of the poop coming out while she's on the potty. We tried not talking about it but she is somewhat obsessed with it herself (talks about her friends and stuffed animals pooping on the potty). She absolutely knows what she is supposed to do but is just too scared to do it. She sees her friends do it at school but says she's just not ready. Tried bribery, showing her presents that she can get when she poops on the potty - does not work. She has little potty, big potty, you name it. She is happy to have the poop be put into the potty from the diaper and knows that is where it is supposed to go. Her baby sister, who is 17 months, has actually started telling when she is going poop so my older daughter is trying to teach her how to poop in the potty even though she won't do it herself! I am at my wit's end and when I read about this issue online I see that there are many kids who have this problem and it can continue until they are 5 or 6!! We have made ZERO progress with all our efforts. She won't even do it in the bathroom, just screams that she needs her window spot. I don't think it's a "control" issue but a real fear. She is otherwise a delight. Has control over lots of choices in her life. Any ideas other than just waiting for it to resolve itself, which I fear may take until she's in real school?
From: Boston Mom, Boston
I have a six year-old daughter. I somehow got into the habit (years back) of staying upstairs with her after bedtime, until she falls asleep. I stay in my room, not in hers. She says she's scared to be upstairs alone, I do believe her. She's also scared to go downstairs alone or even go to another part of the house than I'm in after dark. And once in a while, she even says she's scared to stay in her room alone. I do feel I should point out that if she's watching TV, she's fine and doesn't seem to mind being alone downstairs. Not sure if this negates her fear, or just distracts her.
While I don't want to traumatize her, it sometimes takes her quite a while to fall asleep. I really can't continue to be trapped up there with her when I have so many other things that need to be done - laundry, making lunches, letting the dog out, whatever.
Any suggestions? Thanks!
From: Trapped Mom, Abington, MA
My son is turning 7 this month and is an only child by choice. He is displaying some personality traits that I am a little worried about and I am wondering if it's is because he's an only.
He is a perfectionist to the point that the teacher has emailed me numerous times about it. He has a hard time finishing projects at school if it isn't "perfect." Other kids have moved on to other things while he's still sitting there working on the same project. The teacher has actually given him an assignment to just scribble things so he can see it's ok that nothing on the paper makes sense. He's also a quitter. If he isn't great at the activity he's doing, he quits. He quit Jiu Jitsu last summer after he was moved up to the kid's class after being in the junior class and it happened last night at skating lessons. His friends all moved up to Youth 2 and he was placed back in Youth 1. He was devastated and crying, saying he hates it so we left.
I was so sad for him and kept explaining to him that it's ok not to be the best and everyone has different abilities but he wasn't having any of it. I was sort of quiet the whole night and he came up to me and asked me if I love him anymore. I started crying, it was a sad scene. I told him that my love for him is unconditional and explained what that meant. I started researching a bit on the topic after he went to sleep and I think that subconsciously we are putting too much pressure on him to be perfect because we are always telling him "good job," you "did great!" so he is eager to please. My husband & I agreed that we aren't letting him quit this time. He has to finish out the skating session that we paid for. With Jiu JItsu, he quit mid contract so we were stuck paying $125/mo for the last 5 months!
From: Mom in the 'burbs, west of Boston
[This letter has been condensed.]
Hello Mrs. Meltz,
I have almost 9 year old fraternal twins . They are in an ...International private school [here in Mexico], with a US curriculum....Carolina and Isabella are in the same grade and have always been in different classrooms (six classes of 20 students each in 3rd grade, it is a big school).
Isabella has been struggling since 1st grade. She has been having tutoring since first grade. We work with her during all the school breaks and vacations. However, her work ethics have always saved her. She works very hard. Her twin sister is an excellent student and does not struggle!!
We would like to stop this struggle and always pushing Isabella. We would like to have Isabella to be retained in 3rd year. However, what should we do with Carolina??
I can not think about all the problems that might cause to explain [to] them that they would be in a different grade... and separating them?? However, we are considering retaining also Carolina, even though her reading and writing is very advanced.
Should we retain a child that is excelling?
Thank you for your help.
From: Claudia, Monterrey, Mexico
How do I talk to my 12 year old son about where bab[ies] come from and how his body will change as he getting older?
From: Melody, CincinnatiREAD MORE
My 5 and 2-year old sons with their father went to visit their uncle yesterday. My 5 year old was playing with his 20-month old cousin nicely, and suddenly the mother of said child starts yelling at both of my children. They were playing wonderfully, not yelling or hurting one another. She calls my children bullies and says to my husband that we're raising a bunch of bullies and that all our kids do is bully other children. When my son tells her to stop being mean to his siblings and that he knows how she is, she responds to a 5-year old with, "you don't know a f---ing thing, you're only 5" & "i hate all of you".
While she may be 9 months pregnant, I don't believe that gives her an excuse to talk to anybody in this manner, let alone a 5 and a 2 year old. While I do want to point out our 5 year old can be a bit trying sometimes (as all kids sometimes can be), he has never bullied anybody in his life. In our home, there are consequences for bullying or being mean. My husband immediately took my two children out of the situation and left the home. However, now said mother is claiming victim, and blaming my 5 year old and our parenting for her outburst going as far as to say, "You're raising your children to treat people like s--- and I'm not going to let that around my boys, you're self centered and etc..."
My question is what do I do in this kind of a situation where my children were bullied by a family member, besides the obvious of not bringing my children around her. The other unfortunate part is that this woman is married to my brother-in law-who sincerely loves his nephews and niece.
From: Brittany, Deer Isle, ME
I have a 5 year old son who talks like he is the parent towards his younger sister as well as me and my husband. He is very mean when he talks to us. We do not speak to our children with loud, angry tones.
I'll give you a few examples: We were playing outside and my daughter went around back, I asked him, "Can you please ask her to come up front?" He said, "Yes mom!" Went to the side of the house yelled, "Come up front NOW!!!" I then told him, "You didn't have to yell at her, would you like if I yelled at you and told you the same thing you told her?" He said, "No." I said, "Next time, talk to her like you want to be talked to."
Another example: I was trying to get them inside for lunch, I was telling them, "OK, it's time for lunch, we need to go inside to get washed up." My daughter said NO, I want to stay outside. (She's 2, typical behavior from her.) He then said, "Do you want candy, do you want ice cream?" She says, yes, he says, "Then you have to come in." I was in shock! I then told him, "You do not offer things to your sister to get her to come inside." Another: At dinner their dad was eating and he says, "Dad close your mouth when you're eating, I don't want to see your food." But the anger in his tone was unbelievable. On top of it, he wasn't chewing with his mouth open. I then said, "You do not talk to your dad that way, you do not tell us what to do, you are not an adult. It was mean, and uncalled for now you need to tell your dad your sorry."
These are all from today, there have been so many other times where he is acting like he is the parent. I don't know what else to do to make him understand he is not the parent, he does not tell his sister what to do or us. And to talk to others how you would like to be talked to.
From: Yvonne, Livingston, NJ
About the author
Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.