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Questions, Answers and Comments

By Morrisa Drobnick, LCSW

Q. We didn’t think it would be so difficult. We are a step family. My problem is my eleven year-old daughter. She is giving her stepfather (my husband) a terrible time. He is so kind and responsive to her any suggestion.

A. Be prepared for some tough times. This time can be frustrating. Your husband should keep in mind that it isn’t a reflection on him. Girls at this age are especially close to their mothers and frequently view the step dad as competition. Loyalty to her natural father is also an emotion she is experiencing. She needs to work through (which takes time) her feelings that it is ok to fit both Dad and Step-dad into her life. Loving both Dad and Step-dad is a struggle for all kids. Allow plenty of room. Verbal praise by step-dad is better than physical demonstration of affection at this time. Take your lead from your child and let her initiate the closeness. Have him not play the equal parent right away but he is also not a friend, and your daughter is aware of that. He needs to maintain his boundaries by being treated respectfully, which all of us deserve. Good luck.

Q. I thought my husband would be different as a parent. I find myself disappointed in him a lot of the time. We seem to approach all aspects of parenting from different sides. We need some help on making this a partnership.

A. No matter how well grounded a marriage is, in the period of transition to parenthood, disappoint can easily set in. It’s important for you and your spouse to treat your different parenting styles as assets. Make sure you both communicate. When you feel tension, discuss it right away. Don’t let anger linger. Be easy on yourself and an each other try to remember you are in this together. Child rearing years can be the biggest challenge to your partnership. Just as children grow so does the relationship between you. Making peace with the reality of parenting you may unexpectedly find that you get your wish. Enjoy your children together. Watch your spouse laugh and have fun with your child. You will be viewing positive statements of your commitment to family and to each other.

Q. I want my child to do well in school. What can I do to help her succeed without being too demanding or to lenient?

A. The outcome does count, but so should the process of learning. Praise her efforts along the way, not the grades alone. Kids need to know that high grades aren’t all that matters to parents; kids matter also. Focusing on outcome can also inhibit the efforts of children who are doing poorly in school. Ironically the more attention parents pay to grades and performance the less low achieving students work to improve their grades. Praise children who do not exert much effort in school for any evidence of effort even if it doesn’t produce high grades. Praise children who do not exert much effort in school for any evidence of effort even if it doesn’t produce high grades. Reward improvement with praise. It gives kids an immediate return on their efforts. Low achieving children need continuous encouragement. Set realistic goals. Strive for improvement, not perfection. Learning is the goal in education. Movement in the right direction is an incentive to kids. Competition does not encourage learning or success for most children. Only a few can “be the best.” The rest will stop trying. See failure is a part of the learning process. Help your kid understand why they did poorly. It is not a reflection of who they are. Be sympathetic. Children respond better when they feel their parents are working with them. Kids want parents to be in a partnership with them in facing school not on opposite sides. Education and learning is a life long task you want to help sustain your kids’ enthusiasm for years to come.

Q. My six year old bursts into tears if you say anything negative to him. We call our child the fragile flower. How can I get my child to be less sensitive?

A. Unfortunately there is no magic formula I can offer to toughen your six year-old up. Children can be innately sensitive; born that way. Parents can help reduce the intensity of his or her reactions maybe making life less painful for both of you. Find opportunities to boost your child’s self-esteem. Feeling inferior they over react to the hint that they might not measure up. Make a big deal out of any special skill. If you build his ego (self-esteem) he will be able to tolerate correction without feeling totally threatened. Don’t over react to your childs’ supersensitive reactions. Easily hurt kids learn that their pouting, screaming, weeping, etc. can earn them the concern and attention from their parents. You don’t want to set up your child to learn to use their “victim status” to get attention. Your goal is to make your child resilient, not to reinforce his vulnerability. Let your kids know that criticism does not mean rejection and that your love for them remains intact.