Dr. Mike's Monthly Advice for Loudoun Residents

Readers ask about a range of concerns from hairdos for 4-year-olds and family travel to loaning baby clothes and diagnosing our children.

Hair and My Child’s Ego

Dr. Mike,

Our son is 4 years old, and I would like to grow out his hair since I think it would be a great look for him. I’d also like to do some streaks or highlights for added effect. My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t want our son to have long hair since he fears others will think he looks like a girl or is different. I keep trying—unsuccessfully—to convince my husband that it’s the 21st century and that he is being old-fashioned. What do you think?

I in Loudoun County



I don’t think either of you are right or wrong in your positions, but I would ask you to think through your motivation for why you want your son to have long and color-treated hair at age 4. Whenever we as parents do anything to make our children appear noticeably different from other children, we (and they) run the risk of being judged. Now, you as your son’s mother may not care about being judged, but the stares, comments and other possible negative reactions your son may receive from adults or other kids for having long hair could be upsetting to him. The difference between the two of you is that you are an adult with adult internal resources to manage negative interpersonal moments and your son has the internal resources of a 4-year-old in such moments. Many years ago, I had a younger client whose parents thought it would be cool for him to dye his hair a certain color. These parents were creative and liberal in their appearance and they wanted their son to have that public persona as well.  However, the boy’s classmates and the neighborhood kids did not see it the same way, and for several weeks the boy was teased and left to feel badly about himself for his new hairdo. I say no to the haircut. But why not try other ways to help your son’s star shine brightly without a drastic change in appearance.


Are We There Yet?

Dr. Mike,

My husband and I will be driving to the Midwest to visit his parents with our three children for Memorial Day weekend. While I love our children, they argue, fight, scream, yell, kick, punch, cry, you name it, when we are all together in the car for any more than 20 minutes. Our boys are 12, 9 and 7. My husband’s approach at these times is to scream at them louder and to shut things down as the ultimate authority. My husband’s approach usually works but then one of our children also usually cries and gets hurt. Any help you can give us to prepare for our 10-hour car ride is appreciated.

E in Loudoun County



You can probably get most anyone to do anything if you scare him or her enough. But what is your husband really teaching your children in those moments in the car when he yells more loudly than they do? That a bigger person gets to muscle or talk down to those who are smaller? Your husband’s approach, which I call fear-based parenting, can be successful, but at a cost. As you write, one of your children usually cries and gets hurt after these exchanges in the car. I think there is a lot you can do as parents to avoid having to scream as the solution for control. Try this out: the next time you all get in the car together, I recommend that you and your husband calmly announce that you have both decided that it is too upsetting for you to drive when there is fighting going on in the car. I would add that it is not even safe for you to be driving upset and distracted. Instead, from here on forward, whenever they start to fight, you and/or your husband will pull over the car and let them work it out. You or your husband can then use that time to text, check your email, etc. With the car stopped, and you completely disengaged, the behavior should start to extinguish. I would not resume driving until your boys have lowered their voices and the conflict has subsided. I imagine that the first few times you or your husband do this may not be pretty (e.g., your children may become louder or extend their argument because they know they have an audience), but if they are not reinforced in any way by either you or your husband, the negative behavior should start to fade out. You can add the condition that if they do not resolve their conflicts within a reasonable period of time that they will all receive a consequence. By forcing them to work things out together and then by identifying consequences for them all if they cannot, you are putting the onus of change on them. They should be motivated to do better with your new two-step approach, and you and your husband should not have to become upset or yell back. Practice, practice, practice this approach many times and with consistency over the next several weeks. I am hopeful that you will all be in a better place for the long car ride to visit your family for Memorial Day weekend.


Finding the Right Diagnosis

Dr. Mike,

My 6-year-old son was recently diagnosed with ADHD at one facility and Asperger’s Disorder at another. We know there is something wrong with him, but my husband and I don’t know how to make sense of these two very different diagnoses and reports. We need some direction.

P in Loudoun County



It is not clear to me from your letter how exactly these two facilities or practices diagnosed your son. Did they use standardized and objective measures? What are their credentials and experience in evaluating children with developmental conditions? How many years have they been in the field conducting evaluations, and where did they receive their training and degrees? Certainly, your letter is very concerning, since the diagnoses are so different. While there are some similarities between the two conditions and how they are treated, there are some very real differences as well. I recommend seeking a consultation from a respected professional in your area of need. More testing may be needed, or it may be the case that you just need a more skilled and credentialed mental health professional to make sense of things at this point. That professional should be able to answer your questions and provide you with a roadmap for the direction you need in this moment as parents.


What Goes Around Doesn’t Always Come Around

Dr. Mike,

After the birth of my son, I loaned a lot of my baby stuff and maternity clothes out to friends with the understanding that the items would be returned to me. I am now pregnant with number two and am unable to retrieve a lot of my things. It seems that either people are denying having received things from me, or as I believe, they’ve since re-loaned them to other friends and have lost track of them. I am really upset about having to spend $500 to buy things I’ve already bought once, as well as anxious to tell my husband about what happened. What should I do?

S in Loudoun County



It was very generous of you to loan your things out in the first place, and what happened is unfortunate. As much as you seem to want to put the entire blame on your friends for the missing items, and I do understand where you are coming from, I think you are partially responsible. It seems that you simply assumed your friends would be as responsible as you would have been. You have learned the painful but valuable life lesson that other people, in general, do not take care of our material possessions as well as we take care of our own possessions. In moving forward, if you choose to loan your things out again, I would recommend keeping an inventory of what you have loaned and to whom, and have very clear expectations for when you need the items returned. Rather then spending $500 to replace all the things that are now missing, why not reach out to other friends to try to borrow their things? Hopefully, some of your friends will be equally generous with you. I encourage you to be honest with your husband. You did not do anything wrong by being generous and trusting, and he should see that and want to support you. In the end, I hope this negative experience does not jade you. And congratulations on number two!


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