Q. My 10-year-old daughter adores our 18-year-old neighbor, who babysits for us. She phones her and even goes over unannounced. I'm worried that my daughter is being too pushy. Should I leave it between them, or get involved?
A. It's great that your daughter is close to her babysitter, but if you don't set down guidelines, she (and you as the parent) may be putting the babysitter in the awkward position of either tolerating your daughter's behavior or telling her to get lost. Take this opportunity to teach your daughter that good manners mean drop-ins and calls should be extremely limited. And tell the babysitter that while you appreciate her kindness, she should feel free to tell your daughter when she's overstaying her welcome.
Q. I told our 17-year-old daughter she could meet us at our last family get-together. She was two hours late, didn't have a good excuse, and hardly talked to anyone. What can I do to make her shape up?
A. When one of my kids behaves badly at home it's annoying, but I deal with it and it's done. But if they're bratty around other people, their behavior is not only irritating -- it's now also embarrassing. In your case it's happening in front of your family, where maybe you have an aunt or a sister-in-law who loves to criticize everybody's parenting. To solve this problem, first recognize that your embarrassment makes the situation feel worse than it really is. Then talk to your daughter and tell her exactly how her actions made you feel. Basically, you were worried because she was late, then upset because she was being rude.
Ask for her side of the story. Do the family get-togethers happen too often -- or are they taking up an entire day? Is the only person her age a cousin she hates? Listen to her answers, clearly state your expectations for her behavior at future events, take away a meaningful privilege for a week, and then compromise for the future. Maybe she goes every other time or you agree before the event that she can come late or leave early. No matter what you come up with, she, at 17, owes it to you and to herself to articulate her needs without behaving like she's 5 years old.
Q. How can I get to know my teenage son's new group of friends without being a hovering parent?
A. Stock the fridge and pantry, and let them hang out at your house. Once they're watching a movie or doing anything else reasonably safe, you can get all the information you need without being annoying. Pop your head in occasionally and say, "Hey guys, anybody need anything else to drink?" Then come back 20 minutes later, "Who wants a hamburger?" (Don't overdo this, though, because you'll come across as their servant.) Observe how your son interacts with his new friends. Is he comfortable being himself around them? At the same time, you'll be building relationships with these kids so you have a good sense of who they are and so they develop a healthy respect for you and your home.
Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the November 2007 issue of Family Circle magazine.