Smart love


Misspelled notes show sincerity, not stupidity :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

The Piepers

Q: My 8-year-old just had a birthday and she has been writing thank-you notes for the presents she received.

My question is what to do about all the spelling and grammatical errors she makes. I don't want her to look bad by being compared to other kids who spell and write better, but if I correct her writing it seems somehow not honest.

She hates to be corrected and gets really mad when I tell her to rewrite something. What do you recommend? N.P., Batavia

A:It is terrific that your daughter is happy to write her thank-you notes without putting up a fuss. You really don't want to interfere with her graciousness by making her feel inadequate about her writing.

We suggest you either help her with spelling and grammar at some other time, or, better yet, if she doesn't like being corrected by you, leave the instruction to her teachers.

You don't have to worry that she will "look bad" if there are mistakes in her note-the recipients will be delighted to have their gifts acknowledged and will have only the most positive feelings about your daughter. Any errors will assure them that the notes are authentic and not dictated by you.

How should I handle preschool biting incident? Q:My 3-year-old is in a private preschool. Lately he has been complaining about a classmate who is biting other children. Yesterday he came home with bite marks on his arm. The skin wasn't broken, but there is a bruise that is clearly from a set of teeth.

I asked my son what the teacher did and he said he didn't tell her because he was afraid the biter would get angry and bite him again. He added that when children have complained, the teacher just tells the biter to stop biting-an intervention that clearly is not working.

In this day of HIV and other blood diseases, this behavior is especially frightening to me. Plus, I have noticed that my son has started talking about hurting and killing people, which he never did before. What should I say to him and should I call the school? K.R., Chicago

A:It is crucial that you make clear to your son that you do not expect him to cope with this problem by himself and that you will protect him from this aggressive behavior. Explain to him that biting another child is absolutely unacceptable and that you will talk to the teacher and find a way to protect him and all the other children in the class from the biter. Make an appointment with the teacher (include any other parents who are interested in joining you) and insist that the biting behavior be completely controlled-if necessary by isolating the biting child or sending him home. Explain that you are concerned about infections as well as about the psychological and physical harm the child is inflicting.

Clearly the biter needs psychological help, but until he gets it, it is the responsibility of the teacher to make sure his classmates' safety is assured.

If the teacher seems reluctant or unable to take appropriate action, ask that your child be moved to another classroom. Once your child feels safe again, he will most likely stop soothing himself with aggressive fantasies of hurting others.

How can I cope when my son wants mom, not me? Q:I am a very involved and devoted dad, but lately I have been feeling frustrated and alienated from my 5-year-old son. Whenever he wants something, he asks his mom for it, even if she is in another room and I am sitting right next to him.

He only wants her to put him to bed and to play with him. If I offer to play ball or build something, he says no, he wants his mother. I have always tried to spend time with my son and I love him very much but this behavior makes no sense and is very hurtful to me. I also worry that my son is becoming a "mama's boy." I have told my wife she should insist that my son do some things with me. She says that wouldn't be good for him, that he should be with the parent he wants to be with. This disagreement is causing friction in our marriage. Can you advise please? N.S., Oak Park

A:Unfortunately, many parents suffer the kind of hurt feelings you are experiencing because they don't realize that it is entirely normal for children to go through a phase (which we call the romantic phase) in which they prefer the opposite-sex parent.

Between the ages of 3 and about 6, children realize their parents have a special kind of relationship and they want the admiration and special attention they see the opposite-sex parent giving the same-sex parent. When that attention is not forthcoming, they conclude that the problem is the same-sex parent and become angry at that parent for being in the way. Children don't realize that the special attention the opposite-sex parent gives the same-sex parent is not going to be available to them regardless of the presence or absence of the same-sex parent.

So your son is acting normally. He is rejecting you only because he thinks you are interfering with his wish to have the romantic attention he wants but can't get from his mom. Underneath, he still adores you and is secretly hoping you won't be angry at him for trying to take your place. If you can remain positive and accepting when he wants to be with his mother rather than with you, you will show your son that your love is not conditional.

In other words, if you remain understanding and loving, your son will eventually choose the pleasure of feeling close to both his mom and you over the impossible task of winning his mom away from you. The tensions in your marriage will ease as well.


Questions? More Answers 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 [email protected] The Piepers will respond to three questions per month. Sorry–they are unable to respond to questions that they do not answer for publication. For more answers to questions from readers since January 2000, visit our Web site, Click on "Past Issues" and then "Smart Love." 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., are the authors most recently of Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors that Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill, 2002, paperback edition spring 2004), which helps parents and other 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 with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents; and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.


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