What’s a Stepparent to Do?

confused womanLet’s face it, you stepparents have it tough. Kids are primed to see you as a threat. Exes are primed to be suspicious, or worse. Even Disney has perfected the art of vilifying your role. So, I thought I’d invest some space to offer support.

What unique challenges do stepparents face?

Healthy stepparents face multiple challenges. To name a few:

• Trying to reassure stepchildren that you are not trying to replace a birth parent.

• Trying to reassure the ex that you recognize, respect and value his or her critically important role and authority.

• Figuring out what’s in bounds and out of bounds in terms of parenting your stepchildren.

• Trying to avoid showing favoritism for your birth children over your stepchildren.

• Trying to be empathic with your spouse about his or her angry or hurt feelings towards the ex without worsening or supporting any ongoing tensions.

Phew, not easy stuff.

What is an ideal situation for stepparents?

It always takes fewer words to describe health than it does to describe illness. An black mom with kids, white backgroundideal situation is one in which your spouse and his or her ex cooperate in parenting, your role as a stepparent is supported and valued and your stepchildren are allowed and encouraged to develop a healthy relationship with you.

What are some strategies a stepparent can do to promote wellness when the situation is not ideal?

I would offer the following 10 tips:

#1: Have a frank discussion with your spouse and come to an agreement about what parenting tasks you may and may not do.

#2: Avoid contact with the ex if that relationship is toxic. Let your spouse manage that.

#3: Complete one hour of special time each week with each of your stepchildren (and birth children for that matter). (Click here for a free download on how to do special time, or see Chapter One in my parenting book for a fuller explanation.)

#4: Do all that you reasonably can to promote healing and cooperation between your spouse and his or her ex.

#5: Try to put out of your head any desires to have your spouse or your stepchildren compare you favorably to your spouse’s ex. Having these desires makes you human. Not feeding them puts you on a high road.

conflict graphic#6: Try to avoid fueling conflict between your spouse and his or her ex. I find that some stepparents, who are in doubt about the security of their relationship with their spouse, view cooperation with the ex as a threat. In these instances, the stepparent gets upset when the other two parents get along; moreover, there can be efforts to try to stir the coals of conflict. However, any sense of security born out of conflict between others outside of the relationship isn’t very secure; moreover, this sort of a dynamic promotes increased stress for everyone, especially the kids.

#7: Try to avoid focusing attention on perceived losses in court. For instance, you may believe that your spouse pays too much support or gets paid too little support, and that this negatively effects your standard of living. Focusing on this is not only akin to chewing on glass, but can distract you from the truth that intimacy and happiness are poorly associated with income.

#8: Try to avoid the idea that bloodying the ex’s nose in court is a win. From the view of a narrow lens that may be true. But, looking at things through a wider lens, which is always closer to reality, will usually show that when the ex is bloodied, the kids often end up getting bloodied too, sooner or later, in one way or another.

#9: Try to avoid supporting disputes over “monkey heads.” I use the term “monkey heads” for property or access that have little REAL value, or that have little value relative to the value of the birth parents getting along. Epic disputes over monkey heads are common. Who gets uncle Bob’s dining room suite. Whether I get reimbursed for the hardwood floors I put in the house. Whether you or I get the Monday after Christmas. On and on it goes, wars over monkey heads. Meanwhile, the kids take most of the psychological shrapnel. Try to be the voice of reason in these disputes. Try to disavow your spouse of the idea that s/he is loosing something really important when surrendering a monkey head.

#10: Don’t try to force quick intimacy with your stepchildren. While one can holding a heartempathize with a hungry farmer shouting at the corn stalk to grow, one knows that certain good outcomes take time and patience. If you are generally loving and kind, and mostly do well in the parenting game, it’ll come as much as circumstances outside of your control will allow.

Do you have other tips for reducing divorce tensions?

Sure do. Just enter “divorce” in the search box above.

Good luck. And, please also keep in mind that a good child psychologist knows how to work well with these issues. For a referral, click here.


Combating Insomnia

insomnia femaleThere are numerous causes of insomnia in youth. Stress, anxiety disorders and mood disorders can each cause this problem. However, if the problem is addressed early, or if it is mild, self-help remedies may be helpful.

A good starting point is to review the amount of sleep that kids need. Sleep is even more important to youth than it is to adults. Just one hour of deprived sleep a night can have negative impacts on cognitive, emotional and behavioral functioning the next day. Moreover, sustained problems with sleep have been shown to contribute to numerous psychological and medical problems, including obesity. These are commonly promulgated guidelines:

1-3 years old:            12-14 hours

3-5 years old:            11-13 hours

5-12 years old:          10-11 hours

Teens:                       8.5-9.25 hours

(As you look at these numbers it wouldn’t be uncommon for you, especially if you’re the parent of a teen during the school year, to think “Geez, my kid doesn’t get that much sleep.”)

What follows are behavioral, cognitive and environmental tips for combating insomnia.

Behavioral Strategies

• Try to encourage a consistent bedtime ritual that starts about an hour prior to bedtime. In this hour try to avoid activities that promote an active or a fretful reading to kid, asianmind. For younger children reading them a book can be effective. A shower or bath in this hour can also be relaxing.

• Baring unusual circumstances, consider not allowing your child to keep a cell phone in her bedroom. Likewise, try to avoid allowing your child to watch TV as s/he falls asleep. However, if you do, make sure it is not on for long and that it is turned off shortly after s/he falls asleep.

• Dim night lights are fine to use if such makes your child more comfortable, but I would try to avoid treating anxiety by laying with your child as s/he falls asleep (enter the word “anxiety” in the search bar above to find alternative approaches).

• If your child consistently fights you in getting to bed on time, consider making him or her earn access to a desired activity or object the next day by getting into bed on time (e.g., cell phone access the next day is earned by having gotten into bed on time with the lights out).  This is not punishment. (i.e., “I’m taking your cell phone away because you did not get to bed on time.”) This is reward. (i.e, “You earn your cell phone each day by having gotten to bed on time the night before.”) So, your child either earns or doesn’t earn the desired activity or access while you remain an empathic bystander.

physician and a familiy• Try to avoid caffeinated beverages and food (you might be surprised at how common caffeine is) and limit your child’s intake of sugar. (The World Health Organization’s 2014 draft guidelines recommend that no more than 5% of the daily calorie intake occur from sugar, which can be challenging given how prolific the substance is. For example, there can be a teaspoon of it in a tablespoon of ketchup.) Moreover, Ask your child’s pediatrician if natural supplements such as Omega-3 fish oil and melatonin SR might be helpful.

Cognitive Strategies

These strategies are useful when your child can’t fall asleep because his or her mind is too busy. These strategies involve redirecting his or her mind to content that promote sleep instead of interfering with it.

• At a soft volume, play an audio recording of a story with which your child is familiar. Try to avoid plots that are action packed.  Also, make sure to turn it of shortly after your child falls asleep.

• Play sounds from nature (e.g., the beach, a rainforest) or other soothing green forest roadmusic (e.g., tracks from Michael Bruce’s Insomnia Treatment that is available on iTunes). If your child has a device like an iPod, he may enjoy using one of the compatible pillows that are available.

• Encourage your child to imagine that it is the next day and s/he is in a boring class. In the class s/he is extremely tired, but s/he MUST stay awake. Encourage your child to imagine what each of her senses experience as s/he does this mental exercise.

• Encourage your child to imagine a repetitive pleasurable activity (e.g., fishing, cheerleading, pitching a ball game, dancing, etc.). Again, encourage him or her to engage all of his or her senses when imagining this activity.

Environmental Strategies

• If your child is waking up soar or stiff or if her mattress is showing signs of wear or tear, consider replacing it.

• If your child reports being too cold or too hot when trying to fall sleep, adjust accordingly.

white_noise_machine• Of course, try to ensure that your child’s environment is quiet. If you live in a busy area and outside noise is interfering, consider purchasing a noise cancelling machine.

• Some people report that the aroma of lavender can have a sedating effect. So, consider this as well.

If these strategies don’t work, and assuming physical causes have been ruled out, seriously consider seeking out the services of a qualified child mental health professional. For a referral, click here.


Tips For When A College Grad Returns Home

As it seems to take more years for young adults to accomplish independence from their parents, many return home after college for periods of time. This happens so often that a term has been coined for this group of young adults: “the boomerang generation.” Many parents feel confused about how to interact with their children in these situations. This post is designed to address common questions that arise for parents when their kids boomerang home.

Parent question: Is there a priority I should keep in mind?

Answer: Yes. The key question is: Does your adult child have a viable vocational plan that stands a reasonable chance of accomplishing effective independence?  If yes, count your blessings and try to keep the other issues in perspective. If no, that is the place to start. There are multiple methods that may be used to create such a plan. For instance, vocational counselors  offer questionnaires that can be useful in narrowing down career choices. Moreover, if your adult child graduated from college, his or her university likely has a career services center that can help. Former professors and mentors can also be invaluable resources.

Parent question: What if my adult child is completely clueless about what she or he wants to do for a vocation. Where is a good place to start?

Answer: Don’t worry if this is the case, as there are millions of adults in the same position, across the lifespan. A key first question is: What are your adult child’s top strengths? The premise is that all humans, barring significant brain dysfunction, have top strengths, or things that they can do in a superior fashion. Resources like the VIA Survey of Character Strengths (www.authentichappiness.com)  or Tom Rath’s book Strength Finder 2.0 can be of help in generating theories regarding your adult child’s top strengths. Once the top strengths have been identified the next question is : What vocation will allow my adult child to execute those top strengths in service to others? Those who effectively realize the answers to these two questions tend not only to have a viable vocation, but also tend to experience great meaning and purpose in their work lives. (The Strong Interest Inventory can be helpful in this reflection, though it’s easy to misinterpret or misunderstand the results without the help of a psychologist.)

Parent question: Okay, let’s say my adult child has a viable vocational plan that requires her or him to live with me for a while. Should I set some rules about chores?

Answer: Most families find it important to have a collaborative discussion about these practicalities, which, of course, is different from a parent unilaterally deciding what the chores should be. You might start things off by creating the circumstance to have an extended discussion (e.g., going out to a restaurant, going for a walk, etc.). Then you can begin by affirming your adult child for the things in her or his life that you appreciate and value. You might then segue into the topic of dividing up tasks as follows: “Of course, whenever adults live together they share the household labor. What do you think would be a fair way for us to divide things up?”

Parent question: Should I charge rent? And, if yes, how should I calculate it?

Answer: There is no answer that can apply equally well across families. However, the more your adult child is working at a viable vocational plan, and the more she or he is scraping by financially, the more I might let this go. On the other hand, the more your adult child doesn’t seem invested in accomplishing independence, or the more she or he has a decent income, the more I might consider charging rent. Of course, how much you charge, and whether you charge at all, will also depend on your own financial wellness.

Parent question: Should I set a curfew?

Answer: I would not initiate a discussion about this unless a problem has emerged or is emerging. However, if your adult child is coming home at an hour that interferes with your getting a good night’s sleep or if your adult child seems to be developing significant self-destructive habits, then I would suggest initiating a discussion using the same strategy that I reviewed above regarding chores.

Parent question: What if my adult child does things like leave a dirty dish in the family room or a dirty towel in the bathroom, should I ask her or him to clean it up?

Answer: These sorts of dynamics happen whenever adults live together, no matter what the relationships are. In this context, I would probably try to keep the key issue in mind. That is, if she or he is working a viable vocational plan, and assuming I don’t feel too taken advantage of by cleaning up after someone, I might keep this agitation to myself. However, if you decide it is worth mentioning, I would do so by asking your adult child how she or he would suggest that you handle these situations.

Parent question: Do you have any other guidelines for communicating?

Answer: Remember that for a lecture to change human behavior two conditions must be met. First, the person must not already possess the information. Second, the person must want to receive the information. Hence, when lectures are used to try to change someone’s behavior in a family it is like a carpenter trying to drive a nail into a piece of wood with a screwdriver. There is nothing inherently wrong with the tool, it is just not designed for that particular job. Methods that are much more effective for modifying behavior include expressing empathy, asking questions, affirming what you like and partnering in decision-making. Besides, your adult child would probably score very high on a multiple choice test on “what mom/dad thinks about things.”

Parent question: What should I do if my adult child and I are getting into regular and heated conflicts about these things?

Answer: I’d seek out a mental health professional competent in doing family therapy. It can be a remarkable and rewarding experience to have a well-trained and objective professional ease or completely resolve long standing family conflicts. For a referral in your community, click here.

Six Tips for Keeping Kids Busy This Summer

cheerful familySchool has either let out, or is about to let out, morphing legion of parents into the role cruise director. Much of the time this happens seamlessly and without a lot of fuss. However, I thought I’d offer six tips for those experiencing rough edges in the transition.

• If you’ve got it, spending money on camps and family vacations can be wonderful. But, if you don’t have the money, you needn’t feel badly or create toxic doses of stress by spending/borrowing money you don’t have. (In national survey’s of adult and family based stress financial concerns are almost always a top stress.) First of all, meaning making never requires coin. Second, when many of us were kids we were given a stick and (maybe) a dog and told to go outside–that usually worked out fine. While I appreciate times have changed (and oh have they), there are still many, many engaging activities that can be done on the cheap (e.g., search for “staycation” within this blog). Otherwise consider what your local public facilities have to offer (e.g., excursions to libraries, parks and waterways) or just rotate activity planning among several households.

• High school students, who wish to remain competitive for college admissions. happy asian womanmight consider how exciting and rewarding a summer internship can be. I continue to be delighted at how generous professionals, offices, companies and agencies can be in allowing high school students to shadow and hang out; it just requires asking. I realize that this, at first, can seem like extending the high school season to teens. But, and assuming there is an overlap with vocational interests, they are often invigorating.

• Try to limit electronic lethargy (e.g., video game or TV watching marathons). I know some kids might lobby for this under the flag of “why can’t I just relax?!” But these activities, when engaged to excess, can promote or exacerbate numerous problems as well as interfere with wellness goals. A max of two hours a day is a good general guideline (search this blog site for many related tips and resources).

• Try not to allow your child to morph into a vampire sleep schedule. This makes it hard to engage productive and engaging daytime activities that the humans make available.

relaxed character in a coconut hot tub• Remember, you get to relax too! All of us (blogging psychologists included) need to remember that we do best for our kids when we make (not find) time to do those activities that restore us.

• There are so many helpful blog entries that list creative, fun and engaging summer activities for kids. Here are three that I like:

33 Activities Under $10 that Will Keep Your Kids Busy All Summer

101 Fun Things to Do with Kids This Summer

50 Outdoor Summer Activity for Kids

Good luck!

A Dozen Tips for Supporting Kids’ Athletics

soccer character, coolIt is a widely promulgated recommendation that youth spend one hour each day sweating and breathing hard. However, if we think of this exclusively as getting our kid to climb onto a treadmill or a stationary bike, we will probably not reach that goal and torture our kid and ourselves trying. A generally more effective strategy is to engage our child in sports. Moreover, some of the most important lessons in life can be learned on fields of play: it requires effective teamwork to reach most important goals, learning to do things when you don’t feel like it promotes success, learning how and when to use, redirect or suppress emotions promotes effectiveness with others, learning to cope well with injustice and unfairness keeps one from getting derailed, learning to manifest character when someone else isn’t marks high road life and so forth. All of these lessons, and more, can be found in athletics. To facilitate kids learning these lessons, allow me to offer 12 recommendations for adults:

#1: In your heart-of-hearts, which is that place that will come across no matter what you say, try to believe that a good quality effort matters more than a win. I know that there are agenda for which a win is more important (e.g. a coach keeping a paid gig, media attention). But, when it comes to a kid’s development, a win is usually a pleasant but subordinate matter. Moreover, if your lips say one thing but your heart feels another, your kid will often perceive the difference, if only unconsciously.

#2: Offer your time to promote your child’s skill development. Encourage going to dad teaching boy baseballthe field or court or pool or wherever to practice, offering whatever kind help you may. It’s remarkable how mundane these moments can seem in the here-and-now but how critically important and precious they become across time.

#3: If you have objective evidence (i.e., objective ≠ your opinion) that the sport represents a top strength for your child, try to provide additional opportunities or supports (e.g., one-on-one high quality instruction, access to higher quality competitions).

#4: Don’t bug the coach. I think there is a place for sharing relevant information that your kid’s coach may not know, and which could be helpful for your kid’s coach to know. But, provide this information gently, infrequently and only if the coach seems open to it; and, do so less as your child ages as s/he does well to learn the art of effective self-advocacy. Also, try to leave the coach alone regarding strategy issues. It’s a tough enough to coach youth sports without having a parent ask why the runner was sent in the bottom of the 7th when the team was down by five runs.

#5: Listen to your child and provide what s/he needs after a competition. Of mom and daughter shadowcourse, this will vary depending upon how s/he did, how the team did and his or her temperament. Sometimes there is cause for celebration. Sometimes there is cause for empathy. Sometimes there is cause for shutting up and providing space. Rarely is there cause for second-guessing and offering unsolicited advice; such learning is usually best acquired after some time has elapsed (even then, the learning may take deeper root if planted through means other than a parent lecture).

#6: Proportionately and authentically salute the following behaviors: supporting a teammate in victory and (especially) defeat, getting back up after getting knocked down (metaphorically speaking), not displaying frustration when feeling frustrated, remaining polite upon defeating an opponent, appropriately congratulating an opponent who is victorious, not responding in kind to poor sportsmanship, hustling when not hustling might be accepted and displaying selflessness (e.g., helping to clean up, carrying equipment for the coach).

#7: If you’re a parent coach, strive for this goal: try to make it that a stranger watching the competition cannot correctly guess who your kid is or to which kids’ parents you have ties. With younger kids make it about equal playing time, including across desirable positions (as long as no one stands to get hurt or humiliated), even if you’re up against coach ra-ra (most parents will know what’s going on and respect you for a high road stance). With older kids make it about whose performance (including practice behaviors, character and attitude) warrants positioning as you do. In my years of watching, and coaching with and against parent-coaches, it is a small minority who consistently pull this off. And, man, do we parents love you, you small minority!

#8: If you are the administrator of a school sports program, make it against the tennisrules for a coach to accept paid coaching gigs from kids who attend that same district. It’s amazing to me how often this happens and it is wrong, wrong, wrong.

#9: On the sidelines, only make encouraging remarks to players, and try to think of such as a spice: a little is nice, too much draws attention to the spice and away from the main course. (I attended a baseball season once where a mom incessantly rang a cowbell throughout the baseball game. You know that song “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover?” Well, the parents on the other team collectively scripted “50 things you can do with….”). It is also elegant to compliment a kid on the other team for good performance.

#10: Try to avoid yelling critical remarks to coaches and officials. Such behaviors often embarrass a child and come across as oafish. And, very, very rare would be the circumstance when it would be appropriate to yell something negative at a player, especially one on the other team (of course). Oh, and this includes yelling something like: “c’mon boys, lets get the defense going!” after a kid makes an error.

"just breathe" in clouds#11: Try to be supportive of other parents by you. Like you, they are probably experiencing large mood swings based on how their kids are doing. It’s often comforting to have another parent make an encouraging or empathic remark. I think it can also be helpful, if you know each other well enough, to talk each other back off of cliffs. I know of many instances when a drive home was made more tolerable for a kid because another parent helped a mom or dad to embrace a wise perspective.

#12: Encourage your kid, the team and other parents to join you in celebrating and recognizing good coaching, officiating or booster behaviors (e.g., team moms/dads). After a long game, or a long season, a few authentic and kind words or a simple artful gesture can mean a great deal to the adult(s) while simultaneously modelling an important life lesson for your kid.

Oh, and, IMHO, practicing these strategies makes watching youth sports more fun. And, for me, at age 54, it’s becoming more and more about what’s fun!!


10 Times Shutting Up Can Work

Man covering mouthSome parents err on the side of engaging too little while others too much. I suspect that most reading (or writing) a parenting blog are not susceptible to the former. So, I’m writing this for the latter group of we parents who may be inclined to overengage.

Here are 10 instances when remaining quiet may be the way to go:

• Your kid has experienced a difficult outcome and indicates that s/he doesn’t want to discuss it. Our kids generally know that we are interested and willing to discuss what is bothering them. But, sometimes they cope by not discussing a hurtful event. Not discussing their pain can be challenging for us as we are hurting too. But, sometimes our child just needs time and space.

• Our child is dug in on a position that we know is not correct but which doesn’t put him or her on a path to a significantly negative outcome in the immediate future. All the time, and especially as they age, our kids assert “truths” that we know are not correct. Often it’s better to just let it go than to engage in a game of one-upsmanship.

• A younger child is being earnest while stating something funny. Laughing in these moments can seem dismissive. Better to bite our tongue or to try to think of something serious (not always possible I know).

• A teacher makes an error with our child. Compromising our kid’s teacher’s teaching character frustratedauthority is kissing cousin to compromising the other parent’s authority. It’s usually better to either coach our child about how to respond (i.e., to teach an important life skill) or, when it seems worth it, engage the teacher directly. (Search with the word “teacher” on this blog for related tips.)

• A coach or extracurricular supervisor makes an error with our child. This may be more likely to happen when the coach/supervisor is a parent of another child who is likewise engaged. However, the same principle goes. (Search with the word “injustice” on this blog for related tips.)

• Offering our opinion to a teenager requires tremendous wisdom, at least if our goal is to affect his or her thinking or behavior in a positive way. I’ve found that ending sentences with question marks, instead of periods, increases the odds of success (and it really must be a question, not a statement wrapped in a question). It’s a teen’s job to be independent; part of that can be eschewing unsolicited advice.

dating2• Our child chooses a friend or someone to date that we don’t care for. While you, of course, will ensure that your child is properly monitored, trying to control whom s/he chooses to engage usually creates more problems than it solves. If your child and your family are well, s/he will figure this stuff out with maturation and experience.

• If the other parent is collaborating with your child in a way that is joyful for them but bugs you. Short of this behavior risking significant physical or psychological injury, or consuming resources that will be significantly compromising to your family’s wellness, better to bite your lip than to be a wet rag.

• The other parent is screwing up with your child. To intervene, in front of the child, short of the commission of abuse, is to risk triangulation. This is usually best dealt with privately, if warranted.

• Your child experiences a self-esteem boost from an inaccurate interpretation. child in a snow suit happyUnless you have cause to believe that someone else will burst his or her bubble in a hurtful way, or that the belief is immediately harmful, often better to just let your kid enjoy the warm glow.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could take our wisdom flash drive and insert it into our child’s hard drive? Oh well, it will still likely all work out okay anyway, or so I keep telling myself in the mirror ;-)

Six Tips for Finding Your Kid’s Strengths

dance, coolWhile I don’t have the space here to share the statistical theory that supports this assertion, all kids, barring significant brain injury or dysfunction, possess at least one top strength. Using this strength, or strengths, in ways that matter, is a major component of any child developing a sense of personal competence and efficacy, which then heavily influences the development of self-esteem. The problem is that many youth have no idea that they possess such a strength, and have little or no experience wielding it in the world. Below are six suggestions for identifying and promoting your kid’s strength(s).

#1: Just like plants grow their branches around obstacles towards the light, kids’ behaviors will often gravitate towards their strengths. So observe what s/he does when not sedentary. Sometimes these behaviors are on the beaten path (e.g., she likes to shoot baskets) while at other times they are not (e.g., he likes to write poetry), but keeping an eye out can be a very important part of a strength development program.

#2: Consider arranging for your child to complete an online evaluation. These tools generate theories abpuit your child’s top personality strengths, which can then help to point you in a given direction. For example, The Values in Action (VIA) Strength Survey for Children can be taken by youth ages 10 to 18; it is available, at no charge, at www.authentichappiness.com (find it under the tab labeled “Questionnaires”). StrengthsExplorer For Ages 10 to 14: From Gallup, the Creators of StrengthsFinder is a book that includes an access happy aa boycode to an online assessment tool; it is designed for ages 10 to 14 (older adolescents may take StrenthsFinder 2.0; a 10th Grade reading level is required). However, be careful to not view these reports as tablets coming down the mountain. Such tools are most helpful when they are used to develop theories about your child’s personality strengths.

#3: If your child has identified a top strength, try to put it into action. The more s/he uses it the more resilience will accrue to him or her, among other benefits. Also, there are few moments that are more joyful in parenting than observing your child wield a top strength.

#4: While (of course) there is nothing wrong with engaging an activity that isn’t a top strength (or else I would have to quit golf), it would generally be a good idea to look for independent confirmation that the skill at hand is a top strength before sacrificing significant 2 happy teens, african-americanfamily resources on its altar. We parent-lunatics are often not the best appraisers of our kid’s strengths. So, seek feedback from experts that are willing to be straight with you before investing in it to a degree that hurts; also, keep in mind that experts who stand to benefit financially from a positive review may sometimes not be objective. Of course, if the strength involves participating in competitions, how your child does in those can also tell you a lot, especially as your child competes beyond a local level.

#5: We should be mindful of the costs that can be involved with pushing too much or too little. Once we find our child’s top strength, it will need to be cultivated if it is to flourish. Sometimes this cultivation necessitates engaging activities that don’t feel fun to our child or which require discipline. As is the case so often in parenting, we do well to strive for the middle ground. Too little engagement on our part and our child may not develop his or her ability to do things when s/he adaptdoesn’t feel like it or develop the strength at hand. Too much engagement and our relationship can become conflict laden and our child may come to despise the activity. Of course, finding this middle ground isn’t always easy as it usually moves as our child matures or regresses, making listening and adaptation very important.

#6: If you’d like tailored help for this consider seeking out the services of a qualified child psychologist. For a referral, click here.

Good luck helping your progeny to soar!

Limiting Access to Technology in the Home

baby at computerAs summer approaches, and kids have much more free time, many parents have questions about whether they should limit their kids’ access to technology. This entry considers some of the salient issues.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit their kids’ sedentary electronic pleasuring to two hours a day. I believe this guideline is well reasoned for at least five reasons:

• Using more of this technology can reduce the odds that a kid will sweat and breathe hard for 60 minutes a day, which is another broadly promulgated guideline.

• Using more of this technology can reduce the odds that kids will advance their face-to-face people skills.

• As is the case with just about too much of anything, too much usage of technology can worsen pre-existing vulnerabilities (e.g., mood disturbance, anxiety disorders).

• Being plugged in too much can reduce the likelihood that a kid will develop his or her top strengths (the topic of next week’s blog entry)attractive college student sitting

• High school students who aspire to be competitive for admission to high quality academic institutions do well to use the summer to work at internships, to do community service or to engage in activities that will put them into the running for these more difficult to get into schools. Obviously, being plugged in too much at home reduces effectiveness along these lines.

There are a few related questions that come up from parents:

I can’t control what my kid does when I’m not home. How can I enforce such limits?

First of all, a scheduled kid is a kid who isn’t as much in a position to defy such rules. But, if you need to resort to it, there are plenty of tools available to assist. For example, you can purchase devices that lock onto the ends of plugs or which turn electronics off after a pre-programmed amount of time (e.g., see www.familysafemedia.org).

How important are rating guidelines?

child playing with laptopI believe these guidelines are very important to follow, unless you have a good reason to do otherwise. Of course, your progeny will likely lament that hordes of his or her peers use this or that game, watch this or that movie, or otherwise consume material that violates such age/ratings guidelines. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that while not all parents who hear such complaints are effective, just about all effective parents hear such complaints.

My kid is way more tech savvy than me. How can I hope to establish and enforce parental controls and guidelines?

If you Google “parent controls” together with whatever device you’re dealing with you will likely find help (making sure to have the right model/software version). Otherwise, offer a 20-something person an Amazon gift card if s/he can check your controls for you; tell him or her that you’ll double the value if s/he is able to get around your controls, show you how s/he did it and offer countermeasures. I don’t find that this needs to take much time.

Should I be checking my kids’ emails, texts and pictures?

First of all, it’s your kids’ job to promote his or her independence and to become R1very upset when you check such things. But, there is evidence that when s/he believes that you might check his or her technology, at any time, that the resulting apprehension can increase the odds that s/he won’t go over to the dark side.

The best suggestion I have is to try to stay in the middle ground, which is a moving target. Too far to the right and you’ll be too monitoring and restrictive: signs of that are that you’re acting like a warden, your kid is acting like an inmate and s/he is becoming socially isolated. Too far to the left and your kid is either stepping on land mines or showing sings that s/he is at significant risk for such. Regardless of where you land on that continuum, some degree of checking and monitoring is usually advisable; the degree of this can be determined by your kid’s age, manifested success/failure and vulnerabilities (e.g., a kid struggling with ADHD may need more monitoring). (For more elaborate guidelines and a fuller vetting of the issues please see chapters 3 and 5 in my parenting book.)

What should I do if my plan seems to be not working?

funny-password-signThis one is easy. Seek out expert assistance! For a referral, click here.

Good luck my fellow parent-lunatic!




Teaching Kids Anger Management

parents and young boy in intense conflictA frequent question I get from parents is what can be done to teach a kid how to control his or her anger. This entry reviews six of my favorite strategies.

#1: As is the case with so many issues in parenting, we do well to begin with a gut check. “How am I doing with managing my own anger?” While hypocrisy is an upgrade over disengagement, our credibility is enhanced when we walk our talk. Moreover, if I’m losing it with some regularity, I could be significantly contributing to my child’s problem with anger control.

#2: Also like so many issues in parenting, proactive strategies usually work better than reactive ones. We all lose IQ points when we’re angry (i.e., the more primitive parts of the brain take over), so if I wait until my kid has lost it to do my interventions, my odds of success are not great, and I may end up loosing it as well. I do better if I think ahead and imagine which situations could be challenging and prepare my child (and me) with a plan.

#3: Anxiety and anger are incompatible with a relaxed body. The first step to doing this is to belly breathe (instead of chest breathe), comfortably but deeply, both in and out. With anger and anxiety, the breath rises up and becomes shallow. With peace and relaxation, the breath drops and becomes deeper. The next thing is to relax all of the muscles. The metaphor I use is to try to turn each muscle into a cooked piece of pasta. I have a free 15-minute audio file that helps a kid build up this sort of muscle memory. You can download it here; strive to have your kid practice it three times a week until s/he is able to relax his or her entire body effectively and instantly.

#4: A useful cognitive approach is to try to move the focus of attention away from angry kidthe agitating agent or situation. Sometimes this can be accomplished by separating from the bother (e.g., having siblings separate). Other times this can be done by focusing on a coping or happy thought (i.e., true things that make a kid feel good). Or, it can be done by engaging in something fun or positively engaging.

#5: You can incentivize your child handling challenging situations well. Let’s say your guy is a little league pitcher who tends to lose his composure during games when things don’t go his way. You might tell him that he earns his technology (e.g., video games, cell phone) the next day by not showing negative emotions during the game. Of course, following up with proportionate positive commentary is a nice adjunct.

black mom with kids, white background#6: Try not to let advantages accrue to your child because of his or her temper outburst. If s/he is able to get out of undesirable responsibilities (e.g., chores, homework), gets more attention (e.g., one-on-one attention is most likely to occur during or after a fit) or gets his or her way because of the loss of control, then the frequency of such behaviors may rise, and not necessarily with intention. I would also be very cautious about trying to protect your child from any appropriate consequences that might come his or her way (e.g., a coach wants to bench your kid for a game for having thrown his bat in anger after striking out). It’s good for the anger control problem to not lead to good things (which includes the avoidance of important undesirable activities) and to be associated with developmentally appropriate consequences that sting.

If these strategies don’t work, please consider seeking out a child psychologist. S/he can help you to develop a more elaborate plan for resolving or improving this problem. For a referral, click here.

Using Positive Psychology in Parenting

happy Asian familyPositive psychology (PP) is that branch of psychology that studies what promotes emotional experiences of joy and cognitive experiences of meaning. Instead of asking the question that clinical psychology traditionally asks (i.e., “how can problem x be healed?”) PP wonders, “what can each of us do to feel happy and satisfied?” As parents we do well to both model and teach these strategies to our kids.

Parenting walk and talk are both important. However, the walk seems to matter more. In this context, how happy we are has a great deal to do with how much energy we have for parenting and how often we parent with intention (i.e., doing and saying those things that we most wish to do and say, instead of reacting out of fatigue or pain). Moreover, our kids our affected by our modeling in profoundly impactful ways, and often in a manner that is outside of their awareness The type of world we live in (i.e., mostly happy versus something else) predicts the type of world they live in and the type of world they will live in in the future.

Below are my 10 favorite PP strategies to practice and to teach your kids about:

• Practice gratitude. This can be by way of a daily, weekly, monthly or intermittent practice. This can be an internal event (e.g., counting one’s daily blessings before bed or in the shower) or a specific exercise (e.g., writing a gratitude letter).

• Practice acts of kindness. The “helper’s high” is an empirically established happy black woman backgroundphenomenon. This can be done in simple ways both with strangers (e.g., paying for the coffee of someone behind you in the drive through) or loved ones (e.g., doing someone else’s chore) or can be more elaborate (e.g., volunteering at a pet shelter, taking a loved one to a vacation spot they’ve been aching to visit).

• Think adaptively. This can involve using coping thoughts to lift your mood (i.e., keeping true thoughts in mind that give you energy) or thought testing to reduce the impact of painful thoughts that are not true.

• Use your strengths. This supposes that you know what your top strengths are. You then make sure to use them on a regular basis, preferably weaving them into your vocational life.

• Be mindful. This involves tuning into the details of the moment of time you are in—and I mean all of the minutia of the moment. Cognitive and affective pain tend to live in the past and the future while peace tends to live in the present.

joyful couple• Live by the crisis = pain + opportunity formula. When hammers hit give them their due (i.e., experience the pain without denial or suppression) but then look for the opportunity that is always there, and to a dose that usually surpasses the dosing of the pain.

• Forgive. Forgiving is like flushing a toxin out of the body. It can also produce profound experiences of meaning.

• Sleep, eat and exercise well.

• Be kind to yourself. If what you tell yourself about yourself were all written out in a book what would the overall tenor be? This strategy includes talking to yourself the way you would have others talk to your child.

• Practice the serenity prayer. (You can be an atheist and benefit from this.) This practice combats codependency and helps you to have an adaptive response when you experience injustice. (I’m convinced that the more a person lives a high road life the more that person will experience injustice.)

Want to learn more about these strategies? I have three suggestions:glasses and book

#1: Enter what you want to know more about in the search bar above. I’ve written articles on several of these techniques; some of those blog entries also include suggestions for further reading.

#2: Read my parenting book. I end each chapter with specific exercises for parents from the positive psychology literature.

#3: Sorry, this one is only for people who live by me in Northeastern PA. This June and July (2014) I will be running an 8-session happiness seminar. To learn more, visit www.explorehappiness.com.

Good luck!



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,723 other followers