What Can Be Done About Bullying?

bullying2I’d like to address the topic question in four ways: (1) What school districts can do. (2) Things parents can do to inoculate their kids from bullying. (3) Steps to take when bullying happens and (4) Other tips.

What School Districts Can Do

Every school district should have an anti-bullying program. In this downloadable article, published in the American Psychologist, Dr. Catherine Bradshaw, of John Hopkins University, outlines the science on effective bullying prevention programs. I would suggest that this is a very helpful article for school administrators. Were I such an administrator I’d read this article, asking myself, “how does our bullying prevention program stack up?” And, “are there things we can do to improve what we do?”

Inoculating a Kid from Bullying

Kids who have well formed self-esteem seem to experience less bullying. According to research done by Dr. Chris Mruk, of Bowling Green State University, there appear to be two elements comprising self-esteem: a sense of worthiness and a sense of competence. I would argue that one way parents can promote worthiness is by doing special time each week. You can download a brief article on how to do special time here; or, see Chapter One of dance, coolmy parenting book for a more thorough review of the rationale and method. To learn about promoting competence, see Chapter Two of my parenting book, or enter the word “competence” in the search bar above for several brief blog posts on the topic.

What if My Kid is Bullied

This needs immediate action. The first thing to ascertain is whether you can have a productive discussion with the bullying kid’s parent(s). If there is a reasonable chance that that could be effective, I’d try that first. If not, or that fails, it would be time to have a discussion with the school principal, especially if the bullying has happened on school grounds (but even if it doesn’t). Principals, for instance, can make it more clear to the kid doing the bullying that he will face serious consequences if the behavior persists. Other things to do:

  • Coach your kid to travel from place-to-place at school with one or more friends. It’s harder to get picked on when you’re in a group.
  • Arrange for a sleep-over or party at your house, even considering inviting the kid who is doing the bullying, if things haven’t escalated too much that is. The more successful your kid’s social network is the better.
  • Double down on the self-esteem promoting interventions I reviewed in the previous section.
  • Seek out an evaluation from a good child mental health professional. This is not something I would wait on. As I reviewed in last week’s blog article, the stakes are just too high. For a referral, click here.

character raising hand in a crowdOther Tips

√ Partnering with your local PTA can be a very helpful step. They can help you to develop strategies as well as partner with the school about bullying prevention programming, including bringing in a speaker for the kids.

√ Talking with the parents of your kid’s friends can sometimes be a good idea, as they are in a position to coach their kids on how to be helpful.

√ If your kid is bullied online, consider becoming more engaged with him about his online presence (you can find information about this in the monitoring chapter of my parenting book and scattered throughout this blog site.)

√ Even if your kid isn’t a victim of bullying, I’d bring up the topic. You might ask:

  • What has he witnessed?
  • What has she experienced?
  • What are his thoughts about bullying?
  • What can she do if she witnesses it?
  • Does he have any ideas about how to promote an anti-bullying climate at school?

√ Finally, there are a plethora of good bullying resources you can find on the internet. It’s not hard to find them, just be sure that the website belongs to a reputable organization or authority.

Good luck!

Bullying: Research Review

bullyingThe flagship journal of the American Psychological Association is The American Psychologist. The May-June 2015 edition focuses on school bullying and victimization. The first article, written by Drs. Shelley Hymel and Susan Swearer, reviews four decades of research on this topic. Key elements of bullying are stated to include “…intentionality, repetition, and an imbalance of power, with abuse of power being a primary distinction between bullying and other forms of aggression.” Other key findings indicated by these authors:

  • 10 to 33% of students report being a victim of bullying.
  • 5 to 15% of students report bullying other students.
  • Rates of bullying appear to be on a slight decline.
  • When the source of information are teachers and peers, victimization by bullying is more stable (i.e., the same kids being bullied over time) than when kids self-report.
  • Being the victim of bullying is less stable among younger (i.e., elementary age) than older kids (i.e., middle school age).
  • Boys tend to experience more physical bullying while girls tend to experience more relational bullying.
  • There are subtypes of bullies. Some are estranged and on the social fringes while others are socially engaged and socially intelligent, perhaps using bullying behaviors to maintain their social status.

In the same edition of this journal Drs. Patricia McDougall and Tracy Vaillancourt reviewed the research on the impact of peer victimization. These are some of the key outcomes that have been associated with being the victim of sustained bullying:

  • Lower levels of academic achievement, more negative attitudes and bullying4expectations about school and lower rates of going to college.
  • More physical symptoms, including headaches.
  • Biological processes associated with poor stress coping and traumatic experiences.
  • Being less socially competent and successful.
  • Viewing oneself as to blame for the bullying
  • A variety of what are called “internalizing symptoms” (e.g., feeling lonely, anxious and depressed).
  • Several kinds of what are called “externalizing symptoms” (e.g., being aggressive, breaking rules).
  • Increased risk for suicidal thinking and attempts.
  • Numerous negative adult outcomes.stop2

Clearly, the research indicates that bullying is a prevalent problem that causes significant negative outcomes. In next week’s entry I’ll review some strategies for minimizing the occurrence and impact of bullying.

When You Can’t Afford Camp

tennisWith summer upon us many of us parents are figuring out how our kids will spend their time. Of course, you can’t throw a stone without hitting options: a camp for every sport under the sun, academic camps, debate camps, activities camps and so forth. There are also many other kinds of experiences (e.g., high school students offered the opportunity to take summer college classes). Some of these may be affordable while others may require a substantive investment. If you can afford the camp(s) or experience(s) you’re considering, and your kid wants to go, read no further. But, if you can’t afford these activities, or if you’re on the fence about whether they are worth it, read on.


Before considering the specifics, we first need to acknowledge our lunacy. Readers of this blog know that one of my most used terms is “parent-lunatic.” This decision, as important as it may seem in the moment, is not likely to wreck or make our kid’s future, despite what we might be telling ourselves. So, deep breathe and let’s all try to keep these decisions in perspective.

Three questions

I would suggest considering three questions in making this decision: (1) What question mark over brainreally matters? (2) What are the goals? (3) How much will this tax us?

(1) What really matters are relationships and wellness. One of the best ways you might focus on this is to watch a couple of Tom Shadyac’s wonderful movies: I Am and HappyThe scientifically grounded truth: the things that really promote happiness needn’t be expensive.

(2) I would propose four general kid goals for the summer time: bonding with family, bonding with friends, physical activity and advancing strengths The first three are pretty obvious. Strength advancement involves developing our kid’s top strengths. (Please enter the term “strengths” in the search bar above for a brief description, or for a fuller accounting see the second chapter of my parenting book..) Well-conceived and implemented camps portend to be very helpful for strength advancement.

(3) Of course we need to consider if this potential activity unduly taxes our finances or our energy. Parenting from the cross, as in the Christian crucifix, is ineffective. We all sacrifice, yes. That’s the game we’re in as parents (isn’t it exhausting often?). But, we just want to make sure that the result doesn’t torch our health or our marriage, to name two common victims of crucifix parenting.

What if you have to say “no.”

confusedOMG, doesn’t it sometimes feel like the world is coming to an end when our mouth, creaky and stiff from a lack of practice from forming the word, actually says “no?” We parent-lunatics all need to attend “How to Say ‘No’ camp!” At such camps we all might line up in front of mirrors, with our coaches gently massaging our shoulders, and practice forming the word “no.” Support staff could then bring in water and towels as we exert ourselves from the effort!

Seriously, though, if you decide either that the experience is too expensive, or just not worth the cost, I’d suggest two guidelines: selective truth telling and alternate planning. If you enter the term “selective truth telling” in the search bar above you’ll find a fuller description of this method. But, in short, the older the kid and the better s/he is doing in life, the more I’d suggest being calmly truthful about the reason(s) for the “no.” The younger or the more vulnerable the kid the more I’d keep what I share brief and not offer details that could be overwhelming.

Alternative planning refers to substituting an activity that better stands the test of the three questions I indicated above. Depending on whether your kid needs help learning to tolerate the word “no,” you could always wait a bit until you share the alternate plan.

What if we want to do the camp but just can’t afford it?money held by hand

Many sponsoring organizations offer opportunities for fund raising. They do bake sales, coin drops, car washes, raffles and so forth; if you have a couple of other parents in the same boat, you could organize your own fund raising. You might also find businesses that are willing to sponsor your child or consider some of the internet options that have sprung up for fund raising. Or, if your kid is old enough, you might find neighbors willing to pay for him or her to do some landscaping work. Finally, the camp itself may be willing to work with you on a payment plan or a sliding scale.

Good luck and I hope it all works out for you and your kid(s)!



Helping Someone Who Drinks Too Much

alcohol abuseIt’s very common for families to deal with alcohol related problems. For example, research has indicated that 38% of Americans have a positive history for alcoholism. Moreover, the National Association of Children of Alcoholics report, “Seventy six million Americans, about 43% of the U.S. adult population, have been exposed to alcoholism in the family…(and) Almost one in five adult Americans (18%) lived with an alcoholic while growing up.” The costs to individuals and families can be devastating. The purpose of this entry is to respond to three common questions asked by those who have a family member struggling with problem drinking.

What makes it so hard for the person who is abusing alcohol to stop?

It is almost like the person you are thinking about is a character in the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in that he or she has an internal enemy. Stephen King said it well: “Monsters are real,, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win.” Alcoholism convinces its victim that neither relaxation nor fun are possible without it. Crazy sounding I know, but that’s the core message. Imagine you were being asked to give up all significant stress management and fun? This is what a victim of alcoholism often hears, and initially feels, in the request to stop drinking. It’s as if the alcoholism declares to the person, “sure, you can play bingo in your church hall without me, but you’re never going to Vegas again! Without me you are going to feel like a monk barely surviving in a cold, concrete, lonely and windy mansion, allowed to consume only water and rice cakes!” The addiction also views anyone or anything that challenges it as a threat.

As has been stated so well in the AA Big Book, people who are alcohol addiction monsterdependent have a response to alcohol that leaves craving more, together with a mental obsession for alcohol. If someone has an allergic response to nuts that person will usually avoid them, but that sort of allergy doesn’t include the obsession of the mind. When you add that mental component, very irrational choices seem rational to the suffering person. It is only when the alcohol victim has experienced enough misery (called “hitting bottom”) that s/he can recognize his or her powerless over this internal enemy

What are some things to avoid doing?

If you’ve been dealing with this for a while on your own, you may be enabling the drinking in ways that you are not aware of. These are some behaviors that can enable addiction:

• Protecting your loved one from experiencing the consequences of his or her drinking.

• Lying to others in order to protect the illusion that all is well.

• Walking on egg shells so as to not upset your loved one or encouraging others to do the same.

• Bargaining with your loved one as s/he lobbies for you to be okay with certain doses of drinking.

• Easing your loved one’s access to alcohol.

• Disagreeing with your loved one’s intermittent statements that s/he has a problem.

• Accepting blame from your loved one that you are responsible for his or her anger or dour moods

• Offering, or stepping forward to be responsible for, or to monitor, your loved one’s drinking.

How can I help my loved one who is suffering from disordered drinking?

There are really a variety of ways of thinking about this and approaching it. I’ll offer my favorite half dozen tips:

1. Recognize that you can’t get your loved one to stop drinking or convince him or her that the cessation of drinking is the only rational choice. You are as powerless over these outcomes as your loved one is over his or her drinking

2. Attend meetings of Al-Anon. This (generally) highly supportive and wise community can be very, very helpful.

3. Become familiar with the AA Big Book and use the allergy language when discussing drinking with your loved one. This language, IMHO, is not only clinically accurate but it discourages shame (i.e., shame is one of the internal enemy’s favorite weapons).

4. In a loving but firm and clear way, communicate with your loved one about how his or her drinking, and it’s associated problems, affects you. This can also be done through formal interventions; but, if you want to go this route, I would involve an experienced and trained addictions counselor

5. Work the 12 steps yourself. I love the book Breathing Under Water, by Richard Rohr. In this book Rohr argues that everyone experiences powerlessness in some way and that many kinds of psychiatric problems emerge when anyone tries to exert control when one is powerless (i.e., the antithesis of the Serenity Prayer). Rohr suggests that the 12 steps are the solution for this ubiquitous problem.

6. Educate yourself and others about alcohol dependence and it’s hope signconsequences. For example, other resources I like are the YouTube videos by Michael Mark (e.g., his review of the first three steps in AA) and the Joe and Charlie Tapes–AA Big Book Study.

Few things are tougher than this nut. But, the outcomes of those who recover well can be quite phenomenal and life giving. Good luck!


Pay Attention to Inattention

boy head on handAn important study was recently published in April, 2015 edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. This study followed 11,640 kids in England from age 7 to age 16; the researchers focused on adolescent correlates of attention symptoms in childhood. These are some of their primary findings

Four Tips for Summer Planning with Teens

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 10.52.29 AM(Before I begin, let me direct your attention to the graphic to the left, which regards a free webinar I’m offering this week on teen stress.)

This is a great time of year to begin collaborating with your teen about summer plans. Without this planning the odds are higher that your teen’s summer will be spent doing things that aren’t helpful (e.g., floating in a sea of electronic lethargy). In case you some work yet to do along these lines, I can offer four tips.

#1. As has been the case for other teen topics I’ve reviewed on this blog, it’s good to front load empathy, open-ended questions and validating comments in the discussion and to consider you and your teen as partners in this planning. One of my favorite strategies is to have these discussions in restaurants: it’s usually a pleasant context, everyone is less likely to lose it and it’s harder to run out on the discussion. (Entering the search term “teen communication” above will generate a list of related articles.)

#2. One of my favorite summer activities for older teens is to do an internship.gesturing There are multiple upsides: (1) college admissions officers favorably interpret this activity (e.g., as a sign of a person who takes initiative), (2) your teen can get some clarity about a possible career, (3) supervisors on the internship can become authors of letters of recommendation and (4) your teen can learn and advance a plethora of work-related skills. I’ve found that many professionals and organizations are remarkably generous in their willingness to sponsor teen interns; it just takes your teen generating the resolve to ask (and not mom or dad). (Take this next thought with a grain of salt, but it has been my personal experience that college admissions officers do not value traditional part-time jobs as highly as they do internships.)

#3. It’s also important to make a plan for when your teen will go to bed and rise. Without this, many unscheduled teens will morph into a vampire sleep schedule. Similarly, it’s advisable to figure out how your teen can get at least one hour a day of physical activity. Finally, it’s always a good general rule of thumb to know and approve of the following: where your teen is, what s/he is doing, who s/he is with and what responsible adult is doing the monitoring.

caution, teen ahead#4. Many teens also need to use part of the summer to advance an academic agenda. This might be studying for SATs or ACTs, doing assigned summer reading or remediating a learning disability or other academic lag. Many teens may need a contract to be consistent with this (e.g., so many hours of productive academic work earns access to the cellphone). For parents who are struggling with discipline, see Chapter Five of my parenting book or this blog entry.

Good luck!

Working on Your Marriage By Yourself

black couple arguingIn my practice I’ve commonly had the experience of having one person wonder what s/he could do to unilaterally promote wellness in a marriage or committed relationship. While relationship challenges are best addressed when both people are working on them, there are things that one person can do by himself or herself. Here are 13 tips that I’ve found to be helpful.

• Avoid looking to your partner to resolve psychological pain that you feel. Treating a relationship like medicine can lead to codependency. In a codependent relationship couples often tacitly agree that one of them would not feel pain if only the other of them would say or do the right things. So, when the power up person is inevitably in pain, both conclude that the power down person has failed.

• Learn your partner’s language of love. You may want words of love, but your partner uses behavior. You may want certain behaviors but your partner uses other behaviors. Recognizing that your partner expresses affection differently than you can put you in a position to feel less neglected and more grateful.

• Do the loving thing without an expectation for a response. So often we do a marriage in progressloving act with the expectation of receiving appreciation or reciprocation. When we don’t get what we want we can become hurt or angry. Better to do the loving thing because I know it’s good for me to live on a high road, regardless of how my partner responds. If my partner shows appreciation, or reciprocates, awesome. But, I shouldn’t require him or her to do certain things in order for me to be in pursuit of my own wellness.

• Avoid overdoing your expressions of affection. No matter the intention, if you are consistently lapping your partner in such behaviors you can create pressure, seem desperate and worsen a strained relationship.

• Avoid making mental lists of transgressions your partner has committed against you or all that you’ve done for your partner. Such lists can fuel resentment and subsequent eruptions of negative emotions.

yes i can• Try to discuss your relationship only with people who will be supportive of it. It’s all too easy to find people who will tell you how right you are and how terrible your partner is. It’s harder to find people who will wisely and kindly support you in your efforts to promote your relationship.

• Keep gratitude lists regarding your partner (e.g., what your partner has said or done each day or week that you appreciate).

• When you need to, try to communicate vulnerability instead of anger. We all need the wisdom of Solomon to know what to talk about and what to set aside. But, when you decide to take a concern to your partner talk about your wish to be closer, or to be more supportive, or whatever dream drives your pain. Also, try to avoid sounding like you are demanding that your partner do this or that. Just try to be open about your dream and vulnerability without coming on too strong.

• If your partner does something that is overtly abusive, calmly let him or her know that the behavior is not okay with you and that you are looking for a commitment that it won’t be repeated. If you need to, take steps to ensure this (e.g., involve others, pursue a separation).

• Develop and invest in ways promote your wellness outside of your relationship. Promote healthy friendships, physical activity, prayer, hobbies and so forth.

• Avoid committing acts of emotional or physical infidelity, be they online or faithful graphicface-to-face. All too easy to engage, such lapses can torch your relationship or make it very, very difficult to recover.

• Try to avoid resolving things with your partner when one or both of you are suffering from transient brain dysfunction (e.g., one or both of you is intoxicated, very angry, significantly depressed). Better to create a pause.

• If you’re stuck in a rut seek out the services of a professional relationship expert. For a referral, click here.

Parenting Through Proms

High school proms can represent, especially if your child is a senior, a right of passage. There is so much about this that can be joyful. But, there can be risks and challenges as well. So, this entry is designed to help you with the latter. I have three sections: (1) questions that I’d collaboratively answer with your teen until you are satisfied, (2) a list of issues that I would try to avoid controlling, barring unusual circumstances and (3) (hopefully humorous) responses to situations in which your teen tries to indict you for acting like a responsible parent.

Questions to resolve to your satisfaction

What sober and responsible person is driving?

Has the school established effective monitoring procedures? (This is more of a question for the relevant school administrator and needn’t directly involve your teen.)

What are the costs and who is paying for what? (A related issue, for some families, might be how a teen would be allowed to earn the money to cover the costs.)

Where is the after party and what responsible adult will be monitoring? (Keep in mind that monitoring can involve being in the same room, or next door, or in the parking lot. The goal is for the monitor to do no more than to ensure safety, sobriety and celibacy.)

Things to avoid trying to control

Yes, it’s good to be informed, but I would avoid trying to control what follows.

Who the date is. Of course you need to ensure that your teen is safe, sober and celibate for the night. Once those bases are covered, it’s a good idea for you to let your teen figure affairs of the heart out for himself or herself. It’s good to be a sounding board, if invited, but to keep negative opinions about a prospective date to oneself. This is good practice for when you’re an in-law, at least if you wish to be an effective in-law.

What the style of the outfit is, short of it looking like she could serve in a lineup of prostitutes. (Male analogies are less likely, but the same thing would apply if its relevant for your son.) Dads, when it comes to your daughter, it’s often best to let her mother (or some other responsible woman) handle this and to only make positive comments.

Who is attending the after party.

Other circumstances regarding the after party once you’ve secured the conditions described above.

Retorts to common prosecutorial invectives:

Obviously, these are not serious responses. But they are designed to make your teen exit your eye-line when howling at the moon.

Teen invective: “No body else I know has to have such stupid rules!”           Parental response: “But none of the other parents are as big of a control freak as me.”

Teen invective: “I’ll be going to college in a few months. You won’t be able to control things like this then!”                                                                         Parental response: (with a big smile) “Really?! I’ll be able to let someone else do it? What will that person be charging me?

Teen invective: “The other kids think you’re embarrassing.”                          Parental response: “That’s not because of my prom rules. That’s because they see me shopping at Victoria’s Secret so much.”

Teen invective: “I’ll just sneak out at the prom and you won’t know what I do.”            Parental response: “The school chaperone (know his or her name) has promised me that if s/he doesn’t see you for any given half hour s/he will text me about that. I will then text this baby picture of you (have visual ready) to your friend’s cell phones and upload it to your Facebook page with the caption “(your child’s name), cutest baby ever born in (name your city)! Love Mommy/Daddy”

Teen invective: Grandma (your mother) told me she didn’t have these kinds of rules for you!                                                                                                                Parental response: Grandma is getting senile.

Teen invective: You NEVER had these rules for (fill in name of older sib). Or, “You’ll NEVER make (name of younger sib) go through this!”                       Parental response: You know I love him/her more.

On a serious note, the wheel turns too fast sometimes. As your “baby” goes through this rite of passage, I hope you can enjoy it fully and take pictures/videos galore. It can be truly wonderful and bittersweet.

Six Tips for Parenting an Anxious Child

anxious childExtant research indicates that kids are sometimes born with a temperament that predisposes them to develop an anxiety disorder. This temperament, called “behavioral inhibition,” can be identified in toddlers. Such toddlers tend to have nervous responses to novelty or unexpected changes; they also tend to be more clingy and nervous than their peers when faced with separation from a primary caregiver. What follows are six tips for helping an anxious child.

1. Avoid avoidance. This is one of the most important guidelines. This means not avoiding those developmentally appropriate situations that make your child feel nervous. When our kids hurt we parents hurt worse. So, it’s a natural reaction to just let our child avoid any developmentally appropriate situations that make her feel nervous (e.g., being left with a babysitter, getting on a school bus, joining a rec soccer team). Avoiding such situations tends to promote them becoming even more threatening over time. Moreover, this sort of a coping strategy tends to spread: your child may end up wanting to use it for more and more situations. Barring other complicating factors (e.g., the presence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), avoiding avoidance usually comes with initial distress but eventual calm and mastery. (“Eventual” often ends up being just a few minutes.)

2. Promote your child’s comfort as you avoid avoidance. This can be coaching soccerdone in any number of ways. One of my favorites is to gradually expose your child to aspects of the feared situation in doses before the due date. For example, you might play soccer with him on the field where the first practice will be held or arrange for her to sit on the empty school bus before the first day of school. You would usually stay within these situations until your child seems calm, using some of the other tips in this article. This can also be done in smaller chunks prior to the due date.

3. Teach belly breathing and pasta muscles. Have your child pretend that his lungs are in his lower belly, instead of his chest cavity, while breathing deeply but comfortably, both in and out. Relatedly, ask your child to make her muscles as soft as a piece of cooked pasta. Click here for a free 15-minute audio training module I created that can promote this sort of muscle memory. These behaviors short-circuit the fight-flight response, which is the brain system that has become activated whenever someone feels anxious. (When in the anxious situation your child should not tense his muscles, as is done in the training module.)

tape over mouth4. Avoid reassurances, especially those that are excessive. Few things will trigger your child’s anxiety more quickly than your reassurance that a safe situation is safe, especially those reassurances that are issued with emotion or conviction. I tell the parents in my practice, “imagine I told you not to worry about the ceiling over us collapsing on top of our heads. You’d probably instantly start wondering what sort of a dangerous situation you might be in.” Kids often hear many parental reassurances as, “time to start freaking out!” Moreover, when you are separating from your kid (e.g., leaving the practice, leaving the school), leave as quickly as you can. Your presence, and especially if you are issuing reassurances, will often tend to promote the very anxiety you’re trying to mitigate.

5. Get control over your own anxiety if that’s a problem. This temperamental vulnerability, by definition, usually runs in families. If anxiety is interfering with the quality of your life, you would do your kid an awesome solid by seeking out cognitive behavioral therapy for yourself.

6. Get help if these efforts don’t work. Anxiety disorders in anyone, including kids, is usually very treatable and in a short period of time. The aforementioned cognitive-behavioral therapy can be delivered to kids and teens and has a ton of research supporting its efficacy. For a referral, click here.




Avoiding Corporal Punishment

frustrated girlLast week I reviewed research that indicated that corporal punishment is ill advised. This week I’d like to review some ways to avoid it.

Creating distance

There are two kinds of distance that could be created in situations where you might want to give your kid a crack. First, you might consider removing your child from the situation that is causing him or her to behave disruptively (e.g., a toy store, a conflict with a sibling). Creating this space can promote your child calming down so that you become less tempted to hit him or her. Second, if you feel like you’re loosing control, and might manifest undisciplined discipline, see if it’s possible to create some distance between yourself and your kid. Perhaps another adult can take over or you could move to the next room or a few feet away. When you have this distance try belly breathing, relaxing your muscles and clearing your mind (e.g., focus your attention on a narrow stimulus such as your breath).

Use Time Out

Time out is usually preferable to hitting. Time out is punitive, creates a place for your kid to calm down and it isn’t affiliated with the same negative side effects as hitting. Time out is best done in an uncomfortable chair like a dining room chair. Your child should sit in this chair for a minimum sentence of one minute for each year s/he has lived outside of the fretful studentwomb; it should be away from anything s/he can kick or grab, be within your eye line and away from any entertainment. You would keep cycling through periods of minimum sentences until your child is sitting quietly and either agrees to comply with your directive and/or expresses remorse for offenses committed. (There are other details pertaining to time out that can come up. For a fuller review of these issues please see this blog post and Chapter Five of my parenting book.)

Preventative Measures

There are many ways you can reduce the odds that you’ll have to deal with disruptive behavior in your child. I will review three of my favorites here:

1. Spend one hour a week each week doing special time. Readers of this blog know that this is my favorite preventative strategy for a host of issues that come up in child rearing. For a free download on how to do special time click here; click here for a resource for doing special time with teens.

2. Ensure that your child has weekly opportunities to manifest his or her strengths. When a kid doesn’t feel like s/he is doing well s/he is more likely to act out. Click here for a blog entry that elaborates on this theme.

positivity negative sign3. Set up a reward program to change any patterned negative behavior that you’d like to change in your child. That is, instead of using “this bad thing will happen to you when you do that bad thing” make it “this good thing will happen when you do this good thing.” A kid might earn her TV time by cleaning up her toys or he might earn access to his cell phone by completing his homework. Try to flip the negative behavior into it’s positive inverse, and then set up a reward for it. Please note that a reward can be a pleasure that your child is currently getting access to for free. Set these up in advance, make both the expectation and the reward specific and remain an empathic bystander as your child makes choices (e.g., I know how much you enjoy TV so I hope you’ll give yourself that gift by cleaning up your toys) instead of a hawkish warden (DO YOUR HOMEWORK!). Of course, I appreciate that there are times when we all need to insist that something gets done, and now.

In closing let me be Dr. obvious and note that a brief blog entry can’t address all of the questions that are probably percolating through your mind right now. (For example, shouldn’t kids learn to internalize their rewards? How long should I keep a reward program in place? Should I set up a reward program for his or her sibling also? What can I do to get my ex on the same page?) But, hopefully you can find answers to many of your questions by either continuing to search on this blog site or by reading the aforementioned parenting book. And, remember, problem solving- erasing mazeyou probably have a very good child psychologist not far from you whose available to help; for a referral click here. Good luck my fellow parent-lunatic!



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