Q. We moved to a new town four years ago and my 8-year-old still has only one friend who invites him over. Should I be worried?
A. Be concerned, but be careful. Too many moms push for playdates or stalk the playground to ensure their child has friends, but you can't force it (and if you try, other kids will resent your son). Also, your child may prefer to have one close buddy. So ask if he wants more kids in his life. If he doesn't, respect his answer. If he does, enroll him in a group where he can meet other children. And realize that around third grade kids' friendships deepen. Last year my son Elijah, then 8, had no close friends, and, yes, I was a little freaked. But as he matured his social life blossomed. Whatever you do, remember that this isn't about you. Your job is to teach your son how to conduct healthy relationships, not worry about how popular he is.
Q. How can I make my 16-year-old respect his curfew? He doesn't ask for much, so it's hard to take away privileges. He doesn't study and seems to have no interest in any kind of work. I need some tips on how to handle him.
A. Your first task is to get to know him better, and it'll help if you drop the assumption that he's a total slacker. It's possible he has interests, like being part of the local music scene or skateboarding community, but hides them from you because he thinks you're judging him. Then, I'd say to him, "I can't have you staying out so late. Part of getting older is thinking about how your actions affect others. If you don't come home I imagine horrible things happening to you because that's what mothers do. So can you agree to get home on time? But my bigger worry is that I don't see what's happening in your life that you're passionate about. It's important that you find activities that give you satisfaction, pride, and a sense of being part of something bigger than yourself. I don't have to know every detail, but can you tell me what's going on?" Once you've said all that, please just sit back and listen.
Q. My 13-year-old, Meg, has been bullied at school for two years. The administrators have done nothing except tell her to read your book Queen Bees and Wannabes. I'm sure it's great, but shouldn't they deal with the aggressors?
A. Without being ungrateful, I have to say their response is pathetic. Queen Bees can help you understand bullying and give you effective ways to respond. But that doesn't take away from their responsibility to create a safe environment. So read the book, mark the sections that apply to your daughter, then meet with the principal. Thank her for her suggestion and point out what you've learned. Then explain how your daughter is handling conflicts more independently. Finally, say, "If it happens again, what is your process for helping her? And if Meg thinks that's not working, what are the next steps you want us to take?" Write down exactly what the administrator says. If things don't improve, go back once to remind her what she said. If the bullying continues and your child feels physically threatened, go to the police.
Originally published in the April 1, 2010, issue of Family Circle magazine.