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Don’t Play Nice With Anti-Vaxxer Parents. Talk to Them Then Move On.

How do you handle violent sisters? Turn them into a team.

fatherly logo Ask the Goodfather

“Fatherly Advice” is a weekly advice column in which Fatherly’s Parenting Editor Patrick Coleman provides frank answers to reader questions. Want evidence-based answers and some common sense morality? Email advice@fatherly.com. We got you. Want a justification for some parenting decision you already made? Ask someone else. Patrick is busy.

 

Fatherly,

So I have a six-year-old son and a newborn. My wife and I live in Houston where there have been a couple of cases of measles. I was talking with my best friend the other day and he actually told me his wife wasn’t vaccinating their kids and he was really worried. The problem is that his son and my son are really close. We go over to their house all the time to hang out and they come over to ours. So, I know there’s probably some risk, but since my family is vaccinated, except for the baby, it’s probably not that high. I’m really worried that if I decided to keep our families apart because of the vaccination thing I’d ruin the friendship with my buddy, but maybe also my son’s relationship with his good friend. It’s his wife’s personal choice, so obviously I don’t have a say. But I’m conflicted. What should I do?

Feeling Vaxxed
Houston

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Your newborn is in direct danger. There is simply no other way to put it. With five confirmed measles cases in Houston and a city-wide vaccination rate somewhere around 80 percent, your friendship has placed your baby directly in the hot zone. The fact that doesn’t freak you out more is worrisome, to say the least.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if I want you to parent in fear. I don’t. But I do want you to parent knowledgeably. And if that knowledge prompts an acute reaction to act decisively, then you’re doing your job.

Measles is nothing to be laissez-faire about. It is a dangerous communicable disease that can cause pneumonia, encephalitis, blindness, and death. The most serious complications occur in children under two-years-old. What I’m saying is that your newborn could die because your friend’s wife made a “personal choice.” So, maybe it’s actually not so personal after all.

For the sake of your children, you absolutely do need to stop interpersonal visits until your friend’s children are vaccinated. To continue inviting your friends over, or visiting them, while you have a newborn would be completely irresponsible. The good news is that you have the rare opportunity to know they aren’t vaccinated and so you can take this precaution and lower your risk. The bad news is that it probably will affect your friendship.

I get that we live in the age of cavalierly jettisoned friendships, but real friendships are rare and should be protected. But at the same time, nothing is worth your child’s health, or possibly their life. And this is exactly what you are going to explain to your friend (preferably by phone) when you put a pause on hanging out. If he is indeed your best friend, he should get it. He’s a dad. He knows what it means to want to protect your children. I’m not too worried that you guys will suddenly stop being bros.

Your son and his buddy on the other hand. That’s a different case. You’re going to have to explain to him why he can’t hang out with his bestie anymore. And you’re going to have to do it without pointing a finger at another family and shouting “Unclean!” This means you will need to take a nuanced approach. That’s fine.

At six, your son is pretty aware of sickness and health. He also knows what it means to protect his sibling as a big brother. So when he ultimately asks why he can’t have a playdate with his pal, you are going to be honest. It’s likely your son remembers getting his shots. Just remind him that those shots keep him from getting sick. Let him know his friend has not had those shots and his younger sibling hasn’t either. In order to protect everyone, you need to stay separated for a while. Let your son know it’s not because his friend is bad or dirty but it’s just a precaution. To keep the friendship going set up regular video chats between them, or find a video game that they can play together online. There are options.

Will it be hard? Sure, but not as hard as watching your newborn suffer through the measles. Perspective is your friend here.

Speaking of perspective, a cross-examination may turn out to be a very good thing for your friends. It’s possible that your buddy’s wife has never considered that her decision to not vaccinate could impact people close to her. Stepping away could very well spur a conversation between her and her husband, with good results. That’s the hope anyway.

Stay firm. And keep your family safe.

 

Fatherly,

I have three daughters and I’m having a problem with late-night violence. The oldest girl is in high school. She has her own room and has had it for about 5 years. The younger two girls are in kindergarten and second grade and because we live in a small ranch house they share a room. Thing is they also like to share a bed because they get freaked out about the dark. The problem is that the kindergartner is really mean to the second grader. Like the other night, she was just yanking on her sister’s hair. We put her in time out and told her to go to her own bed, but then her sister started freaking out because she’d have to sleep alone. This happens all the time. It feels like my youngest is abusing her sister at night knowing she’ll be able to get away with it and still get the comfort they both want. It’s twisted and I want it to stop. What should I do?

The Ref
Portland, OR

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Here’s a stat that will ring very true to you, Ref: the majority of family violence occurs not between spouses, but between siblings. You’re right in thinking that this isn’t something to take lightly. This kind of violence can have lasting repercussions.

There’s nothing particularly special about the fact that this violence happens at night. It’s most likely that’s just when the pair is in close proximity for the longest. If issues between them are brewing, it makes sense that being confined to a single bed would make them boil over.

The question you need to ask is why is violence your kindergartens go to. What’s happening? Are there conflicts that cause her to lash out? Is it a chance to get attention? And when it happens, how do you react?

The fact is that children tend to be more harsh with each other when their parents have a harsh take on discipline. You mentioned timeouts, but what’s going down around the timeouts? Yelling? Accusations? Threats? If any of these is the case you need to address your own behavior so you can start modeling an appropriate and healthy reaction to adversity.

In the short term, it’s simply not safe for your kids to be in bed together. I’m assuming there is another bed available in this shared room? If so, use it. If not, get one and use it. What’s going to happen is that you’re essentially going to sleep train your girls again. It’s not going to be fun, but it something that has to be done. If they truly are freaked out about the dark, help them out by providing a night light. Then try the fading method. Hang out in their room, quietly, while they drift off in their separate beds. Leave quietly when they are asleep. If something happens, go back into their room, and quietly, unemotionally put them back in their beds. Repeat this process, shortening the time you are in their room until they are able to sleep without you there. It’ll take a while but stick with it.

During the day address any conflicts calmly and dispassionately. Place an emphasis on cooperation instead of blame. Help them understand that they are in this together. It’s not a competition. That should help quite a bit. Good luck!