Birth order and parents

Parent Q&A

November 08, 1998|By T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. | T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.,NEW YORK TIMES SPECIAL FEATURES

Q.Some time ago I read that the parents' birth order may affect how they relate to their children. For example, a second-born parent may favor the second-born child and be harder on the firstborn if they felt their firstborn sibling had received priority treatment.

Our son and daughter-in-law are due to have their second child in a few months. They are both second-born, and I am concerned about how their firstborn child will fare.

A.There is likely to be some truth in that theory. However, I don't think that you, as a grandparent, can change it.

The most helpful thing you can do is to suggest that it is likely to occur - and then never mention it again. Criticism from you might work the wrong way.

Q. My 5-year-old son has developed a bad habit: He has been urinating in just about any place but the toilet.

He has been potty-trained since he was 3, but in the last three months or so he has been urinating outside, in the bathtub, in the corner of his room.

We've tried the subtle approach: "Sometimes we make mistakes, but we must always go potty in the toilet." We've tried: "You must clean it up." And we've asked him why he does it. ("I don't know" was the response.)

I am a stay-at-home mom. My husband has gone through two major job changes within eight months. A great deal of stress came with these job changes, but we worked very hard to keep things on an even keel around our son. However, I am sure that at some level he picked up on our stress.

How can we help our son?

A.Treat it as a "touchpoint," or a cry for help. You clearly are very sophisticated in seeing this behavior as your son's way of expressing anxiety or rebellion. Talk to him about it at quiet times - not when he's just acted out. Let him know that you see that he wants to be independent.

For now, you can agree that urinating outside or in the bathtub is OK, but you (and he) know that the corner of his room is not. Would he like a potty for his room? Or would he like pull-ups or diapers again so he doesn't have to feel so pressured?

See whether he can share his feelings with you. Then, you'll really have a chance to help him.

Pub Date: 11/08/98

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