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Q. I am a Dad to 2 boys, a 4 year old and a 21 month old. They are all boy, very active and aggresive. My 4 year old has recently had a number of instances where he is hitting other kids in daycare. The daycare center is trying to reward him for good behavior and asking us to take things away from him at home (well after the incident has occured). This approach is not working very well. Any other suggestions?

A. First of all what do you mean your sons are all boy? You either are a boy or you are a girl. And if you want to get really technical about it boys really can't be all boy because they have both an x and a y chromosome whereas girls can be all girls because they have only x chromosomes. I guess what I am saying is that perhaps you need to re-evaluate what you believe about what being a boy means. Perhaps focus your efforts on heping them be kind, thoughtful, respectful, confident, and responsible people rather than proving to the world that they are all boy.

Now that I'm off my soapbox, let's talk about your son's aggressive behavior. I would recommend that you watch closely the kinds of things your son is viewing on TV, movies, and videogames. Talk with your son at a time when things are going well about his angry feelings. Tell him what is acceptable to do about these feelings. Perhaps when he is angry is can go out and kick a ball, run around the yard as fast as he can, go in his room and close the door and scream as loud as he can, punch some clay or playdoh, punch a pillow, or whatever you and your wife decide is OK for him to do. Tell him that you expect him to make these other choices but that if he forgets you will have to stop him from hitting and help him remember to show his feelings in better ways. Then when he cools off, talk to him about what happened and how he might handle such situations in the future to avoid getting angry or to make a better decision about what to do with his anger in the first place.

Anger is a secondary emotion, meaning there is always another feeling that was experienced first. This initial feeling is usually one that leaves the person feeling vulnerable and powerless so rather than deal with it they become angry because it makes them feel more powerful and more in control. Sort of like the way some birds ruffle up their feathers to look bigger when they are trying to ward off predators. Anger is usually used to hide feelings such as fear, embarrassment, jealousy, loneliness, insecurity, frustration and such. More importantly, be sure that you and your wife are providing your sons with good role models for appropriately expressing feelings. Maybe you could share with him what you do when you are angry, only those examples that you would want him to follow of course. I wish you the best in dealing with this situation and hope that this is helpful. You and your wife might also want to read "Without Spanking or Spoiling" by Elizabeth Crary.

Q. "Is there a chart that lists all the age-appropriate chores for children?  I have a six-year old and a two-year old, and I would like to know what chores would be appropriate for their ages."

A. There is an excellent book that addresses the issue of teaching children about being responsible and helping in the family. The title is "Pick Up Your Socks" by Elizabeth Crary. Go to the Bookstore for more information about this book. There is a chart on page 51 that outline which chores children should be able to accomplish and at which ages. It also tells whether they will need help, will need reminding or supervision, or can do it without supervision.

There are very few if any chores that a 2 year old can accomplish without help or supervision. Six year olds can probably do the following with help: brush teeth, bathe self, pick up belongings, put dirty clothes away, hang up clean clothes, make bed, tidy room, wipe spills, vacuum floors, take out trash, care for pet, do laundry, set table, fix snack. They can do the following with reminding or supervision: dress self. Remember that any time you introduce a chore you must take time to teach them how to do it. They will not be able to do it at the same standard as you right away. Be patient and remember the goal which is self reliance and self confidence.

Q. "I have a 12 year old boy in the 7th grade, only child and naturally am having some typical adolescent problems. I am looking for a good book or articles to help myself and my husband (and my 12 year old) specifically in getting through difficult and emotional times."

"We naturally the best for my son and I myself long for the little boy on one hand but am excited for what's up ahead for him. Can use as much help as possible."

A. One of my favorite resource for adolescent/parent relationship issues is "Positive Discipline for Teenagers" by Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott. It will be most beneficial if both you and your husband read these books, so that you have a chance to discuss your reactions and are coming from the same place when addressing situations with your son. Other books that you might find helpful a "The Magic of Encouragement" by Stephanie Marston, "How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk" by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, "Systematic Training for Effective Parenting of Adolescents" by Don Dinkmeyer and associates, and "A Parents' Guide to Teenage Sexuality" by Jay Gale.

Remember that teenagers still need parenting just like younger children, however they need parenting in a different way. You have to be careful not to be too anxious to be your son's buddy. He still needs you to be his parents. This does not mean you cannot also be a friend. It just means that you have to also be willing to do things that he may not like. Remember that your goal is to help your son become a person capable of establishing and maintaining relationships. The relationship you and your husband have with your son is the foundation for every other relationship he will ever have. The books in this I mention here are available in the Bookstore.

Q. "My wife and I have 2 boys (3 yrs and 9 mos), a dog, and many bills (mortgage, student loans, daycare, etc, etc, etc). We couldn't survive financially if we weren't both working full time. I don't know how I do it, and I do about half of what my wife does. She's about to have a nervous breakdown. How can we stay sane and make life enjoyable for us and our kids?"

A. If you have not already read it, I would refer you to my Parents' Toolbox column titled "Fulltime Parenting on a Partime Schedule". You might also look under Pastoral Parenting at "A Model for Marriage" or the Parents' Toolbox at "Making Sure Your Marriage Survives the Bliss of Parenthood".

I don't know what your particular financial situation is, however I do know that oftentimes we get our needs confused with our wants, and that what kids need and want most is time with their parents. They don't need all the accoutrements that the media tries to convince them and us of. Research has shown time and again that when children are asked what they want most, they respond, "To spend time with my parents." In short, the most important thing you can spend on your children is your time. Some other quick suggestions, share in household chores, involve the three year old in things he can do just so he can be with you. Quality time with children or spouse does not have to occur away from home or be some major planned event. The most significant times we have with family members often occur while folding clothes, washing dishes or washing the car. Remember that nobody on their death bed regrets not having spent more time at the office.

Q. "I need help in proper communcation with my future spouse. I have broken off the engagement once because things got to hairy with pressures etc.. I want this marriage to work, this is my second marriage and I have a 10 year old daughter. I would like some positive communction skills to use."

A. I believe the two of you could seriously benefit from some premarital counseling with a qualified marriage and family therapist. Look for a clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy in your yellow pages or ask a friend for a recommendation. You are absolutely right in seeking suggestions on effective communication. Look into participating in any couple enrichment programs that might be offered in your area. I would specifically recommend the Couples Communication program developed by Sherrod Miller. If this is a remarriage try reading with your future spouse, "Strengthening Your Stepfamily" by Elizabeth Einstein and Linda Albert.

Q. I'm trying to figure out how to get my son motivated to study and improve his grades. He's very smart but is totally uninterested in school and his grades are terrible. Any suggestions?

A. Since I do not know how old your son is, it is somewhat difficult to create a response. Some ideas off the top of my head. Be sure your expectations for your son are realistic. Be sure he is clear on what your expectations are: That he does the best he can and spends the time it would take to do that. Help him set up a schedule that would maximize the likelihood of his success. Avoid allowing him to become overinvolved in extracurricular activities. Find out what he is interested in and find ways to incorporate those interests into his school work. Use school resources to create solutions, stay in touch with his teacher(s) and seek their advice. Stay involved and be available to help with homework, projects, etc., but make it clear that it is his job to do the work. Avoid overemphasizing grades. Focus on effort and progress. Don't let your son's school performance become the foundation for your relationship with him. He needs to know that you will love him no matter what.

Q. My kids are 8 and 3. Both are normal, well-adjusted kids. My question pertains to the 8-year-old, who is a very bright little boy. He's at the age where he's starting to question these kinds of things and my level of anxiety is building in anticipation of him cornering me and asking, "Daddy, is Santa Claus real?"

A. I will share my personal opinion and the way I have dealt with this with our son.

When our son began asking questions about whether or not there was really a Santa Claus, I would respond with, "What do you think?" As long as he responded with, "I believe there is", I would not argue or try to persuade him otherwise. We talked about Santa as though he were real, but avoided making a big deal about him and trying to focus at least as much on our Christian reasons for celebrating this holiday. When our son started expressing skepticism and saying that he really didn't believe there was a Santa, and that he thought it was me and his Daddy, I asked him how he would feel about this. His response was that it did not matter. At that point we had a discussion about the real source of Santa, the history of St. Nicholas, etc. and the importance of keeping the spirit of Santa, the spirit of giving, alive for ourselves and others. He was told that it was now his reponsibility to help keep Santa alive for his younger cousins (he has no siblings) and friends who still believe. He has taken this responsibility very seriously and seems to enjoy it as it allows him the permission to go on as though he still believes also without appearing silly. My reason for telling him the truth is that I want him to be able to always trust me. And I want him to believe in the important things like God and Christ. There are some things that you can believe in even though you cannot see them. I want him to know the real ones.

Q. How can I enforce house rules when their Dad is gone? (their mom is a not custodial parent and her location is currently unknown)

What part of disciplining should I be engaging in when a decision or action needs to be taken? i.e.,physical altercation between the girls or homework time, bed time, need of bathing or picking up their mess? Their reaction to me is totally different than to their father's. Although they do not follow rules for him very well either, they do not react as negatively.

A. Sounds like you are in for some challenging times. I recommend that you and your husband read, "Strengthening Your Stepfamily" by Elizabeth Einstein and Linda Albert. You need to discuss together what both of your expectations are and whether these match or not with what is realistic to expect considering the situation. If you are to be left in charge of these girls, then they need to know from their father that he supports whatever your decisions are because you have discussed beforehand how situations will be handled. Step parenting is never simple and you might all benefit from seeing a qualified marriage and family therapist together. You would probably benefit from holding family meetings on a regular (weekly preferably) basis also. See "Active Parenting" by Michael Popkin for guidelines. You and your spouse could also read together, "Positive Discipline for Teenagers" by Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott. Remember that these girls, like any children, want more than anything the love of their parents, including their mother who may not be able to give it to them because of emotional reasons. Oftentimes children resent love from others and will even punish those who show them love because they cannot understand why their biological parent cannot love them that way.

Q.  In that all-important sex talk with one's child, what should one say? Need specific talks, not generalities. Maybe you know some literature with specific examples.

A. When discussing sex with your children, try to remain calm, but don't be afraid to let them know that this is not an easy topic to discuss and that you feel a bit uncomfortable if you do. However, because this is such an important topic, you are willing to experience the discomfort because you want your children to know that they can always come to you about anything, including sex. Educate yourself, but don't think you have to know everything. If they ask you something you don't know, tell them that you will have to find out, go find out and then get back to them.

A book I like is "A Parents Guide to Teenage Sexuality" by Jay Gale. Before you answer a question, be sure you truly understand what it is your child is asking. You know the old joke of the child asking where they came from and the parent going into deep detail only to find that the child was asking what city they were born in. Answer questions at a level that your child can understand. There is no such thing as a silly or stupid question. The most important thing is that your child can trust that you will take their questions and curiosity seriously and that you make it clear what your values about sex are and that you are practicing those values and providing a good role model for your children.

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