Q. I can't stand hearing my teenage son's soccer coach call the players "girls" if they make a mistake. How do I say something to him without being insulting?
A. I'm glad you want to tackle this problem! First tell your son that you disagree with how his coach motivates his players because your family believes in treating everyone with dignity. Then ask to talk with the coach and say, "Thanks for meeting with me. You're doing a great job and this is uncomfortable to say, but when you call the boys 'girls' for missing a play, you are teaching them to disrespect girls." If he responds with something like, "The boys know I don't mean anything by it and you have to admit, girls aren't as strong as boys, etc.," you answer with, "This isn't an issue of who can kick a ball farther. This is about motivating players without putting anyone down."
Q. My 14-year-old son has always picked on his 12-year-old sister, but lately any comment sends her into tears. I want him to back off and her to lighten up.
A. When this happens in my family, I fantasize about running out of my front door until the whining stops. What I do instead is sit my two boys down and talk them through what needs to happen. Here's what I suggest you say to your kids: To the teasee, "One of the unfortunate realities of having a sibling is he knows exactly how to irritate you. Yes, your brother is being totally annoying and acting like he's desperate for your attention."
Now turn to the teaser. "Sam, while I can't control what comes out of your mouth I can help you decide if it's worth it. When you [name the behavior] to your sister, you violate our family's rules -- which make it less likely that you'll get what you want from me in the future, like that baseball game you want to go to." Turn back to your daughter. "Calmly and specifically tell him what he's doing that you don't like and what you want him to do instead. If Sam's behavior doesn't change, tell me." To your son say, "Sam, if you continue, you're forcing me to give you consequences until you stop." Now to the two of them: "Are you both clear about my expectations? Great! Now, let's get on with the rest of our day."
Q. My daughter is a 10-year-old in a 15-year-old's body, and people often expect her to act more grown up than she's capable of. Is there any way I can help her stay a kid?
A. It's hard to be a girl in this situation because it's so confusing. She could hate the way people treat her, love it, or a combination of both. Whatever she feels, this will be a big issue for your daughter and you until she grows up. Your priority is to make sure her socializing is age appropriate. Soon she'll start getting invited to things happening for older kids, and you should say no without exception.
Meanwhile, teach her to be proud of what her body does, not how it looks and the attention she gets for that. Get her involved in activities where she can feel strong and capable.
Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the September 2007 issue of Family Circle magazine.