Ask Amy

Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 12:10am

DEAR AMY: What do you think about a parent who smashes and completely destroys kids' electronic games and equipment (these were parent-approved gifts to these young children) because the kids were fighting over them?

That kind of equipment can be expensive, and it seems to me that it might not be the best example of how to teach a child to deal with frustration.

It actually sounds borderline violent and abusive to me!

— Concerned Neighbor

DEAR NEIGHBOR: You must not be a parent. I agree that the behavior you describe sounds violent, but chances are you do not know what went on before the violence: i.e. repeated entreaties and warnings that a parent would commit electronicide if the toys created conflict.

Obviously, it would be more effective for these parents to remain calm in the face of a Nintendo attack, but when it comes to this sort of behavior, context is everything.

I think back to a conversation I once had with Linda Ellerbee, the legendary writer and broadcaster. Ellerbee had warned her kids about their television-watching habits and then, one day — when she was trying to talk to them and they were ignoring her and watching the TV — she pitched the television out the second-story window.

Violent? Yes. But it did the trick.

DEAR AMY: My boyfriend and I have been together for five years. We live together and are both middle-aged. We are basically happy except for some communication problems. One problem surrounds the word "why." If I ask him why, he gets defensive and wants to know why I am questioning him.

Here's an example: I went to lock the front door. From the couch, he said to leave it unlocked. As I left it unlocked and started to walk away, I asked, "Why?" He got very angry and asked me to just do it and asked why I always have to question him. He says I am treating him like a child. My take is that I am just curious: Is someone coming over? Does he need to go somewhere?

I just wanted communication. I don't want to offend him, yet the word just jumps out when someone tells you to do something and you are curious as to what's going on. Should I phrase it differently? Or is he being insecure?

We can't seem to get past this silly little word.

— Wondering

DEAR WONDERING: Would you be able to issue a directive and have your guy follow it without asking, "Why?" I doubt it.

Your reaction sounds reasonable, but the way out might be for you to step into his shoes and acknowledge how he interprets your queries, even if you find his interpretation childish or invalid.

When you are frustrated with the way someone else is communicating, the place to start is to change your own behavior to see if this nudges the other person into another direction.

If you didn't ask, "Why," immediately, there is a good chance that after a few moments he would supply the explanation you were looking for. It is worth a try. Once he spoke, you could say, "Thank you for telling me. I was wondering."

During a peaceful moment, you should discuss this ongoing issue and both commit to finding other ways to talk.

I like the book, "Communication Miracles for Couples: Easy and Effective Tools to Create More Love and Less Conflict" by Jonathan Robinson (2009, Conari Press).

DEAR AMY: "Sad Daughter" was upset because her mother had only included one grandchild in her will. It is time to demand to either leave all grandchildren out or put them all in.

Years of watching this occur has proved to me that playing favorites is a control game by the adult, and the inferior children need to be sheltered from these people. Change the will, grandma — or it's goodbye.

— Protecting My Kids

DEAR PROTECTING: A will is not an entitlement. And while I agree that it is best to leave everything equally, no one has the right to expect (or demand) it.

Send questions via e-mail to askamy@tribune.com. Amy Dickinson's memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.

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