Stay with Me!

Dear Mr. Dad: My 3-year old has been going to the same daycare for 8 months, but he’s still anxious and nervous every time I drop him off. I know that young children can have anxiety problems about unfamiliar places and people, but hasn’t this gone on long enough?

A: I remember dropping off my oldest daughter (now 22) on her first day at daycare, and how hard it was to say goodbye and leave her in the care of people who couldn’t possibly love her as much as I did. And I still remember how she cried and didn’t want to let me go. She got over it within a few days (although it took me a lot longer), and most kids will do the same. But unfortunately, when it comes to separation anxiety, there’s no way to tell you what’s normal and what’s not.

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What parents need to know about money

No one ever wants to talk about money issues because they’re afraid it’ll lead to a fight. Well, guess what? Not talking about it could lead to a financial meltdown that could destroy your relationship. Fight now vs. divorce later? Pretty easy choice. Great article in the WJS here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203370604577263602243736504.html

When Friends Let Friends Down

Dear Mr. Dad: My eight-year old daughter’s best friend—a girl she’s known since kindergarten—just moved out of the area. My daughter doesn’t make friends very easily—she’s always had a small number of pretty intense friendships—and she seems particularly devastated that this girl is leaving town. I’m worried about her. Is there anything I can do to make her feel better?
A: Losing a friend—whether because of a physical separation or a relationship-ending disagreement—is usually a major event in a child’s life. Unfortunately, though, too few parents take these breakups seriously enough, and may try to comfort a child with a well-meaning but flip, “Don’t worry, you’ll find another friend” or “You can always email each other.” I’m glad you’re taking your daughter’s loss more seriously.

The truth is that children at this age make very deep emotional attachments to their friends, and although losing friends is a normal part of growing up, friends are not interchangeable. Parents need to encourage children to explore and understand why a friendship ended (although in this case, it’s pretty clear—at least to you). Otherwise, “they can end up blaming themselves, and that self-blame may make them wary of forming new friendships in the future,” says psychotherapist Mary Lamia. Reassuring your daughter that she’s in no way to blame for her friend moving, may help.

On the other hand, as irrational as it seems to most adults, your daughter may be very angry at her friend for leaving. So if you have any suspicion that she’s blaming her friend, it’s important that you gently encourage her to forgive. “Hurt feelings, disappointment, and transgressions are an inevitable part of close friendship,” says Lamia.

You’re absolutely right to be concerned about your daughter’s reactions. “Children often compare potential new friends to the old one,” says Lamia. “And usually, the new ones can’t compare.” You may need to remind your daughter that establishing a friendship often takes time. Encourage her to talk about the feelings and emotions she’s experiencing, and let her know that you understand how hard it can be to lose a friend, and that being sad, angry, and hurt is perfectly normal.

At the end of the day, your daughter will be okay, Although it comes naturally to some, for others, making friends is very difficult. And since your daughter values quality over quantity (and that’s just fine—as long as the quantity isn’t zero), it may take her longer than you think to move on. If she’s still down in the dumps in a few weeks, talk to her pediatrician about getting her some counseling.
In the meantime, here are seven characteristics that researchers believe (and common sense confirms) are critical to forming long-lasting, healthy friendships:

  • Friends share—anything from toys to secrets.
  • Friends help each other. This might mean anything from helping a fellow preschooler look for a lost doll to helping a fellow twelve-year-old deal with the death of a parent.
  • Friends forgive. This is easy enough for a toddler, a little harder for school-age kids, and pretty tough for pre-adolescents.
  • Friends manage their conflicts. Everyone has fights once in a while, but friends are willing to spend the time it takes to work things out.
  • Friends are active participants in maintaining the relationship and don’t just wait for the others to call.
  • Friends want the chance to be open and frank with someone who is open and frank with them.
  • Friends keep each other’s confidences and stick up for each other.

Okay, Folks, Take It Outside

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I sometimes fight when our children, eight and ten, are present. We know we probably shouldn’t argue in front of them but things are sometimes so tense that we can’t stop ourselves (I recently lost my job and we’re facing possible foreclosure). How damaging is it to argue in front of children, and how can we stop?

A: You’re right: you probably shouldn’t argue in front of your children. Some studies have found that kids whose parents fight a lot may become depressed, anxious, or withdrawn. They may also imitate their parents and pick fights with siblings, friends, and even other adults.

That said, it’s completely unrealistic to think that you and your wife should never argue at all. Disagreements are a natural part of even the best relationships. In fact, not having any arguments might be worse than an occasional flare-up. Small quarrels are good for letting off steam—and given your precarious financial situation, you’re producing enough steam to supply your whole neighborhood with electricity. Keeping it all bottled up will eventually lead to a huge explosion. Exposing your kids to small amounts of conflict—along with the same number of make-ups—demonstrates effective problem-solving skills and shows that fighting with someone you love is not the end of the world.

So your challenge isn’t really to step arguing at all, but to find ways to handle your disagreements constructively. One excellent approach is to agree that when you see that an argument is in danger of turning ugly, you’ll stop and give yourselves time to cool off. Come up with a secret word or phrase that either one of you can say that signals it’s time for a break. If you’re able to postpone the argument for a bit, chances are that one of three things will happen: You’ll be able to discuss things more calmly, you’ll realize that the issue wasn’t as big a deal as you thought, or you’ll forget what you were arguing about in the first place.

Of course, despite your best intentions, you’re never going to be able to stop yourselves every time. Here are some things to do when your kids end up with front-row seats:

  • Fight fair. No yelling, no swearing, no personal insults, no threats, no door slamming or vase throwing, and certainly no physical violence of any kind, ever.
  • Damage control. Talk to your children about what they saw. Don’t go into details or lay any blame. Simply tell them that you and mom disagreed and lost your tempers, but now you’ve made up and everything is okay.
  • Don’t pretend things are fine when they aren’t. Your kids are old enough to understand that you’ll all need to make some sacrifices for the good of the family. But don’t panic them—they need to know that no matter what happens, you’ll be there to care for them.
  • Reassure. Children often blame themselves for their parents’ conflicts. Let them know it’s not their fault.
  • Explain. If possible, tell your children how you resolved the issue. For example: “We disagreed on where to spend the holidays, but compromised by going to grandma’s on Christmas Eve and to Aunt Mary’s on Christmas Day.”
  • Have some fun, either as a family or in smaller groups. And make sure your kids see you and their mom are genuinely happy and in love.

Finally, if your fights become more frequent, more aggressive, or if either of you can’t control or manage your temper, get some professional counseling.