Q. My mother-in-law is the original queen of gloom and doom. My children are now old enough to understand the things she says and I don’t want them exposed to this. It’s not possible to simply not spend time with her to protect them, so what can I say without hurting her feelings?
A. With kindness, tell her that you understand her anxieties and appreciate them, but that her grandchildren are too young to understand so you have to ask her to save her comments of concern for when they aren’t around because they become frightened. Tell her you are sure she doesn’t realize this, but they are just too little to hear her talk about everything bad that could happen. Reinforce this message. The next time she utters a negative message in the presence of your children, interrupt her and say, “Mom, this is the kind of thing we talked about. You and I can discuss this later, but right now let’s talk about something happy.” Then change the topic and encourage her to participate with a good memory or positive comment. If this tactic doesn’t work, then you and your wife need to discuss how to limit your children’s exposure to her negativism. If she becomes offended, it is a shame, but you will have done your best to be polite, positive, and mindful of her feelings.
Q. My three-year old son is terrified of dogs. We have been invited for a weekend at the home of good friends who have dogs. Can we ask them to board the dogs for the weekend, or keep them contained?
A. No, you can’t, but you can explain that while you would love to spend the weekend with them, your son has a very real fear of dogs so you will have to regretfully decline the invitation. Then it is up to them to say that they will keep the dogs away. While you will want your son to learn to keep a respectful distance from strange dogs, but not be afraid, this would not be the ideal situation for helping him get over his fear. You can’t discipline or banish someone else’s dogs as part of your work with your son. You can tell your friends you are working on it, and hope they will invite you again in the future.
Q. Our next door neighbor piles up no end of junk in his driveway, a view we live with every day. This summer, he has stood some old tires on their rim. When it rains, they fill with water, providing a breeding ground for mosquitos. We put up with the rest, but this is a safety issue. What can we say?
A. Without mentioning your unpleasant view, simply ask him nicely to lay the tires flat on the ground so they don’t hold standing water and breed mosquitos. This won’t help your view, but it may keep a mosquito infestation out of your yard.