Ask Dr. Fran

Welcome to the Q&A section of Thoughtful Parenting!

It can be challenging to find your way when it comes to parenting these days. “Dr. Fran” is is a pseudonym for a clinical psychologist and child psychoanalyst with more than 30 years in practice, and she’s here to provide information, offer support, and facilitate discussions about your questions.

To join the conversation, send an email to

All identifying information will be modified to protect privacy.


Dear Dr. Fran,

My six year old is still sleeping on the bed with us. Is it OK to allow him to continue to do this?

Sleepless in Sicklerville, N. J.

Dear Sleepless,

These days MANY kids are still sleeping in their parents beds at 6 and MANY parents are still sleeping in their children’s room.

What’s going on?

It seems to me that in the last 20 years or so, it’s gotten increasingly hard for parents to set firm limits around bedtime, bedtime routines, and sleeping arrangements. And when children have begged or cried to have parents stay in their room, or have returned to the parental bed night after night, parents have felt worried that they were hurting their children by refusing to comply with their children’s wishes.

The ideas that came with Attachment Parenting, especially as promoted by Dr. Sears and his wife, have contributed to this trend, advocating for providing maximal contact with infants and young children.

From my point of view, however, toddlers and young children benefit from learning how to soothe themselves to sleep and how to sleep independently. And to do this, they need limits to be set around sleeping arrangements.  They will rarely decide to sleep on their own without parental help – but WITH help, they will learn that they CAN sleep on their own and they will derive a sense of accomplishment by doing so. Moreover, it is usually better for the parents, their marriage, and the child to have a consistent bedtime routine each night, a consistent bed TIME (with exceptions while traveling or on other special occasions), and a separate place for parents and children to sleep.

I cannot, however, make specific recommendations in regard to your son.  If you’re not able to encourage your son to move from your bed to his own, or if previous efforts have failed, it will be helpful for you to get some guidance from an experienced child therapist or a pediatrician specializing in sleep issues

Hoping this was helpful –

Dr. Fran


Dear Dr. Fran,
A few days ago my mother died and aside from my own grief, I am wondering how to handle things with my 3 year old and my 6 year old.  Should I take them to the funeral?  Should I let them see me when I am feeling sad?
Thank you for any suggestions you may have –
Maeve (in Wynnewood, PA)
Dear Maeve –
First of all, I am so sorry for your loss. In our society children are often shielded from death, but we have to ask ourselves– why we do this?  Death is a part of life and sadness is just one of many feelings we all experience.  My advice is to avoid shielding your children entirely from this experience.  Let them be a part of it to the extent that they are able. Explain to your children what a funeral is and then ask each of them if they want to go with you.  Tell them that funerals are a place where people go to say goodbye to someone they loved.  Tell them that people will get up to talk about Grandma and that some people will be so sad that they will cry.
With young children I think it is also best, if they decide to go, to have a family friend or a relative who is less devastated by your mother’s death to be available to take one or both children out for a walk if they get bored or upset by the proceedings – and let your children know that they are free to ask this person to do so.
And if they do go, be sure to talk afterwards about what they thought and felt.  Ask them directly how it was for them, how they felt about what was said, how they felt about seeing the casket, how they felt about seeing people cry.  Children this age are capable of sadness of course, but they are also curious about death and they may have many questions.
And finally, do not be afraid to let your children see you cry or feeling sad.  You are their role model for what to do and feel in all sorts of situations and this is no different.  They understand sad feelings at 3 and 6 already.
For times that you are truly overwhelmed for example, if you are sobbing, perhaps you can do this in private or with your husband or other loved one, and limit your children’s exposure to such strong feelings.
Hoping this was helpful –
Dr. Fran


Dear Dr. Fran,

I’ve been thinking lately about the pros and cons of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation when it comes to chores (picking up your own toys, things like that). I wonder if I were to use something like a sticker chart to help encourage my child to do his chores, would that have an impact on his motivation down the road?


Thinking It Through

Dear Thinking It Through,

Your question raises so many related ones for us to think about:  Where does a child’s motivation really come from: the inside or the outside?  Does only one kind of motivation exist at a time?  Can we make our children overly dependent on outside rewards, and not motivated enough by their own desires to achieve and please others?

I believe that these ideas are in no way mutually exclusive, and that when raising children they function very much in tandem, beginning with the desire to please those we love in order to feel loved by them. Most children want to do things that make their parents happy because then they (the children) feel loved and happy. Unfortunately, I see many parents today who seem to have forgotten that, or who believe their children need external rewards. I do not believe this is true at all. They think they need to incentivize everything: “If you do this, I’ll give you that.” I’ve seen this go so far as offering children rewards for going to school!  More than anything, we need to give children a chance to do what we ask and to see how good that feels. We need to communicate to them that we KNOW they can do this and, when they do, they’ll feel good.

Now, this in no way means there’s any harm in offering an incentive. A classic principal in behavior theory is the Premack Principle, which reminds us how to use a child’s desires for something as motivation to do what we are asking of them. This is also a useful idea when we start to get the feeling that our children feel entitled to things that are, in truth, privileges. For example, many children love their screen time (the subject of another entry perhaps), but don’t really want to finish their homework, pick up their toys, or even brush their teeth.  So, a conversation would go like this: If you want more/extra/any screen time, first you must do this or that. Then I will know you are ready. I think these types of negotiations work best when delivered in a non-threatening, but totally matter of fact way. One parent has summarized it like this: Do what you have to do in order to get to do what you want.

Reward charts are nothing but a tangible record of incentives. Again, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, especially if you are able to create something simple and clear– something that is likely to work. For every day you do your chores (one or two) you get a check; when you earn whatever number of checks you decide, there is a reward.  For young kids, and early on, a one to one correspondence works best. As they get older, it is so important to increase the expectations! This is the best way I know to get them to rise to become their best selves.  A wonderful writer on parenting, Wendy Mogel, has said, “We are treating our children like handicapped royalty,” expecting little and feeling compelled to meet their every expressed demand as if it is a need.

So yes, I do believe we can (often without meaning to) encourage our children to believe that the only meaningful rewards or reasons to do things come from the outside. This is a disservice to children on so many levels, the most significant being that I think it shows children we believe they are capable of so little.

Getting children to do what we want is like working as a sculptor.  We have to guide, apply gentle pressure here and there, use firmer pressure in other places, and ALWAYS respect the material we are working with.  From a child’s perspective, these chores are more for their parents than for them.  Depending on the age of your child, “Tales of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle” is a great way to explore this area together.  She is like Super-Nanny of the 20th century, and works to help children understand these issues.  One of my favorites was the “Carrot Seed Cure” for a child who would not wash.  She simply planted a carrot seed on his filthy hands, and when the carrot started to grow, the child was horrified but became motivated to wash a bit more often!


Dr. Fran


Dear Dr. Fran,

Is it common for 12/13 year old girls to think their mothers are jealous of them? My daughter Ali thinks I am jealous of silly things: places she might know, directions she knows, any knowledge she has of anything…..At first I was amused, but when I asked her if she really believes mothers are jealous of their daughters, she said, “Yes, they just don’t get what’s really going on!” I’m obviously not jealous at all – very irritated perhaps, but certainly not jealous!

Overall she is a good girl. She is a good student, and does cross country and soccer in the fall, art and track in the spring. I also coach forensics (public speaking) at her school – they have competitive meets once a month on Saturdays. She does not like my feedback, and I usually ask the other coaches to listen to give her their feedback. She listens to them, even if I’m telling her the same thing!!! At home it is hard to know how to help her do better because she just doesn’t like my feedback. I try to be fair and with forensics give her the same help I do everyone else, but it just makes her mad. Also, she has been needing more corrections lately at home: for manners, being respectful and not acting selfish.

I’m just not sure what to do. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

Irritated but NOT Jealous

Dear Irritated,

Thanks for reaching out! In general it is NOT AT ALL unusual for a child that age to be having competitive feelings – especially a daughter for her mother. Adolescence is a time when kids are working hard to figure out who they are in the world. Part of establishing this important sense of Identity involves being clear about how they are LIKE those they want to be like and DIFFERENT from those from whom they want to be perceived as different. As with most developmental processes, this is not as simple as it sounds. I cannot help but wonder if your daughter may in fact be a bit jealous of YOU: of YOUR achievements, YOUR accomplishments, skills and knowledge. It may be much easier to BLAME you for feelings that your daughter cannot comfortably acknowledge in herself!

At the same time, her accusations may serve as a [relatively] clear and concrete way to distinguish or separate herself from you. As young girls enter adolescence they need to find ways to both feel and become independent from their mothers. Sometimes this involves both small and at times larger acts of rebellion, moves and efforts to get closer to fathers or other male figures, or even letting go of what had been for many years shared activities with friends, siblings and/or one or both parents. What is most important to understand is the importance of this quest for independence, and to think about ways to support your daughter all the while maintaining a hold on your own feelings as a mother……

Reminders such as: “Of course I’m not jealous, I LOVE that YOU know/can do…etc? Additionally, your daughter may be less than enthusiastic in taking [especially] your justified corrections and guidance for exactly the same reasons. She wants desperately to be viewed as being as competent, knowledgeable, effective and accomplished as you – even if she’s not quite there yet!

Adolescence is an important time for mothers especially not to take some of the harsh criticisms directed their way TOO personally (even if and when they ARE directed personally). This IS a good time for kids to spend time with other adults sharing similar values, particularly if there is conflict between parents and child. I’m not suggesting that peace be preserved at ALL costs, but I do believe that when there is the option of nurturing the relationship or correcting manners, I’d just about always opt for supporting the relationships. From THERE you can engage in conversations about just about everything else!

All the best,
Dr. Fran


Dear Dr. Fran,

Our 13 month old daughter LOVES her day care, and seems to really like being with the 7 other kids there. We notice, though, that she never really interacts with or plays with the other kids. Is this normal? Should we be encouraging more interaction so she learns how to share and take turns?

Worried in Wisconsin

Dear Worried,

Please know that what you describe SOUNDS EXACTLY RIGHT – Absolutely and totally developmentally on target. It is usually not until around three years of age that children begin to move from parallel play (what you described: playing alongside each other) to truly cooperative play where they are able to share in each other’s fantasies and together create new ones. By age 3, children are fully mobile, have gained control of muscles both large and small, can communicate using language, have a rudimentary sense of “me and not me, and have a nascent, but developing ability to delay getting what they want or need. THESE are the necessary ingredients to being able to cooperate, take turns and share. Before they have these fundamental skills, they really do not have the tools that are needed to acknowledge the existence, needs and desires of someone other than themselves.

On the other hand, at 13 months your sweet daughter is JUST learning that she can move away from her mom and dad, and return by her OWN movements and actions. She is JUST learning how to find ways (perhaps using rudimentary words) to better let you know what she needs and wants. As she gains mobility, the WORLD is her oyster, but basically besides her beloved caregivers at day care, YOU are her world. In fact, more accurately, SHE is her world, and you are a part of it. By this I mean she does not really have a sense of you and her as truly separate individuals; in her world, you are basically and extension of HER, which is why she may be impatient when you do not immediately understand exactly what it is she may want or need at any given moment!

I hope this helps allay your worries. Your daughter is lucky to have such concerned parents! She is behaving EXACTLY as a 13 month-old is expected to behave.

Enjoy each other!

Dr. Fran


Dear Dr. Fran,

My son Jake is now 2.9 years old and is vivacious and zesty as ever! My current parental preoccupation, which I was hoping might be addressed on the blog, is where to send him to preschool. What should I be looking for? Does it vary based on temperament, or is there a better and best?

I went to Montessori when I was young and remember it a loving and stimulating atmosphere. I look back on it fondly, and actually wish all my schooling was as magical. In touring Montessori schools now, however, they are mostly impressive but seem potentially stifling of fantasy play. Right now Jake is at a play-based preschool, but the older classrooms are just too chaotic. What should I do?!


Dear Preoccupied,

How lucky Jake is to have parents who are so willing and able to be so thoughtful of his preschool needs. I, too have had similar experiences visiting Montessori schools recently. Though I always understood their philosophy to be child-focused and play based, the classrooms I have visited have been disturbingly quiet, sometimes missing that energy that only preschoolers at play can generate.

In general, I think a good preschool serves TWO basic functions: (1) to offer a place to learn how to get along with others; that is to learn how to become a member of a group, and (2) to offer a safe environment for fantasy play. The second may even be the most important of the two. Children learn ALL they need to prepare them for [big] school when they are given the opportunity for free play. They learn how to create, how to imagine, how to discover, how to think, how to solve problems. Arguably it is also through play that they learn how to get along with others.

Matching your child’s style to his school is always a good idea, but I agree with your instincts that the chaos you sense in Jake’s current school may not be ideal. In addition to the above, children also need the adults in their world (including their school and/or day care) to provide external structure, routine and boundaries. These qualities help support children’s needs to regulate their often VERY big feelings, needs and desires.

So, I encourage you to keep looking for the right balance between fundamental opportunities for truly FREE play along with enough external structure and routine to create a sense of safety and comfort.

All the best,
Dr. Fran