Q: My son got in trouble for fighting at school. My husband doesn't think it's a big deal -- in fact, I think he's proud of him for being tough. How do we resolve this?
Juli: Both you and your husband may have valid arguments. Your husband's desire to instill confidence and toughness and your desire to see compassion and respect do not have to contradict. Both are worthy parenting goals and both can be considered in how you respond.
Regardless of how the school is handling the incident, your goal as a parent is to train your son and to use this as an opportunity to teach lifelong character lessons like respect and self-control, and consequences for impulsive actions. The fight itself isn't as important as what your son needs to take away from the event.
With that in mind, you need to have an accurate account of what happened during the incident at school. This will probably involve talking to the principal, the teachers who witnessed the fight, and possibly even the parents of the other children involved. See if you can ascertain answers to the following questions: Was your son a victim who stood up for himself? Did he instigate the conflict? Was it an impulsive reaction to an insult, or was this conflict something that had been brewing for weeks?
Once you have an accurate understanding of what happened, you need to address two issues with your son. First, what did he do wrong? Even if the conflict was only 10 percent his fault, help him embrace responsibility. Even if it was reasonable for him to stand up for himself and fight back, choosing to do so comes with consequences to both him and to others. Part of "becoming a man" is accepting the consequences of his choices. The second issue is the question, "What can you do differently if something like this happens again?" Help him think about alternative ways of setting boundaries, asking for help, talking through conflicts, or standing up to bullies.
Q: Our toddler has become mobile, and it's killing our romance in the bedroom. My wife is often afraid that he'll barge in on us, although that has never actually happened. How can we prevent an interruption -- or at least convince my wife that it's not likely to happen?
Jim: Sex can be a challenge when you have kids at home. You never know who may be tiptoeing just outside the bedroom door! Most married couples probably have at least one time when, just as things are warming up, they hear a little voice in the hall: "Mommy! Daddy! Are you in there?"
There are a number of things you can do to keep the spark alive if you're in this stage of life. First, talk with your spouse about your expectations. As you know, women tend to be more fearful of being discovered by the kids. Spouses need to work together to create an environment that's comfortable for both parties.
Also, think of ways to avoid discovery. Can you put a lock on the bedroom door? Maybe you can dig out that old baby monitor and set it up as a sort of "early warning system."
Despite your best efforts, a surprise interruption may occur. If so, protect your son's innocence as much as possible. You and your wife might want to agree on a response beforehand, something like, "After all these years, we still love each other and sometimes get excited to spend time together."
Having kids doesn't mean saying farewell to marital intimacy. In fact, it's critical that you make time for sex during the child-rearing years. It's an important part of a healthy marriage.
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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