Dear Prudence chats live with readers at Washingtonpost.com.

Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 12 2010 3:19 PM

The Family That Bathes Together

Prudie counsels a mother who wonders when the time is right to stop bathing with her little boy.

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Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. An edited transcript of this week's chat is below. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)

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A: My mail would indicate that many people who receive gifts think the thank-you note is passé. Which I think allows the gift giver to decide that as far as future gifts are concerned, you'll pass. You need to address this directly. Next time you speak to your niece, tell her you love picking out gifts she'll enjoy, but you feel irked when you don't get a thank you, because knowing she got the gift and enjoys it would mean a lot to you. She may throw a hissy and think you're a demanding old prune. In which case, think of the money you'll save on gifts.

Q. RE: Reporting Abuse: For a decade, I worked in a field that involved children and their families, and over that time I had to call protective services more than a dozen times. The first time I agonized for hours and cried before, during, and after that call because I was sure that I had destroyed an entire family. But that's just not the case. Social workers are not the boogey-men that TV movies make them out to be. I have never once had a call about abuse result in catastrophe. Instead, I have seen parents who needed a wake-up call receive the help they, and their children, needed. Sometimes it's just counseling, and other times a child does need to be removed for their own safety. But no matter what the outcome, calling for help from people who are there to provide it is a gift for a child who is in a bad situation. Don't be afraid to make the call if your gut tells you that child is in trouble.

A: Thank you for this. It's true there are overzealous people in the field, and wholly innocent parents have been caught up in misunderstandings. But far more often years of horrible abuse is inflicted on children because no one wanted to step up. You're so right that if someone is observing a situation in which a child is in danger or being treated terribly, that means it's time to make a call.

Q. Tired of Talking About It: I recently ended a yearlong serious relationship. We went through some tough times but were very close. However, when she cheated on me, that was the final straw and I ended the relationship. My friends are trying to be there for me, and I appreciate that, however, how do I get them to stop asking about how I'm doing, if I'm OK, etc. I'm not doing great, I'm heartbroken, and it's going to take a while to get over this. I don't want to alienate them, I just want to try and get my mind off of it when I'm with my friends. Tired of the same questions.

A: "Thanks for asking. I'm doing pretty well. Actually, I'm getting ready to start dating again." That should shift the conversation from well-meaning sympathy to "I think I've got someone for you."

Q. Thank-You Notes: While more old-fashioned folks still disapprove, I send thank-you e-mails as soon as a gift has arrived (and I open it immediately to make sure it's OK). At least among my circle, thank-you e-mails are acceptable nowadays.

A: One way to give value-added to an e-mailed thank you is to include a photo of the gift being worn, used, or displayed.

Emily Yoffe writes: Thanks everyone! Talk to you next week.

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*Correction, Oct. 12, 2010: Prudie originally and incorrectly asserted that comedian Irwin Corey had died. She was happy to hear that "the Professor," now 96, is still the world's foremost authority!

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