- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2008

Our 17-year-old son doesn’t want to go to college because he hates school, says nothing interests him and argues that going would be a waste of our money. He plans to get a job instead. How should we handle this if he still hasn’t changed his mind by the time he graduates from high school?

A: In the first place, college is not for everyone. In the second place, most community colleges are full of older folks who didn’t go to college right out of high school but belatedly realized that a college degree is the ticket to a better life. At this point, you might suggest to your son that he look into career opportunities through the military, but it’s probably fruitless of you to try to change his mind.

If I were in your shoes, however, I would tell your son that you intended to support him through college until he was employed, but because he’s skipping college, he will need to get a job and begin supporting himself. If anything is going to open his eyes to the advantages of continuing his education beyond high school, emancipation will. He’s certainly not going to come to that realization if you support his decision economically.

Q: Our 3-year-old son is very tall and strong for his age. When he tries to “play” with his 10-month-old sister, he often ends up on top of her, putting her in a bear hug or head-butting her. As a result, she ends up crying, and we become upset.

I don’t think he’s actually trying to hurt her, but I don’t know how to explain to him that he’s playing too rough with her. Is there a solution to this, or am I just going to have to wait it out?

A: I disagree with you. Your son knows he’s hurting his sister. He might not have known at first, but let me assure you that he’s old enough to understand after she has cried on several occasions and you have pointed it out.

I would strongly encourage you to put an end to this as quickly as possible. To do so, you’re going to need to stop making excuses for him, stop explaining and treat this as a discipline problem. The good news is, you don’t need to actually punish your son to get this to stop. Simply forbid him from being in the same room with his sister for a period of at least two weeks.

If she’s in a particular room, he has to find somewhere else to play. The imposition of a complete quarantine, along with the clear message, “You can’t be with her because you make her cry,” will greatly increase your son’s desire to be close to his sister.

In the meantime, he’s going to figure out that if he wants to enjoy that privilege, he has to “be nice” to her. In my experience — I’ve recommended this same approach many, many times — two weeks is all it takes to put this problem to rest.

Q: My 4-year-old son has taken to chewing the sleeves of his shirts near the wrist. What’s the best way to deal with this so that he does not ruin his shirts?

A: “Nervous habits” — the generic term for behaviors of this sort — are not all that unusual at this age. They usually run their natural course if people don’t pay attention to them. In other words, for him to take his mind off chewing his sleeves, you have to take your mind off it as well. The most obvious way to accomplish both of those objectives is to let him wear only short-sleeved shirts for the next few months.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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