Ask Your Family Therapist

Ask Your Family Therapist

By Terry J. Basile, Marriage and Family Therapist

Welcome back to the parenting question and answer column for Growing Up Chico Magazine. Here, you get to ask those special questions that are in the back of your mind that you might be reluctant to ask a friend or relative. Or perhaps you would like information on dealing with inappropriate behavior, school problems or sibling conflict. I guarantee that your question will help many other parents. My answers are based on my experience as a mother and my work for over 35 years as a therapist for children and families. Please send your questions to: and the most interesting question received will win a copy of my book Let’s Color Your Feelings! Remember we keep your name and personal information confidential. I wish you a great summer with your children. Remember to keep activities simple, and make learning fun and you will create great family memories.

How can I get my eight year old son to stop whining when I ask him to do chores?
First let’s relax and acknowledge that he is normal!

Then let’s examine what you want from this experience of his helping. Is it to teach him to contribute to the family, or because you really need the help, or both? If you want to teach responsibility, give him a short list of potential chores and then discuss what he would like to do. My young son loved to vacuum. He was so proud when he was done. As a working mom, I appreciated that the living room rug had at least the first layer of dirt removed and when I had more time I could go back over it. So pick something he might like, or a challenge he might enjoy. Do not expect him to do as good a job as you would. If you are overwhelmed by the housecleaning responsibilities in your home, you need to get more organized or settle for a different standard of clean. It is not your child’s job to pick up the slack.

Often kids do like to help, so encourage that with lots of “I really appreciate your help. Thanks.” Understand that most children will need you to do it with them or at least be in the room. Sending him off to do chores on his own can be overwhelming, so whining can be his way of diverting your attention away from a task at which he thinks he will fail. If you can, pick a regular time each week for chores and limit distractions during that time.

Use your imagination. Since play really is a child’s job, make chores more fun by having a reward. You can say, “Once you are done with your chore, you can pick out a game we can play before dinner.” You might also decorate some cleaning tools with stickers and set them aside for him. He could even name them something funny (Bob the Broom) and they could be his work crew. You can make it a game with a wheel of chores and a spinner. Then a timer would be set for the longest time available to complete the chore.
Can older kids experience separation anxiety? Is it normal and how should parents deal with it?
Separation anxiety is usual in children up to age six. Beyond that, it is less common, but does arise when there are changes in the environment that has led to increased stress for your child. For example, changing schools, moving, or a divorce could lead your child to be clingier and less interested in leaving the house. Calmly listen to your child’s fears and acknowledge that you understand. Discuss alternatives that might help and let her pick one to start. Make a plan and praise her for any attempts to be more independent. For example, having Grandma drop them off at the new school might be less stressful. Or invite new neighbors to your house so the child may make new friends on her own terms.

A loss, such as the death of a family member or a divorce can lead to some regression for children and they may need more affection and attention than normal. Pay attention to your own stress and know that children often act out when they feel that we are distracted or emotionally unavailable.

If your child develops life altering specific phobias, panic attacks, social phobia, general anxiety throughout the day, or frequent physical complaints, she should be seen for a further assessment by your pediatrician, school counselor, or a family therapist.

What advice do you have for helping my older child accept that I have different expectations of him than his toddler sibling?
Sometimes it really is hard to see the benefits of being the older child. Let’s face it, toddlers rule the house. Just keeping them safe is a full time job. I am sure that your older child has had to give up some freedom and your attention since the arrival of the little one. This is just part of a growing family life.

I do think that what your child cannot see is all that he can do that his younger sibling cannot. So start by reminding him when this happens. “How great it is that you are going to the movies? I bet your baby sister wishes she could go.” Share stories about when he was a toddler to encourage some empathy for his sibling’s small world. Be sure that you have some clear ways that you treat your older child differently. It should be clear that he has earned some special privileges for being the older child. For example, set a later bedtime for him, give more choices for activities and create regular “dates” with adults doing an activity he likes. Make him special and remind him how important he is to you and the whole family.

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