Ask Amy: A newly minted ‘big brother’ acts up at home

May 19, 2012

DEAR AMY: I am a young mother of two kids. My son is 5 and my daughter is a month old.

I have tried very hard to balance my time and attention between my kids. I even take special time aside for my son with just the two of us, but he still acts up. He argues with me and frequently doesn’t listen to what he is told to do.

My son did not act up like this before my daughter was born. I know he is 5 and adjusting to having a new sibling, but do you have any tips on how to give him the attention he needs so he won’t act out as much? -- New Mom

DEAR MOM: You and your son are both adjusting to this new baby. Just now, give him lots of positive reinforcement, reasonable limits and little “jobs” to do so that he can feel in charge and important.

Now that spring is here, playing on a peewee soccer team or trying T-ball might give him an opportunity to get out his wiggles and give you an excuse to cheer him on.

Catch him being “good” more often than you correct him. Don’t insist that he “love” the baby all the time, but do insist that he be respectful and careful around her.

When he’s naughty, saying, “Honey, I don’t like that, so I’m waiting patiently until you settle down” will put him on notice that you see what he’s doing, you’re not happy about it, but that it’s not going to rile you.

I recommend the book, “I’m a Big Brother,” by Joanna Cole (2010 HarperFestival) for you and your son to read together.

This charming book is for big brothers, but it also contains suggestions for parents. Among the author’s tips is a great one: Try to give yourself a break, too.

DEAR AMY: I am living at home while attending college. For the past year or so, I have noticed that my brother (now 15) has been smoking pot and drinking alcohol. I have tried to tell my mom on several occasions, but usually chickened out because I realize the consequences this could have for him.

However, this morning he came home high and immediately fell asleep, on the floor, for several hours. I told my mother to smell his clothes, and she said she would drug test him.

We have a five-year age difference, and a tumultuous relationship fraught with bickering and general dislike. I now feel bad about telling my mother. I feel like a tattletale. I smoked pot intermittently for a while in high school, so it’s not like I’m totally innocent (although I did it discreetly, infrequently and in moderation).

How should I progress? Did I do the right thing? -- Troubled Older Sister

DEAR TROUBLED: Examine your motivation. Did you tattle in order to get your brother in trouble?

If so, that didn’t seem to work, because your mother seems half-asleep at the wheel herself, either because she is overwhelmed, ignorant or in denial.

You seem worried about your brother, and for good reason. His behavior goes beyond the experimenting stage and you are in a position to understand this and to do whatever you can to try to help him.

Do your utmost to urge your mother to get help for him. Her choice to drug test him won’t mean much if she doesn’t have a strategy for what to do next.

Check at your college to see if there is a counselor who might be a good fit for him. Marijuana and alcohol are depressants and could be a mask (or an attempt at a remedy) for an underlying problem.

DEAR AMY: “Torn” wondered if she should break up with her boyfriend now or in three months, when he is moving to another city.

I liked your admonition that there is no real guarantee that a breakup will be easy or go smoothly, no matter when it happens.

Sometimes you just have to rip that bandage off and put up with the howls. -- Been There

DEAR BEEN THERE: If breakups were easy, then everyone would do it well.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2012 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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