Saturday, February 01, 2003
Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D. and William J. Pieper, M.D.
Baby proofing leads to safety and security
Q: My 1-year-old is beginning to walk and can reach a lot of the breakable items in the house. I have been telling him "No" but he is very determined. I usually end up yelling and slapping his hand. He cries and gets upset. I hate all this unpleasantness. I have a friend who put all the breakable things away. But if I do so, aren't I teaching my son that life will always be arranged for him? He won't be prepared for reality. What do you suggest?
A: To understand what our children learn from us, we need to understand how their minds work. Your son is too young to understand that he can drop a rubber ball without breaking it, but he can't do the same to a piece of china. So when you say "No" to touching the china but then allow him to throw his ball, he is confused. All he knows is he in danger of your disapproval, which inhibit his explorations. The result is the curiosity he will need as a student and an adult will become conflicted and inhibited. On the other hand, if you baby-proof your home, your son will know the joy of satisfying his natural curiosity with your approval and protection. Don't worry about creating a hot house atmosphere for him that will make life difficult later. If we didn't protect babies and young children, they wouldn't live to grow up.
Ending nightmares requires comfort, not ridicule
Q: My 5-year-old has always had nightmares, but they seem to be getting worse. He comes running into our bedroom screaming and crying, too frightened to go back to bed by himself. Last night, he dreamed aliens were taking over the world. He went to his Dad for help only to discover Dad was an alien.
My husband tells him to stop being such a baby and get back to bed. But my son is really frightened. So, I usually sit with him while he gets back to sleep. Often, he wakes up again and everything is repeated. Because my husband won't help, I am not getting enough sleep. My husband thinks I am being overindulgent. What do you think?
P.G. Tinley Park
A: People are the authors of their own dreams. So your son is creating nightmares as a way of trying to cope with troubling daytime feelings or events. He is not choosing to have nightmares, but the explanation is in his waking life. Perhaps, the child is made to feel ashamed of angry feelings. Or he is often punished or yelled at. In school-age children, it can result from being bullied at school or day care. In other cases, the nightmares are linked to parents who argue or who are physically or emotionally unavailable to the child.
Your son is in a developmental stage called the Romantic Phase. He wants all your attention and sees his father as a rival. Like all little boys, he worries that his Dad will become aware of his competitive feelings and retaliate. So when your husband becomes irritated at his fright and calls him a baby, it heightens your son's fears, which is probably why he dreamed that about his father. Explain to your husband his negative reactions are not helping. Also, try to convince your husband your son needs to be soothed, not ridiculed. You are right to comfort your son. The more kindness he receives, the fewer nightmares he is likely to have.
Divorced children shouldn't choose sides
Q: I recently went through a bitter divorce, which I asked for and my ex-husband did not want. When my children, ages 3 and 5, spend time with their father he says very nasty things about me. When my children come home, they are angry with me and keep asking why I won't let Daddy come back. I feel like telling them their father's whining and childish behavior is why I wanted to be rid of him, but I don't think that would be good. Is there something I can say that will make them take his side less completely and feel closer to me?
R.C., Oak Park
A: The most important gift divorcing parents can give children is to shelter them. Children need to feel positively about both parents. Talk with your ex privately. Explain that such negative things create a contest of loyalties in which the children feel they have to choose between parents. You can also help your children understand your choice in a way that doesn't belittle their dad. For example, you could say that you just couldn't stay married to their father because the relationship wasn't good for either of you but that he still is a good dad to them and that they should continue to love him. Tell them, it's OK if they wish he still lived with you. Tell them you know the divorce has been hard. But one day Dad will get over this unhappiness and realize the divorce was good for him as well.
It is important to emphasize that parents never divorce children and no matter what, you and your ex will always be their mom and dad.
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@wjinc.com. The Piepers will respond to three questions each month. They are unable to respond to questions that they do not answer for publication.
Answers For more answers to questions from readers since January 2000, visit our Internet archives. For a more complete understanding of the Pieper's philosophy and psychology, read their book, "Smart Love: The Compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You A Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person."Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., have a new book, Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors that Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill, 2002). They also wrote Smart Love: The Compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person (Harvard Common Press, 2001). The Piepers have spent more than two decades practicing psychotherapy with children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents, and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.