My seven-year-old son has some social awkwardness. How can I help him?

My son, who is seven, seems to be inappropiate in his social behaviours. He gets excited when he sees kids, being an only child, and it is a turn off for the other boys and girls in our neighborhood. How can I help him in the social department. I try to get him outside for walks with me and some other children in the neighborhood, but I see the behavior and try to correct it.

Perhaps the best way to help your son is a combination of talking to him and teaching him some skills:

  1. Talk to him in a quiet way about what he does that turns off other kids. Do this at a time when the two of you are alone and there is enough time to chat.
  2. Show him what he does. Do this not to make fun of him but to help him understand what he has to change.
  3. Brainstorm what else he could do. Help him come up with ideas.
  4. Develop some cues that he can use. For example:  “Slow down.” and  “Be quiet and say hello.”
  5. Practice him doing this in a pretend situation with you. Practice several times.
  6. Remind him of what the strategy is before the next encounter.
  7. Practice again and again. These behaviours are hard to learn.
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My son loves to argue and can say very hurtful things. What can I do?

My ten-year-old son has always shown signs of opposition, he loves to argue. He can be hateful at times and says nasty, hurtful things. He can also be very loving and feels bad if he hurts someone’s feelings. I feel sometimes he has no control over his emotions. I have looked up oppositional defiance disorder, but I am unclear if he has it or not. He has gone to a psychologist before for testing because he sometimes makes unnecessary noises in class. She had stated that he could be borderline ADD and a possibility of Tourette’s, but I don’t believe the later. He is an extremely smart boy. He loves to learn and does really well in school. I want to nip this in the bud as I don’t know if I will be able to handle him as a teenager if he continues to be so hateful. What steps do you think I should take in rectifying this situation?

Your son has several things going for him. First of all, you have identified a specific problem and want to help him correct it. Second, he is genuinely caring and feels bad when he hurts others’ feelings.  Third, he is smart and does well in school. Fourth, he has good verbal skills.

It is likely that his impulsiveness and his verbal skill trigger the hateful things. He may be quite clever at saying witty, nasty things and other kids may laugh and thus encourage it. If he becomes a standup comedian, this skill may be useful in dealing with hecklers.

Now you rightly want to help him be a good citizen and nice to others. There are three steps that may help.

First of all, set the clear expectation that he is not to be hurtful to others.

Second, use his abilities to help him.  Chat with him about his behaviour. Acknowledge that he is talented with words but he has to use this talent for good. Use less threatening terms such as “his zingers”. I bet he lets them go before he thinks about the impact. Identify some situations when he tends to zing people. Practice with him how he can “Stop”, “Think” and only then “Speak”. Rehearse this 4-5 times in a session. Have several sessions so he learns to stop and think before letting a zinger go. Make the practice fun if you can.

Finally, impose a consequence when he says mean, nasty things. If the consequence can fit the crime, so much the better. So if he is rude, he may have to write and send an apology letter. Make sure you read it and have him correct it if it is not quite right.

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My potty trained three-year-old has regressed to peeing in his pants. What can I do?

My three-and-a-half-year-old son was potty trained a year ago and was able to wear underwear for 5 or 6 months before regressing. He is constantly peeing his underwear so I switched to pull-ups, which he hates, however he continues to pee in these as well. He shows no motivation for wanting to be a “big boy” again. I’ve been trying to wait him out but it’s been a long time, 6 months. What else can I do?

I don’t know if he had some trauma or medical difficulty that triggered the regression. Was he afraid of the toilet?  Did someone scare him with threats? Did he have an infection? Did it hurt when he peed in the toilet?  If you have not talked to his doctor about this, you should.

Otherwise, you have two options. Option 1 is to accept his wearing pull ups and don’t worry. He will eventually decide to get out of pull-ups and pee in the toilet.

The other option is to increase his motivation to have dry pants. To increase motivation, you can try a “No more pull-ups” chart. Try to get him involved in setting it up. Start with rewarding him with a sticker every time he tinkles even a bit in the toilet.  Set it up so he wins and gets enough stickers to exchange for a small treat or privilege every day.  After a while, you can switch to “dry pull-ups” for a small period of time (an hour or two) as the target for getting a sticker. Then, when he gets to be dry for a period of time, switch him to underwear and continue the chart. Make the criterion easy enough for him to win but gradually increase it. Use praise as well as the stickers.

I would advise against criticism, punishment or even taking away stickers at his age.

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Is my son sleepwalking?

My six-year-old son occasionally wakes up at night and will urinate somewhere, hallway, outside my bedroom, or even in a corner. I think he is sleepwalking because he can not respond to us when we talk to him and he never remembers the incident. We usually bring him to the bathroom to clean him up but he is not even aware that we are there. How do I know if he is sleepwalking and is it serious? He has been doing this for just over a year but it only occurs about once a month.

He is almost certainly sleepwalking. The major danger is that he might accidentally hurt himself when he is sleepwalking. He could fall down the stairs. He could wander out of the house and into traffic. He could take medicine in the medicine cabinet. He could trip over a toy or chair.

The most important thing to do is make sure the house is safe so he doesn’t harm himself. He has to be safe.

You might try having him overlearn the way to the bathroom.  Walking him through the route to the toilet 5 times before bed for a week may help: pretending to wake, get out of bed, go to bathroom, sit on the toilet.

The next time he is at his doctor’s, mention it to him or her.

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How do you deal with being a 13-year-old gay?

How do you deal with being a 13-year-old gay?

The most important thing is for you to find a trusted adult to talk to about your situation. If you can, your parents may be the best. If not a sympathetic teacher,  guidance counselor, clergy, or your family doctor may be best.  Perhaps you have an older sister or brother whom you can talk to.

Although things have improved, many are still hostile to gay people and you have to insure that you protect yourself. You may decide to “come out” to some people and keep your sexual orientation secret with others.  Like any teen, straight or gay, you should protect yourself against sexual exploitation by others.

There may be a teen help telephone service in your community that you can call. Sometimes there are specific gay helplines.

Although sexuality can present many challenges, it is also a source of joy and energy. You will, over the next few years, learn more about yourself as a sexual person. You will make many decisions and may regret some (most of us do).  Be gentle with yourself.  Strive to do what you think is right.

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What can I do to help with my wife’s depression?

We have two young children, aged two and three years, and my wife has been battling depression for years. Before we were married, she was never depressed. What should I do to help her?  Her mother had depression for years and I think my mother was depressed. Why are women so likely to become depressed?

Depression is caused by what we think, what we do and how our brains work. Of course each of these influences the other. If I think I am no good, my brain chemistry changes. If I stop doing things I enjoy my mood will get worse. If my brain chemistry is off, I won’t feel like having any fun.

There are psychological, social and biological reasons that more women than men become depressed.

As everyone knows, women and men are different in a lot of ways. Women, compared to men are more likely to be:

  • more critical of themselves
  • more sensitive to rejection and criticism
  • feeling they have less control of what happens to them

Social factors are also important in women’s depression. Opportunities for women have improved dramatically in the last 25 years, but still, women spend more time taking care of others (husbands, children, parents). Many women enjoy this. But the psychological and physical demands can be overwhelming. Sometimes those who are taken care of don’t appreciate it.

When compared to men, women:

  • are expected to be more supportive and helpful to others
  • still have restrictions in some jobs
  • are often undervalued
  • often have more duties in the home
  • are more likely to have a lower income
  • have more stress
  • are more likely to be physically or sexually abused

Women’s biology gives them more chances to be depressed. Swings in the level and balance of estrogen and progesterone can trigger depression.  For example, many women have premenstrual low mood. Others get depressed after childbirth (post partum depression) or during menopause.

You can do a lot to help your wife:

  • listen to her and understand how she feels without telling her what to do
  • encourage her to talk to her doctor about her moods
  • lighten the burden

You can do more of the housework and child care.  Having a two year old and a three year old can be a lot of work.  Discuss with her what would be most helpful. Maybe it would be an evening for her to go out with some of her friends. Maybe you could take charge of bedtimes. Maybe you can learn how to clean (I mean really clean) the bathrooms.

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How do you prepare children for the death of a grandparent?

What is the best way for parents, and other family members, to prepare a six-year-old for the serious illness and impending death of his granddad who is in hospital?

It is good to protect our children from harm. Sometimes we think we can protect children from death. We can’t. Death is part of living.

There are two simple rules:

  1. Be honest
  2. Encourage him to ask questions

When his granddad dies, your child will miss him. He may be upset. He may be angry. He may be afraid. These emotions are normal.

You should tell him his granddad is very sick and may die soon. But spare him some of the details. He may ask questions. Answer them simply and truthfully. Do not be afraid to use the words “death” and “dying”, or the name of the illness.

If your family believes in God or life after death, explain these to him. But if you don’t, that is fine.

He could visit, if his granddad wants. Don’t make visits too long. Explain if granddad is looking different. “Granddad has cancer and he is really skinny.” “He won’t look the same.” “Granddad is really tired and falls asleep all the time now”

If granddad is acting very strangely because of illness, drugs or pain, explain that ahead of time. Keep the visit short.

Reassure him that he can’t catch what granddad has and that he has not caused Granddad’s illness. Remind him that mom and dad and auntie and uncle are fine (if they are). Tell him you will take care of him.

Share some of your feelings. Make it simple. If there are any resentments or bad feelings, don’t discuss them. You may say “I am really sad about grandpa being so sick. I will miss him when he is gone. What do you feel?”

Let him express his feelings. Accept what he says.

If he is close to his granddad, he will need more time. More time to talk. More time to visit. Maybe he wants to draw a picture or write a note or record a song for granddad. Reading children’s books that talk about death can be helpful.

Talk about what a good life his granddad has had. Remind him of the good times he has had with his granddad.

Going to the funeral and even the gravesite is a way of helping children cope. Prepare him for what will happen at the funeral. Have someone he knows well take care of him at the funeral so if he gets bored, you aren’t distracted. He may need extra attention that you can’t give at that time.

It is a time of stress in a family. If possible get some help with the house. Keep as many routines as possible. Spend some positive, special time with your six-year-old. Try not to neglect him.

Be gentle with yourself and him. He may act up more. Don’t let him get away with misbehaviour.

The Canadian Virtual Hospice has more information on this topic. Thanks for consultation to Simone Stenekes, Clinical Nurse Specialist from the Palliative Care Service at the IWK Health Centre.

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What can I do to lessen the impact of divorce on my daughter?

Our marriage has broken down completely. My wife and I are going to separate. What can I do to lessen the damage to my five-year-old daughter?

Divorce is not good for kids. But there are things that you can do to lessen its impact.

The most important is to reduce the conflict between you and your ex. Here are some key DOs and DON’Ts:

  • Don’t badmouth your ex to your kid. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.
  • Do keep all interactions with your ex businesslike and courteous.
  • Do keep in contact with your daughter.
  • Do pay support on time. Most children live with their mother after divorce. Most of the time their standard of living drops like a stone. If you mess around with your support, you are punishing your daughter.
  • Don’t hassle, berate, harass, bother, annoy, criticize, belittle, disparage, rebuke, fight with, or stalk your ex. You will just be harming your daughter.

Your daughter will be better adjusted if you follow these simple guidelines. It will be even better if your wife does the same.

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My fourteen-year-old son is incredibly lazy. What can I do?

My fourteen-year-old son is incredibly lazy. He won’t do anything to help around the house. He just doesn’t seem to care. What can I do?

He may be lazy, but more likely you haven’t made it clear, over time, what you expect of him. Or, maybe you didn’t link responsibilities and privileges.

Set out expectations. Build in consequences. Privileges should be earned, not just freely given. He has to have clear responsibilities. If he does what he is supposed to, he should get his privileges. If he fails to complete responsibilities, he must not get the rewards.

Each family will have different responsibilities and privileges. In some families, keeping the room clean is important. In others, it is not. For some families, privileges will be an allowance, or a ride to hockey practice.

Teenagers hate being treated like little kids. So, be business-like. Have a meeting. Write down a contract. Nagging hardly ever works well. Getting angry might work once or twice. Being clear and firm is more likely to work in the long run. It is best to negotiate his responsibilities and privileges with him, not impose them. Renegotiate every month or so.

You have to be in it for the long run. You have to be consistent over time. You have to keep your end of the bargain. You have to take the time to insure he is complying.

Let’s say you agree that he has to set the table or keep his room clean, or walk the dog. Define what is meant. Agree when it is to be done and what the consequences are. Then follow through.

Don’t worry if he cares, just get him to do it. He will learn to care once he contributes.

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How do I explain our rules on age-appropriate games and movies when my son’s friends have no such restrictions?

My nine-year-old son feels we are being unfair limiting his access to mature and adult rated games and movies. His classmates are often given free range regardless of content. Do you have some suggestions to help deal with this on a parenting level?

You are absolutely right to limit your nine-year-old son’s access to mature and adult rated media.  You would not allow him to drive.  Nor would you give him access to alcohol.

There is no easy way to overcome the comparisons that he will make. You have to be firm and loving.  I am sure you are saying things like “I understand it doesn’t seem fair because your friends are allowed.  In our family, we don’t allow mature and adult rated games and movies.”

Keep maintaining your family’s standards.  Don’t get pulled into what other families do. You may say “Other families have different ways of doing things. In our family we don’t allow adult games and movies.”

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