How Can I Tell if My Kid is Depressed?

depressed stunningAccording to the National Institute of Mental Health 9% of teens suffer from depression each year while 11% of youth suffer a depressive disorder by age 18. Moreover, suicide is the third leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 24. This entry will describe common symptoms and signs of depression in youth. (Please keep in mind that depression runs on a continuum; a kid may be suffering from depression, and need treatment, but only have some of the symptoms indicated below.)

Mood disturbance: Kids who are depressed have impairing sadness and/or irritability that is persistent (i.e., two weeks or longer). When a kid’s depression is manifested as irritability, it is easy to mistakenly conclude that primary problem is defiance.

Sleep disturbance: Not being able to get enough sleep or oversleeping are both signs of depression. What can make this tricky for teens is that school and extracurricular commitments can make it so that the teen doesn’t get to bed late anyway. Moreover, parents may retire before their teen and may not realize that s/he is struggling with sleep. (For guidelines on how much sleep is recommended, across age groups, enter the word “sleep” in the search bar above).

Appetite disturbance: Like sleep disturbance, depressed kids will tend to either over or under eat. Changes in weight and waistline are common.

Poor motivation: Most kids need help learning to do things when they don’t feel like it. But, kids who are depressed experience a steeper climb up that mountain.

Anhedonia: This is the clinical word for not being able to experience joy when crying childengaging in activities that are typically pleasurable. This can be especially frustrating for parents who have endeavored to engineer a positive change in mood.

Concentration problems: Just about all kids who are depressed will experience some degree of concentration problem. (Sleep disturbance and concentration problems are to a child psychologist what fevers are to a pediatrician: there’s a problem there but it can be due to a number of different things.)

Suicidal thinking: This kind of thinking runs along a continuum. On the one end are having vague thoughts that it’d be okay to die without any specific plans or intent to take action. On the other end is generating a lethal, specific and doable suicide plan.

Here are two common myths about teen suicide: asking a kid whether s/he is having thoughts of self-harm promotes suicide (not true) and all kids who make a suicide attempt mean to die (not true also). For more information on suicide, and talking to a teen about this, use the search bar above.

Negative thinking: Youth who are depressed tend to think, “Everything sucks. It’s my fault and it can’t be changed.” This promotes what is called “learned helplessness,” meaning that a kid can become so overwhelmed that s/he won’t take obvious and straightforward steps to feel better. Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and guilt are also common in moderate to severe cases.

teenagainstwallVarious kinds of mental confusion: In addition to concentration problems, youth with severe depression can start confusing what is real and what is not. They can also start to form beliefs that are highly distorted.

Though not present on the diagnostic criteria there are a couple of other common indicators:

Parental burnout: Parenting a kid who is depressed can be exceptionally frustrating and difficult. Not only do intuitive interventions tend to not work (e.g., verbal reassurances), but they tend to make matters worse. This can cause a parent to feel helpless and incompetent.

Parental disputes: As most parents tend to have different parenting styles, it’s natural to believe that if only the other parent would do things differently, the kid’s depression would lift. For this reason, the youth’s depression takes a toll on the parents’ relationship. I’ve witnessed a number of marriages get better simply by effectively treating a kid’s mood disorder.

Running in the family: Depression typically results when stress activates a pre-existing genetic vulnerability. The more mood disorders run in the family, the less stress it may take to activate impairing symptoms.

Sadly, and sometimes tragically, most youth who are depressed do not get distressed teen girltreatment for it, even though effective treatments are available (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy). If you are in doubt about whether your child or teen is suffering from depression, by all means treat that situation as you would if you were in doubt about the presence of a cavity. For databases of treatment providers near you, click here. Also, and as is the case across all service professions, the quality of mental health care varies. Sometimes adequately credentialed therapists are not prepared to evaluate and to treat juvenile depression in a manner that is informed by contemporary research findings. For this reason, parents do well to be informed consumers. To learn more about what constitutes effective mental health care for youth, see Chapter 10 of my parenting book or search the pages of this blog.





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!


Geography of Happiness

happiness signA national survey study recently listed the region where I live, Northeastern PA, as the least happiest US metropolitan area among the 177 surveyed. In response to this article, and the dialogue it generated in my region, I wrote this op-ed for the Scranton Times-Tribune titled “The Geography of Happiness.” I thought I’d share it here as well. ;-)

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 (  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 (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!


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