DEAR AMY: My wife and I have two wonderful kids. Our 5-year-old daughter is polite, well-mannered, outgoing and uncommonly nice. Our 18-month-old son is shaping up in a similar vein.
Neither child is prone to tantrums or chronic negative behaviors. I believe that this is because we stress the importance of good behavior and hold them accountable for their actions. We also try to coach them through coping with being upset, frustrated and disappointed.
My wife’s sister recently relocated to our area. She has a son, who is almost 3, and an infant daughter.
Her son has been acting out quite a bit. Most of it is due (at least in part) to his difficulty in adjusting to all the changes in his life (two big moves in the last year, a new sibling, potty training, etc.), but he’s always been prone to extreme tantrums and defiant behaviors.
I am convinced that their parenting is part of the problem. They are very permissive and give empty threats. If he doesn’t get his way, he throws a fit, and they back off and give him what he wants.
They are growing very tired of this pattern, and my nephew’s behavior is getting much worse. My sister-in-law has received advice from her pediatrician (set expectations and consequences and stick to them), but she hasn’t followed through. She has been reading stacks of books, but hasn’t been able to translate her learning into action.
My wife and I struggle with how to respond to her sister’s growing concerns. We can be very helpful in showing them some strategies that will help, but this can be perceived as insensitive, meddlesome and unwelcome.
Should we talk to them about it — or be unconditionally supportive without the slightest hint of criticism? — Perplexed
DEAR PERPLEXED: Talk to them about it and be unconditionally supportive and uncritical. This is not a mutually exclusive concept. Tell them, “You can turn this around. Do you want to hear some of the things that have worked for us?”
At the risk of providing yet another resource your sister-in-law will ignore, I highly recommend the work of Jo Frost, the “Supernanny.” Frost enters households like your sister-in-law’s, diagnoses the family dynamic, and then offers very sound and practical fixes. If you agree with her approach, you might give this couple a DVD collection of her TV show. Watching other parents screw up can be educational.
Given the extreme changes and challenges in this boy’s world, I suggest being as tolerant, loving and positive as possible with the boy. He is crying out for structure, adult attention and loving limits. Punishment will not be as powerful for him as tons of TLC, confident parenting, positive reinforcement and, yes — an occasional brief “timeout.”
DEAR AMY: My ex-husband’s sister died recently. She was very well-known in the community, and during my 25-year marriage to her brother, she and I were close.
My ex asked me not to attend the funeral because it would upset his current wife. He also claimed I was no longer part of the family. Was he right to tell me I wasn’t allowed to pay my respects to someone I cared about?
I also posted her obituary on Facebook to let out-of-town friends know of her passing. My ex said that was inappropriate, even though it was already published in the newspaper. — Disappointed Ex
DEAR DISAPPOINTED: It was kind of you to be responsive to your ex-husband’s sensitivities, but one of the benefits of being divorced is that you no longer need to listen to your ex’s assessment of the appropriateness of your actions.
DEAR AMY: “Concerned Dad” wondered how to handle the awkwardness with his grown kids and his ex-wife when his longtime girlfriend finally moved to town.
I know when my ex-husband remarried, he and his wife were worried that I would be pouty. But that’s like giving a shirt to Goodwill and then complaining that someone else is wearing it proudly — it’s time to move on. — Moved On
DEAR MOVED ON: This gets tougher when the donation is made against your will — but yes, I agree.