Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR AMY: My husband and I have a 4-year-old son. At my husband's family functions his sister's 6-year-old boy (and 3-year-old girl) are always pushing or physically hurting my son. My sister-in-law and her husband believe in "hands-off" parenting -- they are uninvolved and have no boundaries for their kids. At a mutual cousin's birthday, her son was throwing a Hot Wheels car in the bouncer and it ended up hitting my son on his head. He started crying. Later, her son aggressively pushed my son and my son cried again. Then her daughter pulled my son's hair. I've communicated my concerns about their out-of-control kids, but the parents ignore me. My husband does not back me up. What can I do? Should I just stop attending his family's functions? I'm tired of always trying to discipline her kids. I feel that is her job, not mine.

Worried Mommy

DEAR WORRIED: It is a simple fact that when children interact, accidents do happen and sometimes children get hurt and cry. Sometimes kids who are siblings play rougher than only children are used to. And yes, sometimes children are aggressive bullies.

Your own parenting should include lessons for your son on how to use his words to express himself. You should encourage him to handle episodes when others aren't being nice to him, because this will happen at school, on the playground or even on playdates at your own home.

If a child hurts him and he comes to you, you should take him to the other child and prompt him to say that he didn't like what the child did. Then you say to the other child, "Now you should say you are sorry. Do not do that again. If you do, you won't be able to play together. Do you understand?" Don't avoid family functions, but DO make sure your son realizes he can (and should) avoid playing with children who aren't nice to him. Your goal should be to help him function in all sorts of challenging situations -- including this one.

DEAR AMY: My partner and I have a friend who has been important to us for 10 years. Life hasn't worked out the way he'd hoped, and he's become bitter and a very negative person. He is often critical of us and is always telling us how we could do things better. The last time he was with us he criticized our choice of home, our belongings, our pet and even insinuated to my partner that he better make some changes in his life, or I might someday leave him. My partner and I decided to take a break from this friend, but his father just passed away. I feel that we should put off this "break up" so that we can be there for him, even if it means putting up with more of his criticism. My partner feels we shouldn't let him get away with any more of his insults. What do you think?

Just About Past Caring

DEAR CARING: I'm with your partner. When someone is openly critical of you, you should respond in a rational way: "You are acting pretty hostile toward us. I don't like it at all. I know you're grieving and we want to be here for you, but I'd appreciate it if you treated us better. We really care about you."

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DEAR AMY: What is the proper etiquette for when a gentleman offers you a handkerchief, but you actually have to blow your nose?

M

DEAR M: I am happy to see that handkerchiefs seem to have returned to men's style as part of the retro trend. But I know many gentlemen who never stopped carrying them.

When a person offers you a handkerchief and you use it to sneeze or to blow your nose, do not hand it back, but ask him, "What is the best way to return this to you?" Either he (or she) will say, "Oh no -- please keep it," or he will let you know how you can return it. If you return it, you should do so laundered and pressed, and with your thanks.