Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR AMY: I am 28 years old. My boyfriend of three years is 33. We live together. We both have daughters from our previous relationships. I have an 8-year-old and his daughter is 5. Do I have the right to discipline his daughter when she comes to our house? She comes to our house three days a week. I think she's a spoiled brat. Whenever she wants something, she never says please or thank you. When she doesn't want something, she just throws it on the floor. My daughter is very polite. She has good manners and is friendly. She's trying to be the big sister but my boyfriend's daughter seems to like to bully my daughter. I'm not sure if I'm just overthinking this. I know she's only 5. Your advice?

Frustrated

DEAR FRUSTRATED: You should not discipline (I read this as "punish") a 5-year-old girl who is with you part time, especially when you characterize the child as a "spoiled brat." A parent who so easily uses this demeaning characterization is in no position to discipline a child effectively.

Please see the world through her eyes and react with patience and compassion. She is leaving her mother three times a week and moving into another household where she doesn't know her place. (Are you and/or your daughter moving back and forth like this over the course of a week? I don't think so.) This is extremely stressful. Acting out is her way of challenging you and also trying to assert some power.

Spend quiet time with this child. Let her create her own games where you and your daughter just go with it and follow her lead. Let her make simple choices and respect these choices.

You should patiently show her how you do things. Show her how to set the table and let her do it for the family. Invite her to make brownies with you and praise her effort. Give her tons of affection and positive reinforcement. Soften and see the good in her. Of course, her dad also needs to spend lots of gentle one-on-one time with her. When it comes to discipline or course correction, he should deliver it.

When she misbehaves with you, tell her, "I know you can do better and I'll help you." But first -- YOU have to do better.

DEAR AMY: I have a grown daughter who is over 40. She has teenage children. My daughter makes wardrobe choices more common for a sexy young 20-year-old than for a grown woman. She is beautiful in her own right, but I think she may be conveying the wrong image to everyone and actually embarrassing her children. I would like to give her a "makeover." I am offering to pay for a hairstyling appointment and some new clothes and shoes. How can I approach this and not hurt her feelings, or is that impossible? It's not just her Dad and I that feel this way about her appearance. Other members of the family have also mentioned this to me.

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Mom Needs Advice

DEAR MOM: What if your daughter accepts your generosity and uses her makeover to look even more juvenile and sexy-hot than before? The fact is that you want to be in charge of how she is made over.

What you will be saying, explicitly and implicitly, is -- "Your appearance bothers and embarrasses me." One way to approach this would be for you set up a makeover swap. She gets to tell you exactly how to fix your hair and clothing, in exchange for you telling her. Alternatively, you could each submit to the same expert for help. Doing this with her is far preferable to imposing this on her.

DEAR AMY: "Grandparent Prepared to Call Child Welfare" was very worried about the presence of a volatile dog in the son's household with a baby on the way. This is exactly the same situation my wife and I faced with our son. We offered to pay for a trainer who specializes in helping dogs adjust. Fortunately, it worked out for them but I agree with all of you that this is a potentially very dangerous situation.

Been There

DEAR BEEN THERE: Excellent suggestion. Thank you.