Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I Think the Mrs. Wants a Football for Christmas…

Projection. You probably learned about it in your Psychology 101 class. In case you have never heard of it, it is one of the classic defense mechanisms Freud conceived and wrote about. Projection is one of the most primitive defenses that people use (Freudians would say that paranoid delusions are a manifestation of projections). It’s also one of the most difficult to deal with in children.

I took my son to the store a few days ago to buy his sisters some Christmas presents from him. It should be a surprise to no one that this was a difficult task for a 4-year-old boy, who immediately focused on what he wanted for Christmas, not what his sisters wanted. To his credit, he was able to refocus with a little encouragement. Sort of.

Although his task was to find something for his sisters, it was genuinely entertaining during the next 10 minutes to hear the litany of things he said his sisters would want: a set of Hot Wheel cars, light sabers, toy guns, and a bucket of army men.

My son was projecting his desires onto his sisters. He knew that it wasn’t acceptable for him to say, “I want this and that”; he had already learned that I would not approve of this. At the same time, he simply could not shut off his desire for boy-friendly toys. So his mind created a compromise: he imagined that his sisters wanted these things. In this way, it became acceptable for him to desire them, without appearing or perceiving himself as being selfish. Voila!

We witness kids projecting all the time. See if you can notice in the coming weeks how your children use projection in their relationships with you and others. Remember, it is quite normal. Younger children are not developmentally able to put themselves in others' shoes, but they are more than able to presume that others think and feel just as they do. It is our job as parents to help guide them away from projecting their feelings and take ownership of them by expressing them in a safe way.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bring Back Child Slavery!!!

So many of our errors are mistakes of extremes.

One extreme sees avoiding disciplining a child out of fear that the child will dislike us; the other extreme sees a parent beat the snot out of a child to achieve absolute domination.

One extreme utterly rejects the idea of talking to children about sex, drugs, and other adult behaviors and temptations; the other extreme introduces children to these things far too early.

One extreme allows children to eat whatever they want, whenever they want; the other extreme tries to control every calorie of the child's diet.

You can see how extremes can be detrimental to a child's development. Parents in Charge tend to avoid these extremes. Sometimes this is difficult; raising children can be extremely challenging and frustrating. One of the markers of this reality is when parents come to me and say, "He's driving me nuts. I hate to admit it, but sometimes I want to give him away!"

I am not alarmed when I hear that. I get it. Don't be alarmed if you sometimes don't like your child, especially during some of his more gnarly moments. I tell parents the following:

If you go through parenting without an occasional temptation to throw your child out the window or sell him into slavery, then you aren't parenting; you're babysitting.

Don't you sometimes feel enraged by your spouse, your boss, and others? You're not responsible for them and you feel intensely toward them. How much more should it be expected that you have intensely negative feelings toward your child?!

Now, I'm not saying that parents should nurture these feelings or act on them. Just don't be tempted to conclude you don't love your children if you occasionally dislike them. In fact, it is because you love your child so much that you have these feelings.

So go ahead and remind yourself of this when you're imagining how much you could fetch for your child on eBay...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Your “Get Out of Homework Hell” Card

So homework has gotten out of control: it is too much, it has become irrelevant, it is too often contentious, it eclipses and prevents family relaxation and playtime, and induces so much stress for the child and parents as to be counterproductive.

So what should a caring parent do?

Parents have to make choices for their own child, independent of what other parents do.

The most important factor to remember is that the school works for you—not the other way around. Without you, teachers and administrators do not have a job. You have significant power.
It is imperative that parents develop and maintain an appropriate perspective and attitude about school. There are two extremes, both of which are harmful. The first presumes that school is meaningless. The second presumes that a child’s performance in elementary and Junior High school are more important than anything else in life. This is the presumption that hurts a great many children and families.

A child’s grades in grade school have zero impact on the child’s future success. None. Zip. Zilch. If the child is learning concepts, learning responsibility, and learning how to learn and study, then the child is getting what he or she needs out of school. Grades do not matter. If we act as if grades are paramount, many children will become anxious about their performance and will begin to catastrophize—view minor failures on assignments or tests as an omen of future failure in life. This is tragic for children.

Here’s how the thinking goes: “Junior, if you don’t do well in school, you’re not going to get a good job. So study hard, get good grades, and you’ll be successful and happy.”

The child then begins to believe that any failure on any test is a harbinger of doom: “If I do poorly on this test or this assignment, I will not get into a good college. If I don’t get into a good college, I won’t get a good job. If I don’t get a good job, I won’t be successful. If I’m not successful, no one will want me and I will live in a cardboard box on the side of the road.”

That is catastrophic thinking; I see it all the time today, not just with teenagers, but with grade school children!

So individually, teach your children the value of learning, rather than performance. Frankly, it’s tough for teachers whose livelihood is based on the child’s test performance. This is one of the most asinine inventions that has ever been foisted on our education system. But in the end, it’s not your problem to worry about. It’s the teacher’s and school’s.

Focus on good learning, homework, and study habits with your child. As long as Junior is doing the basics in those departments, he is doing fine. Leave him alone.

If you believe your child is doing too much homework, then, put a cap on it. It is entirely your right as a parent to say, “Two hours is far too much for a nine-year-old to do. Whatever he gets done in 45 minutes is what gets done. The teacher will have to be satisfied with that.” Tell the teacher about your child’s struggles and suggest less homework, more time to complete it during the daytime with teacher supervision, or different teaching methods for your child.

Finally, you must set up a reasonably conducive homework routine for your child.

--Homework should be completed in a place with as few distractions as possible.
--Homework should never be done with TV, radio, or cell phone on.
--Make sure Junior has plenty of light.
--Homework should be done independently. If the child cannot do it on his or her own, it should not be done. Period. You have far more important things to do in the evening than tutor your child. Other than answering a question here or there and quizzing the child for a test, studies should be done on their own.
--Make sure there is time for a reward after homework is complete. I’m not talking about something huge. But time to watch TV, listen to music, cuddle with Mom or Dad with a book, talk to a friend on the phone, or just relax are all rewards for a job well done. If the child does not have time to do this, the motivation for completing schoolwork will naturally plummet.

Parents, do not let homework rule your life. There are other important things your family should be doing and emphasizing. Don’t let homework crowd those things out of your

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What Is the Purpose of Homework?

Do you remember homework being such an emotional, contentious, overwhelming sphere of life? If I had a dollar for every parent who has described nightly meltdowns, fights, drawn-out evenings of homework and school projects, I could retire to Barbados.

What’s with the homework these days?

· 15-year-olds spending 3-7 hours of nightly homework
· 12-year-olds crying at night because their teacher gives an F if the homework is not done completely
· 7-year-olds with over an hour of homework
· 10-year-olds told to study without proper knowledge of study skills
· Parents spending hours monitoring, guiding, and even teaching or re-teaching concepts

This is beyond ridiculous. Until high school, children should not be doing homework except for ONE purpose: to practice skills that they already comprehend to an adequate degree. Homework should NOT be for any of the following:

-Learning concepts
-Busy work
-Studying for tests without having a study guide that explains exactly how and what to study
-Tasks requiring more than a few minutes of parental involvement (exceptions are interviewing parents, quizzing, or playing a fun game)

Anytime homework time becomes contentious, one of several problems is occurring:

1. The teacher has not properly taught the material and expects the child to complete the learning process at home, presumably with parental involvement.
2. The child has not paid proper attention in the classroom and therefore did not complete in-class work.
3. The teacher believes that learning should continue after school and believes homework should foster this learning (hey, THEY work after school, why shouldn’t the kids?).
4. The child is stuck in a dependent relationship with parents, who have not trained the child to complete schoolwork independently.

All of these represent a serious misunderstanding of child development and learning theory. If this situation describes you, look for my next post, which will describe the keys to homework and what parents can do if they and their child are stuck in Homework Hell.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

How to Rouse Your Grumpy, Slow Waker-Upper

Almost every family has one child who is a bear to wake up in the morning. Either the child appears in a semi-dead state for so long that you begin to wonder if you need to call 911 or the child becomes extremely grumpy or even hostile upon being roused from his or her slumber.

One courageous parent I know solves the problem by letting Junior sleep in. He brings him to school at 9:30, sometimes 10 AM. What are they going to do, call DCFS?

But if you’re not that brave—or if you reject the notion that children should be able to sleep in—you have to find a way to get your cherub up and at ‘em without turning into a demon.

Here are some suggestions for either type of child:

First, have him wake himself with an alarm clock. You should start training your child to wake himself as soon as possible. This is a great way to foster independence.

Make sure the alarm clock is loud enough, but not obnoxious like some (there are some cool ones that use nature sounds or animal noises).

Second, arrange that if he wakes himself up without Mom or Dad nudging or nagging, he will earn a small reward (such as dessert, $1, or something similar). If he wakes himself every day for a week, he will earn a moderate reward.

Third, if he does not wake himself by the prescribed time, Mom or Dad will wake him. There is no penalty or punishment—only not earning the small reward for that day.

Finally, regardless of who/what wakes him, any disrespect will not be tolerated: there will be an automatic, significant consequence for any disrespectful hostility. Grumpy is allowed; disrespect is not.

For the Slow Waker-Upper, it might be highly advantageous for you or your child to pick out the day's clothes the night before, so that your child isn't stumbling around in the dark trying to figure it out with half-closed eyes. Additionally, having the backpack ready to go the night before can save all kinds of delay and grumpiness due to unnecessary rushing.
In general, the more pre-planning you can do for the morning rush, the better it will be for everyone. Sit down with your children and plan the morning time. Let them know that you do not wish to rush them, but certain things must be done. You might be surprised to get some excellent suggestions from them. In the meantime, try structuring the morning a bit better and see how that helps.
That's enough for now; I'm going back to sleep.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Forgiving Bozo

Oh, did I do a boneheaded thing today...

One of the reasons I love having a boy is that he loves to roughhouse. My girls crave affection, but they prefer the tender, snuggly type. That's great stuff, but sometimes a dad just needs to play rough. And that's where my son makes a perfect playmate at times. We rumble on the floor, he tackles me, and we play-fight with swords, sticks and fists. Sometimes I chase him all over the house, fireman-carry him to the bed, and throw him like a discarded sack of potatoes. He LOVES it.

Well, today we got home from church and I could tell he was just asking for some rough stuff, so I picked him up and play-slammed him on the floor. He beamed; so far so good. Then he got on his belly and begged me to shove him with my leg down our hardwood floor. We've done it a thousand times and he loves it. So I got into it, got ready to shove him, and wheeeeee!!! He glided down the floor...face-first, right into the open metal door of our puppy's cage. I cringed when I saw it--hoping he would just laugh it off, as he often does with injuries sustained in our rough play.

But this one hurt. He immediately winced and began crying hysterically. I responded by immediately apologizing, trying to console him. He would have none of it. He was irate--and rightly so. He started hitting me, pushing me away; in a few seconds, he worked himself up into a pretty good lather. He ran into his room and onto his bed. This is usually a sign that he wants to be left alone. I respect his wishes.

He cried for a good 10 minutes. I checked in on him after a few, asking him if he still needed some time. He nodded. When I came back after five more minutes, he was calm and accepted my entrance. I grabbed him, hugged him super tight, and apologized about a hundred times. Before long, we were cuddling and joking. I took him to Starbucks and let him have anything he wanted (sans caffeine, of course); heck, I felt like I needed to make amends.

My son has got a pretty nasty scrape next to his nose that he'll have for a few days. But he also showed a pretty hearty sense of forgiveness. And that warms my heart like nobody's business.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Daycare Channel

Parents who thought their preschoolers were spending time in home-based day cares, taking naps, eating healthy snacks and learning to play nicely with others may be surprised to discover they are sitting as many as two hours a day in front of a TV, according to a study published Monday.

When added to the two to three hours many parents already admit to allowing at home, preschoolers in child care may be spending more than a third of the about 12 hours they are awake each day in front of the electronic baby sitter, said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle and a researcher at the University of Washington.

That's double the TV time he found in a previous study based on parental reports of home viewing, according to findings published Monday in the journal Pediatrics. The study is the first to look at TV watching in child care in more than 20 years.

These data reopen the question of how healthy daycare is for many of our children. I've already discussed how detrimental TV watching is to child development, so I'm not going to retackle that issue today. Rather, I'm going to challenge the whole idea of daycare in today's culture.

I've always been a proponent of daycare for families who have no choice: if you're going to starve or lose your home with only one parent working, by all means, maintain a dual-income family. However--and I know I'll catch heat for this--I just don't see how daycare providers could do a better job of parenting a child than that child's parent(s). For those families who do not absolutely need to maintain dual incomes, I believe it is best for one parent to stay home with children.

Some parents argue that anyone can take care of a child's creaturely needs: feeding, dressing, hygiene, etc. On the surface, this is true. But on a deeper level, it is bogus. Compare to an adult's creaturely needs, such as sex. Could another woman come in and feed and dress a man? Of course! Would it be OK with a spouse to farm out the responsibility to meet that need? Of course not!

The comparison is important, because meeting a child's basic needs involves a high degree of intimacy. Feeding, bathing, dressing a child offers many opportunities for connection, teaching, and affection. Ideally, parents perceive those moments as opportunities to be claimed and relished, not farmed out to others.

If necessity forces you to place your child in daycare, make sure that the facility is not only safe, but that the child's schedule is designed to foster the basic needs of children: activity, exercise, creative play, rest/downtime, solid nutrition, moderate stimulation of the full range of senses, and a mixture between social engagement and solitary time.

I challenge those families who are a financial condition where two incomes are not necessary to meet the family's basic needs (impressive homes, expensive cars, lavish vacations, and a summer home are NOT basic needs) to consider having one parent stay home with the child for a majority of the day. Of course, parents and children need breaks from each other, but the child's most important need is his/her parent's presence.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Almost There!

An update on my book...

Desperately Seeking Parents is now at the publisher, going through an editing review. After that, I will begin working with the graphic arts department to determine front and back cover artwork. We are wrestling with a few major changes as well, including the title. One of the other options is No More Wimpy Parents.

Dr. David Stein, my good friend and mentor, has graciously agreed to write the foreword for the book. He is the bestselling author of Unraveling The ADD/ADHD Fiasco and Ritalin is Not the Answer.

If all goes well, the finalized book could be on the shelves sometime in winter--perhaps before March of 2010.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How to Deal With a Pest

The recent surge in school anti-bullying measures might be helping, but I'm still witnessing a steady stream of children who are complaining of pests and bullies in the classroom. One of the struggles in dealing with children who deal with pests and bullies is determining whether the child is truly experiencing something intolerable or that child is simply a wimp and needs to grow a spine (or at least some thicker skin).

Parents can help their children deal with classroom pests by getting them to think rationally.

This is what I teach kids:

First, ask yourself if what the pest/bully is doing is a BIG DEAL or a LITTLE DEAL.



Threatening to hurt


Repeated hateful, cruel names/words

Spreading serious, harmful rumors


Little names like "chicken"

Making a face

Being stingy or not sharing


Cheating at a game or off of a test/homework

If the pest/bully is doing something that is a BIG DEAL, then it is OK to tell a teacher or another grown-up.

If the pest/bully is doing something that is a LITTLE DEAL, then it is important to either ignore the pest/bully or just take care of it yourself.

What does taking care of it yourself mean? First, try being assertive. Look at the pest/bully in the eyes and say firmly, “STOP IT!” If he does it again, say louder but not screaming, “I said STOP IT; knock it off!” Make sure your body looks serious. A great many pests/bullies will stop from this. Those that don't will require adult intervention--go ahead and tell school personnel.

If the school doesn't do anything about it and the pest continues to bother you, you may just have to live with it. Some pestering isn't going to kill you. Life frequently involves coping with chronic pestering.

Remember, I'm not talking about being bullied. If a child is being bullied and the school doesn't put a stop to it, then the child has a right to punch that kid in the nose--hard enough to stop the bully in his tracks. That's the way some playground conflicts need to be resolved. Adults need to get the heck out of the way and let it happen.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Parents in Charge: “The Child Whisperers”

We got a new puppy a few weeks ago and we are doing the whirlwind tour of puppy training books, videos, and TV shows. The most striking we have encountered is Cesar Millan, aka “The Dog Whisperer”. He really is tremendously knowledgeable about dogs; even more impressive is his knowledge of animal behavior. I have learned quite a bit about dogs, but have also been reminded some general behavior training principles that also pertain to human behavior.

One of his key maxims is establishing a calm dominant relationship with a puppy. The corollary to this is rewarding only calm submissive behavior. The biggest problem with dog owners, he says, is inadvertently rewarding excitable or challenging behavior.

The same can be said for parents. For any discipline to work, a parent must establish a dominant relationship with the child. This does not the same as being domineering and does not need to be (in fact should not be) done in an hostile, aggressive manner. However, children need a clear, consistent message from the parent that the parent is in charge and will reward only appropriate, respectful behavior.

If he can train previously misbehaving and out of control dogs—which have far less developed frontal lobes than human children—how much more possible it is to train children to submit to parents and control their behavior!

All parents could learn a thing or two from the Dog Whisperer. Maybe I need to change my title from Clinical Psychologist to “Child Whisperer.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Pencil is Mightier Than the Sword?

An 11-year-old student was recently expelled from school after he jabbed another student in the kneecap with a pencil. School administrators initially suspended him for 10 days, but the school board trumped their decision after categorizing the pencil as a weapon.

Since the tragedy of Columbine, the fears of school boards and administrators have been roused across the nation. The safety of all students was catapulted to their number one priority, with an understandable trend toward protection at all costs. “No-tolerance” policies were borne from their understandable paranoia and protective impulses.

But have some of these impulses gone too far?

On the one hand, I strongly believe in school discipline. Too many schools sweep serious bullying incidents under the rug. Some ignore incidents of sexual harassment that would get any adult fired, if not sued. So I support significant consequences for assaulting a peer.

On the other hand, there were apparently no reports of prior violent incidents with this child. He and another peer were jawing back and forth and the kid just poked him on the kneecap. No blood flowed; no ER visit was necessary. It was by all accounts a relatively minor incident. The kid didn’t bring a machete to class; to categorize his pencil as a weapon suggests that all children are wielding potentially dangerous weapons every day in school. If this is the case, school administrators could be sued for allowing deadly weapons in their schools. Of course, that would be insane.

The other variable that caught my interest was the father of the assailant claiming that the child has ADHD and that that was a primary cause of the incident. That’s where I roll my eyes.

OK, the kid had some mainstream mental health professional or pediatrician diagnose him with a baloney disorder. I know that is par for the course for children who struggle with attention and impulsivity. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. What gets me is when parents excuse their child’s behavior with the diagnosis: “The ADHD did it.”

ADHD can’t make a child stab someone with a pencil. Believing that a disorder incapacitates a child’s decision-making skills serves only to excuse that parent from training the child properly. All children can be trained to make far better decisions most of the time. I have seen it time and again—in my own practice and from other like-minded mental health professionals who do not buy into the ADHD excuse.

That is what my book Desperately Seeking Parents is all about: how parents can improve their leadership and training skills, enough to effect change with the most difficult children. Even those who would otherwise be diagnosed with imaginary mental illnesses.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Paterno Expressway

I know we’re in a recession, but I’m requesting $14 Billion in funding from the state coffers to create a new interstate highway. I want to prove that I can get people to drive the speed limit. Here’s how.

After posting the speed limit, there will be one “highway officer” (not police) monitoring every mile of the highway. They will act both as emergency officers in case of an accident and as traffic officers. But instead of pulling people over for speeding, they will pull people over for obeying the limit.

Imagine it: you see the siren, but it has a brighter flashing light. You eagerly pull over and the officer hands you a citation saying “Great job obeying the speed limit; keep up the good work!” Along with it is a $20 Starbucks card, a coupon for a free oil change, or a voucher for a reduction of your car insurance. You drive away happy and proud.

Guess what? You would be far more likely to drive the speed limit the Paterno Expressway because this kind of reward would be frequent. Why? Because positive reinforcement always holds more power to change behavior than does punishment—especially intermittent punishment. Intermittent punishment is exactly what most police use to enforce the speed limit. Police have better things to do, so there are few of them on the highway. And when they do catch a speeder, they are punished. But realistically, how often does that happen? We all know that about 99% of speeders and episodes of speeding go unpunished.

And what about the speeders? For them, the highway officers would have advanced scanning technology so they could immediately notice and catch all speeders; they would immediately give them a fine for $500. If the speeder refused to pull over, the fine would triple and the driver would lose his license for 6 months. That would be quite a deterrent.

Paterno Expressway would also be far fewer accidents; those accidents that did occur would have far fewer fatalities, since speeding would be so rare.

My point is that parenting should emphasize positive reinforcement a great deal more than punishment. Punishment can only temporarily reduce certain behaviors. While punishment is important, it will never help a child learn new behavior patterns. It is up to positive reinforcement to do that.

So instead of emphasizing punishment for bad behavior, shift your focus to rewarding positive behavior. With younger children, rewards should almost exclusively be social: hugs, kisses, high-fives, verbal praise, noticing the child, offering attention, and anything else your child likes from you. As your child gets older, social rewards remain important, but privileges gain in importance. This becomes even more pronounced during the adolescent years.

Guess what...we adults still need positive reinforcement. Parents can model this for one another in their marriages by giving each other positive reinforcement. Try it!

Monday, November 2, 2009

The New “PK’s”

I’ve never estimated how many times I have heard friends who are parents tell me they are afraid to bring their children around me because they presume I would reflexively judge them and their children. It’s as if I walk around with a notebook labeled “Ways Other Parents Stink”. I usually laugh heartily at my friends who make comments like this around me, assuring them that I have better things to do than judge other parents. Really.

The irony is that when I am in public with my children, I am the one who is anxious. Now, I know darn well how silly it is to worry about how others perceive me and my children, but the truth is that I have a goofy fantasy that everyone else is judging MY parenting. After all, the fantasy goes, people are walking around with THEIR notebook labeled, “Ways Dr. Paterno Can’t Even Raise His Own Kids Right—Why Should We Listen to Him?”

My poor kids. It must be tough having a child psychologist as a parent.

I took my new puppy to the office this past weekend for the first time—mostly as a trial run for a couple hours to see how she would respond. When I walked out of the office to find a good patch of grass for puppy to relieve herself, a friendly looking couple approached, joined by their gorgeous Airedale. As soon as they neared us, my dog went berserk with frenetic excitement. She behaved as if she had just consumed 14,000 cups of coffee.

I was a bit embarrassed, even while I knew I shouldn’t be. Puppies behave like puppies, after all. I struck up some conversation with the couple, who seemed genuinely interested in my puppy. Within a couple minutes, I had learned that they were in charge of the Park District obedience training class. Immediately, I became self-conscious.

What if they saw how ignorant I was with my puppy? What if they noticed how clueless I was in getting her to calm down and be reasonable? What if they thought I was a terrible dog owner? The thoughts raced. I was not happy.

Then it hit me. This must mirror how others feel when they learn what I do, especially after they find that I have written a book on parenting! I understood how a person could develop such a rich, albeit irrational, fantasy.

Luckily, my kids are generally pretty great. Roughly translated, they are just as obnoxious, demanding, goofy, and ridiculous as any other kid is. They are also very respectful, kind, considerate, and obedient. So if any of you sees me out in public with my children, know that I’m not taking judgmental notes about you in my notebook. Just make sure you hide yours; it would make me very anxious.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reason #64 Not to Trust Your Child to Psychiatry

A new study reports what most psychiatric survivors and mental health critics have known for decades: children on neuroleptics (also labeled “antipsychotics”) gain weight at an alarming and dangerous rate.

Many children and adolescent pack on almost two pounds per week on drugs like Ability, Risperdal, Seroquel and Zyprexa. The last two drugs are not approved for children. That’s right, the FDA has not approved them for children because they are known to elevate cholesterol and other blood fats to dangerous levels, which scientists know makes children more prone to heart problems later in life.

These drugs are some of the most toxic substances used by psychiatry. They are tranquilizers that are extremely sedating; they do their “work” by essentially shutting off the emotional center of the brain. They do not rewire or rebalance brain chemicals; any commercials or professional who tells you that is either ignorant or a big fat liar.

One of the ways children gain weight on these drugs is by disturbing normal digestion of sugars. Essentially, these drugs cause diabetes.

Just an aside: guess who makes money when the children develop diabetes?

Psychiatrists, along with the marketing departments of the drug companies, defend the use of these toxins by suggesting that these newer drugs are safer than the older anti-psychotics like Haldol and Mellaril. This is arguable. All of the newer anti-psychotics also cause permanent, debilitating neurological disorders like Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome and several dystonias.

Second, they suggest that the drugs can reduce severe psychiatric symptoms in troubled children. On the surface, this is true. When you drug a child with major tranquilizers to the point where their brain is essentially dimmed, of course you won’t see behavioral symptoms. But you could get the same effect with a baseball bat—with less damage to the brain!

Another problem with antipsychotics: the vast majority of adolescents and adults who take them HATE taking them. Children loathe the oppressive feeling, they hate being sedated, they can't stand the side effects, and are often disturbed by the fundamental change in their personality that inevitably follows. Also, many adolescents and adults begin smoking--often chainsmoking--in order to counteract the sedating effects of the drugs. This helps explain the woeful compliance rate with neuroleptics.

The more important point is that there are far better, far more effective, far safer, far more humane methods and treatments for children than hardcore psychiatric drugs. But of course most psychiatrists would not admit this; a huge chunk of their business would evaporate if people knew about that. Now you know.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Baby Einstein Ain't Rocket Science

For those of you who have not heard, Disney is offering refunds to parents who have purchased the Baby Einstein videos. Of course, this was not done willingly or even out of the goodness of Disney's heart. They were threatened with a lawsuit by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, who cited studies connecting early childhood television watching with later attention problems.

I hope the refunds can help parents acquire something important, like books, puzzles, or a healthy snack.

I hope that parents begin to acknowledge how early childhood exposure to stimuli affects later sensitivity, comprehension and integration of stimuli. It isn't rocket science, but some parents don't get it. If you expose the developing brain to too much visual stimuli--especially highly engaging, long-lasting stimuli--the brain will become "addicted" to this type and intensity of stimuli. It will become the minimum threshold for achieving and maintaining the child's attention. This spells disaster for the child when he or she is supposed to begin reading, listening to adults, or writing on a blank piece of paper. The duller stimuli simply cannot compete.

Same thing with video games. Leapfrogs. Computer games that teach reading and math. Children learned how to read and write and do arithmetic quite well without any of these accoutrements; why in the world would we think that children need them today?

The short answer is: children do not need them at all. What they need is a cardboard box, some dirt, a stick, a ball, pots and pans, pillows, and fresh air. Let them figure out what to do with it all; that will increase their intelligence far more than any videos or computer games ever could. It will also help your child's brain develop the attention and concentration skills necessary to succeed in school and the workplace.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It’s “Dear Diary”, not “Dear Mom”!

Clients and other professionals ask me from time to time about children’s diaries and journals. Should parents consider privacy inviolable and the contents of a diary sacrosanct? Or rather, are parents entitled to discover their child’s secret thoughts?

The question, which I discuss more fully in Desperately Seeking Parents, does not allow as black and white an answer as other parenting challenges. But there are some guiding principles that I believe parents would be wise to consider.

Parents need to comprehend how keenly a child treasures her privacy. In fact, privacy could be subsumed under any of the Four Rewards that children seek: Trust, Respect, Freedom, and Privileges. Because so much of a child’s life is subject to adult scrutiny—from teachers, parents, coaches, friends’ parents—a child’s diary resembles an oasis of thought and feeling. It represents the one place the child can express thoughts and feelings undiluted by fear of adult interference or judgment.

Of course, these are the very thoughts and feelings some parents are so eager to plunder. What parent doesn’t want to know the inner workings of his child’s mind and heart? The problem is that your child expects that her diary will be private. This changes what she enters. Some of the thoughts expressed in diaries and journals are not accurate. Many children and adolescents “try on” thoughts and ideas in their private writings as if to examine them or achieve some sort of catharsis. For example: “I hate Ginny. The next time I see her, I’m going to shove her head down the toilet.” Maybe these are true feelings; more likely, they are hyperbolic reflections of a fleeting, half-baked feeling. Parents can get the wrong idea about their child.

Privacy is one of those things that parents should consider as both a right and a privilege. On the one hand, certainly privacies (such as going to the bathroom unattended) should be afforded your child except in the most extreme cases. On the other hand, higher levels of privacy must be earned. You wouldn’t let your early adolescent alone in her room with the door closed with a boy she has a crush on, would you? But after years of trustworthy behavior, sound judgment, and solid evidence of assertiveness, you might easily allow your daughter that privacy.

I advise parents to discuss the limitations of a diary when the child first receives it. The boundaries should be clearly stated to the child: as long as Mom and Dad can reasonably trust your safety, there will be no reason to intrude on the privacy of your diary or journal. However, if Mom and Dad perceive a threat to your safety, then they reserve the right to look at your diary in order to learn anything they can to help make you safe. Discuss what those specific safety “triggers” might be. Let them know that you have specific concerns on your radar screen. If you are a paranoid parent, admit it. Laugh at yourself before your child does!

Parents possess the right to some reconnaissance, but breaking this sacred boundary should be reserved for only the most critical moments and challenges, such as suicidality, significant drug and alcohol use, or involvement in dangerous relationships. Be assured, you will pay a penalty for breaking this boundary; the damage to your perceived trustworthiness will be considerable. If the penalty proves too steep for you, it would be wise to maintain your child’s privacy.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Desperately Seeking Parents

I realize I have been woefully absent for a week. Just rest assured, I have been spending my time efficiently, mostly completing my book, Desperately Seeking Parents. I hope I have it complete by the end of October and have a decision regarding publication by the end of this year.
I can't wait to start getting it out there on talk radio, TV, internet and bookstores. In the meantime, I will attempt to maintain the blog twice per week: Mondays and Thursdays. There is a lot of good stuff to blog about: parenting advice, a constant flow of research to examine, and snippets of the book to tantalize my readers.
Until Thursday, have a great week!

Tuesday, September 29, 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.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"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.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

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.

Monday, September 21, 2009

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.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

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.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

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.

Monday, September 14, 2009

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.

Friday, September 11, 2009

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.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

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!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

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).

Monday, September 7, 2009

Parents in Charge: Who Says?

One of the basic tenets of my upcoming book Desperately Seeking Parents and of my clinical work represents two sides of the same coin: parents should be in charge of their families and children should submit to their parents’ authority.

Where did I get such a crazy idea?

The answer, which I discuss at length in my book, doesn’t come from science. I don’t need highfalutin research studies to inform my thoughts on this core subject. Rather, it comes from something more crucial to any understanding of child development and solid parenting. Three compelling and authoritative sources grant parents full authority over their children. These sources have commissioned parents to establish themselves as the head of the family hierarchy: God, the government, and, most importantly, COMMON SENSE.

Most of the world’s religions expressly command a family hierarchy, with parents in charge. The three largest religions in the Western Hemisphere—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—all have specific dictums that support parents’ position of authority in the family.

The United States government has both implicitly and explicitly presumed parental authority over their children. While our nation’s Constitution includes little that explicitly supports parental rights, it does offer crucial rights—such as the right to vote—exclusively to adults. Furthermore, any understanding of federal and state law reveals that parents have far more rights than their children.

Finally, common sense and logic both support a family hierarchy with parents in charge and children submitting to their parents' authority. A simple logical argument should suffice:

1. In any relationship, the one who possesses superior knowledge, wisdom, and experience should be the leader and should hold a position of greater authority.

2. In almost all families, the parents possess superior knowledge, wisdom, and experience.

3. Therefore, parents should be the leaders and hold the position of authority in the family.

Are there any doubts on this? Does anyone really believe that (all things being equal, presupposing the adults are neither abusive nor incapacitated) adults should not be in control of their children, at the top of the family hierarchy?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sledgehammer: the New Sleep-Aid

Alright, so you know your child probably needs more sleep than he or she is getting. What do you do about it?

First, parents need to unite in prioritizing sleep. Bedtime should not be an optional activity for your young children. Communicate early that bedtime is crucial to their health; in fact, it is just as important as eating healthy and regular exercise. Tell your children that not only is their sleep important to their health, but it is important to your marriage. Mom needs to be off the clock at a reasonable hour; Dad needs time too*. Come up with a bedtime that you both can support and make it as solid as your work schedule. There should be no compromising during the school week.

Second, make up your mind about where your child sleeps. If your family believes in co-sleeping, fine. That’s a preference; I have no problem with it. But if your family does not subscribe to co-sleeping, then make it an expectation or rule that your child not come into your bed at night. Tell your child what time he/she may come into bed with you; it should be just about the time you regularly wake up anyway. Your bed should be your restful sanctuary. Your child should not be invited there during the nighttime.

Third, make sure your child develops solid sleep hygiene. Here are some helpful hints:

1. The child’s room should be dark at least a half hour before bed. (melatonin production occurs in the absence of light)
2. Make sure the room is quiet. (no iPods, vibrating cell phones, and for pity’s sake, no TV in the child’s room!)
3. Comfortable bed and room temperature.
4. Consistent bedtime (Your child’s bedtime should be vary no more than a half hour, even on weekends)
5. Wear pajamas or bedtime clothes.
6. Have a routine:
• Get ready for bed
• Brush teeth
• Say prayers, goodnights, etc.
• Other things that key your brain that it is time to sleep
7. Have a snack before bed: milk and graham crackers or cookies
8. No caffeine! (especially after noon)
9. Exercise every day, preferably before dinner time
10. Bed should be for one thing only: sleep! (not reading, doing homework, watching T.V., etc.); these things confuse the brain and don’t allow it to shut things down.
11. Make sure your bladder is empty.
12. If there are worries or concerns during the day, talk about them BEFORE bedtime. This is especially important for people who struggle with anxiety.

Fourth, younger children should know that coming out of their room after bedtime is verboten. In our home, we have The Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not come out of thy room, lest thy risk being smitten (or some other creative expression of parental wrath). The only exceptions are when thine ears are bleeding or thou beist on fire”. Set those boundaries early and you will have far fewer problems later on.

Finally, consider sleep aids as a last resort. Most importantly, children should not take prescription sleep aids, which are highly addictive, can have nasty side effects, and create a template for using drugs to solve problems. If their sleep is severely dysregulated, take your child to the pediatrician; perhaps the child has sleep apnea or some other medical problem that is preventing solid sleep. If the child is anxious, deal with the anxiety first—without using drugs. If the child still cannot fall asleep, a natural sleep aid such as Melatonin is a better choice than addictive drugs such as Ambien and Lunesta.

If all of that doesn’t work, try a baseball bat or Jack Daniels**.

*If Dad works late during the week, have him be the primary bedtime tucker-inner and story reader. I know many dads feel guilty about not having time with their children because of their schedules and feel a pull when they are home to spend time with their children. While I honor and support this, it is imperative that dads not succumb to the temptation to allow their connecting time to interfere with healthy bedtime.

**Please, no irate letters telling me I am irresponsible for suggesting we use violence or alcohol with our precious children.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sleep, Perchance to Dream…

Alright, let’s talk about sleep. Sleep is one of the most important requirements children have in order to function properly. It also one of the most lacking in today’s rushed, disconnected, plugged-in culture.

I have thought of a couple analogies to help parents and children understand just how important sleep is and how difficult it is to function with less than optimal sleep.

First, imagine a car driving with only three tires. Can it still function? Yes. Can it still function well? No. Can it maneuver deftly in difficult situations? Not at all. This is what it is like trying to function with insufficient sleep.

Second, imagine playing basketball with two fingers gone. Someone could argue, “Well, you’ve got 8; that should be plenty!” But no one in their right mind would suggest such a thing, because we know that 10 is far better than 8. It’s the same with sleep. The vast majority of children in elementary school require about 10 hours of regular sleep (about 11 hours for First Graders and 9 hours for 8th Graders). Getting only 8 hours might not seem like a big deal, but it is.

Children cannot take sleep deprivation in stride like adults. First, they do not have the benefit of Starbucks. Second, their brains and bodies are growing and therefore require production of growth hormone, the majority of which is produced in the latter hours of sleep. Third, children do not tend to have the insight into their own emotional condition in order to “pick themselves up” or separate sleep-deprived crabbiness from real-life frustration.

Here are some signs that your child is likely sleep-deprived*:

• Your child must be awakened in the morning.
• When allowed to sleep in the morning, your child sleeps more than a half hour longer.
• Your child falls asleep as soon as she begins an automobile ride.
• Your child is frequently cranky or whiny.
• Your child has numerous temper tantrums.
• It is hard to describe your child as generally happy.
• Your child wants to carry a special stuffed toy or blanket much of the time.
• You frequently find your child sucking his thumb.
• Your child often wakes at night with leg or foot pains.
• Your child has what appear to be nightmares.
• Your child has severe afternoon or evening headaches that may be accompanied by vomiting.
• Your child seems distractible or hyperactive at times, usually in the late morning or late afternoon.
• Despite doing well in grade school, grades begin to fall in middle or high school.
• Your child frequently says he/she is tired.

In my next post, I will discuss how to give your child ideal sleep quality and quantity.

*Taken from Is My Child Overtired by Will Wilkoff, M.D.

Monday, August 31, 2009

OD: The New ADHD?
(Part II)

Yesterday I introduced you to the newest disorder on the block: Obnoxious Disorder (or OD, for short). Today, I want to educate you regarding the possible causes of this debilitating neurological disorder.

Before I do that, I want to also describe two additional types of OD that did not make it into the DSM-V but garnered serious consideration by the task force. The first concerned younger children: Whining/Tattling Type. Its symptoms are self-explanatory. There was also some consideration for “Like” Type, which is a problem where children tend to say “like” in a manner unbefitting the word. It’s like really annoying, but apparently is not like serious enough to be considered like a mental disorder. Personally, I like think they missed the boat on this one. It like makes someone sound like a mental defective.

The DSM-V estimates that the prevalence of Obnoxious Disorder ranges from 12-15% boys in the United States and 6-8% of girls. It does not explain the possible reasons for this significant difference (although billions in research grants are sought from the National Institute of Mental Health to investigate this crucial question). While no known biological cause is known, some possibilities have been postulated. Some medical researchers believe that persons with OD may have too much stupamine, a close cousin of the neurotransmitter dopamine. A competing hypothesis includes prenatal exposure to Barbara Streisand. Some researchers have also postulated that the following social factors may contribute to Obnoxious Disorder:

• Uncles. Apparently, very heavy influence by uncles may result in learned obnoxious behaviors. (This may be particularly true for Bodily Noises Type)

• GameCube, Xbox 360, PlayStation2, PS2, ad nauseum. Any adult who knows a child who is obsessed with the newest and coolest toys knows how this tends to create severely obnoxious behavior.

• T.V. This is, of course, debatable, but the following shows could certainly be considered “obnoxifacient”: “Family Guy”, “South Park”, “Caillou”, and “The Wiggles”. For those of you who have seen the latter show, you know what I mean.

Hopefully, when you encounter an obnoxious child, you can now feel secure in knowing that someone can diagnose and treat such a culturally draining problem. Schools, parents, and mental health professionals must work as a team to fight this dreaded epidemic.

In the future, I will discuss how Obnoxious Disorder is diagnosed and treated. Until then, I suggest that parents keep all uncles away from children and that they practice saying, “No, you can’t have that toy” and “Let’s just watch ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’”. No one was ever obnoxious in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.
OD: The New ADHD (Part I)

Teachers, parents, social workers, and all who deal with children on a regular basis: listen up. There’s a new disorder on the block, and whether you like it or not, it’s going to change the way you deal with children. The American Psychiatric Association has just completed work on the latest edition of its standard diagnostic manual, labeled the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (or DSM-V for short). Every new edition brings a host of new official disorders; the new 5th Edition is no exception, including a whopping 14 newly labeled emotional illnesses.

The newest disorder that will most likely affect children will be Obnoxious Disorder (or “OD”). It will be included in the section called Disorders Usually First Diagnosed in Childhood—the same section that includes Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder—although adults may also be diagnosed. As with ADHD, there are three official types of the disorder, but they all share some common symptoms. The official DSM-V criteria for Obnoxious Disorder include:

1. A pervasive pattern of behavior that others find obnoxious, highly irritating, or otherwise intolerable.
2. Despite behavioral cues (such as punishment or social ostracizing), the child is unable to reduce his/her obnoxious behavior.
3. The behavior causes significant distress in relationships with peers or adults, or in the child’s academic performance.
4. The obnoxious behavior is not a result of a general medical condition or of substance abuse.

The first of the three specific types of Obnoxious Disorder is Bodily Noises Type (Type I), characterized by “loud and incessant noises produced from natural or forced bodily functions, most often used for attention or disrupting serious situations (such as class, worship services)”. The second type is New Toy Craze Type (Type II). As the name suggests, this includes “behavior—often extremely loud and incessant—used by the child either to convince a parent to buy a popular new toy or to show off his/her possession of the new toy”. This type is differentiated from the more benign Barbie Obsession Disorder. Finally, Type III is Precocious/Bragging Type, which is marked by “an obsessive need to exhibit intellectual, athletic, or other strengths; these exhibitions are repetitive and are usually not welcome by peers or adults”.

Tomorrow, I will describe the prevalence and causes of OD, then discuss treatments and preventative measures.