Expert Answers to Parenting Questions

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    Q: Our 16-year-old daughter has a very large chest. It’s getting in the way of her quality of life when it comes to feeling comfortable in clothes and fitting in with her peers. She’s at a healthy weight. Should we even talk about breast reduction?

    A: We all want our kids to develop a strong, positive sense about who they are, including how they look and feel. Unfortunately, adolescents are constantly comparing their own looks with the appearance of peers and celebrities.

    On one hand, we want them to feel good about themselves as they are. At the same time, we don’t want to minimize their feelings, which can be very strong. Begin by empathizing with her—how awful it feels to not “fit in” and to perceive yourself as being different from others. Help her understand that everyone feels this way about something. Then, look for ways to build her self-esteem.

    Focus on her achievements and positive attributes as often as possible. Talk with her about what you and others like about her; help her identify what she likes about herself. Help her to accept herself as she is by focusing on the parts of her body she does like and dressing to emphasize that. Have her clothes altered if necessary for a proper fit.

    In terms of the surgery, I would give careful thought before raising this issue with your daughter. For one thing, you run the risk of sending the message that there is something wrong with her body. You can, however, explore on your own the possibility of surgery, but make it a fact finding mission. Get the details of what the surgery entails, the risks for a teen, the costs, and recuperation time. The information you gather may rule out the possibility of surgery for any of those reasons. Then you will be armed with knowledge should she raise the issue to you.

    Q: I have a friend who spanks her kids. My 5-year-old has seen this in action and is now very afraid of this mom. What should I do?

    A: First, comfort your son and let him know how sorry you are that he feels this way. Then, talk with him about his fear and explore its source. Is it just about the spanking or something else? Is he afraid she will spank him as well? Work with him about what the two of you can do to help reduce his fear. It will be a good lesson in problem solving. He may surprise you with what he thinks needs to happen!

    Whatever strategies the two of you come up with, be sure to reassure him that it is your job to keep him safe and that you will not let him be hurt. You should share with your friend that you understand she uses spanking, but that you don’t in your family. If it’s a drop-off play date and you are concerned that she will spank your son, you should talk with the mother and explain that you do not want her to discipline your son with spanking if he is misbehaving. Then assure your son that you have talked with her and that she will not spank him.

    Your question invokes one of the two primary reasons that spanking children is not always a good idea. Spanking often provokes fear rather than respect, and achieves compliance that stems from fear, rather than from a child wanting to please parents. The second is, if spanking stops working to change the behavior and it is a parent’s primary disciplinary tool, parents may spank harder, which can be dangerous.