DEAR AMY: My girlfriend and I have been together for five months. She has a 9-year-old daughter who is very bright and very jealous of me because now her mother has two people in her life. The child has not lived with anyone but her mother since her parents divorced when she was a baby. She has frequent temper tantrums that make me uncomfortable.
I raised a boy and a girl, and I never experienced that type of behavior because it was unacceptable in my house. Sometimes this child is affectionate toward me and sometimes standoffish.
Her mother and I are expecting a baby. Her daughter is excited about this because she has always wanted a sibling. They are planning to move into my house, but my girlfriend is nervous that my relationship with her daughter might not go well — or get worse. There will be no relationship with my girlfriend without her daughter. The daughter has been seeing a psychologist to help her with her mixed emotions. What can I do to win this child's confidence so there is peace in the house?
— Want it to Work
DEAR WANT: Your children might not have had tantrums because their home life was stable, whereas this child's (suddenly) is not. I suggest you try to see her world from her point of view. In less than six months, her mother has found a new partner, told her she is going to have a sibling and has hit her with a move. Any one of these stressors could throw off a stable and happy child; add the onset of adolescence into the mix and it's no wonder she is periodically exploding.
Nine is a challenging age, and while I agree that this child is old to have tantrums, she will continue to act out until she sees that another kind of behavior yields better and more positive results. Her loss of control is a cry out for control. You should not discipline her or express your disapproval to her (let her mother take the lead). Reassure her calmly and encourage her to talk — even if what she says is hard for you to hear. Regular, predictable routines, plenty of sleep, exercise and good nutrition will help too.
Visit the girl's counselor with her mother. Ask for recommendations and follow them.
DEAR AMY: I am a widower with very nice neighbors who invite me over for dinner frequently. They have a young black poodle, "Muffin," that has been schooled professionally but has regressed from her learning.
The problem is they allow the dog to wander freely among company and get inches from plates of food before they notice or say "no." Often the dog is already into the food before they can stop her.
I like this couple very much, but the dog's behavior turns me off. I have tried to ignore the problem. I would like to stop going to their house for meals, but I don't want to hurt their feelings when they ask why. How can I get out of this gracefully?
— Grateful Widower
DEAR GRATEFUL: You could get out of this by offering a version of the truth, accompanied by a pie. You say, "I have a tough time with Muffin near the table during meals. Instead of dinner, how about I join you for coffee and dessert? I picked up a pie and I'll bring it over."
DEAR AMY: I am amused at the anecdotes about young children cheating at games. I was playing the card game war with my 6-year-old grandson. I noticed him separating the cards into two decks. He said, "Let's play, Grampy," and handed me a pile. I explained that he had all the good cards and that was cheating, and that everyone wants to win fairly. We played another game, and he announced, "Grampy, I'm playing fair now." Better he should learn it at home.
DEAR BOB: Way to go, Grampy!
Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Amy Dickinson's memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.