Tag advice

Kids’ physical activity: 7 thinking traps

The tripod of kids’ physical health consists of sleep, nutrition and physical activity. This blog entry focuses on seven thinking traps we parents commonly engage in regarding the latter.

#1 I don’t need to think about a daily dosing of physical activity for my kid.

Recent research has suggested that obesity exists at alarming rates. For instance, a 2010 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that 10 percent of newborns and toddlers fall in the obese range with the number rising to 17% among ages 2-19 (one out of three were at the 85th percentile or higher). A lack of physical activity, together with problems with sleep and nutrition, are on a short list of causes for childhood obesity. This is why several authoritative bodies (i.e., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture), have recommended that kids sweat and breath hard one hour each day (a 2009 national study by the Center for Disease Control found that less than one out of five teens is active at this level).

#2 My kids’ level of physical activity is unrelated to my level of physical activity.

There are few ways that a family is more connected than in the execution of health habits. My level of physical activity affects my physical wellness, mood, energy level and motivation, all of which impacts my capacity to parent with intention. Moreover, my level of physical activity models such behavior for my child and influences the proportion of family activities that are either active or sedentary. If you are struggling to get going try reading my blog entry on forming and keeping resolutions.

#3 My kid needs to “exercise” in order to be physically active and that is too much of a battle or takes too much out of us in terms of time, cost or effort.

The word “exercise” brings to mind images of a reluctant kid on a treadmill,  with a chastising parent in the background. This is part of the reason why it’s better to use the term “physical activity” instead of “exercise.” This wording is broader in scope and less unpleasant in its implications.

That said, I agree that it can be challenging to get big snowballs moving downhill, but once they get going things often become much easier. Moreover, keep in mind that if your child has a gym class or a sports related extracurricular activity he or she may already be engaging in a lot of physical activity. And, there are many easy ways to integrate more physical activity within your family life, as this download can illustrate.

All this said, some kids need a discipline plan to do well. For a brief overview of the relevant issues, click here; for a more detailed and specific discussion regarding strategies, see chapter five of my parenting book, Working Parents, Thriving Families.

#4 Kids need a lot of willpower to get recommended doses of physical activity.

I’m not a big fan of willpower as a primary tool for improving and supporting adaptive health habits. For this reason. I think its important to minimize reliance on willpower whenever possible (e.g., see my blog entry on forming and keeping resolutions). That said, some degree of willpower is necessary for just about any worthwhile human endeavor. As psychologist Dr. Erich Fromm pointed out in his classic book The Art of Loving, if I do just about anything only when I feel like it, I will experience only compromised outcomes.

Fortunately, this month The American Psychological Association published useful survey research on willpower, together with a helpful list of self-help articles for strengthening and supporting it. For these resources, click here.

#5 Physical activity is fine, once required activities have been completed and we have the time for it.

When someone represents this thought I suspect that she or he has not been made aware of the research indicating the significant consequences that are associated with a lack of physical activity, even when a child is not overweight (see the next point). Moreover, physical activity can nicely break up a day that might otherwise be filled with high doses of duty and obligation (e.g., academics, chores). I wouldn’t say “nutrition is fine, once required activities have been completed and we have the time for it.” The same thing is true regarding my kid’s physical activity (and sleep).

#6 The consequences of not being physically active only catch up with people in adulthood. So we have some time.

This is simply not true. Not only is obesity at risk (which comes with its own collection of adverse outcomes), but kids who are physically active have better moods, concentrate better, are more engaged with their families, have higher self-esteem, are socially more effective and are at reduced risk for an assortment of medical and psychiatric maladies. Indeed, being physically active is a primary resilience variable. This is why I focus on it in my parenting book as well as in my personal life (e.g., I’m a devotee of Tony Horton’s P90X programs, my three kids do a combination of 10 different sports activities throughout the year).

#7 This is hopeless. All I’ve tried has failed. I just need to live and let live when it comes to my child’s physical activity.

Hopelessness with this issue is never warranted, at least in every instance that has crossed my eye line. If you’re having these kinds of thoughts I’d recommend seeking out the services of a good child mental health professional. To find someone near you, click here.

Related blog articles not mentioned above:

Five Questions for Effectively Parenting Your Kid in Sports

Helping Your Child Get a Good Night’s Sleep

A Chronic Health Problem in Teens: A Lack of Sleep

Is Your Kid Getting Enough Sleep?

51 Truths, As I See Things Anyway

Manufacture Joy: Focus on Gratitude

Continuing on with this holiday series, I will next review the technique of using gratitude. (This is related, but different, from the technique of writing a gratitude letter that I covered earlier in an individual and a family exercise.) When you are feeling grateful you are probably not feeling sad, worried or angry. You are also less likely to be taking people and circumstances for granted. There are a number of techniques you can use to pull this off. Below are six to get you started.

• Keep a gratitude journal. Pick either a day a week, or a time of the day, to write down that for which feel grateful. If in doubt regarding which practice would be a better fit for you, make entries into the journal once a week. Write down simple pleasures (e.g., the sounds of birds chirping, the taste of a sweet piece of fruit, a smile you received), bigger events (e.g., getting a raise, celebrating a birthday, taking a great vacation) and anything in-between (a fun date night, your kid getting a good grade on a test, seeing a funny movie). Not only does this practice focus your mind on uplifting events but, over time, you create documentation of all that which is working well in your life, facilitating a sense of deep meaning and satisfaction. This practice also keeps you from becoming like Jimmy Stewart’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life, needing a miraculous divine intervention in order to appreciate the value of your life.

• Use gratitude as a coping thought. What behavior would you next do if you put on a pair of pants you hadn’t worn in a long time and, upon zipping them up, they felt so tight that it hurt? If you’re like most, your next move would be to take them off and put on a more comfortable pair (though you might simultaneously swear, promise yourself to eat less ice cream, or commit to joining a gym ;-)). Imagine what a silly image would be cast by someone walking around wearing uncomfortable pants declaring “Ouch, these pants really hurt! Ouch! I can’t believe how much these really hurt.” Yet, this is exactly what we do when we allow a painful thought to remain on our minds when it serves no useful function (i.e., not figuring out a problem or grieving or doing something else useful, but just pommeling us into the ground). So, if you find yourself chewing on a painful thought with no value just STOP, and turn your mind to that for which you feel grateful of late. Try to savor these thoughts for at least as long as you’ve been inclined to fret over useless and painful thoughts.

• Use your time in the shower each morning to reflect upon what you are most grateful for from the day before.  If you shower in the evening, focus on the day’s events.

• Go through photo albums or family videos with an eye towards remembering what you are grateful for about those events. Printing out some of your favorite images and displaying them around your life can add more value.

• Create a list of the top 10 things you are most grateful for about your life. Better yet, agree with your significant other or best friend (or both) to create your lists and share them with each other over a lunch date at a restaurant new to both of you.

• Write one thank you note a week to the person you felt the most gratitude towards that week. (It doesn’t have to be a heaping dose of gratitude.) Moreover, keep some thank you cards on any desk(s) you work at and put a weekly reminder in your electronic or paper appointment thingy to complete this task.

The point of this series, which you can read by scrolling down on my home page from this entry down, is to review some of the techniques that the science of positive psychology suggests we may use to lift our moods and enhance our experiences of meaning. I hope you will decide to give some of these techniques a try. And, if you do, I’d love to hear about the results as such will become part of my gratitude ritual!

Manufacture Joy: Take a Daily Mini Vacation

As part of this holiday series, I’m next covering the strategy of creating mini daily vacations, an idea I’ve adapted from psychologist Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s book Positivity. The idea is to treat yourself with an enjoyable respite from the busyness of your daily life by doing something fun, meaningful or relaxing. Here are two dozen ideas to get you started:
• Rather than work on a project at your desk, take it to a local coffee shop or bookstore, order your favorite drink, and work on it there.
• Have lunch at a restaurant, whether by yourself (reading something fun or interesting) or with a friend.
• Go to a local library and read or listen to something funny or interesting.
• Start a game of chess with a friend, or a stranger, and make a couple of moves each day.
• Go for a walk with an eye towards paying attention to nature.
• More elaborate, but if you can spare a couple of hours, go see a movie.
• Find a quiet space, put on some headphones, and listen to relaxing sounds on a music player (e.g., ocean waves, rain, birds).
• Click around YouTube.com for some funny videos, then forward any treasures to friends (for my top 10 funny parenting videos click here).
• Read a guide book regarding the location of your next vacation, even if it’s far off. If you don’t have a vacation planned, do that instead.
• Click onto some live streaming of a favorite location (an internet search will yield many options, this is just one example).
• Go to a shop that sells your favorite guilty pleasure (e.g., chocolate, baked goods), order something modest, find a quiet spot and eat the treat very slowly with an eye towards savoring every morsel.
• Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while just to say hey and to see what’s up.
• Read something regarding your favorite hobby.
• Start a file of affirming things people send you, then, over time, read that.
• Eat your lunch while strolling through a museum.
• Look through a file or scrapbook of photographs.
• Watch parts of one of your favorite TV shows or movies (e.g., take a DVD to work, log onto a video streaming service such as Netflix.com).
• Go for a swim in an indoor pool.
• Go play some sets at a bowling alley during lunch, whether by yourself or with a friend.
• Kick your shoes off, get a good drink or snack and read a few chapters of a good novel.
• Play with a pet.
• Visit a florist and buy a plant for your daytime space.
• Find a quiet place, light a candle and offer your Higher Power prayers of gratitude.
• Plant something.
• Make an agreement with your significant other, or a good friend, to alternate giving each other 10 minute shoulder massages. Alternate days if need be.

I would love to hear your ideas for creating a daily mini-vacation.

Other offerings in this series:

Write a gratitude letter

Perform acts of kindness

My Child Gets Afraid A Lot. What Can I Do?

Our science tells us that some children are born with an anxious temperament. These temperaments can often be identified by the toddler years, and sometimes sooner. Kids with such personalities may cling excessively to their parents (or other attachment figures) and respond to novel situations, people or things with hesitation and/or fear. Moreover, about one third of such children may go on to develop an anxiety disorder (compared to eight to twelve percent of the general population). All this said, there are at least nine things parents can do, and not do, to help.

#1: Try to reduce parental anxiety. If I have unrealistic fears about the person, thing or situation under consideration I may be facilitating my child’s anxiety without even realizing it.

#2: Avoid avoidance. If the person, thing or situation your child is fearing is developmentally appropriate for him to be exposed to (e.g., going to the first soccer practice of a new team), it is often a good idea to not avoid it just because he is afraid of it. None of we engaged parents are happier than our least happy child. So, when our kids hurt we hurt, and often worse. Hence it can be an understandable knee-jerk reaction to allow our child to avoid those people, things and situations that distress him without considering whether doing so is helpful or not. However, what we often find is that avoiding developmentally appropriate experiences that are distressing can facilitate more and more avoidance and more and more anxiety.

#3: Avoid preemptive reassurances. I suggest to the parents in my practice: “Imagine I said to you as you sat down. ‘Listen, don’t worry about the ceiling collapsing on your head while we meet. It’s quite secure.’ Of course, your attention would be drawn to the ceiling and you could not help but wonder what danger I’m referring to.” A pre-emptive reassurance states that there is something worthy of being reassured about and can be like saying to a kid (unintentionally of course): “Go ahead and freak out now.”

#4: Avoid excessive reassurances. This is similar to the previous suggestion. Imagine a friend said she was nervous about a job interview and you responded by hugging her and kissing her and suggesting she’ll be fine regardless of what happens. A peer might just find it odd. A kid, who often looks to her parent to decide what to make of her world, might imagine that maybe she has underestimated the gravity of the situation.

#5: Remember that most anxiety passes once a kid is in the situation. Assuming the situation is developmentally appropriate and a child does not suffer from an untreated mental health disorder (e.g., Panic Disorder) and assuming adults are not throwing gas (excessive reassurances) on the fire, a child with an anxious temperament will usually show some initial distress but then be fine.

#6: Preemptive exposures to the situation can be helpful. Doing a dry run to the new classroom before school starts, going to the soccer field before the first practice, meeting the new coach before hand, and other preliminary exposures to what is feared can sometimes soften the initial distress, especially if such is practical and not accompanied by preemptive or excessive reassurances.

#7: Having your child breathe into his belly and try to make his muscles as soft as a cooked piece of pasta can help just before facing the feared person, thing or event. It is very difficult, and maybe even impossible, to be anxious and to have a relaxed body. In doing this, work on muscles in groups. That is, first relax the hands and arms, then the shoulders, neck and head, then the chest and belly and then the legs and feet, all while pretending that the lungs are in the lower belly instead of the chest cavity.

#8: If part of your child’s avoidance strategy is to cling to you, consider leaving the premises once you’ve dropped your child off. Of course, this assumes that you’ve determined that a responsible adult is in charge and that the situation is developmentally appropriate for your child. You can always leave your cell phone number with the adult in charge in case something surprising happens and you need to return. (It would generally not be advisable to tell your child that he may call you if he gets upset.)

#9: Consider consulting with a mental health professional if these strategies do not resolve the problem. To obtain a referral click here.

Where Are Your Wells of Wisdom?

I’ve been doing psychotherapy continuously for the past 24 years. In this time I’ve come to think of each person’s psyche as a cottage in a forest. My client–which can be a family or an individual–and I initially collaborate on an assessment of whether the cottage needs repairs or remodeling. If so, we partner, guided by science, and do that. This kind of work on cottages has characterized the lion’s share of my career. However, it has recently dawned on me that most people (and perhaps even all) have wells of wisdom located around their cottages. When they access these wells they can usually figure out how to proceed when life gets complicated, stressed or confusing.

Some clients know where their wells are without my help. I can see the paths they’ve worn from their cottage to their wells. When thirsty, they go to their wells without much thought, just like someone might make a daily commute without much thought; such people make many decisions in a way that promotes love and self-actualization. However, I find that most of my clients do not know about the existence of their wells, never mind how to access them. Therefore, one of my jobs, as their therapist, is to help them both to find their wisdom and to get in the habit of accessing it.

Let me give a few examples, keeping in mind that people differ regarding where their wells are located.

One person I knew could access her wisdom by imagining how she would look upon a given decision from the context of her deathbed. The gift of death to the living is perspective. Realizing this my client would wonder how her deathbed self would wish for her to proceed when she was facing a difficult decision or a complicated situation. This allowed her to be wise, even if her chosen course sometimes brought her into conflict with other here-and-now agenda (e.g., keeping a clean house, defeating someone with whom she was arguing, purchasing a new car).

Another person I knew could access his wisdom by imagining what advice he would give his son if his son, some years later on as an adult, came to face the same dilemma or problem. It was fun watching him go from complete confusion to complete clarity as he traveled from his cottage to this particular well of wisdom.

Another person I knew would imagine what her therapist would say about a particular problem. She had worked with this therapist for about 18 months and found his Buddhist/mindfulness perspective wise and enlightening. As she had internalized his voice, she only had to envision what he would say to find the right course of action when life became difficult.

I now have woven this principle into my practice. Yes, many cottages need repair and remodeling and, as a therapist, I have a valuable role to play in that regard. (I’ve also subjected my own cottage to such work on two occasions.) But, I’ve learned to assume that many people have more wisdom hidden inside themselves than they realize. It only takes finding the well and then remembering to go to it enough so that the journey becomes automatic when thirst arises.

Do you know where your well is? Do you realize how much wisdom you have inside of you? If not, maybe a therapist can help you to discover it. For a referral click here.

Communicating with Kids About Financial Stress

In today’s economy families commonly need to cut back or make significant changes in how they live. Many parents find themselves wondering how to discuss these changes with their children. Experienced child psychologists know that once you’ve seen one family you’ve seen one family. For this reason, there is no counsel or set of  procedures that can be universally applied. However, it is possible to provide some general guidelines to address common questions.

Is it possible to hide our financial stress from our kids?

Probably not. Most of us tend to show our vulnerabilities more when we’re stressed; smokers tend to smoke more; people in troubled marriages argue more; people inclined towards impatience yell more, etc. A young child, sensing these changes, can become fairly upset and believe that he is at fault unless a parent provides some degree of clarity.

Should I lie to my child about what is going on in order to protect her?

We parents love our kids so much that it can make us crazy (i.e., we’re parent-lunatics—my post on this topic can be found here). So, the motivation to give false assurances is certainly understandable. However, it would generally be a mistake to assert something we do not believe. While doing this in the short run can seem humane, it can damage our credibility in the long run. And, as is the case in adult relationships, credibility can be a difficult thing to recapture. Moreover, kids can usually tell when something is wrong.

What should I tell my child about what is going on?

The younger or the more psychologically vulnerable the child, the more selective I might be in what I share. The older the child, and the more that he is thriving, the more open I might be. A central parental goal is to help my child to learn how to cope well with stress. It’s useful for kids, through the course of development, and in doses that they can handle, to be exposed to a wide variety of stresses so that they can learn how to cope effectively. Yet we parent-lunatics, because we can’t bear to see our kids hurting, sometimes deprive them of such valuable learning opportunities. Then, when they’re on their own, they may experience a diminished ability to respond to multiple kinds of stress and challenges (e.g., many freshmen arrive on college campuses with a compromised capacity to make effective decisions when stressed).

Can you give me an example of what I might say to a younger or a more vulnerable child regarding the significant financial pressures we’re facing?

Let’s say that you’ve been downsized and you’re going to have to move out of your house if you can’t land a new job in three months. I probably would not tell an eight year old that the mortgage is in danger. I would, however, tell that child about the job change, because Dad is going to be home more, or someone else might let it slip. It’s like sex education: you want as much information coming from you as possible. However, a child is like a bridge that’s still being built. How much weight he can handle changes over time (i.e., we don’t want to take a caravan of heavy trucks across a bridge that’s not completed if we can avoid it). If there are serious issues that would significantly stress or frighten a young child, I’m probably would not share that information until I have to.

What would you say to a healthy, older teenager about that same situation?

I might say to the teen, “I need to tell you something troubling. I got laid off. I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen and what kinds of changes we might have to go through together. I’m somewhat worried and sad about all of this, but I’m also confident in my abilities and our abilities as a family. I just thought that you’re old enough to hear about this straight up.” Such disclosures can promote closeness with a teen and affirm that you recognize her growing maturity. Then, there is the follow up opportunity to model how to cope well with stress. I can’t tell you the number of times, in my practice, that a teen has expressed surprise to learn that her parent was previously dumped by a significant other (this happens in the context of the teen being devastated by such a loss in his or her own life). We’re often not used to telling our kids about our vulnerabilities and failings, even though doing so can help them in many ways (for my humorous blog entry on this topic click here).

What do I do about the shame and guilt that I feel that I’m not able to give my kids as many things, and as many experiences, as I could in the past?

I’d suggest trying to redirect the mental energy you are putting into guilt and shame into thinking through the following formula: crisis = pain + opportunity; a related corollary is that as the pain rises so too usually does the opportunity. Maybe we can’t go to the shore this year. But, maybe we can spend more time hanging out at a neighborhood pool together. Maybe I can’t buy the top-of-the-line sneakers, but I can start to collaboratively consider whether chasing expensive corporate branding is good for us.

In closing I can share that our research makes it clear that one of the most important things our kids need from us is undivided and positive attention. The things we purchase sometimes own us more than we own them, so reduced questing for material possessions may actually  be offering us the opportunity to create deeper and better bonds with our kids. Required is love, creativity, flexibility, presence and persistence. Not required is money and Ralph Lauren (well, except in his family).

Coping with School Anxiety

The start of the school year often brings worry and anxiety for both kids and parents. The following tips are designed to help parents ease the transition for a child who may be prone to separation anxiety.

Avoid reassurances at the point of separation as such often has the opposite intended effect

A reassurance suggests, to an anxious child, that there is something threatening about to happen. Imagine I said to my clients  “Please don’t worry about the ceiling crashing down on us. I’ve made sure that we are in a safe environment.” Would their anxiety not be heightened as their eyes darted upwards and they wondered why the heck would I say that?

Try to calm any of your own anxiety as our kids often take their cues from us.

If I’m anxious about my son going to school–which is certainly an understandable thing to feel for that first-time departure–he is more likely to feel anxious as well. I do well to try to try to calm myself first and then imply that his going to school is as dramatic as a trip to the grocery store.

If your child is vulnerable to anxious reactions, try to familiarize her with the new setting as much as you can.

Familiarity can soften anxiety. Hence, see if you can arrange for a trip to your child’s classroom in advance. (Actually, the school may have already initiated an invitation along these lines.) It is difficult to imagine that competent school personnel would experience this as an intrusion or an odd request. Should you be unable to reach them take your child for a few dry runs up to the point of the hand off. Moreover, the Scaredy Squirrel books by Melanie Watt can be very helpful to read together.

Teach your child muscle relaxation and belly breathing.

Muscle relaxation and anxiety mix about as well as oil and water. Suggest to your child, if she is vulnerable to separation anxiety, that she is less likely to be afraid if her muscles are like a cooked piece of pasta instead of the uncooked variety. Moreover, she is less likely to experience fear if she breathes into her belly instead of her chest.

Consider arranging for someone less engaged with your child’s anxiety to manage the first few days.

If you anticipate that your child will do a white-knuckled clutch of your leg at the bus stop or at school, try to arrange for another caring and responsible adult to take him from your home to the separation point. By itself, this can reduce your child’s distress as (1) he has accomplished separation from you in a familiar setting (i.e., your home) and (2) he will be accomplishing the separation from someone less engaged with his anxiety.

Make the separation clean and quick.

If there is a significant chance that your child will be distressed at the point of separation arrange for a particular adult to take her hand from yours (or whoever else might be bringing her). Then, make this exchange efficiently. Try to avoid offering reassurances or waiting until your child seems calm. Actually, you might do well to expect some crying/screaming and to steel yourself to leave anyway. You could always call the school later to see how she’s doing; if your experience is typical, you’ll likely be told that she cried for a few minutes after you left and then was fine.

Please also see my post “My Child Gets Afraid A Lot. What Can I Do?

If the above strategies fail, or are otherwise not indicated, please consider consulting with an experienced child psychologist or like professional.

For a referral in your area, click here.

10 Guidelines for Parenting Experts

Parenting experts abound on the internet, in bookstores and over the airwaves. How is a parent to judge what is sound versus problematic advice, especially when experts disagree? As a way of helping you to judge whether experts are worth paying attention to, I’ve developed these 10 guidelines. As the consumer-parent you can recognize the value of an expert’s advice based on how well she or he complies with these guidelines. (I mean these guidelines for those who offer counsel to parents secondary to their professional qualifications. I do not mean these guidelines to be for parents, or other lay people, who are simply sharing their experience and trying to be helpful in the best way that they can. )

  1. Try not to act holier than thou or imply such.  All parents make mistakes (i.e., have performance deficits). By trying to help parents to learn things that are helpful (i.e., to correct for knowledge deficits), and to minimize performance deficits, it’s easy for parenting experts to come across as holier-than-thou. This is why I believe it ‘s highly advisable for experts to share their own stories of vulnerability and to repeatedly make the point that we all have off days and ineffective moments.
  2. Try to make sure that your recommendations have solid research support in peer-referred journals. It’s so easy to be arrogant, to stop reading and to fall in love with one’s own insights., experience and perspectives. It’s much harder to be humble, nuanced and knowledgeable about the state of our parenting science.  We all do well to put in the effort to know the evidence and to craft our recommendations based on such.
  3. Avoid impractical counsel. Parents live super hectic lives these days. So much of what would probably be helpful might be far from practical for contemporary parents. Effective parenting experts are also efficiency experts.
  4. Offer suggestions that are more likely to yield a bigger bang for the parent’s invested time and effort. Tolstoy put it well “happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in it’s own way.” Tolstoy’s wisdom is supported by our empirical science. Effective parenting experts try to focus on the more important strategies and issues.
  5. Try to be edutaining. It’s possible to entertain without educating, but it is very hard to educate many without also being entertaining. Effective experts invoke laughter, share interesting stories, promote emotional experiences and otherwise engage audiences as they teach.
  6. Support the finding that parents are like shepherds, not sculptors.  So much of how our kids act, what they feel and how they think is influenced by their temperament (i.e., biologically based personality attributes). For instance, about 50% of how happy people are is determined by their “set point” which is heavily influenced by temperament. (I know each of my 3.0 children could not have been more different from each other before my wife and I had any opportunity to mess them up.) Experts know this and don’t create needless pressure and guilt in parents by suggesting or implying otherwise.
  7. Acknowledge, and integrate into your counsel, the truth that each parent numbers among the world’s leading experts on his or her child. Our job is not to try to replace parent intuition or to shout it down  but to partner with it. This is more difficult to do when the information flow is one way, such as in a book. However, effective experts counsel parents to consider their intuition and knowledge of their child as an essential part of decision-making.
  8. Be empathic. The vast majority of parents I’ve met love their child more than their own life. Is it possible to love more? For this reason, when parents act in an ill-advised or hurtful fashion it’s usually for understandable reasons. To understand these reasons is not to justify the behavior, but it does make it less likely that one will scold or shame a parent. This stance also recognizes that a harsh judgment indicates incomplete knowledge. Moreover, It’s much more difficult for me to offer helpful and effective counsel unless I can “feel” what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes. To be empathic is to be objective and scientific as each engages a search for truth.
  9. Promote the message that child wellness is intimately linked to parent wellness. It’s so easy to focus on what parents can do for their children and lose site of the fact that it’s much harder to act with intention if one is overwhelmed or fatigued; this is why airline attendants counsel adults traveling with children to put their own masks on first before their child’s. Martyrdom works for establishing religions and governments but it rarely works in families.
  10. Encourage parents to understand the incredible power of effective shepherding.  The high points of the relevant scientific literature makes it clear that parents have tremendous power to promote happiness and wellness both in themselves and in their families. This is where your role can be so very helpful: parents really benefit by receiving the best information and just a little bit of air under their wings.

It is my intention to make this blog consistent with these 10 guidelines while also recognizing my fellow parent’s capacity for lunacy (i.e., to be made crazy by the intense love felt for one’s child–please see the preceding post).

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