Dear Annie: The other day my daughter threatened to wash her 4-year-old’s mouth out with soap. I don’t want to interfere in how she disciplines her kids, but I told her I am totally against putting soap in a child’s mouth.

I explained that soap contains many chemicals that could be harmful, especially to a small child. And although my granddaughter would certainly try to spit it out, a great deal of it would likely be swallowed.

I know this form of discipline has been around for a while. Would you please tell me whether or not this is harmful? — Concerned Grandmother

Dear Concerned: This expression is so common that we worry parents don’t realize how dangerous it is to take it literally. Regular soaps contain a variety of fats and oils, but also lye, a caustic chemical, as well as dyes and perfumes. They are not intended for consumption. A few years ago, a Florida couple was charged with child abuse when they forced their 8-year-old to chew on a bar of soap and the girl landed in the hospital. Please urge your daughter to find other ways to discipline her child.

Dear Annie: The holidays are just around the corner. My wife and I are both middle-class workers, with one son in college and two right behind. My wife’s sister, “Liz,” is fairly well off, with three children in private universities and one in high school.

I suggested to my wife that once the kids turn 18 we put a halt to the exchange of holiday gifts with these adult nieces and nephews. Apparently, it didn’t go over too well with Liz.

I think Liz gets caught up in the whole holiday whirlwind without realizing that some people would enjoy the holiday a little more if the focus weren’t on gifts. Am I being unreasonable? — Scrooge

Dear Scrooge: Not at all, but you will have to take a stand if you want to change this practice. First, make sure your wife is on board. It is important that Liz not manipulate her sister. Say that you will not be getting gifts for the adult children this year. If Liz blows a gasket and refuses, that is her choice. But you need to stick to your guns.

Dear Annie: This is in response to “Miss My Sister,” whose bipolar sister committed suicide. In her anger and confusion, she asked, “Do people who kill themselves know the devastation and pain they leave behind?” My 29-year-old son took his life in March. I know first-hand the heartache the survivor holds in her heart.

I believe that someone who is depressed enough to take her own life is not thinking of those left behind. They are not being selfish or thoughtless. They simply cannot cope. There is nothing “Miss” could have done differently. She provided a stable and loving home, and that is the best anyone can do. We cannot control these illnesses that our loved ones have. We want to stop their pain, but we cannot make them well.

I have come far in my grief. For a while, I couldn’t even find the strength to brush my teeth. — Brushing My Teeth Now

Dear Brushing: Thank you for taking a moment in your own grief to offer words of consolation to another.

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