Q: My siblings and I want to give our mom a nice Mother's Day. But we want to do something more creative than just taking her to lunch. Do you have any suggestions?
Jim: I'd take the opportunity to just talk to her. Tell her why you love her and what you appreciate about her. For some reason, that's hard to do, even with those closest to us. We often take the people we love for granted.
One day, when I was 7, I felt especially lonely. My dad was out of the picture, and my mom was at work. My older siblings were home, but busy with their own activities. So I moped around the house, loudly exclaiming, "Nobody loves me!" Much to my dismay, no one wanted to join in my pity party.
So I packed a sweater and a snack and eventually ended up at the restaurant where Mom was working. I walked up to her and said, "Mom, nobody loves me!" She was stuck with a customer, so she told me to go sit in her car. I ate my snack in the front seat and fell asleep.
The next thing I knew, Mom was gently tucking me into my bed at home. Despite my whining earlier in the day, I felt very loved, and very safe, in that moment.
I wish I could share this story with Mom today. But she passed away many years ago. There's nothing wrong with dinner or flowers on Mother's Day. But if you can recall stories from childhood that convey how much you felt loved by your mom, that will likely be the best gift she could possibly receive. Give it a try!
Q: My adolescent daughter frequently hits her siblings. She is the oldest child. I am at a loss as to what the best consequence is for this type of behavior. Where do I begin?
Juli: This is obviously behavior that you don't want to tolerate in your home. When an older child hits younger siblings, it's called bullying and should be treated that way.
Often parents treat all bad behavior with the same response. They punish their kids identically whether they spill the milk, forget to make their bed or tell a lie. The problem with this approach is that children are not able to distinguish between behaviors that are merely annoying and those that are completely unacceptable.
Hitting her younger siblings should be treated as a very serious violation of family rules. I recommend that you and your spouse sit down with your daughter, state clearly that you will not allow her to hit her younger siblings and spell out the way you expect her to behave as the oldest child. Let her know what consequence she can expect if she does it again. Make the consequences painful, like, "You will be grounded from everything but school for a week."
As firm as you should be in setting your expectations and enforcing consequences, also give your daughter the opportunity to share with you why she is hitting her siblings. Younger children can very skillfully needle their older siblings and act like innocent victims in the process. For example, they may be reading her journal or teasing her about her acne. Perhaps you need to respect your daughter's growing independence by making her room off-limits to siblings, or giving her unique privileges that she can earn through responsible behavior.
One final note ... until things settle down, don't give in to the convenience of letting your adolescent daughter baby-sit her siblings, even for 10 minutes. Free baby-sitting isn't worth adding fuel to the fire.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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