Dear Savvy Auntie,

My niece always has a hard time whenever Father's Day comes around since her parents divorced a few years ago; and she's been living with her mom (my sister) ever since. My niece is now 13 years old and likes to come over to my house around this time, but I never know how I should help her when she's so depressed. Lately, she's been keeping herself locked up in her room (or in the guest room when she's at my place). What should I say or do to help get her through this? I'm sure that my sister is also struggling, and I want to be there for her as well. Please, help.


Auntie M

Dear Auntie M,

Being thirteen is not easy for girls, in general. Their usual way of coping with becoming women is to hole up in their room. Try to remember when you were that age and awaiting or having your first period, finding boys attractive and hoping they find you attractive also, negotiating the sometimes treacherous waters of friendships and cliques, being concerned about your body, and working in school and with homework…eek! So, respect her privacy while being available and casually offering fun activities – shopping (most girls this age love a trip to the mall), ice cream jaunts, movies, museum outings, or manicures/pedicures. Offer to host a friend, and just listen; you will learn a great deal. You can try to frame the activity as the first in your very own Father’s Day ritual to be repeated next year.

Sport activities are the very best option… Tennis, anyone? Any involvement in a sport is great on many levels. The hormones that are starting to surge inside her can be eased by physical activity. I also suggest going to a newsstand or bookstore and getting a number of teen magazines and leaving them in your living room. If she chooses to take them into her room, allow it; but try for mutual magazine browsing, which can open up a conversation.

Choosing a nightly TV program can be expanded with homemade popcorn or chips and homemade dips.

Warning! Do not ask a lot of questions about how she feels; and above all, don’t pry. You can offer photos or memories of when you were her age and let her ask the questions – short truthful answers are best.

I strongly advise you to pass these suggestions on to your sister and caution her not to bad-mouth her ex-husband.

I wish you the best of luck,

Natalie Robinson Garfield ,

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