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Dear Annie: Wrong kind of discipline

By Annie Lane Creators Syndicate

Dear Annie: Two years ago, my brother and his wife, who have no kids, took my then-8-year-old son on a great trip. They returned very exhausted after a week, having had a wonderful time.

Once home, my brother informed me – by demonstrating on me physically – that he had hit my son in the head to discipline him. I was immediately upset but did not show it. I asked my son about it later, and he said it had happened a few times. When broaching the topic to my son, I remained neutral, though I did assure my son when he suggested he may have deserved it that people should not hit other people in the head.

Because I see my brother only a couple of times a year (he lives far away), I waited a while to have time to reflect. I wrote a thank-you note for the trip. After a month or so, I wrote a very short note to my brother, saying again that I really appreciated the trip and also saying that though I realize he didn’t know I feel this way, I do not want him to hit my son in the head again. My brother was furious and cut me off entirely.

It really hurts my heart to think that my son and I will not be able to visit him or my sister-in-law or her other relatives. My sister-in-law has tried to reason with him, but he will not be moved, and I don’t want to push her to get involved more. I called and wrote to apologize for hurting his feelings. No response. My mom feels I am to blame for not trusting that the child needed to be disciplined in that way, though she always taught us never to hit other people. Any advice? – Sad Sister in Pennsylvania

Dear Sad: Take some solace in the fact that you are absolutely right. Disciplining one’s children is a very sensitive issue, let alone someone else’s children. And hitting a child – especially on the head – is unacceptable and ineffective (it’s also illegal in all 50 states). Sandra Graham-Bermann, a psychology professor and researcher at the University of Michigan, says that though the child might momentarily stop problematic behavior when hit or spanked, it’s only because he or she is afraid. The lesson doesn’t stick for the long term. Positive reinforcement, as well as remaining calm during tantrums, is more effective at encouraging good behavior. Try sharing this research with your brother.

Dear Annie: This is in response to “Family Divided,” who has been butting heads with her sister about politics.

As a physician who counsels patients with life-threatening illnesses, I have learned that when there is family conflict for any reason, it’s best to become a love warrior and use love as your weapon.

“I love you.” Say it every day to the people with whom you are in conflict, no matter what the reason – from someone who screams at you for taking his parking space to parents with whom you’re always fighting.

One patient thought that I was nuts and saying “I love you” would make no difference. But she started telling her alcoholic parents she loved them anyway. Each week, she told me it made no difference. Three months later, she came in with a smile. I asked her what the smile was about, and she said, “I was late for work today, so I ran out of the house and heard my parents yelling, ‘You forgot something!’ I told them I had all my stuff. What had I forgotten? They answered, ‘You didn’t say, “I love you.’ ” Next thing you know, we were crying and hugging each other and healing all our wounds.”

Love is a powerful weapon, and the opposite of love is not fear or hate but indifference, rejection and abuse. – Bernie S., M.D.

Send your questions for Annie Lane to To find out more about Annie Lane and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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