Eight-year-old needs some boundaries


November 07, 1999|By T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. | T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.,New york times special features

Q.We were told by another parent that our nearly 8-year-old son had stolen Pokemon cards -- and other parts of the game -- from their son. We knew he had the cards but thought that the other boy had accidentally traded them.

When faced with the other parent, our son admitted to taking only the cards. He returned them and apologized. My husband and I questioned him further. He admitted to taking everything and, although he knew it was wrong, said he thought it would be "less wrong" to take a few cards rather than a large number of cards.

Is it normal behavior to know right from wrong and do wrong? My son is obsessed with these cards, and, while my husband and I can relate to wanting something very badly, we obviously are concerned with his decision to steal and lie.

A. Stealing and lying are normal behaviors for a 5- or 6-year-old. They are usually the result of a child trying to make the world the way he wants it to be. Sometimes the child is also trying to identify with the person he's stolen from. At 8, such behaviors are less acceptable, and I, too, am concerned about your son's lack of boundaries.

You did the right thing by having him return the cards and apologize. The more serious aspect is that he couldn't share his feelings with you. It's important now to offer him times to talk about the incident and how badly he felt about it.

It would also be a good idea to help your son set a goal of working toward getting his own Pokemon cards. That way he'll see that there are other, acceptable ways of getting what one wants so badly.

Q. My son and his wife are expecting a baby boy. My son told me he would like to teach his child that he should work for all the things they will give him -- including toys.

Where do parents draw the line between gifts and earned items? Is there a negative effect to showering a child with gifts?

This will be my son's first child and the first grandchild on both sides. We'd appreciate your advice.

A. The best thing parents and grandparents can give a baby in the first few months is lots of loving attention. Gifts are not important, and they are sometimes just a substitute for this loving interaction. In fact, a first child and grandchild can be overwhelmed with too many toys and gifts. He can begin to feel they are his right, and that's not good.

Your son will be able to help his child develop a sense of responsibility -- but not until the boy is older. At around the age of 2 1/2 to 3, your grandson will be able to help with chores around the house, such as setting out dishes and cleaning his room. Then, his parents can introduce the ideas of being responsible and earning rewards.

Q. Will you please suggest a book that might help with divorce? I want to explain things to my 9-year-old granddaughter to help her through the change and sadness of missing her dad.

A. "The Divorce Handbook" by James Friedman (Random House, 1997) offers a lot of sound advice.

The main issues most children of divorce must deal with are:

* Abandonment: "If one parent moved out, will the other one go too?"

* Guilt and feelings of responsibility: "Was it my fault? If I had been a better kid, would everything have been OK?"

* A longing for the old family: "Can I do anything to get Mom and Dad back together?"

If your granddaughter's parents can stay friendly and help her deal with these issues, things will be a bit easier for her.

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, care of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.

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