Q. My 13-year-old has made it her mission to find a boyfriend and is acting so clingy that she has driven away all the boys she used to be friends with. How can I get her to slow down?
A. My worry isn't about her boyfriend search; my concern is her inability to see how her behavior is pushing people away. You didn't mention if she has a similar history with girlfriends, but this is often the case -- and it usually backfires in the same way. In other words, kids feel forced to be mean to her because she's not recognizing their personal boundaries. So you should focus on increasing her social intelligence. I would have her work with a counselor who specializes in adolescent social and emotional skill-building to help her learn to read herself and others more effectively.
Q. Our family has always designated Saturday as family day, but since my son entered middle school, he has begged to be allowed to hang out with his friends instead. Should I let him?
A. While it's completely understandable that a middle-schooler would rather be with friends than family, that doesn't mean he gets to. So hold your ground but make one compromise. Encourage your son to occasionally invite someone along on family activities so you can 1) model how to combine friends with family and 2) develop relationships with the kids your son is close to. Remember, the more you're around your son's friends, the more you'll know about him and his life outside your home.
Q. My 14-year-old daughter always takes her 16-year-old sister's clothes without asking, which invariably causes major drama. Should I set a punishment or just stay out of it?
A. Sisters should be able to borrow each other's clothes. That said, there have to be ironclad rules. They have to ask permission and respect the answer if it's "No." If the reply is "Yes," then the borrower has to return the clothing in the same condition as it was received, within an agreed-upon period of time. If it's stained, she has to do everything in her power to fix the problem, like take it to the dry cleaner and pay for cleaning. If the clothing is irreparably damaged, then it must be replaced within one week. That's the system. Your job is to remind both parties about the rules and enforce them when necessary.
Q. My 11-year-old has a friend who frequently sleeps over. We enjoy having him, but his mother always makes him bring his little brother, who's only 8. I end up entertaining him. How can I tactfully get out of this?
A. You say the younger child always tags along. Why? Did this parent ask you once and then assume it was okay for subsequent sleepovers? When she has asked, have you agreed but without really meaning it, hoping she'd read between the lines? Whatever is going on, the problem needs to be addressed directly. Tell Mom that while you adore her sons, it's too difficult to have both boys. Then, since you've said you really enjoy the older brother, end the conversation by inviting him for a future sleepover.
Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the October 2007 issue of Family Circle magazine.