Q: My son came home from sixth grade today telling me a boy in his class has started to make a gun with his fist and pretend to shoot other kids. The boy also told some kids that he knows where his father keeps his hunting rifles—and knows how to shoot them. Then he added, “I’m just kidding—I don’t want to be in the headlines.” This boy is unpopular and has few friends. My son says he is afraid of this boy and is worried about going to school. I told him I am sure he will be OK if he stays away from the boy and doesn’t provoke him. But I wonder if I should do something more. L.W., Evanston
A: You need to take preventive measures. Before almost every school shooting there are warning signs—such as those you describe—that are ignored. It is better to take measures that may prove unnecessary than not act and have a tragedy occur. Contact the school administration with your concerns and ask what they intend to do. If the school is unwilling to have the boy evaluated psychologically and take steps to ensure he doesn’t bring weapons to school, you can call the police. Children who talk about shooting other children must be taken seriously and considered a threat to the entire community as well as to themselves. How do I convince my son monsters don’t exist? Q: What do you say to a 2-year-old who says he is afraid to go to bed and open his closet because there are monsters that are going to eat him? My son first heard about monsters from his older brother, who wanted to tease and upset him, and it worked. Now he won’t sleep in his room unless we sit with him. And he makes me take his clothes out of the closet for him. We have tried shining flashlights under the bed and in the closet to show him nothing is there, but he says monsters can be invisible. This behavior is making me crazy. I don’t know what to do to help him. Suggestions? P.D., Oak Park
A: Once 2-year-olds get it in their heads something scary could happen, it can be very hard to convince them otherwise. Logical explanations usually don’t work because 2-year-olds don’t have the cognitive maturity to distinguish between fantasy and reality. One approach is to tell your son that his older brother was just teasing him and that monsters don’t really exist. It would help if his brother would tell him that also. If your son hears his brother made up the monsters, he may feel less convinced about their reality. You can also read your son books that raise the question of monsters and then dispel kids’ fears in an entertaining way, such as The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone.
Sometimes it helps to talk to kids about how monsters represent their own feelings and do not really exist. Children are often intrigued with the notion that since monsters are made up of their feelings, the kids can be in control of the monsters and make them be friendly instead of angry.
If none of these strategies works, go along with his requests to get his clothes and sit with him while he goes to bed. Over time, his increasing maturity and your calmness will convince him he has nothing to fear. My baby wakes up hungry every night. What do I do? Q: We need help with our 4-month-old baby. She goes to sleep OK around 8:30 p.m., but then wakes up at 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. wanting a bottle. She goes back to sleep, but I have trouble getting back to sleep and am exhausted during the day. I can’t ask my husband for help because he works with heavy machinery and it would be dangerous for him to be tired. My pediatrician suggested I not feed my daughter a whole bottle when she wakes up because she will learn to expect it. Instead, the doctor said I should let her cry for a while when she wakes up. But when I let her cry and then give her only half a bottle, she gets hysterical and won’t go back to sleep for an hour—and I get even less sleep. What do you suggest? K.R., Aurora
A: You have our sympathies for your lack of sleep. But there is no magic answer except to wait for your baby to mature. As she gets older, she will be able to get by on one bottle a night and eventually will sleep all the way through. As long as she wakes up wanting a bottle, she is hungry and needs to be fed. You are doing the right thing, because letting her cry or go hungry is not good for her emotionally or physically. As you have seen, giving her less milk than she wants only makes her more upset. The trouble is that without a partner who can take turns, you are wearing out. Perhaps another family member would be willing to spend the night and take on the feedings once in awhile. Or perhaps your husband could take the night feedings on weekends. Another suggestion is to use your baby’s daytime naps to nap yourself—elective chores take second place to your need for rest.
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). 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.