Dear Family Coach: My 15-year-old son repeatedly calls his little sister "Fat A—." These words are demeaning and taking a toll on my shy and big-for-her-age 9-year-old daughter. We have made him apologize, taken privileges away, had him do push-ups and given him lots of other punishments. Do you have any suggestions to nip this in the bud? — Horrified Mom
Dear Mom: Ouch! I can't think of anything that will give a young girl a body image complex more than a meddlesome older brother calling her Fat A—. That's a tough one for her to stomach, and for you. Unfortunately, all of your actions are only encouraging your son rather than helping him reform his demeaning ways. Every time you or your daughter comment on his mean words, he gets lots of attention. It may be negative attention, but it's clearly still rewarding to him. If your punishments outweighed the benefits, he would stop acting this way. Since he hasn't stopped, a completely different tact is in order.
Here's a radical suggestion: Ignore him. That's right. Everyone, including your daughter, should ignore him completely every time he mentions her appearance. That means no running to tattle to Mama and no lectures from you. No punishment. No wincing and crying either. You must all act as if you don't even hear him. Without a reward, he will give up on the taunting and try to get your attention in a more positive manner.
When your son does change his tact and acts more appropriately, do the opposite of ignoring him. Make sure to engage him completely pretending that the name-calling never happened. Don't hold a grudge or even bring it up. Everyone should move on, and before long, Fat A— will be a distant memory.
Dear Family Coach: My daughter has been taking piano lessons for two years, and as much as she practices and tries, well, she stinks. It's truly unlistenable, and we're all starting to lose our minds. She loves it, and it brings her joy, but can we try and get her to stop? — Dad With Melted Ears
Dear Dad: I bet you are the kind of person who was instantly good at everything. You probably rode a bike without ever falling. You were likely a straight-A student and the leader of the marching band. So, of course, it's upsetting to you to hear such horrible noises coming from the piano. You would never have subjected your parents to that kind of aggravation. Before we go any further, call your parents. They have news for you.
As someone who has lived through the learning of the flute, piano, recorder and saxophone, I understand your pain. The most unpleasant racket truly comes from children learning a new instrument. There is shrieking and honking, and there are many a missed note. But through the pain of it all, there is such a sense of accomplishment for the kids as they begin to hear themselves making actual music. Amazingly, they don't seem to be bothered by the missed notes.
The most important part of your letter is that you said playing the piano brings your daughter joy. If you get her to stop playing, you will not only take away her joy (which is bad enough) but also subtly tell her that she shouldn't bother with an activity if she can't be good at it right away. Think of how many paths that would cut off for her. I advise you to put on a happy face, invest in some high-quality earplugs and deal with it.
Dr. Catherine Pearlman, the founder of The Family Coach, LLC, advises parents on all matters of child rearing. To write to Dr. Pearlman, send her an email at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Catherine Pearlman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.