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INDISPENSABLE ADVICE FROM REAL LIFE'S AGONY AUNT AND UNCLE
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THE H-WORD

My three-year-old son has a habit that if he doesn't want to do something that he's being told to do, he will look at you and say "NO" very firmly and then say "I hate you". I reprimand him but am not sure whether this is the best way to deal with it: should I just ignore it and hope it will eventually go away?

Tim, Cheltenham

He says:

When your son says "I hate you" he doesn't mean he hates you: he will have very little concept of what hate signifies. By taking him so seriously, however, you are encouraging him. It is a similar scenario to when children pick up their first "rude words": if the reaction is one of horror then they will carry on in delight; if they get no reaction at all then the exercise becomes a bit of a damp squib. I would suggest that, having already given your son an inkling that this is a word that produces a strong reaction, you defuse the situation by giving an entirely different signal on subsequent occasions. A non-verbal reaction may be best: as soon as he comes out with his usual script, give a great roar of laughter, distract him with tickles or a hug, all the while physically jollying him towards the task he has taken exception to. This will drown out any repetition from him, while not letting him off the hook of doing what he's told.

She says:

If your son knows that this little trick winds you up he will continue to do it, so ignoring him might be more effective than trying to reason with him. (In any case I am rather suspicious of attempting to reason with toddlers; it is a complete waste of time and frustrating to both parties.) If this really is annoying you beyond measure, a swift clip round the ear every time you hear the h-word forming itself on his lips would probably do the trick. (Though quite possibly this strategy would make him genuinely hate you.)

WIFE V PUB QUIZ

I play in a pub quiz team on Tuesday nights. We are a very competitive lot and taking part has become a bit of an obsession for all of us. The other week my wife made a social arrangement for both of us on a Tuesday and, to get out of it, as my wife was getting ready I told her that my quiz night was a fantasy and in fact I had being seeing another woman every Tuesday for the past year. This succeeded in getting me out of the house (very quickly) and we've now agreed that Tuesday nights are set aside for my fictional mistress. But the rest of the week is dreadful. My wife keeps bursting into tears for no reason and she keeps on trying to start up intense talks about our relationship - you know how women will go on and on about a subject. Any ideas how I can calm her down?

Toby, Somerset

He says

You are seriously in need of help. You have an utterly skewed perception of reality if you believe that a pub quiz is worth sacrificing a marriage for. You must immediately tell your wife the truth: don't be surprised if she remains as angry as she is now about your deception. She will need a long time to regain her equilibrium and you must offer to attend a joint counselling course: it would be a nice gesture to arrange these sessions for Tuesday nights.

She says:

I'm afraid I'm not convinced that this is an entirely realistic scenario. But if it is, all I can say is that I wish you the greatest success with your quiz sessions. You deserve to win, and I hope it gives you great satisfaction.

NOT ON MY DOORSTEP

The other day as I was leaving home I stumbled over a young man sleeping in the lobby of the block of flats where I live. It was evident that he was a rough sleeper. He asked me if I was going to call the police to evict him and I said that I wouldn't. And I won't, I don't want him to be roughly handled or thrown out. But all the same, I don't want him to take up permanent residence. Since then I have seen him nearly every day and notice that he has stored a few blankets under the stairs. How can I handle the situation in a way that won't make me feel bad?

Mary, London SW2

He says:

You have a guilty conscience because you are very aware of the fact that while you have a flat to live in others are consigned to the lobby, not only the lobby of your block of flats but the lobby of life, and that is something that will not be squared however you handle this particular incident. Why not contact a local homeless outreach charity? Let them know where and when they are likely to find this young man and persuade them to come to offer him an alternative place to sleep.

She says:

How many flats are there in your block? It's more than likely that one of them houses someone less scrupulous and/or kindly (and/or dithery) than you. I would bet that even if you were eventually to get used to someone bivouacking in your hallway there will be someone upstairs who won't like it. As it's not the notion of this chap being back on the streets but the notion of you having to put him there that is bothering you, hang on. If you wait long enough, you won't have to take eviction measures: someone else will solve the problem, one way or another. I have no idea whether this will make you "feel bad" or not. If you want to feel good you could invite him to move into your spare room but I wouldn't advise it.

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