Month: September 2009

Daddy’s Pants are On Fire!!!!

Perhaps you have read the study published just yesterday about parents lying to their children. The study, printed in the Journal of Moral Development, reported that a surprisingly high percentage of parents lie to their children. The spectrum of untruths was broad, ranging from outright lies about monsters in the closet eating children who don’t eat their vegetables to little white lies about tooth fairies and Easter bunnies.

It is ironic that my last post encourages parents to fib to their kids, so I want to address that apparent contradiction.

First, placebo requires an incomplete transmission of truth. If someone knows that a treatment is a placebo, it will usually diminish the power of the placebo (although oddly, not all of it). This is why researchers nefariously attempt to “break the blind” in research studies—in order to reduce the power of the placebo treatment compared to the experimental drug. So telling your child that The Miyagi Treatment is bogus would render it essentially useless.

Second, lying to children is a time-honored tradition. Think about the following: Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, teeth falling out if they are not brushed, “This is the Cubs year”, Mom getting her tattoo as a “contest prize”, and insisted that the squeaking bed the kids heard last night was “Dad was fixing it; everyone knows that late night is the best time to fix a bed”. Heck, my kids all think they were bought at Target (although we let our eldest change the story to Nordstrom; she has her reputation to maintain). Is there really any harm in these little whoppers when the truth is finally discovered?

Third, of course some lies are not healthy for children. Lying to older children about important family facts is not usually a good idea, unless the truth would be too painful to comprehend or a confidence would be broken. As a child gets older, it is crucial that children perceive parents as truth-tellers; otherwise they will not earn the child’s trust. Minor white lies will not damage that trust.

I’m curious…what lies have you all told your children that you believe are justifiable and even healthy? Are there any you believe in retrospect were not worthwhile? I’m eager to hear your stories.

Now you’ll excuse me, I have to go fix my bed.

"The Miyagi Treatment"

Just about everyone knows something about the placebo effect. Essentially, it refers to any pretend treatment that has no direct effect, but somehow induces hope, which in turn produces positive results. For example, it is well-known that placebo (or sugar pill) performs just as well as antidepressants. It is also highly effective for many pain syndromes.

I use placebo all the time with my kids for minor injuries like scrapes, bumps, bruises, odd pains. One of my favorite is “The Miyagi Treatment”; I actually call it that, so it sounds important and even medical.

I don’t need to tell some of you exactly what it is—you remember the movie. But for any of you who never saw “The Karate Kid”…

All you have to do is calmly tell Junior that you know exactly what to do (you have to look serious and intent about it). Go ahead and tell him that you learned this treatment in Vietnam or something—he won’t know the difference. Carefully and powerfully clap your hands together—hard—and start to rub them together, hard and fast. Do this for about 20 seconds. You can do a meditative sounding “mmmm…”, but make it a bit guttural and very serious-sounding.

After 20 seconds, press your warm hands onto wherever the bump, bruise, or scrape is. Put a little pressure on it and ask your child to count to 20, slowly. After 10, tell him/her that after 20, you will let go and the injury will feel mostly better. As soon as you take your hand off, say “See?” Don’t show your amazement when your child says “Yeah, it’s almost all better.” Then pat Junior on the head and say that the rest of the pain will go away soon.

It works every time. Miyagi would be proud.

Study Skills 101: Multi-Tasking

OK, let’s see a show of hands: who thinks it is a good idea to multi-task while studying or completing homework? I’m talking about things like watching TV, listening to music, checking for chat responses on the computer, or texting friends.

Teenagers answering that question tend to give multi-tasking lukewarm support, although rather than insisting it is a good thing, they tend to defend multi-tasking as something less heinous than a mortal sin. Parents, on the other hand, instinctively know that multi-tasking is not such a good idea.

Part of the problem is that parents tend to be consummate multi-taskers. What stay-at-home mom isn’t juggling 20 different things: cooking, cleaning, coordinating rides, disciplining children, talking to friends, running errands, and answering the constant flow of inane questions that children seem to offer up when Mom is in the middle of everything?

Children aren’t coming out of left field when they ask, “If Mom does it all day, why in the world can’t I watch TV when I do my Math?”

The difference is that many of Mom’s tasks don’t require complex thinking—at least the kind of complex thinking that requires the deep, undivided attention involved in reading, writing, and arithmetic. I’m not denigrating Mom’s work—believe me, it’s a lot more work than I want to do; it’s just a different kind of work.

A pretty good unbiased study performed at the National Academy of Sciences illustrates how students who multi-task often perceived themselves at skilled at performing complex cognitive tasks while watching TV and other potentially distracting stimuli, but in fact were quite poor at it.

Specifically, students were far less able to perform two crucial cognitive tasks. The first is filtering, which is focusing on a key task while ignoring or shutting out other stimuli. Students who attempted to multi-task had a horrible time filtering out both auditory and visual extraneous stimuli. The second is task-switching: shifting attention from one task to another. Multi-taskers were surprisingly very slow at going from the secondary task (watching TV, texting, etc.) back to the primary task (homework, studying).

In the end, students who multi-tasked comprehended far less material and were able to recall a great deal less of it the next day.

If you desire the greatest success for your child, initiate appropriate homework and studying rules in the earlier grades. Expect your child to turn off cell phones, the computer, TV, video games, and the radio. Set the expectation early and allow few exceptions.

Why You Shouldn’t Watch Football with Your Kids…

I don’t claim to be a perfect parent. It’s a good thing too, because I certainly proved my imperfection this weekend.

So the Bears game was on yesterday; we had family and friends over, as usual. I get pretty worked up watching sports in general, and when it comes to the Bears, all bets are off; I’m near maniacal. As you might recall, the game was depressing, exciting, infuriating, and sublime–often all within seconds. Toward the end of the game, there was a play where a penalty should have been called on the Steelers. Before I could contain myself, I let out a booming “S*&^!!!”

Well, my daughter chimes in from the other room, “Daddy, did you just say the S-word?” There was no hiding it. I quickly thought of correcting her and saying, “No honey, I said ‘ship’; it’s a football term.” Unfortunately, my kids are too savvy for that. So I had to fess up: “Yes, honey, I did. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry.”

Oops. I didn’t hear anything about it after that. She didn’t tattle on me, nor did she seem bothered by it. She didn’t even copy me (yet). I hope that my confession and apology will model for her an appropriate way to deal with mistakes. Tune in. I’ll let you know. Now you’ll excuse me; I have important s*&^ to do.

Should Parents Spank (Their Children)?

As I described in Wednesday’s post, we have seen a growing anti-spanking sentiment in our culture. Several universities have committed to publishing studies that suggest spanking creates a host of social-emotional problems, from increasing violent tendencies to lowering cognitive functioning, even dooming them to a preference for country music.

While many of these studies look like Psychology 101 mid-term projects, the question of whether parents should spank remains. Today, I will share some of my thoughts on the subject.

When I talk about spanking, I define it as I do any disciplinary tool: it is a means to an end. Whether it is spanking, yelling, lecturing, or removing privileges, all forms of discipline have a purpose. But what is that purpose—and given the purpose, can spanking be an effective and safe means to that end?

The purpose of discipline is training. The primary commission of parenthood is training children to be good citizens, develop healthy relationships, and prepare for independent adult life.

Any disciplinary tool, then, that does not effectively or safely shepherd the child toward those ends should be rejected. Now the question becomes “Does spanking help parents train children?”

Spanking now needs further definition. By definition, spanking is a punishment. In Psych 101, you likely learned that punishment is any stimulus that reduces the frequency or intensity of a behavior. With sufficient punishment, parents can reduce many types of behavior.

However, punishment has significant limits. First, punishment only reduces behaviors in the presence of the punisher. A wide breadth of non-biased child development research has demonstrated that in the absence of the source of the punishment, behaviors either continue or quickly resurface. So a parent can stop Junior from whining in front of him, but the child will likely continue to whine elsewhere. This is not ideal training.

Second, punishment is woefully inadequate for teaching new behaviors. So spanking may get Junior to stop doing something, but it will never teach him better alternatives. In the absence of these alternatives, Junior will most likely return to default behaviors.

Third, punishment holds a risk for abuse for some parents. As I argue in my book, the majority of parents I work with who are uncomfortable with spanking object not because of any philosophical or scientific reason. Most of them had parents who took corporal punishment too far; as a result, they decided not to parent with the same extreme measures. Good for them.

So forget about spanking as a training tool; all punishments fail to pass the training tool test. I never recommend it as a primary method of discipline.

How or when could spanking ever be appropriate, then? The answer is in the relationship between parent and child. In order to train your child, there must be a fundamental hierarchy whereby the child recognizes that the parent is in charge, in control, sovereign. Without that foundation of relationship, no form of discipline will work. Otherwise, why would Junior go to Time Out? What if he says, “Forget Time Out, I’m going to play my Wii.” If your child doesn’t recognize that Mom and/or Dad is the boss, NO training tools—lectures, removing privileges, writing sentences, grounding, ad nauseum—will do any good.

Now, if you receive that fundamental respect for your authority from your child, spanking will likely be unnecessary. Just as I always submit to a police officer when I get pulled over for speeding, he never needs to pull out his gun. His badge is enough. However, imagine if I did not submit to his authority and became aggressive, obstinate, and refused to obey him. He would then be justified in using force. Similarly, if your child goes to time out and otherwise submits to your authority, then you will not need to punish. If your child refuses to submit to your authority, you will have to establish something more fundamental.

So spanking can function as a means to a more primary end: establishing authority and dominance with your child. Many children never need a targeted tool to establish this hierarchy; they are more naturally inclined to submit to parental authority. But we all know that there are some children who simply do not have this sense; it needs to be trained. Once it is, other more positive methods of discipline (like Time Out) will be more than sufficient.

Is spanking the only way to establish this? No. But it is the easiest and quickest. And enough nonsense about spanking teaching children to be aggressive. If you use spanking in a targeted way and remain in control, spanking will not teach your child to be aggressive. Spanking can’t cause aggression; rage and/or the indiscriminate use of spanking can. Parents who aren’t in control enough to spank without rage should not be using any form of corporal punishment.

I have spanked each of my three children twice. Only twice. Both times were for refusing to go to Time Out; they were not submitting to my position of authority. Controlled, targeted spanking (3 times, on the butt, while calm) established this dominance very quickly. From that point, they never refused to go to Time Out; they always go immediately, with no trouble. I never have to spank again. That’s the whole point of spanking.

In the end, some kids need their parents to establish the parent-child hierarchy before regular methods of discipline will work. Spanking is perfectly appropriate to reach this end. If you are able to do this without spanking, good for you! I’m not a card-carrying member of the “Spank Early; Spank Often” club. I just know it works for some things. Ask my kids.

Throwing the Baby Out With the Wooden Spoon

The Latest Episode of “Researchers Gone Wild”

A new study published in Child Development concludes that children who are spanked as 1-year-olds are more likely to behave aggressively and perform worse on cognitive tests as toddlers than children who are spared the punishment.

Before I tear this study to shreds, I will point out some sensible and valuable remarks and conclusions from the study (it’s not all bad).

First, they admitted that the negative effects of spanking were modest; in scientific literature parlance, this means negligible.

Second, they determined that children who were spanked at age 2 did not become more aggressive by age 3. The researchers sensibly suggest that if those children who already spanked at age 1 were already more aggressive by age 2. Supposedly, the negative effects already wreaked their havoc by age 3.

Third, the authors make the very reasonable suggestion that one of the actual causes of lower cognitive performance could be that parents who spank their children as early as age 1 might be less likely to use reasoning with their children. If the parents don’t model reasoning, then the child simply cannot learn it for himself.

OK, those are the reasonable portions of this study. The rest of it—particularly its central conclusions and methods—is garbage.

One of the most egregious errors a scientist can make is ignoring what is called confounding variables. These are factors other than the primary variable that might actually be causing the change observed by the researchers. A good research study evaluates as many confounding variables as possible before making a conclusion.

In this study, there are several confounding variables that are either ignored or too easily dismissed. Essentially, parents who spank toddlers have other unique behavior and relational patterns that might also result in aggressive behaviors—and frankly, better explain why some of the children were aggressive.

First, parents who tend to spank a one-year-old are likely to be far less educated or insightful regarding child development. While I am in favor of spanking for some behaviors and for some children, I would NEVER recommend spanking a one-year-old. Children that age simply cannot understand what is going on; they cannot develop the cause-effect relationship between their behavior and the punishment they are receiving. This lack of understanding is what most likely pushes a child to use aggression when angry. It is not the painful stimulus itself. If this were the case, then every child who was held down by a nurse for his series of immunizations would become a serial killer.

Second, parents who spank a child that young are far more likely to do so out of rage, rather than from a sensible, purposeful, self-controlled discipline. Children who witness their parents rageful and out of control are far more likely to view the world as dangerous and out of control; their behavior will then mimic this view of the world. This study did not control for the kind of spanking that was performed—only the number of times. Which do you think is more harmful: being spanked twenty times by a self-controlled, calm person or twice from a raging, out of control lunatic with a weapon?

Third, Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff, an avowed anti-spanking zealot, suggested that spanking creates a model for aggression and that “spanking is just hitting”. Well, no it’s not, especially when the parent is in control, uses the spanking for a specific purpose, uses reason and other methods of discipline, and does not injure the child.

Fourth, the study completely ignored the reality that some parents who spank their infants are otherwise loving, attentive, and supportive, while others are not. Might this be the most important variable in predicting which spanked children become aggressive? Of course.

Finally, the study used only low-income families. Well, what else do we know about low-income families that might predict greater aggression, such as greater exposure to violent TV shows? Might parents who spank earlier tend to have a higher rate of alcohol or drug use? Wouldn’t these parents also neglect their children and allow the television to babysit them? What about the greatest predictor of behavioral problems in children– the relationship between parents? This study did not control for this at all. It also did not control for the possibility of alcohol and drug use of the father. Frankly, the study did not mention fathers much at all, which is strange and suspicious.

In the end, this study reads like the propaganda page from the parenting organization PUSS: Parents United to Stop Spanking. To not rule out other probable factors is inexcusable and renders the study invalid. This is unfortunate, because the question of whether spanking is a healthy parenting/discipline tool is a legitimate one.

Friday, I will discuss my views on spanking in greater detail.

Memorandum from Your Child

Several years ago, I spotted a similar piece online. Since it was anonymous, I decided to amend and and shape it into its present form. I posted it in my office door and in the following years, I have had scores of requests for it.

So here it is.

Memorandum from Your Child

 Set limits for me. I know quite well that I ought not to have all I ask for. I am only testing you.

 Be firm with me. I prefer it. It makes me feel more secure.

 Be consistent. If you’re not, it confuses me and makes me try harder to get away with things.

 Don’t do for me what I can do for myself. It makes me feel smaller than I am.

 Please correct me in private. I can hear you better if you talk quietly with me alone, rather than with other people present.

 Talk about my behavior when our conflict has gone down. In the heat of battle somehow my listening gets bad, and my cooperation is even worse. It’s OK for you to take the actions needed, but let’s not talk about it until we all calm down.

 Help me understand the difference between my mistakes and my sins. I need to learn from my mistakes without feeling that I’m no good and to confess my sins so that I learn God’s grace and your forgiveness.

 Don’t be too upset when I say “I hate you”. I don’t mean it but sometimes I want you to feel sorry for what you have done to me.

 Don’t protect me from consequences. I need to learn the hard way sometimes.

 Don’t take too much notice of my small ailments. Sometimes they get me the attention I need.
 Please don’t nag. If you do I shall have to protect myself by appearing deaf.

 Make promises that you can keep and keep the promises you make—it grows my trust in you.

 Don’t tax my honesty too much. I am easily frightened into telling lies.

 When you teach me things, please keep it simple. If you use big words or get into long confusing explanations, my mind goes somewhere else.

 Don’t put me off when I ask questions for information. If you do you will find that I stop asking and seek my information elsewhere. If I ask questions for attention this is a different matter.

 Tell me of your anger at my actions without name-calling. If you call me “stupid” or “idiot”, or “clumsy” too often I’ll start to believe that. Help me learn how to handle my anger constructively. It’s best if you show me.

 Talk with me rather than preach at me. You’d be surprised how well I know what’s right and wrong. I need to have my feelings and ideas respected, just like you – so please listen to them.

 Don’t overuse force with me. Once I know who is boss, I will respond more readily to being led.

 Don’t worry so much how much time we spend together. It’s how we spend it that counts. If you admit when you are wrong sometimes, I will learn that that is OK to do. I will also learn to practice forgiveness.

 And most importantly, Daddy, be a good husband to Mommy. It makes her a better Mom. And Mommy, be a good wife to Daddy. It makes him a better Dad.

ADHD Researchers Proven Mentally Defective


A recent study by the Brookhaven National Laboratory appears in the sadly prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association; the study proves nothing scientifically, but indicates that mainstream ADHD researchers are either conspiring to devolve research to Dark Age quality or are borderline mentally retarded.

This study’s patently ridiculous conclusions and blind presuppositions would be comical, were the public generally able to view research studies critically. Let me point out some of this study’s follies so you can do just that.

Supposedly, they discovered that ADHD patients lack key proteins that allow them to experience a sense of reward and motivation. Using PET scans, they focused on the chemical dopamine, a key regulator of mood and arousal. Those who had a diagnosis of ADHD had lower levels of both proteins in two areas of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens and midbrain. Both form part of the limbic system, responsible for the emotions, and sensations such as motivation and reward.

Patients with more pronounced ADHD symptoms had the lowest levels of the proteins in these areas.

Now, on the surface, this seems impressive and conclusive. People with ADHD don’t produce these proteins! Aha!

But there is a critical error here that even most first-year undergraduate students can decipher.
The error is to assume that the brain differences are the cause of the inattentiveness, boredom, and hyperactivity, rather than the other way around. Here we have our most eminent researchers breaking one of the crucial laws of scientific research: correlation does not equal causation.

Let me give an example. A scientist who believes that animal behavior causes changes in the natural world notices that a rooster crows every time the sun rises. These two things go together; they are correlated. A poor scientist would conclude that the rooster makes the sun rise by its crowing. A wise scientist might consider this possibility but also wonder if it were the other way around—maybe the rooster crows because the sun rose. Duh…

Similarly, children who have lower proteins might be born this way; indeed, these lower proteins may result in the symptoms of ADHD. But only the most biased or stupid scientist would ignore the possibility that lives marked by boredom and a lack of motivating experiences might manifest in brain functioning. Yes, our brains respond to our environment and our choices, everyday and in multiple ways.

So why would a scientist ignore this? Presuppositions. The scientists in this study clearly approach the data with a strong bias—that people with ADHD symptoms have these symptoms due to inherited, innate differences in the brain. The problem is that they can only perceive data from one angle or perspective. This is science at its very worst.

The second moronic conclusion of this study comes from its recommendations. Dr Volkow said the findings supported the use of stimulant medications to treat ADHD by raising dopamine levels. There it is…a tacit admission of the financial motivation behind this study. If there were no money to be made as a result of these conclusions, the study would not have been performed—or reported. When reading research studies regarding mental health, always follow the money!

Finally, the study ends with the boneheaded suggestion that teachers need to make sure that school tasks are interesting and exciting, so that children with ADHD are motivated to remain interested. I’m surprised they didn’t suggest MTV-style presentations, using PlayStation, and doing a song and dance to teach middle schoolers the Constitution. Now, I’m all for teachers making material interesting; no doubt, some teachers do a better job of this than others. But teachers simply can’t compete with MTV and Xbox. Nor should they have to.

I have a better suggestion. Let’s raise our children so that they don’t require MTV-style entertainment in order to learn. Increase their motivation through training, discipline, and meaningful social-relational rewards. Then they won’t need drugs to stimulate their brains into normal functioning.

Managing Test Anxiety 101

Now that school has begun in earnest, I would like to address several specific struggles that students often complain about. The first is test anxiety.

Most students experience some degree of test anxiety, with a broad range of experiences, from the healthy level of stress that produces mild butterflies to the horrible, counterproductive anxiety that results in shaking, crippling stomach-churning, and splitting headaches.

It is crucial to know that anxiety is usually a physical manifestation of thoughts; in fact, most feelings are. Without anxious thoughts, there would be little anxiety (except the kind that comes after too much coffee).

So what thoughts produce test anxiety? Here are a few that will guarantee anxiety:

“If I don’t pass this test, I will never get into a good school and I will wind up living in a cardboard box on the side of the road” (catastrophizing thoughts)

“My parents will KILL me if I don’t ace this” (more catastrophizing)

“I’m stupid and I stink at this subject; there is no way I will do well. (negativity)

Notice that the catastrophizing thoughts are usually highly irrational. Sure, performing poorly on a test will have some negative consequences, but it likely will not end in tragedy.

Combating test anxiety, while sometimes difficult, is quite simple. Like any skill, it takes practice. Here are some things to try to minimize anxiety before and during tests (and other pressure situations in school):

1. Remind yourself that this test is not the most important thing in your life. Think of several things that ARE more important in life. Put the test in its proper place.

2. Tell yourself that you know the material and will do just fine (unless you haven’t studied at all, in which case you deserve a good headache).

3. Play the “What if?” game. Ask yourself, “What if I get a bad grade on this test? What is the worst thing that will happen?” When you think about it, nothing THAT bad will happen. You won’t be sold, your parents won’t cut your fingers off, and you won’t ruin your life. It’s just a test. Relax.

4. Before the test, practice deep breathing for one minute. Focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, slowly. Don’t breathe too deeply or you will pass out; you probably won’t do well on the test if you are unconscious.

5. While you do this, count from 100-0 by 2’s or 3’s. It will get your mind off of the worry.

6. Another way to relax your body and mind is to flex your muscles, then relax them. Do several separate muscle groups for 5 seconds each.

Anyone have other (legal) ideas on how to combat test anxiety? Share them with us!

Park Ridge Elementary Schools Support Parents in Charge!



It may or may not come as some surprise to my readers that I was not excited about sending my children to public school. I am a firm supporter of parochial schools, for several reasons. However, after long debate, I relented, and both my girls have had excellent experiences in their early elementary years.

Like many Park Ridgers, I have been following the news regarding President Obama’s speech, which is to be simulcast today in our schools. While I haven’t succumbed to any seizure-like activity from the prospect of my children hearing our president speak, I admit that I had a sliver of paranoia about his message. I never bought into the idea that he was using this speech as a form of indoctrination. At the same time, I don’t like the idea of political figures talking to my children without my permission.

And that is the crux of the matter for me. Ask me my permission. I am the parent here. I am sovereign in my children’s lives; I should be aware when my children are going to listen to a speech by a political figure.

And my children’s school has respected this. They announced to the parents that Obama’s speech was going to be aired today and that any child could opt out of the speech. No child who opted out would have to view the speech at a later date. It was completely voluntary.

I would like to thank whomever it was who made this decision and applaud him or her for supporting my position of authority in my children’s lives. This decision fosters the respect and trust that I have for the district and its administration.

By the way, I chose to let my children view the speech–not because I am thrilled about them viewing it, but because it will give us a chance to talk about the content and how we show respect to our governmental officials (especially when we don’t support their politics).