'Mama's boy' needs a friend

PARENT Q & A

February 06, 2000|By T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. | T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.,NEW YORK TIMES SPECIAL FEATURES

Q. Our 7-year-old son is having a problem going to first grade. He is a "Mama's boy." He will not walk to school with his 8-year-old sister, only with Mom. When he gets to school, he will not join the other children in line, so Mom waits with him and takes him to the door.

Once he gets into the classroom, he is fine. He gets 100s on spelling tests and participates in all activities.

How do we encourage him to enjoy going to school, being there before class starts and making friends?

A. I suggest you try to woo one friend for him -- one who is shy and sensitive like he is. Get the two of them together regularly and encourage them to develop a relationship. Entering a group will be easier for your son if he has a friend with him.

You should also prepare him each day for the separation from his mother and be supportive but firm about it. Maybe Dad could take him to school if he can separate more easily from him.

If your son is too clingy, other children will label him and shun him. So, get started; it's already late to be facing this issue.

Q. What is the best way to help our 3-year-old son make the transition from sleeping in Mom and Dad's bed to sleeping on his own? He has slept with us for some time now, but it is getting to the point where the three of us can no longer sleep comfortably together. Our son wakes up immediately if we get up to try to leave the room, and he cries until we come back.

He is becoming independent in other ways, but not when it comes to sleeping.

A. Learning to sleep alone is an autonomy issue for the child and a separation issue for the parents. You'd better settle your own issues first or he'll never learn to separate. Once you have made up your minds, start the weaning process step by step -- but don't expect him to like it after three years of co-sleeping.

Putting a cot next to your bed could be a first step. Get him his own security blanket or teddy bear to help him and use it day and night. Once he is comfortable in his own bed, you can try moving him to his own room.

Of course, he'll protest, but he will know whether or not you have made up your minds. You don't need to desert him all at once. Leaving him to cry it out doesn't serve any purpose. You can go to him to comfort him but be firm about your decision that he sleep alone.

When he finally can wean himself at each step, he'll be very proud of himself.

Q. For several months, my 2 1/2 -year-old grandson has been striking his 5-year-old sister, throwing toys at her and spitting on her. My daughter is against any form of physical discipline, and we support that decision. She also discourages our granddaughter from retaliating in any way, except to push her brother away.

There's no obvious reason for his behavior. The children are not pitted against each other with favoritism.

His sister's screams for help are escalating, and she is starting to sound very parental. He seems encouraged by her reactions, by any verbal discipline and by time-outs. What can we do?

A. It sounds as if you and your daughter are too involved in your grandchildren's perfectly natural sibling rivalry. Your granddaughter mustn't be prohibited from protecting herself. I would tell her it's OK to handle it in her own way, including leaving him alone, as long as she doesn't hurt him.

If everyone leaves the room when he starts his behavior, it will probably begin to die down. At present, he's getting all sorts of "rewards" by lashing out and teasing 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; Dr. Brazelton regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.

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