Annie's Mailbox for Feb. 24, 2011: Boyfriend helping single female neighbor

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Dear Annie: My boyfriend and I have been together for three years. We are compatible in every way but one. He feels compelled to run to the aid of his single, female neighbor, even though she has a boyfriend. He watches her dog, fixes her fence, helps with clogged drains, etc. I've told him this makes me uncomfortable. I feel he is sending the wrong message, enabling her to rely upon him and creating a bond. I want him to stop volunteering his services. He thinks I am making a big deal out of nothing. He says he likes to help people.

A similar situation happened two years ago with a different single, female neighbor, and I found a flirtatious note from her on his door. I don't believe anything happened between them, but the neighbor apparently hoped something would.

I think he craves the adoration and wants women to idolize and praise him for coming to their rescue. Am I being petty, or is my boyfriend playing me for a fool?

— Concerned Girlfriend

Dear Concerned: Neither. You are probably right about your boyfriend's need for admiration and praise, and it has nothing to do with playing you for a fool. This is simply part of his character. The problem, as you say, is that some women will get the impression that he is interested in them romantically. If he is unwilling to accept this fact, your choice is to trust him and put up with it, or break it off.

Dear Annie: I am a 21-year-old female looking for my mother's approval. My biological mother left when I was a baby, and my stepmother has been my mom since I was 6 months old.

We never really got along while I was growing up. I have tried repeatedly to have a relationship with her, but I always catch her saying bad things about me to my family. Now they all think ill of me. I wasn't even welcome at last year's Christmas party.

Due to all the nasty things my stepmother has my family believing, I made the decision to stop speaking to her. But now my father and I hardly ever talk to each other. I know she is still saying things behind my back, because my younger sister gets into arguments with her about it. Do you have any suggestions?

— Desperate for a Mother's Love

Dear Desperate: Since you and your stepmother have had a contentious relationship for years, it will be difficult to improve it, but not impossible. Talk to your stepmother in your father's presence. Say gently that you want her to be in your life, that you care very much about her and that you want to make your relationship better. Ask her to come with you for counseling. You could talk to your clergyperson or get a referral from your doctor. If your stepmother sees that you are genuinely interested in making the effort, she may agree to work on it. Either way, your father needs to see that you are trying.

Dear Annie: I am a Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) and would like to offer a suggestion on how to correct a child's manners. To change behavior, research indicates it is more effective to do so with positive reinforcement.

One reader suggested giving a child 25 pennies at the beginning of each meal, losing a penny for each infraction, such as chewing with his mouth open. A much more effective plan would be to reinforce the child for correct table manners, like chewing with his mouth closed or using a napkin. Each time, he would receive a penny for the desired behavior. The stack of pennies would build up.

It is easier to catch negative behavior. However, when we make the conscious effort to notice and reward desirable behavior, the positive behavior will replace the negative sooner and will be more lasting.

— Ann Steele, NCSP, Wausau, Wis.

Dear Ann Steele: We greatly appreciate your expertise. Thank you.

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