Dear Carolyn • I hope I'm not too late with a Christmas dilemma. My friend, "Louise," has a 4-year-old niece, "Lyndie," who is already a spoiled brat. Last year at their family Christmas gathering, Louise said she patted the then-3-year-old on her head as she passed her in the hallway. The little girl followed her to her chair, got in her face and exclaimed, "Don't ever touch me like that again," and stormed off. Louise was flabbergasted, since she sees Lyndie only two to three times a year at family functions. Apparently Lyndie is always running around screaming and stomping her feet at these family events, and her parents simply ignore her behavior, accepting it as normal. A few weeks ago, Lyndie's mother emailed a list to the family of what Lyndie wants for Christmas. Louise is distressed about rewarding Lyndie's behavior, so I told her she should just donate a gift to a needy child and give Lyndie a card indicating the donation in her name. What do you think?
Dear "Thelma" • I think grown women who communicate through hints, proxies and gifts withheld from 4-year-olds have some nerve criticizing the way said 4-year-old communicates. Say this for Lyndie: She gets what boundaries are, even if her technique could use some work. And why shouldn't it? She's 4. I hope her adults do teach manners though it seems what she really needs is loving attention. "Family events" too often mean yakking adults and bored, desperate kids, who then do what bored, desperate kids do: seek stimulation and attention! Run! Scream! Stomp! Never judge a kid on holiday behavior alone. I hope, too, that Lyndie's adults don't ignore, discipline or praise wholesale, and instead tease out good from bad. I have in mind her willingness to stand up for herself when she doesn't appreciate being touched by someone she barely knows. That is not an impulse you want to civilize out of her. In fact, if her touch-aversion persists, take it more seriously it's pediatrician time. Withholding gifts to make this point is just loopy, since I doubt even the adults will connect it to Lyndie's thrice-a-year-family-event stomping.
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