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Joint custody; and Naps in Kindergarten

Q: I currently have joint custody of my son who has been threatening for some time now that when he turns 14 he is going to go live with his father, who’s been encouraging this. He’ll be 14 soon, and my husband and I have no doubt but that he’s going to make good on his threats. We also think things at his father’s may not work out for him as well as he thinks they will. What should we do if he leaves and then realizes that the grass is no greener and wants to come home?

A: Let him come home. You want what’s best for him, right? And you most definitely believe that it’s best for him to be living with you, right? So the only reason to not let him come home, if he wants to do so, is to make him suffer the consequences of his decisions, right? Methinks you’re losing sight of the fact that he is 14 years old. As most adolescent boys in this sort of situation do, he has idealized his father, and he has developed a utopian fantasy of what living with Dad will be like. If and when reality sets in and the bubble of this fantasy bursts, there is nothing to be gained, and much to be lost, by denying him re-entry to your home.

I suppose I may be a bit touchy on this subject because when I was 15 I decided that all my problems would be solved if I went to live with my dad, which I did. One year later, I asked (I was prepared to beg, even grovel) my mother and stepfather if I could come home, which they allowed. They never lectured me or made me recite a laundry list of the things I’d learned. They never so much as even mentioned my infamous “lost year.” I had complete permission to go, and complete permission to come back. Extend the same privilege to your son. Believe me, it will pay off.

Q: My 5-year-old son started kindergarten this year. He is an active, inquisitive boy who has not taken a nap in three years. However, the school enforces a 45-minute naptime after lunch, during which the kids must either nap or lie quietly. His teacher complains almost daily that my son not only doesn’t sleep, but won’t be still and quiet. Is there a discipline method the teacher and I can use to stop this, or should I just suggest that she give him a book to look at during naptime?

A: You can certainly suggest to the teacher that she accommodate your son’s special naptime needs (I’ve got my tongue in my cheek here) by giving him a book to look at while the other kids nap. If the school’s policies will permit it, she might consider putting him in an isolated area of the classroom or in the hall with a book or solitary activity with which to occupy his time.

Quite frankly, I’m a bit amazed that a school requires naptime of 5- and 6-year-old children, most of whom, like your son, haven’t taken daily naps at home in at least two years. This is more than a tad unrealistic and speaks, furthermore, to some degree of rigidity on the part of the school’s administration. I see the potential of your son being identified as a problem at this early stage of his academic career. While this would probably say more about the school than your son, it’s nonetheless a reputation that may well follow him from grade to grade. For this reason, I think it’s important that the school work with you to solve this problem in a way that doesn’t involve punishment. If they will not, then I would suggest that you consider moving him to another school before he becomes labeled a troublemaker and you and he find yourselves on the diagnosis treadmill.

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