Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole


DEAR HARRIETTE: I had a run-in with my brother-in-law during the holidays. I brought friends over to visit after Christmas dinner, which I cleared with my sister. But I guess she didn't tell him. So when they were hanging out in the house, he came in and had major attitude. He wanted to know who they were and what they were doing there. He tends to be kind of gruff.

In the end, everybody had a good time, but it was awkward at first. He was so rude, and I didn't know how to shield my friends. What should I have done? -- In the Middle, Kansas City, Mo.

DEAR IN THE MIDDLE: You cleared the visit with your sister, which is exactly what you should have done. But you also could have verified with her that your brother-in-law knew about the visit.

In the moment, the best you could have done would be to introduce your friends to your brother-in-law and thank him for welcoming them to his home. Sometimes such an expression of gratitude can squelch bad behavior because it can be a neutralizer.

Outside of that, I assume you spoke to your sister about the situation. She should be informed so that she can help manage such a situation if it comes up in the future.

DEAR HARRIETTE: We exchanged presents at Christmas with all of the children in the family, and mostly the kids were happy about their gifts. One cousin, however, was not pleased with his gift and made it known to everyone. He went so far as to say that we don't need to give him anything if it can't be better than what he got.

This kid is so spoiled. He is an only child, and before he ever gets to the family gathering, he has a huge Christmas at his house with every kind of present imaginable. I think it's horrible that he then comes to our much more modest gathering and has the nerve to complain.

As one of the parents, I'm wondering what I can do to help manage this situation. He makes all the other kids feel bad, and I don't think that's fair. -- Worried Auntie, Cincinnati

DEAR WORRIED AUNTIE: Tell the boy's parents about your concerns. Remind them of the family tradition, and point out that this year their son was disparaging about the gift he received. Tell them that the intention is simply for the children to share with one another, not evaluate the gift. Ask them to help him understand that.

Further, speak to the child directly. I believe in collective parenting, in the sense that adults should be able to correct young family members on the spot. For example, if you heard the child saying something mean about the gift, you could have immediately said, "That wasn't kind. Be grateful for the gift and leave it at that."