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Baggage Check: A problem-child problem

By Andrea Bonior
Andrea Bonior
Andrea Bonior (that's BONN-yer!) is a licensed clinical psychologist, professor, and writer. She completed her M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology focusing on individual and group psychotherapy for young adults and specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders and depression.

Q: I am seeing some signs of aggression in my 4-year-old that worry me. His father has had anger issues (we are no longer together), and I wonder if it is too early to start worrying about this? Some of my friends say I am overreacting, but they don’t see what I see and I wonder if they’re just being nice.

You might be overreacting; it’s hard to know. Some kids go through developmentally normal pushy phases that soon work themselves out; other times, today’s preschool shoving turns into tomorrow’s out-of-control punching.

But the penalty for overreacting is a lot milder than the penalty for under-reacting when it comes to aggressive and perhaps violent behavior in young children. Talk with his pediatrician out of his earshot and get the name of a behavioral specialist – hopefully a psychologist – with whom you can get a consult.

But don’t view your child’s genetics as destiny. The way you raise him (and that, of course, includes how you let his father influence his life) will likely be far more important than his DNA in terms of his behavior.

Q: My mother is emotionally unstable, has suffered from depression and alcoholism, and has a hard time drawing boundaries. She is way too quick with an opinion about my husband’s job search, when we should have kids, how we should decorate our home, everything you can think of. She stops by all the time. It’s gotten to the point that my husband wants to move. I can recognize his frustration, but I also think she would lose it if we left her. Both my siblings live out West.

It sounds like you can understand your husband’s perspective, and you might want to get away yourself but feel guilty about that. But what’s the history here, and where’s the middle ground? Have you ever tried drawing more boundaries where you are? Have you tried to get her into treatment, or better treatment?

This isn’t about geography; it’s about whether you’re willing to prioritize your marriage and stand up for your partner – and how you plan to handle a parent who’s not well. Talk with him about what changes you are willing to make to stand up to her. Here. Now. And if you can’t do it, then be willing to get help in trying.

Andrea Bonior is a clinical psychologist and the author of “The Friendship Fix.” www.drandreabonior.com.
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