By The Piepers
Boys and dolls: What's up with that? Q:Should I worry about my little boy who's 3 and loves dolls? When we go to the toy store my husband and I offer to buy him trucks and blocks, but he goes to the doll section for dolls and accessories such as buggies. When we try to say, “no,” he gets terribly upset and cries. We often give in, but feel very uncomfortable and concerned that we are harming him. He hugs and kisses the dolls, dresses and undresses them and sleeps with them. Should we be firmer about buying him toys that are more appropriate for boys? L.K., Romeoville
A:You should feel happy your 3-year-old is interested in dolls. The enjoyment he gets from taking care of them is a testament to how well you and your husband have cared for him. He wants to love the dolls in the same way you have loved him. It sounds as though he is on his way to becoming a wonderful husband and father. Please, don't give your son any sense that you disapprove of the care he shows the dolls. Tell him that you are pleased to see what good care he takes of them.
Once your son starts school, he will join his friends in playing with trucks. But for now, let him enjoy the dolls. Too many boys in our culture grow up feeling there is something “unmanly” about tenderness, compassion and caring for others.
Are play dates possible with my son's peanut allergy? Q:My 4-year-old is allergic to peanuts. If he eats peanuts or food with peanut oil he could die. Until now we have always been able to screen food for him. But now he wants to go to friends' houses to play. We don't want to keep him from a normal social life but we are terrified about what could happen at a friend's house. We don't feel comfortable trusting other children's parents or their babysitters with our son's life, yet we know he has to have friends. Also, we are worried about what will happen when he starts school next year. We don't want to frighten him, but we also feel we have to talk to him about this.
What do you recommend? K.H., Chicago
A:This is a real concern-children do in fact die every year from allergic reactions-and peanuts are a common allergen. There are a number of practical things you can do to protect your son. Have your son wear a MedicAlert tag which identifies him as having a significant allergy to peanuts. Most important, if you don't already have one, ask your pediatrician for dispensers of adrenaline (epinephrine) to keep in your house, car and purse. Have her show you how to use them.
Until your son is older, try to keep play dates at your house. If your son goes to another child's house, discuss the problem with the other child's parents, have your cell phone available and always have the adrenaline with you in case of emergency. Tell the adult at the friend's house what symptoms to be aware of and how to reach you. When your son goes to school, be sure the school nurse has adrenaline available.
It is necessary to impress upon your son never to eat muffins, cookies or candy that you don't pack. Children your son's age often don't believe anything bad can happen to them, so you might ask your pediatrician to talk to your son about his allergy and the importance of taking no chances of eating peanuts or peanut oils. Your son should know what symptoms to watch for and that if he experiences any he should tell an adult.
Finally, do tell your son that you know his allergy worries him and makes life hard for him, but that you are going to do everything in your power both to keep him safe and ensure that as far as possible he doesn't have to miss out on the fun of having friends and going places.
Our unhappy preteen seems depressed and friendless. Q:My 12-year-old daughter has been very unhappy at school all fall. She complains that no one likes her. She says her friends from last year are snubbing her and other kids do not seem interested.
I have noticed she is withdrawn and that when we talk to her she tends to answer in monosyllables. She also complains a lot about stomach aches and headaches during the week but we notice that she doesn't seem to feel sick on the weekends. We don't know how to help her. Until now she has been a pretty happy kid, but at this point she doesn't seem to be enjoying life.
R. G., Naperville
A:This is a hard question to answer because it is not clear whether your daughter's depression is the cause or whether she is depressed in response to the events at school. The best strategy is to approach the problem from both angles. You also need to investigate the possibility of an underlying physical problem.
First, your daughter's pediatrician should examine her to ensure her physical complaints are not symptoms of a more serious problem. If she is all right, then try concrete help in making friends. Think of some activities such as going to a movie, bowling or bike riding, and suggest she invite a friend or two along. That may help start a friendship and you will have a chance to observer her with her friends. Notice whether she is unknowingly coming across as aloof, sarcastic or unfriendly. If you see she is getting in her own way, try to explain this to her as gently and diplomatically as possible. Then give her some strategies for approaching peers, such as asking them about their interests and avoiding monosyllabic answers.
In trying to understand why your daughter might be withdrawing and feeling depressed, you might also consider whether there have been recent dislocations in the family, such as illness, divorce, work-related problems or financial problems that might be affecting her. Ask her if she has things on her mind that are bothering or worrying her. Investigate whether she is upset about premenstrual changes in her body or the impending onset of menstruation. Most important, make clear to her that you know she is struggling right now and that you want to do everything in your power to help and you are available to talk.
Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are the authors of Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors that Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill, 2002). They also wrote the best-selling parenting book, Smart Love (Harvard Common Press, 2001). The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents, and supervising mental health professionals. They are the parents of five children and live in Chicago.