Bedtime worries of 12-year-old may indicate deeper concerns


November 11, 2001|By T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. | T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.,NEW YORK TIMES SPECIAL FEATURES

Q. My 12-year-old son has a problem getting to bed at night. He worries about being in middle school and not doing as well as he thinks he should. He always sees the worst scenario. He realizes this but cannot seem to break the cycle.

How can we help him to help himself break the cycle and get to bed?

A. Is this difficulty in separation at night a symptom of deeper concerns? Today, after the World Trade Center tragedy, many children have added another layer to their fears and concerns about separating. This needs to be shared with them and recognized as part of their reaction to such a frightening and unexplainable threat to all of us.

As you describe your son's issue, I would worry a bit about his perfectionism and his overloaded expectations for himself. If he cannot be reassured and supported enough to let up on this, it may be a signal to seek help for him and for you. You may need to reduce your own expectations of him and let up on any pressure to which he may be responding.

Q. I read the letter from the involved grandma of the 15-month-old boy whose daughter-in-law "resented" the fun times she shared with her grandson as part of their child-care arrangement. I felt your reply was much too understanding of the daughter-in-law's feelings and overlooked the wonderful benefits such attention brings this boy.

My mother passed away in 1987. I will never know the quality of grandma she would have been. My dad's lady friend never had any grandchildren of her own and never sincerely embraced those of my dad. Now she is very ill, and he spends every moment caring for her, to the virtual exclusion of his kids and grandkids.

My husband's parents seem to dote only on their two oldest grandchildren, now teen-agers. My husband's sister does not have a close relationship with our 5-year-old son, and our other siblings are either geographically remote or unable to be very involved due to illness. Thus, our darling boy is growing up without any meaningful family connections at all.

I know how wonderful it is to be loved by someone other than Mom or Dad. I had a set of grandparents and an aunt and uncle who made every effort to be a big part of my life.

I hope this letter gives the resentful couple a huge wake-up call. To them, I say: Call your parents and apologize for your jealousy and beg them to continue this wonderful relationship they are building with your son.

Please tell your readers what a blessing an engaged extended family is and remind those who complain how lucky they are to have a network of sharing and caring family members.

A. What a wonderful wake- up call! You are absolutely right. We should all be grateful for the close relationships we have. Of course, those grateful feelings are likely to be mixed with what I call "gatekeeping." When two adults are passionately in love with the same child, there is bound to be competition for that child and competitive feelings toward the other adult. Such feelings can be healthy and valuable -- as long as they don't interfere with the opportunities for the child to develop caring relationships with those around him.

I suggest that parents and other caregivers who might get locked in such competition bring it out in the open and discuss it. Then they have a better chance of handling it. The goal is to make a team of caring adults who will love and support the child.

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, NY 10168. Questions may also be sent by e-mail to: Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Dr. Brazelton regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.

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