- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 12, 2006

My 5-year-old has been sucking her thumb since she was 2 months old. The problem is that she likes to touch faces when she’s doing it. She will snuggle up to one of us, get cheek-to-cheek and touch us with the hand she is sucking. Her thumb-sucking doesn’t bother us, but having her touch our faces does. Any ideas?

A: Like most of today’s parents, you obviously don’t think you have permission, or the right, or whatever to tell your daughter simply and straightforwardly that a habit she has developed is a bother to you. Believe it or not, a young child is capable of hearing the truth about herself and certainly is not damaged by said truth as long as it’s stated in a way that does not imply there is something wrong with her.

In that regard, I’ll bet you have never said words of this sort to your daughter: “We don’t mind that you suck your thumb, but it’s very annoying to have you sit on one of our laps and touch our faces when you’re sucking your thumb. We’ve decided not to let you do that anymore. Also, we’ve decided that 5 years old is when you should begin sucking your thumb in private anyway. So from now on, when you want to suck your thumb, you need to go to your room and suck there until you’re done.”

Q: Our 12-year-old son is baby-sitting his two sisters, ages 8 and 3. We are not sure whether we should pay him and, if so, the amount, or if we should expect him to perform this service for free. In our neighborhood, other teenage sitters make $5 an hour.

A: Unless you plan to have a large family, your 12-year-old probably will have to baby-sit more siblings than any succeeding child, and the youngest will have no children to sit. In other words, you are asking something of the oldest that you will not ask, to the same degree, of the others. Therefore, I think it is appropriate to pay the oldest, but because you provide him with room and board and other trappings, I would reduce the “going rate” by half while providing for the possibility of performance-based annual raises.

Q: My just-turned-3-year-old son has an imaginary friend named Jonas, which I understand is fairly normal for this age. What worries me is that he would rather play with Jonas than do just about anything else. Should I be concerned?

A: Never in 35 years of counseling parents have I heard of an imaginary friend developing into a pathological obsession. These wraiths usually materialize between the second and third birthdays, hang around about a year and then disappear as suddenly and mysteriously as they appeared. They are associated with no adverse psychological condition, and children so blessed should be left alone to resolve these relationships as they see fit. Jonas is helping your son practice his social skills as well as exercising and strengthening his imagination. Besides, by keeping your son occupied for long periods of time, Jonas is your friend, too. Every parent should be so lucky.

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

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