Helping Your Kid Get a Good Night’s Sleep

It’s back-to-school and many parents are working on sleep with their kids. In previous entries I reviewed evidence that most teens do not get sufficient sleep, shared authoritative guidelines for how much sleep kids should get and summarized the most common ways kids suffer when they do not get enough sleep. Here I offer guidelines for how you can promote a good night’s sleep in your kid.

• Try to encourage a consistent bedtime ritual that starts about an hour prior to the time you’d like your  to fall asleep. In this hour try to avoid activities that promote an active or a fretful mind. For younger children reading them a book as they lay in bed can be effective. A shower or bath in this hour can also be relaxing.

• Baring unusual circumstances, consider not allowing your kid to keep a cell phone in her bedroom.

•Try to avoid allowing your kid to watch TV as he falls asleep. However, if you do, make sure it is not on for long and that it is turned off shortly after he falls asleep.

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

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

• Try to avoid laying with your child until she falls asleep. If her anxiety level seems to mandate such, see a qualified mental health professional for help.

• Dim night lights are fine to use if such makes your child more comfortable.

• 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.

• If your kid consistently fights you in getting to bed on time, consider making 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’m taking your cell phone away because you did not get to bed on time.”) This is reward. (“You earn your cell phone each day by having gotten to bed on time the night before.”) So, your kid either earns or doesn’t earn the desired activity or access while you remain an empathic bystander.

• If your kid reports that he cannot fall asleep because his mind is too busy, try one or more of the following strategies:

  1. 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 off shortly after your kid falls asleep.
  2. Encourage your kid to imagine that it is the next day and he is in a boring class. In the class he is extremely tired, but he MUST stay awake. Encourage your kid to imagine what each of her senses experience as he does this mental exercise.
  3. Encourage your kid to imagine a repetitive pleasurable activity (e.g., fishing, cheerleading, pitching a ball game, dancing, etc.). Again, encourage her to engage all of her senses when imagining this activity.
  4. Play sounds from nature (e.g., the beach, a rainforest, etc.) or other soothing music (e.g., insomnia tracks available on iTunes). If your child has a device like an iPod, he may enjoy using one of the compatible pillows that are available.
  5. Some people report that the aroma of lavender can have a sedating effect. So, consider this as well.

Insomnia is like a fever as it is a symptom that has many possible causes (e.g., sleep apnea, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, etc.). If your child suffers from persistent insomnia consult with your child’s pediatrician regarding possible medical causes. If medical interventions do not resolve the problem, are contraindicated or will take a while to implement, consider seeking out the services of a qualified mental health professional.

Developing Gratitude in Kids

happy jumping black boy, white backgroundHelping kids to develop gratitude has multiple benefits. It weakens self-entitlement because kids need to recognize that they have been gifted with something instead of feeling inherently entitled to it. Gratitude also promotes adaptive thinking, joy and a sense of meaning. This entry focuses on a few strategies for promoting gratitude in kids.

A good way to start is to do gratitude letters across the entire family. For that methodology, see this blog entry. Being on either end of a gratitude letter is usually a very enriching experience.

Families can also develop gratitude rituals. Before eating a shared meal, whether it’s all of the family or just part of the family, each person might mention 1-3 things that she is grateful for that day. These might be small things (e.g., the sounds of birds chirping in the morning) or big things (e.g., being on the honor roll). Moreover, if your family shares a spiritual practice of praying, prayers of thanksgiving can be offered each night for specific developments during the day.

There are also things kids can be trained to do on their own. For example, counting three blessings in the show can be a mood lifting habit, as can doing so right before bed. Some kids also find value in making a gratitude list once a week for things that happened that week. The research suggests that such practices promote positive feelings and attitudes. As is said: that which you pays attention to expands.

There are two traps to avoid. First, directing a kid towards gratitude usually teen laying down and looking aheadwouldn’t be a good way to respond to that kid’s legitimate pain and suffering. Trying to direct a kid towards gratitude, when he is legitimately hurting, can make it harder for him to learn to cope adaptively with such experiences. Second, it’s important to try to be specific with expressions of parental gratitude and to not offer vague praise (e.g., a parent saying to a child: “I’m grateful that you’re so smart” is not nearly as helpful as “I’m grateful that you aced a difficult English exam today”).

Tolstoy said it well, “Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in it’s own way.” I think it’s fair to say that happy families, and individuals for that matter, regularly engage proportionate and specific gratitude.


“I’m stupid!” “I’m a loser!” Responding to a Kid’s Negative Thinking (Thought Testing)

“I’m stupid!” “No one likes mcharacter sitting on book overwhelmede!” “I suck at sports!” “I have no friends!” Most parents have heard lamentations like these. Our typical response is to reassure our kid and offer contradicting evidence. However, there are many occasions when that approach seems to escalate the problem. This is because if a kid is being influenced by a depressed or anxious mood, such reassurances are heard by her as “knock it off. You don’t have any reason to feel this way.” Our kid’s response is then to insist, often with more distress and an offering of data, that the negative thought is true. The technique of thought testing can be helpful in these instances.

Step #1: Get to the core thought. Our thoughts are like onions; core thoughts are the deepest layer of the onion. Sometimes our kid offers a core thought right at the start, like the ones I listed above. If so, we can skip this step. Otherwise, a kid can seem disproportionately upset about an activating event, like not getting invited to a party or making a mistake during a game. You can start by asking, “what does it mean that Monica didn’t invite you to the party?” A kid might say, “she doesn’t like me.” You can then respond with, “okay, let’s say that’s true. What would it mean about you that Monica doesn’t like you?” A kid might then say, “I have no friends.” Core thoughts are usually expressed in a few words and represent black-and-white and negative conclusions about oneself, others or the world at large. Write down the core thought at the top of a piece of paper, then draw a vertical line in the middle of the page underneath the core thought. On the left side write “facts supporting.” On the left write “facts contradicting.”

theory into practice signStep #2: Collect supporting facts. This is the step that opens up a new universe for your relationship with your kid. You say, “okay, what are the facts that support this thought? By facts, I mean things that a police officer would write down, or things that could be used in a court of law.” (You might have to do different kinds of teaching regarding what a fact is depending upon your kid’s age and intelligence.) If your kid suggests some facts in support of the thought, write it down as a valid point. The kid might say, “I didn’t get invited to Monica’s party.” You might say, “you’re right. That is a fact that suggests you have no friends so we’ll write it down on the left side. What’s next?” So, instead of arguing against the core thought, you’re asking for the data that supports it. This is what’s new. Usually a kid will have 2-4 facts, and rarely more. Just be sure you write down only facts, not what you kid imagines, guesses or implies.

Step #3: Collect contradicting facts. When your kid says she has no more supporting facts, ask if there are facts that contradict or disagree with the core thought. Usually, these start cascading from your kid (as long as you’ve done the first two steps that is). Feel free to add here-and-there but let most of the facts come from your kid. You write each one down on the right side. As you write, don’t let your kid see what you’re writing yet. It’s okay not to exhaust this side. You can stop once you have much more data on the right side.

Step #4: Give the list to your kid and ask, “Okay, you’re judge and jury. Is the thought true or false?” Your kid will usually express relief that the thought is not true. (In my parenting book I review an augmenting strategy for when a kid wants to assert that a given fact on the left side carries more weight than the facts on the right side.)

cute girl sitting white backgroundStep #5: Decide what you want to do next. Maybe you want to do “problem solving” regarding the activating event (search for that term on this blog site). Or, maybe your kid decides just to distract herself whenever she has this thought going forward, as it isn’t true.

I have two caveats. First, if the thought proves true, use it as an opportunity to do problem solving. Second, if thought testing doesn’t work for you, and your kid has a pattern of being distressed by negative thoughts, seek out a referral for a good child mental health professional. You can get a referral by clicking here.

Eight Tips for Transitioning Back to School

Well it’s that time of the parenting year when many of us start overseeing the transition back to school. Whether this is a purely joyful time for you or a time of ambivalence, here are eight tips to help.

Tip #1: Start transitioning your child’s sleep routine to approximate the school day. Many kids develop a vampire sleep schedule during the summer, especially teenagers. Getting your kid onto a sleep schedule that will approximate the school year, a week or two in advance, will ease everyone’s transition. (For guidelines on how much sleep your child needs, click here.)

Tip #2: Set as a goal an hour a day of sweating and breathing hard for your progeny. It can be less stressful to begin this widely recommended behavior now than once the craziness of the school year kicks in. (Hint: it’s a lot easier to establish routine physical activity if it’s fun and part of scheduled and structure commitments.)

Tip #3: I bet you see this next one coming: establish a balanced diet to give your child a wonderful gift. It is very easy to get free online help. (As a child psychologist, I wonder how many mental health problems in youth would go away if all kids got enough sleep, got a reasonable amount of physical activity and ate a balanced diet.)

Tip #4: Plan a fun activity for the family a week or two into the school year. This gives everyone something to look forward to, which can ease the transition back to school.

Tip #5: If your child has a history of struggles with his or her academics, establish a minimum amount of time to be spent on homework each school night. An evidence-based guideline is 10 minutes per grade (e.g., a 5th grader would spend 50 minutes). (If the amount of time your child needs to spend on homework each night far exceeds this 10-minute guideline, I would initiate a discussion with the teacher(s) or a good child psychologist regarding what might be going on.)

Tip #6: Discuss with your child the amount of extracurricular activities that you find to be adaptive. Having no extracurricular involvements can hamper opportunities for advancing important developmental outcomes. However, too much extracurricular activity can compromise academics or wellness. As is the case across parenting, the middle ground is usually in order.

Tip #7: Avoid stressing your finances needlessly with back-to-school expenses. There can be a conscious or unconscious pressure to doll our kids up with expensive new clothes and bountiful office supplies when such isn’t needed. If you have the money and inclination, go for it. But, I would try to avoid creating burdens on myself that will later tax my ability to parent with intention.

Tip #8: Don’t beat yourself up for unrealized summer dreams. In the spring many of we parents imagine spending the summer frolicking through fields of meaning and joy with our children. Of course, this never happens with the same breath and depth as we imagined in the spring (i.e., another version of the Clark Griswold syndrome). Try instead to give yourself credit for your efforts and what went well.

Good luck my parent colleague!

When Teens Lie

african woman's half faceLying is can be a symptom of a psychological disorder such as Conduct Disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. However, lying can also occur secondary to typical developmental pressures that teens face. This entry is designed to address the latter scenario.

Teens can lie for many different reasons: to avoid consequences, to be spared parent admonishments, to get out of responsibilities and so forth. However, a top reason teens lie is because they imagine that the truth will get them nowhere with their parents. It is as if a teen is an attorney who, believing that the judge always decides against him, stops making truthful petitions to the court. This may or may not be a fair assessment. But, if a teen thinks that her parents will always decide against her if she lobbies truthfully, it is more likely that she will lie. There are at least six things we as parents can do to incentivize truth telling:

#1. Ask yourself if the thing your teen wants to do stands to be physically harmful, psychologically harmful or unduly taxing of your resources. If the answer to all three is “no,” maybe it’s okay to let your teen do that thing, even if it drives you crazy.

#2. Be open to your teen having good arguments that change your mind. Often our teens have information or perspectives that we hadn’t considered. If we allow ourselves to objectively consider this information, and change our minds when that’s indicated, we increase the odds that our teens will be truthful with us.

caution, teen ahead#3. Consider using the problems solving methodology. Click here or see Chapter Six of my parenting book for a more detailed description.

#4. Spend one hour a week doing special time with your teen. Readers of this blog will recognize this theme. For an instruction on how to do special time see this link or Chapter One of my parenting book.

#5. Allow your teen three chances to change your mind after you say “no” to something he wants to do. It might go like this: 1. your teen makes his initial request; 2. you respond, offering a reason if it’s a “no;” 3. your teen makes a counterargument; 4. you listen and respond; 4. if it’s still a “no” your teen makes a second counterargument; 5. you listen and respond; 5. if it’s still a “no” your teen makes a third and final counterargument; 6. you listen and respond; if it’s a “no” discussion would normally be over at this point. Also, keep in mind that being open to being persuaded by good arguments (not pushed over, but persuaded) is important.

#6. Bounce your thinking off of wise and experienced parents who are objhip teens:college studentsective and are as likely to agree as to disagree with you. This can help you to get a better sense for what you want to do .

Good luck!

Summer: Great Time to Have Your Kid/Teen Get a Mental Health Evaluation

black kid skateboardFor many kids and teens (and by association, parents) the summer represents a reprieve. Of course, there is no school. But, other responsibilities usually lessen as well. For this reason, stress can lighten by a large margin; symptoms that your child may have demonstrated during the school year can either evaporate or lessen to manageable levels. This can cause just about any parent-lunatic to convince himself/herself that all is well now.

Yes, kids can grow out of symptoms with time and maturity. However, unless there has been some dramatic and substantive change (e.g., peace was rendered in a significant relationship that had been troubled, treatment caused a significant breakthrough), it is unlikely that your child or teen has grow out of a problem, or problems, in the matter of a few weeks. It is more likely that the abatement of school-year based stress has caused the problem(s) to go underground and that such are likely to return, in a stronger and more entrenched variation, in the fall. (In my clinical experience this often happens by the first report card and nearly always by the holidays.)

This makes the summer a great time to get an evaluation, and for at least four reasons:

  1. Being under less stress will make it easier for a child psychologist to two boys thumbs upaccess the reasonable side of your child or teen.
  2. If your child or teen demonstrates problems at both school and home, the summer affords the opportunity to focus on home-based challenges exclusively. This portends to leave everyone feeling stronger and better equipped to deal with school-based issues in the fall.
  3. If your child suffers from mood disturbance or anxiety symptoms, it can be much easier to assess and treat such in the summer. Actually, the same thing goes for most kinds of problems (e.g., difficulties with attention, disordered eating).
  4. With the decreased stress, it may be easier for everyone to better appreciate and discuss your child or teen’s strengths.

glasses and bookThe only typical downside to a summer evaluation is that it can be more challenging to get teachers to complete behavior rating scales. However, my experience is that most teachers are generous with their time as long as you approach them in a respectful manner. Here’s a sample ask: “Dear Mr./Ms. X, I’ve arranged for Dr. Y to evaluate Aiden so that I may better understand his opportunities for growth. Dr. Y. has indicated that your opinion is very important in helping him to do a good job. I appreciate that you are off in the summer, so if you don’t have the time to fill these forms out, no worries. But, if you can fill them out I would be most grateful!”

I hope you will consider an evaluation if your child or teen has been demonstrating problems either now or during the last school year. Doing so will leave your child or teen less likely to number among the majority of those youth who need mental health care but do not get it. (For a referral click here.)


Ten Tips For Getting the Most out of Family Vacations

Ever feel stressed by a family vacation? This can be very surprising when it happens as we think of vacations as the antidote for stress, not the cause of it. In order to increase the odds that you will get the intended results from your next family vacation, consider the following 10 thoughts:

  1. Savor the moment. Ask yourself, “where’s the beauty in this moment?” Is it in the expression on your child’s face? Is it in the colors of the landscape? Is it in the skill being brought to bear by someone serving you? It’s so easy to rush past beauty and precious moments and to not notice them. As you focus your attention only in the here-and-now, try to do only that and breathe gently into your lower stomach. Observe the peace and contentment that grows within you.
  2. Appreciate that some things just about always don’t go as planned and that such moments offer opportunities.  That is, crisis = pain + opportunity. I’ve never known of a vacation that went exactly as planned. When flights are delayed, or its rainy out, or you don’t get the seating you wanted or someone gets sick, acknowledge that pain as you would a guest in your home. But, then look for the opportunity that pain always brings with it, and try to capitalize on that. Doing so models wisdom for your children.
  3. Love matters more than everything else. We parent-lunatics (see the first post in this blog) want so much to give our children the best of everything, including the best vacations. This is a natural and normal impulse. However,  so often what our children most need from us is to be connected. So, try to grab those moments on your vacation that allow your relationship with your child to grow. (Such moments are often cheaper anyway!)
  4. Stress happens. Our bodies are stressed when we experience bountiful pain and bountiful joy; while the former is obvious the latter can surprise us. How many families are surprised when a wedding, a family reunion, a baptism, or, in this case, a family vacation brings with it grouchiness or arguments or other kinds of relationship ruptures and challenges? When these sorts of things happen in painful moments we usually understand what is going on. But, when they happen during a family vacation, especially when a lot of time and resources have been brought to bear to make it happen, it’s easy to become disgusted with  family members for what seems to be their selfishness and lack of appreciation. Instead, try to remember that such moments are usually inevitable and that they can be minimized if everyone both realizes that and also tries to get healthy doses of sleep, nutritious food and physical activity during the vacation.
  5. Contemplate goals. Ask yourself what realistic goals this vacation can accomplish. If I tell myself, either consciously or unconsciously, that I expect my pliers to be able to cut down a tree, I will suffer disappointment or worse. If I try to use a vacation to correct a major family problem, to engender a significant upgrade in the harmony in my family life or to cause family members to love and to appreciate me more, I may end up very disappointed and hurt. However, if I tell myself that the goals are to appreciate and enjoy whatever moments come our way and the presence of my family in my life, I may end up feeling fulfilled and peaceful.
  6. Avoid rushing. “Let’s go we must be there 30 minutes early!!” “C’mon we’ll miss the appetizers!!” “If we’re not there in 15 minutes they’ll start without us!!” When we’ve paid a lot of money, and invested a lot of time planning, it’s so easy to treat a vacation like it is a hill to be charged: bayonets attached, troops organized and people on the receiving end in trouble! And, participants, including the one(s) barking orders, often feel more like they are engaged in battle than a vacation. If a given activity is very important to be at on time, try to give yourself sufficient time so that no one has to rush. If rushing becomes necessary, take a poll among the family regarding which they would rather do: rush, be late, or do something else. This way if there is a decision to rush at least the soldiers will feel less like they are being pushed.
  7. Avoid creating future stress. It’s so easy to spend money I don’t have because I tell myself that doing so will give my kids things or experiences that will be meaningful to them. However, if I do this spending in a way that compromises my future wellness, then there may be less of me available to my children when we return home (e.g., I have to work more, or I’m more tense, or I have more need to unwind with alcohol to manage my financial worries) and ultimately the scales tip more towards my children being stressed than benefited.
  8. Experiment with the path less traveled. When on such paths it can sometimes be easier to connect with each other and to have unique experiences. Try safe activities that either the crowds don’t do (e.g., swimming in the ocean when it’s raining, going to a restaurant off the tourist circuit) or which are a departure from your usual behavior (e.g., get a temporary tattoo, dance like no one is watching, volunteer to do a karaoke number). Then, really try to savor these moments.
  9. Begin your vacation before you leave. Anticipation can be so much fun, especially if it is shared. The internet, bookstores and libraries abounds with resources. Engage willing family members in this anticipation.
  10. Continue your vacation after you return. Every true benefit that can be garnered when at a vacation site can be garnered at home: good food, good fun, good relationships, fun activities, etc. are all available to all of us with sufficient creativity and persistence. In other words, there is no kind of brain activity that Paris can create that Toledo can’t.

By the way, if you had access to a time machine, you could go back in time and see me making just about all of the mistakes suggested by this article: I can still see myself acting like a general at Walt Disney World, treating the Unofficial Guide like a master battle plan! So, if you fall prey to performance problems when on your vacation, you’re in a huge club (i.e.,  those of us who sometimes act like Clark Griswold when on a family vacation). So the 11th suggestion is to cut yourself some slack in these moments: you’re trying the best you can and no angel in heaven means better.

Related post: Five Tips for Keeping Long Car Trips From Becoming Hell on Earth

Five Tips for Keeping Long Car Trips From Becoming Hell on Earth

Many of us take longer than usual car trips in the summer time. The starting point for keeping a car trip from becoming hellish is to determine if the length and nature of the trip is likely to leave your child, or children, regressing (i.e., annoying the heck out of you). If yes, consider these five tips.

Tip #1: set up a reward program. I once saw a documentary of a family that had to drive from Manhattan to Orlando. The parents gave each child $250 to spend on their vacation; however, they told their children that they would deduct $10 for each argument. By the time they reached Virginia the kids were bankrupt and the parents were ready to put them up for adoption. A better approach would have been to divide the total mileage (or the total estimated time in the car) by $250 and to give the each child that amount of money for each period of time they went without a fight. So, in this example, each mile driven without an argument could have earned .25¢. Keep in mind that there are many other kinds of rewards (e.g., experiences on the vacation, choices in dining along the way, access to electronic pleasures in the automobile, etc.). The idea is to describe the desired behavior and what is earned by hitting the mark.

Tip #2: build in entertainment. Being entertained makes the time fly. I’d suggest alternating activities and electronics. There are many kinds of family activities: license plate games, everyone describes the top five things they’d want the family to do if you won the lottery with a prize to the person with the best voted idea (no one can vote for their own idea), everyone says what they are most looking forward to about the upcoming vacation, and so forth This helps to make the drive a part of the pleasant memories and not just something that has to be endured. Electronics can also be shared either by everyone (e.g., an audio book that everyone is interested in) or parts of the family (DVDs). Keep in mind that most portable music players contain both the capacity to have audio books loaded onto them (e.g., through iTunes) and to be played through a car’s audio system (e.g., by purchasing a device that plugs into the cigarette lighter; for instance see

Tip #3: build in stops that rejuvenate everyone. A part of effective pre-trip happy hispanic familyplanning is to find interesting and low key experiences to have a long the way. This can be as simple as determining where the best of a certain type of food in a state can be found (e.g., ice cream, steak), or where the best place to take pictures might be. A stressed kid (and parent) is much more likely to act out. We all do well to heed the counsel of movie character Dirty Harry: “A man has got to know his limitations.”

Tip #4: try to have realistic expectations. Major family trips are something that we usually plan for, and look forward to, for a long time. This can make us like Clark Griswold in the Family Vacation movies: full of idealistic expectations that defy our family’s capacities. No matter how prepared we are every family member is likely to get grouchy and snappish from time-to-time. Just consider this to be the psychological equivalent of dust mites. Yeah, it’d be nice to be rid of ‘em but such is just part of life on planet earth.

Tip #5: If the long car trip is a return from a vacation, try to plan something to look forward to after arriving back home. As much as it can feel comforting to return to one’s home and routine, it can be a let down to go from Disney World to main street. And, if there is nothing to look forward to on the drive home, everyone’s vulnerabilities may be even higher. So, it can be nice to have something fun arranged for the weekend after one returns home, as long as such isn’t unduly taxing.

Related blog entry: 10 Steps for Reducing Stress During a Family Vacation

Communicating Left-handed When in Conflict with Your Partner…

black couple arguing…or, right-handed if you’re a left handed person.

If you show me a married couple who have kids, and tell me that their arguments are purely spontaneous, and that they just say what they think when they think it, I’ll show you a couple that’s probably in trouble. The following grid represents the categories of communications when couples are in conflict:

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 11.14.17 AM

Bring to mind the last time you and your partner had an argument that you didn’t resolve. What percent of what you said fell into each quadrant? Reflect on this before reading on. What percent of what your partner said fell into each quadrant? Again, spend a moment reflecting. If you’re like most of us, most or all of what you said fell in cells 1 and 4, with the same thing probably being true of your partner. When we do this, the conflict tends to escalate, adaptive listening goes down and our energies become invested in refining our arguments and dismantling our partner’s logic. Escalation mounts further until it ends out of frustration or someone gets hurt, emotionally, physically or both.

marriage in progressThere is a different way to communicate that will feel less natural, and even counter-intuitive. It is kind of like using your non-dominant hand to bowl. Start with cells 2 and 3. All conflicts between couples have data in all four cells. Even you believe that the percent of the data is small in 2 and 3, start there. Be authentic. Challenge yourself to become aware of the data in cells 2 and 3 and discuss it openly, letting your partner react, before even considering going to cells 1 and 4. (If your partner responds by piling on, try to not react to that. You’re communicating on a high road even if your partner can’t join you there yet.) If your partner is a reasonable person, who isn’t in the middle of a regressed state, s/he may surprise you by reciprocating. After all, your 1 and 4 is your partner’s 2 and 3. So, if you start with your own 2 and 3, putting a period on it, instead of just doing it as a forward to where you really want to go, your partner may end up doing your heavy lifting for you.

This mode of communication is not only non-intuitive and more likely to resolve conflicts, it is more loving and ends up being more accurate. I note that nearly 100% of couples I see for couples counseling focus on 1 and 4 at the start but lead with 2 and 3 when we are nearing termination.

Consider giving this a try and see what kind of results you get. You might even print out this blog post and suggest that you both try this method the next time there is tension between you. If this doesn’t work, or the problem is marriage counselingmore serious (e.g., there is domestic violence, you’re discussing divorce), do yourselves a favor by seeking out the services of a qualified couples counselor. For a referral click here.

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!


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