A: Oh lovely, on a forced march to teach empathy, your daughter's teacher forces her to humiliate herself in front of her classmates. This teacher seems to have little understanding of the developmental stage that 6-year-olds are at, which is a serious failing for a first-grade teacher. Have the meeting, listen, then firmly explain from your perspective what happened. Say that nothing you've heard indicates your daughter deserved the kind of reprimand she received. One, she was hungry. As for the comment to the other student, that's the kind of thing 6-year-olds say, and the teacher could have quietly instructed your daughter that she was right about not blowing your nose on one's sleeve, but that telling other people they're being rude can hurt their feelings. See how it goes. If you're not satisfied, you should definitely ask for a meeting with the principal.
Q. Re: Black college student: Prudie, it might not be that far out of the question to consider that this is the first time that these white students have been around a black person, and part of what they're saying is out of just not knowing what to say, versus coming from a negative place. While it's a shame this may be the case, it is reality, and this young man is getting to be the standard bearer, so to speak, by being the first black person at his university. So perhaps even a humorous comment would be more appropriate, letting them gently know this is not really an acceptable response, without getting the dukes up—something like "Yeah, that'll work only if all white people are like you." (Of course, if the comment stated to him is not coming from this perspective, then the response, too, would be different.)
A: Even if these students have lived racially sheltered lives, maybe they've heard that the president of the United States is black. Maybe they've even heard him speak! Yes, keeping a sense of humor about social situations is a good thing. But this student should feel free to cut the racial commentary short. What I suggested is not belligerent, just direct.
Q. Husband's Awkward Interaction With Daughter: My husband and I have a 19-month-old daughter. My husband works a lot, and unfortunately doesn't get to spend a great deal of time with our daughter. The problem is that when he does come home, he rarely interacts with her. And his interaction with her consists almost entirely of tickling her and trying to "raspberry" her belly. Every day, that's his entire interaction with his daughter. I think he doesn't know any other way to interact with her, and he's entirely closed to my suggestions to read to her, play blocks, play with balls, etc. He just digs his fingers into her armpits and gives her beard burn on her belly for a few minutes and considers his fatherly duties done. Could you give me any suggestions for getting him to bury the tickle monster and truly interact with his child?
A: There are some parents, especially tired ones, who just aren't that great with babies and toddlers. For these parents (let's acknowledge they're often men) fatherhood really becomes interesting once their child is verbally responsive and able to interact more competently (i.e. run, kick a ball, understand a book). Do not denigrate the raspberries and the tickling. This kind of roughhousing, even if it's brief, is wonderful for kids and something fathers are particularly good at supplying. Maybe if you've got a group of young mothers you're friendly with, all of you could organize monthly family brunches. That way the fathers will get to know each other and the other kids. Then it might be easier to put together some father and child weekend outings to the playground—which would give the mothers a break. Your husband will get some lessons in interacting with little kids from the other dads. If things just never improve and your husband remains checked out, look for some parenting classes that you two could attend together.
Q. Homeless Man Hits On Stepdaughter: I have volunteered at the same soup kitchen on a weekly basis for the past eight years. I've become friends with several of the people who dine there regularly. This summer, my awesome stepdaughter Alicia started to volunteer with me when her schedule permitted. One of the "regulars," Joe, has taken an interest in Alicia. He hovers near the serving line when she's present and tries to flirt with her. Alicia confided in my last night that once, when she went into a back office, Joe followed her and tried to touch her hair. I'm very uncomfortable with Joe's behavior to Alicia, and if she's to continue volunteering here, it needs to change. The issue is, the director of the soup kitchen is very sensitive to what she perceives to be "prejudice" against homeless people or people who use the soup kitchen. In the past, clients have made other volunteers uncomfortable, and she has always pushed the volunteer to examine why the client makes them uncomfortable. I worry if I explain the situation to her she'll dismiss Alicia's discomfort and side with Joe. I'd like to continue volunteering here, but my stepdaughter comes first. What should I say?
A: Don't tell me the director of the soup kitchen is also a first-grade teacher. It does absolutely no good for people with serious social problems not to be told that there are standards of behavior at the soup kitchen—and elsewhere. Joe is unlikely to learn to function in society if the director thinks it's just fine for him to touch the volunteers. I would urge your stepdaughter to volunteer her time elsewhere—she might not be safe at this soup kitchen. Whether you want to continue, or find someplace else that takes a more holistic approach to helping people, is up to you.
Q. Re: "Intolerant" children: I'd be VERY tempted to tell the teacher that special-ed kids are not there to serve as empathy-inducing zoo animals. OMFG.
A: I know what you mean. But the parents have to handle this delicately because this teacher can make life miserable for students she deems "unempathetic."
Q. Parent's Table Manners: My parents are both in their early 60s and highly educated professionals (though now retired), however, they have some of what I would consider the worst table manners and social habits. My dad thinks nothing of pulling out a very dirty and used handkerchief at the table (both at home and at restaurants), while my mother will vigorously brush her hair at the same said table. Both of the them have been known to go out to eat in dirty, stained work clothes, because they “don't have anyone to impress.” I try to tell them it's not about impressing people, it's about hygiene. None of these are new habits, so it's not like they are letting themselves go in retirement. Am I overreacting to think these are revolting, or is there some way to tactfully approach them about these?
A: I agree their table manners sounds revolting. But your chances of changing them sound nil. Either go out with them and try to turn a blind eye. Or when you get together say that you'd rather get carryout because it's so much more relaxing to eat at home.
Emily Yoffe: Thank you everyone. And I will be here to chat next Monday on Christmas Eve.
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