Will teasing harm my preschooler?
Q What is your position about adults teasing children? We have a 3-year-old girl and my husband teases her a lot. For example, he will tell her there is a bear behind her, or that she has a grease spot on her dress, or that she can't have the ice cream cone she had been promised. When she becomes upset, he says he is "just kidding." I can't see the humor in it, but he assures me that it's good for her to learn to take a joke and that kids will tease her all the time at school. What should I do? D.S., Chicago
A You should tell your husband that he has a badly distorted idea of children's emotional needs. Above all, your daughter looks to you to tell her the truth, to comfort her and to make her feel secure and loved. When your husband teases her, he causes her to doubt that she is safe and cared for. That insecurity will actually make her more vulnerable to other children's taunts.
Teasing is never good for young children. No matter what the age, teasing should be very benign. For example, it's OK to say when sitting down to dinner at a restaurant with your 10-year-old, "I know you're going to order Brussels sprouts because they're your favorite food," but it would not be all right to say, "Let's ask for the diet menu for kids who need to lose weight."
How can I help my kids deal with Grandma's illness? Q We have two children ages 2 and 5 and we have just had a big change in our family because my husband's mother, who has Parkinson's disease, has moved in with us. She has a pronounced tremor and difficulty speaking and walking. Our 2-year-old son doesn't seem to notice there is anything wrong with Grandma, but our 5-year-old daughter seems very upset. She wants to know what's wrong with Grandma and why the doctors can't fix it. She has become a hypochondriac and is constantly worrying that she is sick or will get sick. Sometimes she says she wishes Grandma had never come to live with us. We try to reassure her that she is fine and we tell her that we know she wouldn't really want Grandma to be taken care of by strangers, but she just sticks her chin out and says she doesn't care. Can you please advise us about the best way to handle this? T.C., DeKalb
A First your 5-year-old had to contend with the appearance of a younger sibling who made demands on your time, and now her grandmother needs your attention as well. So it is not surprising that she resents her grandmother's presence. She is too young to be able to feel good about caring for her grandmother because she still needs a lot of care herself. The best way to help her adjust to her grandmother's presence is to carve out time to spend alone with her doing something she enjoys. The more she feels she is getting the attention she needs from you, the less resentment she will feel. Also, if you let her know that her anger is understandable, she will feel less alienated and it will be easier for her to be affectionate with her grandmother.
As for the hypochondria, that is very normal. Children naturally copy adults. One consequence is they feel that whatever happens to important adults will happen to them. Keep reassuring your daughter that what is wrong with Grandma only happens to people who are much older than she and that most grown-ups never develop this illness at all. Over time, as she continues to be healthy, her worries about becoming like Grandma will diminish.
Questions? Here's your chance to get some answers to your pressing parenting questions. If you're trying to figure out how to handle some aspect of your child's behavior, send your question to Chicago Parent Q&A, 141 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302; or e-mail it to SPedersen@ Chicagoparent.com. Answers to past questions from readers are available at www.chicagoparent.com. Click on "Archives," then "Smart Love."
Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are the authors of Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors that Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill, 2002), about helping adults improve their own lives. They also wrote the best-selling parenting book, Smart Love (Harvard Common Press, 2001). The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy, counseling parents and supervising other mental health professionals. They have five children and live in Chicago.
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