January 2010

The Parent in Charge Quiz

Assess your parenting style and family hierarchy by circling the response that most accurately reflects your experience with your child(ren).

1. My children boss me or tell me what to do.
A. Often
B. Sometimes
C. Are you kidding? My kids would never dream of ordering me around!

2. If I say no to something, my child will go to my spouse oranother adult to get what he or she wants.
A. Often
B. Sometimes
C. Are you kidding? My kid would never dream of answer shopping!

3. When I say no to my child, I get eye-rolling, arm-folding, stomping, door-slamming, and a series of looks as if I’m from another planet.
A. Often
B. Sometimes
C. Are you kidding? My kid would never dream of disrespecting me like that!

4. My child says things like “whatever” or whispers things under his or her breath to or about me.
A. Often
B. Sometimes
C. Are you kidding? My child knows better than to do that.

5. My children whine, beg, and plead to get what they want.
A. Often
B. Sometimes
C. Are you kidding? My children know that “Please, may I…” is the only way to get what they want.

6. My child insults me or calls me “lame,” “retarded,” “backward,” or other names.
A. Often
B. Sometimes
C. Are you kidding? My kid wouldn’t dare insult me!

7. My children complain of boredom; I have to make sure they are entertained.
A. Often
B. Sometimes
C. Are you kidding? My kids know that I will assign them a list of chores a mile long if they complain of being bored. They keep themselves occupied independently.

8. My children’s behavior is intolerable at restaurants or other public places to the point where I cannot take them anywheredecent behavior is expected.
A. Often
B. Sometimes
C. Are you kidding? My kids know that they will be eating nothing but wheat bread and broccoli if they act out in public!

9. When other children misbehave in my home, I feel powerless to intervene or discipline them.
A. Often
B. Sometimes
C. Are you kidding? Any child who comes to my home must follow my rules; if he refuses to accept my rules or discipline, he will leave and not return until that changes.

10. My children do not seem to care what I think of their behavior, so I do not acknowledge, praise, respect, or show appreciation for positive behavior.
A. Often
B. Sometimes
C. Are you kidding? My children and I thrive on mutual gratitude and expression of affection, especially when they behave well!

If you circled “C” on all (or almost all) 10 items, congratulations! You are a Parent in Charge. Of course, you can always learn how to more securely maintain a proper family hierarchy and manage your children, but you are on the right track.
If you circled “A” or “B” on multiple items, you are a more Submissive Parent. If you read and utilize the principles and techniques included in Desperately Seeking Parents, however, you can become a Parent in Charge.

Desperately Seeking Parents…Finally!

OK, Desperately Seeking Parents is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s website.

Here are 10 reasons parents and grandparents should buy my book:

1. It’s short (150 pages) and to the point.

2. It’s very easy to read; I purposely wrote it in a conversational style. Nothing academic or complex in this book.

3. It’s cheap! Only $13.95 for paperback and $30 for hardcover (I say get the paperback).

4. It will show you exactly why children need parents who are in control, without becoming controlling.

5. It supports parents’ rights and authority, without demeaning the position of children.

6. It clarifies the difference between rights and privileges, which will help parents determine the things that will motivate their children and avoid spoiling them.

7. This is the first book to utilize a Family Constitution: a way to codify family structure, expectations, rewards, and consequences. Parents have found this enormously helpful.

8. It suggests high expectations for children and shows parents how they can get the very best from their children.

9. It’s funny. Imagine Dave Barry as a parenting expert–except without the booger jokes.

10. It works! I’ve been using this method with parents since I started my practice and have seen amazing results–often in less than a week.

Go get it and review it online. I look forward to your feedback!

Normal People Aren’t “Normal”

A recent study by the Dutch researcher A. Bartels-Velthuis of University Medical Center Groningen determined that approximately 10 percent of seven and eight-year-olds hear voices. This study was refreshing in that she didn’t seem eager to pathologize children who do hear voices: “These voices in general have a limited impact in daily life. In most cases, the voices will just disappear. I would advise (parents) to reassure their child and to watch him or her closely.”

Furthermore, up to 16 percent of mentally healthy children and teens may hear voices, the research team noted in the British Journal of Psychiatry. They added that while hearing voices can signal a heightened risk of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders in later life, they add, the “great majority” of young people who have these experiences never become mentally ill.

This study is fundamentally different from so many others in the mainstream. Many studies focusing on childhood behavior seem heavily biased toward a medical, pathological view of any “abnormal” or different patterns. For example, children who throw temper tantrums are often viewed as having Bipolar Disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, when there is no evidence that these children have any medical or mental disorder. Most of them simply require better parenting and/or healing from significant relational-emotional wounds.

I wish more studies would focus on an understanding that children with differences are often just that: different.

“When Toddlers Attack,” Rated G

I deal with a number of families whose toddler has started hitting when upset. They hit peers, siblings, even parents. This development upsets many parents, who are afraid of what it might mean and feel powerless to stop it.

Here are some important things to remember:

First, take a deep breath. Understand that if your toddler begins hitting (or kicking or any other aggressive habit), do not worry that your child is developing into a mercenary, thug, or terrorist. Hitting is a very normal developmental hiccup. Gandhi and Mother Teresa were probably whacking their siblings when they were in the terrible twos.

Second, understand that hitting is primarily a means of communication for a person who has a very short list of available options. Remember, most toddlers have the communication skills of a rutabaga, so when they are excited, angry, jealous, selfish, or sad, they don’t have the same tools that adults have: mainly, words. It would be nice if Junior could say, “Hey, I just got that toy; I’d prefer to play with it for a while before you get your grubby hands on it.” But unless you’re raising a genius, you’re toddler isn’t that verbal.

Third, toddlers are little scientists; they love to get a response out of others. Hitting is an easy way to get that response. Because their ability to empathize is limited, they aren’t particularly upset when they make someone else cry by hitting. In fact, they presume that because hitting seemed OK for them, it must have been OK for the victim: “Hey, that was fun for me! What’s your problem?”

Fourth, your response as a parent needs to be consistent. Understand that unlearning hitting requires both an adequate menu of alternatives and lots of practice using those alternatives. This takes time. Be patient. The most important factor in teaching better skills is modeling. Show your toddler what YOU do when you are angry or frustrated. Then invite your child to copycat you!

Fifth, when your child hits a peer or sibling, support that other child with words. Comfort the child and tell your toddler, “Ouch, that hurt. He won’t want to play with you if you hit him. Tell him you’re sorry.” Invite your child to do something gentle for that child; then reward him verbally.

Sixth, the most effective way to curb hitting is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Watch your toddler while playing; there will be plenty of moments he or she will become frustrated or angry. As soon as this occurs, intervene with your interpretation: “It looks like you are getting mad about this.” Your child will verify this, completing the communication. Now there is no need to hit, because someone gets it! Many repetitions of this circle of communication teaches the child to verbalize feelings.

Lastly, don’t put your child in a situation where he or she is likely to fail repeatedly. Sometimes it is better to conclude that your child is simply not ready for certain social situations. Train your child in smaller settings until there is more self-control; then you can feel safe bringing Junior to a number of social settings.

The Calm, Submissive Child

This one is for all of you Cesar Millan fans out there. For those of you who don’t know Cesar Millan, his nickname is The Dog Whisperer; he seems to have an incredible knack for understanding the psychology of dogs of all breeds and temperaments. He works to rehabilitate them, not terribly unlike what the Supernanny tries to do for families.

One of the basic tenets of his philosophy is that because dogs live in groups (called packs), they establish a hierarchy amongst themselves. Some pack members tend to be more innately dominant, while others are more naturally submissive. He teaches dog owners that no matter what breed or temperament of dog, all dogs need three essentials, in descending order: exercise, discipline, and affection. He also teaches that all dogs can be rehabilitated to achieve what he calls calm submissiveness.

Calm submissiveness is a state of being whereby the dog is prepared to willingly follow the will of its pack leader. Its central nervous system is relaxed, rather than hyperactive. The dog eagerly submits to the discipline of the alpha dog–the “boss” of the pack.

Cesar teaches dog owners how to achieve a calm submissive state in dogs by relying on calm assertive energy. Rather than using techniques that use excessive force or a domineering or bullying attitude, he teaches the owners to use calm assertive behavior. That is, the own establishes himself or herself as the pack leader through consistent discipline and does not engage the dog when the dog is in an excited state. Rather, the dog only gets the owner’s attention when in a calm, submissive state.

The parallels to parenting are striking. Children crave parental attention, but many parents inadvertently give them attention when they are in a state that should not be rewarded–overly excited, rude, obnoxious, and most importantly, attempting to wrest dominance from the parent.

It is the parent’s job to establish dominance with the child. Yes, dominance. I explain this concept in great detail in Desperately Seeking Parents. For now, understand that establishing dominance does not require aggression or hostility; rather, it requires calm assertive behavior, paired with clear expectations.

OK, I know your kids aren’t dogs. But owning a dog isn’t all that different than raising a human child. At least in some important ways. Think about it.

Almost There!

Desperately Seeking Parents has finally gone to print! It should take about three weeks before it is live and available for purchase on Amazon.com. It will also be available on the http://www.desperatelyseekingparents.com/ website, which should be up and running by the end of this month.

I will be having an initial book signing at Burke’s Books in Park Ridge; details will be forthcoming in the next week or so.

So There’s This Country Haiti…

What do you tell children about the ongoing disaster in Haiti? Many adults are overwhelmed by these recent events; how can we avoid passing on our hopelessness and intense sadness? Here are a few ideas.

First, spare your younger children the details. They need not–and should not–see graphic photos in order to make it “real” for them. That is unnecessary; younger children simply cannot digest that kind of information. It would hurl them into an existential crisis that they cannot handle. Older children can read newspaper accounts, but I would still have them avoid graphic photographs. Forget cable news reports of the disaster.

Second, give them some semblance of control and power. Perhaps you could offer to arrange a contribution from your child or your family to a reputable charity to help those suffering in Haiti. If that is impossible, your child could write an encouraging letter to a Haitian child. Praying for those suffering is also a way to help children feel involved, albeit in a safe way.
Third, reassure your young child that events like this are rare. Monumental disasters are not unrealistic, but young children need reassurance that things like this aren’t happening on a regular basis. Older children can understand that earthquakes are infrequent in most places–save the west coast–and that most of them are relatively benign.

Fourth, let them know that you have plans for keeping them safe from disasters. If a disaster befalls you, Mom and Dad have a safety plan. If something happens to the house, you have a plan; if something happens to Mom or Dad, you have a plan to take care of them; and so on. If you don’t have a safety plan, make sure you make one!

Finally, recognize that your children may suffer some from learning about these events. This is normal. In a strange way, it is beautiful that they might suffer along with the victims of this tragedy. Be thankful that your child has empathy. If it becomes so acute that he or she cannot sleep, eat, or function, then it’s time to seek help and communicate with the child’s teachers. But don’t imagine that you can or should protect your child from all of the pain surrounding these and similar events.

Little Miss Annoying

OK, I’m inviting all parents to share some of your child’s more annoying behaviors. My point isn’t to harp on children or focus on the negative; rather, I’m opening up the blog as a forum for parents to vent. Venting is good, especially for parents. Where do you go when you need to vent?

We all love our children, I’m sure. We spend so much time focusing on the positives, the hopes, the dreams, that we forget to admit that children can sometimes be extremely annoying. It’s their job.

I’ll go first. One of the most annoying things my kids sometimes do is to start talking to me as I’m walking out of the room. I hate that! I’m done with a conversation, I’m on my way out of the room, ready to do something else, and I hear, “Um, Dad…?” Drives me crazy!

Ok, now it’s your turn. What do your kids do that is annoying? Remember, good-natured ribbing is healthy.

And Your Kid Thinks Your Parenting Is Bad?

I just thought up a new reality show: “OK, OK, My Parents Aren’t Horrible!”

What we’ll do is have parents with snotty, disrespectful, and/or unappreciative kids sent to live with Osama Bin Laden for a couple months. When the kid returns, we’ll measure how much more Junior appreciates his parents.

If you haven’t read the news, one of Bin Laden’s sons came out with a book titled Growing up Bin Laden, co-authored by his mother, one of Osama’s several wives. The book describes a pattern of authoritarian parenting (that’s the bad kind) that denied the children toys, laughter, or freedom of individual expression.

The children were routinely beaten and denied refrigerator or air conditioners—even though Bin Laden was fantastically wealthy. Most of the children’s pets were taken from them to be sacrificed in painful chemical warfare experiments (where is PETA when you need them?). To top it all off, the children were asked to perform suicide missions when they were old enough. I’m not exactly certain what “old enough” is for a suicide mission, but is it like asking my five-year-old boy to go fetch the newspaper in this insane cold? I’m just asking…

So do I have any volunteers to send their child to the Bin Laden family for a test run? We could film the child during his “camping trip to experience other cultures” and interview him or her upon return. I’m thinking it would make great TV. And a far more appreciative youngster.

Spank Early, Spank Often…Or Not…

As I have mentioned on this blog—and discuss at length in my book Desperately Seeking Parents—spanking has both proponents and opponents who are intensely passionate and vocal. In my opinion, both extremes are ill conceived and neither is supported by quality research.

It seems as though every couple weeks, a new study arrives on the scene either lauding or lamenting the practice of spanking. The newest study, performed by a professor at my alma mater, Calvin College, suggests that young children spanked by their parents may actually grow up to be happier and more successful than those whose buns escape pain early in life.

According to the research, children spanked up to age six were likely as teenagers to perform better at school and were more likely to carry out volunteer work and to want to go to college than their peers who had never been physically disciplined.

There was a difference, however, in those children who were spanked into adolescence. Those children showed a clear increase in behavior problems.

So maybe spanking itself doesn’t make disturbed children. More likely, there is a subset of parents who spank who ALSO lose control, spank out of rage, say horrible, nasty things to their children, and don’t utilize any other means of discipline who produce the negative results. That’s what I think.

Anyway, the study’s author concludes that “The claims made for not spanking children fail to hold up. They are not consistent with the data. I think of spanking as a dangerous tool, but there are times when there is a job big enough for a dangerous tool. You just don’t use it for all your jobs.”

I could hardly say it better.

Spanking is not for regular discipline or correction. Used as a primary tool, it is less effective than other means and can often become counterproductive. Spanking should only be used for those “big jobs”, like establishing the understanding that defiance (e.g., not going to Time Out) will not be tolerated.

Like I say in my book, if you can’t spank without rage or losing control, don’t spank. Ever. It’s not for you. But wise and self-controlled parents can use moderate, controlled spanking to help achieve an appropriate hierarchy with their children and make discipline way easier in the long run.