Q&A
JUL19, 2010

DEAR SUSAN,

My 14-year-old son has always had a hard time concentrating in school. He denies upcoming tests and having homework, but when I speak to his teachers I get a different story. I know he can focus when he really cares about something, but he never seems to care about schoolwork. How can I tell if he's just being lazy or if the curriculum is at fault?



DEAR READER,

The real question is what could you, and the school do, to help your son feel more engaged? Most young people are not naturally lazy- they may have stopped trying because they've experienced too much failure, or they may be depressed, or they may suffer from an underlying problem with attention. So, the first step is to figure out what you think is causing your son's lack of effort and involvement with school. Why not begin by thinking about the stiuations and activities where your son has tried really hard, and cared a lot about what he was doing? Can you bring any of that into his life at school now? Engagement during adolescence is essential, and it falls to parents and teachers to work together to help kids find things they care about and want to excel at. Effort is often contagious. So is success. Once your son is deeply involved in something it may be easier to get him to make an effort at other things. Another piece of this puzzle is finding a way to work with his teachers, rather than against them. Often parents and teachers feel like adversaries. But if you can remind one another that you have a shared interest in helping your son thrive, you will all benefit from the exchange.




JUL17, 2010

DEAR SUSAN,

My six year-old son is a very picky eater. It almost seems like he cannot bear certain foods- he looks like he might gag when they even get close to his mouth. But I've noticed in the last year his likes and dislikes have gotten more extreme. I feel like it's really important not to encourage such rigid behavior, and I think he should at least try new foods. Is it okay to insist he take a bite of everything on his plate?



DEAR READER,

Well, recent research suggests that some people are born with more sensitive taste buds than others. He may actually be repulsed by certain textures, smells and flavors. But more importantly, why would you want to make food into a battle ground? It's virtually impossible for a child who has regular access to good food to starve themselves. As long as you make a range of foods available to him, why try to control what he eats? You run the risk of making food into a loaded issue, instead of a happy and healthy part of his life. If I were you, I'd do the opposite. I'd never discuss what he eats or how much. Just set out good food at each meal, including at least one thing you think he likes and will eat. But pay no attention to how much he eats, or whether he tries anything new.Try it for three months and see what happens. As long as he is not losing weight, or only eating sugar (which could only happen if that's what you serve at meals) he's bound to be fine. Save your battles for something else.




MAY11, 2010

DEAR SUSAN,

I'm due to have my first child in four months and have been reading Parenting books non-stop for the last five. I feel like every book says something different and I'm getting worried that when the baby come's I'll be too confused to do the right thing. What's the best way to prepare for the arrival of a baby?



DEAR READER,

Great question. Naturally I believe that there's no such thing as too much knowledge. The question is, what kind? There are very few wrong things you can do as a parent, provided you make your baby safe, you love him or her, and you enjoy being a parent. As you will see from my book, Red Flags or Red Herrings, one of the best guides to parenting is....your child! What does she like? What soothes him? What does he find interesting? The other thing you can do, but only if it's interesting and helpful to you, is to learn about how babies develop. Instead of seeking advice (like this page) seek understanding about children- how they think, what influences shape their development, and what they experience at different stages of growth. But the most important advice I can give to a new parent is to enjoy your new child, and to remember that being a parent isn't a job- it's a relationship.






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