Dear Care and Feeding,
Our 12-year-old plays video games, with Fortnite taking about 80 percent of his gaming time (which we limit). He gets so enraged at the game, foot-stomping and screaming, and is generally unpleasant for five to 10 minutes after each session. I get the frustration, but in our small house his feelings take up considerable energy. Is this typical? Do you have tips for mellowing him? These events usually end with me calmly taking the controllers and his headset and stashing them away, but of course I desperately want to throw them in the trash. Where should I go from here?
Dear Fortnite Blues,
It’s time for a sit-down! Handling it in the moment by taking away the game is fine and good, but he’s still in the heat of the moment and not necessarily, you know, processing lasting memories and improving his judgment.
So, I want you to choose a quiet time to sit down with him and your partner, if you have one, and basically lay it out there: You act a damn fool playing Fortnite; you can’t scream and freak out in our home over video games; we cannot continue in this fashion.
Twelve-year-olds are so angry and hormonal! I do have sympathy for him. He needs to learn that not being able to control his temper has consequences, because this is an intensely valuable life lesson.
In this conversation, tell him the next time he creates a small trash fire over Fortnite, not only does Fortnite go away, but for the next week his video game time gets cut by x amount. You’ll know best what will create a balance between “means nothing to him” and “will cause open rebellion because it’s too unreasonable.”
I wish you all the very best.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I have been lucky to get to stay home with our son for his first year. I’ll be going back to work in three months. My new job is in a different city and we’ll be moving right before I start. We decided to work on getting our son used to day care with just a few hours a week at a drop-in facility.
We’ve tried three times now, for one to three hours at a time. He does not handle it well. He won’t eat or take a bottle and is always crying when I pick him up. The facility calls and tells me he’s not doing well and nothing they try calms him down.
My spouse and I disagree about the best way to proceed. He thinks we should keep trying with this facility to get our son used to the idea of day care. I think it is pointless since he won’t be attending this particular day care. I think it will be better to spend the time and tears on a day care that he will be attending long term.
—Cry Now or Cry Later?
Dear Cry Now or Cry Later,
Cry later. Take a break from day care now. Three months is an eternity to him, and will be a good reset button for trying at a new facility.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My family just moved from the West Coast to the East Coast and bought a nice little house. My challenge is with the folks who live across the street from us. They yell at their kids, a lot, and it is really mean-spirited and over the top. They also yell at other neighborhood kids, although mine have so far been spared. Their 10-year-old daughter has become friends with my two kids and I am happy to have her over or watch them all play together outside. The invite is never returned and I am OK with that, given the yelling.
Recently I went into the house to do a load of dishes while the kids were all playing in the backyard. I can see and hear them from the window over the sink. The neighbor’s child caught a chipmunk, and before I could go outside to intervene, she was bitten, and it was a deep bite. I work at a health clinic nearby and know that chipmunk bites can be especially prone to infection, and I have seen a bite turn necrotic. So I walked the child back over to her parents, told them about the bite, and suggested that they take her in to see a doctor ASAP. They slammed the door in my face without a word and started screaming at their child. Then they grounded her from playing with my kids, “forever,” because, and this is a direct quote from their 10-year-old, I am “a nosy bitch.”
What do I do in this situation!? I did let the school nurse know about the bite because I was worried they would not actually take her in to the doctor and thought someone should check in. But beyond that, what do I do? My kids are feeling hurt, I am feeling hurt and angry, this poor kid may not be getting needed medical attention, and we still have to live across the street from these folks. I need advice.
—Baby Chipmunks Bite
Dear Baby Chipmunk Bite,
This is a subject very close to my heart because our house is currently under invasion by a nest of baby chipmunks that my friendly dog allows into the house to be her little friends. (Our mean cat also allows them in to slowly torture them, and her minor back deck privileges have been revoked as a result.) One died in my duvet cover. It’s been a real journey.
You have handled this superbly. I think speaking to the school nurse (a dying breed, sadly) is the smartest and most useful thing to do, under the circumstances. This is a truly awful sounding family, and my advice would be to pretend they do not exist (until they invariably do something requiring some form of state intervention), but I do want you to be a soft landing place for their daughter when her horrible parents decide she’s less of a bother if she can come over and play with your kids. I doubt she’ll be “grounded” from your family forever, and I would like you to be as welcoming and normal as possible when that happens. You can’t do much, but you can model normal, respectful, safe family life, and that may be the best possible thing you can do to help.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My kids are of the age where we often invite one friend or another to do things with us, like take them to a movie or an amusement park or a museum. When I invite another kid, he is our guest and I pay for him same as I would my own kids—the cost of entry, a meal/treat/snack, a small souvenir, etc.
Many of these kids are also sent with money of their own. We often run into something like this: We arrive at the movies a few minutes early. I give each kid a dollar to play arcade games. I look up three minutes later and the guest kid is $20 deep in a new arcade card. Or, we are at the aquarium. It is 11:30 in the morning and the kids want ice cream. I say that we are about to leave and go for pizza for lunch. The guest says, “I have money of my own. I am going to buy an ice cream.” I had an extra kid at Little League last week, and while ostensibly going to the bathroom, he bought four Gatorades. Not clear why—I think he just liked having cash on him.
What’s the etiquette here? When I send my own kids off with friend’s parents, I give them cash with explicit instructions: “This is so you have it in case of an emergency or if their mom seems to expect you to pay for yourself. This is not to buy yourself special things. When you are with another family, you go along with what their family does.” How do I manage other kids? Can I say, “I know your parents gave you money, but you’re not playing video games/buying an ice cream/buying a souvenir”?
Dear Arcade Fire,
I’m amazed by anyone willing to take other people’s children to anything, frankly. How lovely of you. The situations you describe are actually very different and require different responses in the moment. In the arcade situation, you tell them exactly how much time they can spend at the arcade, and when it’s time to go, it is immaterial how much money is on that card. It’s their money; they can spend it. If you are saying, “No ice cream. We’re getting lunch,” and a kid says, “Well, I have my own money, and I want an ice cream,” I think you can reply, “That would be rude to the rest of us, so no.” If a kid has his own money and wants to buy a souvenir, that’s fine.
I think the issue is that your system and set of values here are your own, and it’s far from universal, and butting up against the reality of other families can be very disconcerting. You are giving your children appropriate instructions for when they go to events hosted by others, but you should cease feeling surprised when other kids have different backgrounds and attitudes toward spending cash. Step in if a kid who is not yours wants to make a purchase that would actively alienate the other children, but otherwise, roll with it.
More advice from Slate
I have a daughter from a previous marriage who is now 10 and a 4-year-old daughter with my husband. Every year, his parents and other extended family acknowledge my younger daughter’s birthday. Last year on her birthday, when an aunt asked for our address so that she could send money, I requested that she not send anything because our children are noticing and it causes hurt feelings. We requested they treat the girls the same because they are sisters. She promised to include my oldest. Well, that didn’t happen. Again, we are sent a card and money for our younger and my older had received nothing. What do I do?