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by Abigail Van Buren

Lax Parental Discipline Turns Tot Into Tiny Terror

DEAR ABBY: My best friend, "Heather," has two children -- a boy and a girl. The oldest, "Mark," is 4, and he is a problem.

Mark has never been disciplined and makes me very uncomfortable when I visit with my friend. He always gets into my purse, no matter where I put it. If I put it up high, he will climb to get it. His mother sits back and does nothing. On more than one occasion when I spoke up and told him not to look in my purse, Mark kicked me, and it's not unusual for him to call me names. His mother never opens her mouth when he does this.

Recently, Heather told Mark to go take his nap, but he kept coming out of his room again and again. Finally, Heather told him that if he didn't stay in his room and go to sleep, he could not go to the market with her later. He paid no attention to her -- and you guessed it, he was allowed to go shopping with his mother anyway. This child wears the pants in this family.

Abby, I fear that Mark will grow up with no respect for his parents or anyone else. He is already a bully and a bad influence on his younger sister, but I could never tell his parents it's their fault Mark does not behave. And soon, their daughter will follow his example and behave just as badly as Mark does.

I feel terrible that I don't want this child in my home, but it's like entertaining a miniature monster.

I don't want to lose Heather's friendship, but she and her husband need better parenting skills. Abby, how can I get this message across to her without alienating her? -- MIFFED AT MARK'S MOM

DEAR MIFFED: Mark wants attention, and he knows how to get it. Tell Heather that she has to discipline her son firmly now, or the boy could be in serious trouble later. Also, find out where and when parenting classes are available and offer her the list. Many colleges, hospitals and YMCAs offer them.

You will be doing your friend a favor, and if she's a real friend, she will thank you.

DEAR ABBY: I have been living with "Matt" for three years. He left his wife and two kids because the responsibility gave him no time to himself.

The problem is his ex-wife keeps after him to do things with his kids like he used to. His "kids" are 9 and 16 -- old enough to not need a lot of attention, don't you think? He loves them, but he doesn't have the time to see them on weekends, holidays or during the summer.

We lead a busy life. He just can't keep up with two families. If he spends time with my kids and his kids, that leaves no time for himself or for us.

He pays child support faithfully each month, but no one sees that as being a good father. What kind of response can we give people who ask why he never sees his kids or has them over? -- ALMOST NUMBER TWO

DEAR ALMOST: Don't try to defend the indefensible. Although Matt's child support payments are commendable, it takes far more than money to be a good father. His children need time with their dad, and it's not something that can be postponed because it's inconvenient.

Children's values are shaped by the example set by the adults in their lives. Their self-esteem rests on a foundation of knowing they are important to both parents -- regardless of whether or not they live under one roof.

I hope Matt will reconsider his attitude and reorganize his priorities.

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