Q: I feel silly for asking, but what is your position on children killing bugs? I do not know if this is just 4-year-old boy behavior, but my son seems rather fascinated with bug-killing. He is, by the way, very kind with our dog and other pets. I have explained that bugs have families too and need to return to them. Is this a mountain I should die on?
A: I’ve said it many times before, and I will undoubtedly say it again: Americans are becoming increasingly intolerant of normal boy behavior, which includes such things as fascination with bug killing, setting off firecrackers, and other things that don’t interest girls (vive la difference!). Mind you, I may be biased concerning this issue, given that I am an unrepentant bug-killer myself. In fact I probably kill more than your son on the average day. I squash them when they land on me, swat them and spray them when they find their way into my house, and I even hire professional bug assassins who use various toxins to protect my domicile from bug attack. It has never occurred to me (but perhaps I should give it some thought) that my bug-killing might be indicative of some hideous pathology.
All kidding aside, it would most definitely be cause for concern if your son was cruel to animals of all varieties — if he seemed to take pleasure in inflicting pain on the family dog, for example. Animal cruelty is an early and very reliable marker of later anti-social behavior. But he’s not, so you can rest easy. Oh, and by the way, bugs only have families in animated movies. Otherwise, they mostly eat one another. Die on some other mountain, for sure.
Q: Our 11-year-old daughter is obsessed about getting dirty or being wet, to the point where she won’t leave the house without carrying a backpack with an extra change of clothes. She used to carry about a week’s worth, but we’ve since limited her to only one pair. When she can’t take the backpack she wears two outfits, one over the other, even in extreme heat. We’ve told her that she is now responsible for all her laundry. She’s fine with that. Any other suggestions?
A: First, obsessive behavior is not all that unusual during the preteen and early teen years, and as long as it’s limited to one issue, I wouldn’t be concerned (unless it’s interfering with normal functioning, which this apparently isn’t). On the other hand, if her obsessions begin to cascade, consider consulting a mental health professional.
I note that when you have set limits on your daughter’s clothing obsession, she has complied; to wit, she has gone from a backpack full of extra clothing to one outfit. You say “she won’t leave the house” without extra clothes, but I suspect that if you simply told her she can no longer take even one change of clothes with her when she leaves the house — that what she’s wearing will have to do — she wouldn’t like it, but she’d get over it in fairly short order. Setting limits is what discipline is all about. And when a child has difficulty setting a limit on herself, in whatever area, then that’s when parents need to step up to the plate and set the limit for the child. So, set the limit. But I like the idea of her doing her own laundry anyway. That is a perfectly reasonable responsibility for an 11-year-old.