Hax: Teach child how to problem-solve

The Washington PostJune 15, 2013 

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Carolyn: My brother-in-law of 20 years has all the symptoms of workaholism. Despite her pleas for him to be more available to her, he continues to spend 14-hour days at the office, seven days a week. He's in denial, and my sister, his wife, seems to finally have had enough.

She's starting to pull away - losing her extra weight, dressing sexy, going out with friends for drinks and flirting with guys at work.

I love both of them very much and want them to be happy together. Is there anything a concerned older sister can do to get them to seek professional help?

WORKAHOLISM

No, because: (1) Unless you're summoned, it's not your place to get involved; (2) You have an agenda, apparently. You want them to be happy together. To be a good helper in any situation, I think you need to bring no other allegiance except to the best outcome for those directly involved.

That said, if your agenda is out in the open, then you do get one chance to butt in: "I can see you pulling away, and for my own selfish reasons I hope you'll get into marriage counseling before there's no going back." This goes down a lot better with a chaser: "It's your life and I just want you to be happy, so I'll stay out of it."

Carolyn: My second-grade son was upset yesterday because his best friend told him to toughen up (my son was crying over something) and also told him he was not one of his best friends anymore. What do I say to my son?

PARENT

Next time - since they're both probably over this already - it's hard to go wrong with a 1-2 plan of acknowledging his feelings - "I can see you're really upset, I'm sorry," plus hug - and directing him to come to his own way of dealing with it: "What do you think you can do about it?" It's important to walk the line between validating his feelings and - please - not living and dying with his every social bruise. He also needs to develop his own problem-solving skills.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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