Tag Parenting

Tips For When A College Grad Returns Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parent question: Should I set a curfew?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six Parenting Myths I’d Like to Destroy

sculptor#1. Parents are sculptors.

This myth suggests that we fashion our kids personalities and outcomes like a sculptor sculpts a statue. I suspect that theories in psychology that promulgated this myth were authored by men who weren’t around babies very much. I say this because even a casual exposure to newborns suggests that they are very different from one another (e.g., my three kids couldn’t be more different from each other before my wife and I had any opportunity to mess them up). We parents are more like shepherds. We guide our children, knowing that a significant portion of who they are, and what they will become, is heavily influenced by factors outside of our control, the largest of which is their temperament (i.e., genetically influenced personality characteristics).

#2. Screwing up makes us a screw-up.

I could take my family on a month long vacation to Rome if I had a dollar for every time I’ve had a parent, in my office, giving himself or herself a death sentence for a misdemeanor. We all screw up! It is inevitable! The thing to do is to try to be in the right fights, knowing that sometimes we’re going to get creamed. What are those fights? My intention is for my parenting book to articulate the top 10 of them (i.e., special time, rituals, competencies, self and relationship care, monitoring, discipline, collaborating with other adults, health habits, adaptive thinking and problem solving, and recognizing and responding to psychological symptoms), but you’ll see aspects of them described all throughout this blog.

working man passed out #3. It’s possible to have “work-life balance.”

 Images come to mind of a parent getting up and getting a good breakfast in everyone’s stomach, while interacting pleasantly with all about the day ahead, then having a rewarding day doing meaningful work, perhaps mixing in time for exercise and socializing, then coming home and skillfully producing a family meal, appropriate supervision of homework, shared time with one’s spouse, and pleasant commutes to the children’s extracurricular engagements, then perhaps ending the day with some gentle recreation, shared reflections with one’s spouse, prayer and a warming bedtime routine with each child. Man, even writing that stresses me out. I can’t tell you for a fact that unicorns don’t exist but I sure as heck know I’ve never seen one (well, except for maybe one bad weekend in graduate school). Likewise, I’ve never seen this sort of work-life balance. But, I’ve seen lots of parents (especially women) torturing themselves, in their mind’s eye, for not realizing such.

#4. Failure and injustice are always bad things.

 I once asked a panel of experts on a television program I was hosting: “If it were crisis opportunitypossible to raise a child to adulthood free of failure and injustice, would you do it?” Not one of them hesitated before stating, “No way!” They first argued that such an adult would be too vulnerable in this world. Moreover, crisis = pain + opportunity, with the dosing of opportunity usually being greater and, lasting much longer, than the pain. Failures and injustices are rich with learning, acting like, as one poet put it, dragons guarding treasure. I also speculate that the more a person is leading a high road life the more likely it is that that person will experience injustice (e.g., ever know of someone impactful in this world who didn’t experience significant injustice?). I don’t mean to suggest that everyone experiencing injustice is on a high road. I do mean to speculate that everyone on a high road experiences injustice, with the degree of such commensurate with her or his general effectiveness. As we want our children to lead self-actualized lives, they need to learn how to experience, think about, and benefit from failure and injustice.

#5. We can invest in our relationships after life’s obligations have been met.

kid bullhorn to mom This is another common one. I see it most when I ask people to make (not “find” but “make”) time for their relationships, including special time with each of their children. We’re inclined to use the verb “find” because we envision squeezing one-on-one time with family members in between the bricks of our obligations. But, in my experience, those obligations are more like a crack-free, icy, steel wall. We therefore end up treating our relationships like cacti instead of the orchids that they are, telling ourselves that next week will afford us more time. Then, when our relationships inevitably show symptoms (as any orchid treated like a cactus will), we misdirect our blame and lamentations. We do well to ask, “what important obligation will not get done this week so that I can make sure to attend to each of my family relationships one-on-one?”

#6. The word “normal” has value.

If I were emperor of the universe I’d establish a salary cap in major league baseball and abolish the word “normal.” I hear this word in my practice all the time: “Is he (my child) normal?” “Am I normal?” “Is (behavior x) normal?” In this context normal is meant to mean “normative” which, by itself, is not a hurtful query. But, as we too often equate normative with adaptive, we run afoul. Divorce and being overweight are both normative, but no one argues that they are inherently adaptive, and no one says they are “normal.” Moreover, someone with a very high IQ of 120 isn’t normal and Stephen Strasberg’s capacity to throw a fastball is certainly not normal.

Want just one example of a chronic cultural problem with “normal?” We too often equate how common a sexual interest is with how adaptive it is. So, if Bob tends to be attracted to those things that most men are attracted to his sexuality is deemed adaptive and vice versa. However, I can tell you nothing about how adaptive someone’s sexuality is if all you tell me is how normative it is. What matters much more is how the person’s interests are expressed; the more they are expressed lovingly, and don’t hurt anyone, the more they are adaptive and vice versa.

I like the quote from Stephen King: “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They stephen king quotelive inside us and sometimes they win.” Everyone is confronted with an internal battle. Show me someone who isn’t battling with himself or herself and I’ll show you someone who is in prison or homeless or in some other dire circumstance. For the rest of us, we battle. (So, from that perspective, all of us have some “abnormality” about us.) That there is a science for understanding such battles should be a source of comfort not stigma.

Finally, when a parents asks, “is he normal?” What he or she is really asking is, “is he an okay human being?” and that answer to that question is always “yes.”

In this blog it feels like I’ve been howling at the moon a little bit. I guess that’s because it’s Saturday following a long week and I needed to vent a little. Thank you, my fellow parent-lunatic, for indulging me with your attention 😉

10 Tips for Surviving Your Kid’s Graduation

Your kid’s graduation, be it from high school or college, is a major family event. This entry includes my top 10 suggestions for getting the most out of the experience.

#1 Determine a figure that you plan on spending and stick to it unless you have a compelling reason to do otherwise. If there are other adults contributing it’s a good idea to partner with him, her or them in this decision. (If you don’t get along with the other person or persons arrange for a neutral party, that everyone trusts, to join the discussion.) It is so easy to spend an amount of money that is toxic for you, which is no favor to your graduate (i.e., in the months following the graduation she’ll benefit more from having a relationship with a well parent than from a stressed out parent). If your graduate gets pushy about celebrating his graduation in a way that exceeds your budget ask him what his plan is for coming up with the extra cash.

#2 Partner with your graduate in deciding how the money will be spent. For instance, your graduate may prioritize putting together a down payment on a car over having a party.

#3 Collaborate with your graduate on who will be invited to share in the celebration. You would want to have an important reason for overriding your graduate’s wishes along these lines.

#4 If you fund a party for your graduate’s friends make sure that it is chaperoned well enough to keep everyone safe and legal (e.g., not allowing underage drinking).

#5 Realize that celebrations hardly ever go off as planned. It is almost inevitable that one or more people, the weather, mechanical things, food or something else. will disappoint. Keep in mind that something like this is almost always bound to happen, that it is really only as hampering as you decides it needs to be and that what really matters is the graduation itself; such insights can keep a speed bump from causing a major crash.

#6 Include a present that has an emotional impact; this is the sort of gift that stands to keep on giving much longer than material presents. For instance, you might write a gratitude letter for your graduate (see my blog entry on this method), create a photo slideshow, with music, of your graduate from infancy up to the point of graduation, write a poem that expresses your thoughts and feelings about your graduate, and so forth. In getting in the mood for creating this gift imagine what it will feel like to watch your baby walk across that stage and take a diploma in hand.

#7 Assuming you are not hiring a professional for this purpose, ask a responsible friend or family member to do the picture taking and video recording. If you assign this task to yourself you will not only be in fewer of the images but you will be one step removed from taking part in the celebration.

#8 Respect the value of a good night’s sleep. While graduations are festive, they are also stressful. Stress plus a weary body can facilitate an assortment of unpleasant outcomes (e.g., irritability, compromised decision making, diminished concentration and impairing fatigue).

#9 Form a plan with your graduate, in advance, for how she will thank any who gave her presents or participated in the celebration (i.e., the method and the date by which it will be completed). This makes it less likely that you’ll be cast in the role of hound afterwards. (For less mature graduates you may need to form a contract stipulating that access to a privilege you provide–e.g., usage of a car–will only happen after the thank you cards are mailed.)

#10 Take at least a few moments to pat yourself on the back for all that you did to get your graduate to this place in life. Parenting is tough work that we all stink at it sometimes, but our efforts and intentions are selfless and beautiful and deserve to be recognized. In the instance of a graduation it is clear that your parenting was at least good enough to facilitate your kid successfully finishing a major educational hurdle. So, take an existential moment or two and enjoy that about yourself!

What Do I Say To My Teen When Another Teen Has Committed Suicide?

Few tragedies make us wonder more about the order of our lives than when a teenager or young adult commits suicide. Sadly, this is too common as suicide is the third leading cause of death among those aged 15-24. Moreover, a recent national survey by the Center for Disease Control indicated that 16% of U.S. high school students report that they think seriously about suicide and half of those state that they have made an attempt.

As we consider this topic we also all do well to keep in mind that there is a risk of contagion whenever a teen commits suicide (e.g., a risk of another teen committing suicide). I’ve never known an adult who intended to glorify suicide. But that can be exactly what happens when a teen suicide is sensationalized or overly memorialized.

With those comments in mind, here are a few tips for approaching your teen about this topic:

• Don’t force a conversation about the suicide, but make it clear you’re interested in discussing your teen’s thoughts and feelings about it if he or she is open to that.

• Let your teen take the lead in the discussion. Try to avoid sharing your perspective until your teen’s thoughts and feelings appear to have been fully vetted. (In my experience this is hard for many of we parents to do).

• Offer empathy in response to whatever your teen says. Empathy to a teen is like a warming sun to a spring tulip: it facilitates more opening up.

Some things to consider offering once it is your turn:

• Let your teen know (or affirm the point if your teen has already made it) that suicide constitutes the worst possible choice a person can make. There is nothing about suicide that is worthy of glory, reinforcement, romanticizing or undue attention. It is a tragic and terrible behavior engaged in by people who are experiencing overwhelming pain and/or confusion.

• Ask your teen if he or she has ever thought about hurting himself or herself. (It’s a myth that asking this question, by itself, will promote or worsen suicidal thinking or behavior.) If he or she states that he or she is thinking about committing suicide arrange for an immediate evaluation by a qualified mental health professional (you can call the emergency services unit of your local community mental health center or take your teen to your local emergency room).

• Consider asking your teen what he or she thinks it would be like for you if he or she ever committed suicide. Then, either agree with what he or she has said or share more. This would also be a good time to reaffirm your deep love for your teen and the specific things that your teen says or does that you value.

• If your child knew the teen who committed suicide let him or her know that a grieving response is normal and expected. The balance is to give those thoughts and feelings the time and space they need while also trying to live life as normally as possible.

• If your child knew the teen who committed suicide stress that there is no way to know the causes of that particular teen’s suicide. Very little insight can usually be gleaned from the circumstances of the teen’s life (e.g., the degree of academic success, how much cohesion appears to be in the family, etc.). As a psychotherapist my clients usually let me in to very private and hidden areas of their lives; however, even I do not often know every important factor that causes them to behave in a particular way.

• Let your teen know that you will arrange for him or her to speak privately with a qualified mental health professional about these issues if he or she would like that.

There are many preventative strategies Here I will share three (I am more thorough about this in my parenting book):

√ Spend at least one hour a week doing special time with your teen. A regular line of communication makes it more likely you’ll be in the loop if your teen’s mood darkens. Click here for a download on how to do this weekly exercise.

√ Do all that you can to make sure that your teen has identified his or her competencies and is manifesting them in the world.

√ Try to ensure that your teen is sleeping at least 8.5-9.5 hours a night, is eating a balanced diet that limits processed carbohydrates and sweats and breathes hard an hour 5-7 days a week.

In closing, if your teen is showing signs of mental health disturbance, please err on the side of caution and arrange for a qualified mental health professional to do an evaluation, even if your teen is opposed to the idea. For a referral, click here.

Video Games: Good or Evil?

There are many statements floating around out there about video games that suggest they should be either vilified or, less commonly, celebrated. “Video games are purported to…

…wreck your kid’s ability to pay attention.”

…make your kid violent.”

…take care of  your kids needs for physical activity, at least if he or she uses systems like Wii or Xbox Connect.”

“…promote addictive behaviors.”

“….offer a solution to social anxiety.”

In this column I’d like to make eight suggestions about video games that will respond to these and other concerns.

#1 Limit your kids total access to sedentary electronic pleasures to two hours a day. This is the sound counsel of authoritative bodies such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. If your kid is spending more time than this he or she is likely missing out on other important activities such as physical activity, doing homework and socializing face-to-face. Actually, if you are mostly hitting your stride as a family you may find that your kids don’t have more than two hours a day free anyway.

#2 Take the ratings seriously but also realize that they can, for any given game, not be a fit for your child. (I find some parents are surprised by just how graphic and adult-themed video games marketed for kids and teens can be.). If my kid is exposed to material that he or she is not developmentally ready for, symptoms can emerge (e.g., becoming aggressive, having a difficult time sleeping).  There are also parent advisory websites you can review content in the games. Click here for one such example.

#3 Watching your kid playing acceptable video games, and commenting on his or her skill as well as how much you enjoy spending time together, can be a useful way to spend special time. (Readers of this blog, and my parenting book, know about my recommendation to spend one hour a week, with each kid, one-on-one, doing special time.)

#4 If you’ve been reading this blog and/or my book, you know that another activity commonly recommended by authoritative bodies is for each child to sweat and breathe hard for 60 minutes a day. Video game playing activity counts towards this only if your child is actually sweating and breathing hard. If he or she can’t carry on a normal conversation and sweat is changing the color of his or her shirt, you’re good. Otherwise, it doesn’t count.

#5 Many gaming systems, and their attached games, provide online access. Imagine the following scenario. You sign your kid up for a martial arts class at your local Y, a class which encourages participants to interact and get to know each other. In the class are other kids like your kid. But there is also a 44 year old divorced man who is sexually frustrated and medicating his pain with alcohol, a 25 year-old man who is struggling to control his urges to sexually assault children and a woman who medicates her severe anxiety by chain smoking marijuana. How okay would that be? Point made? For an article on some specific suggestions to promote monitoring of your child’s or teen’s online life, click here.

#6 Keep an eye on how your kids’ video gaming impacts him or her. You are the world’s leading expert on your kid. Use that expertise to gauge how a given video game is affecting him or her, if at all. For instance, I once knew a kid in elementary school who started playing a couple hours of an E rated game each week. At the same time he started becoming aggressive at recess. His parents made the connection and took steps to resolve the situation (a straight-forward banning of the game wasn’t indicated. I describe this case in my parenting book in the chapter on monitoring).

#7 Many parents ask, “should I let my kid have a video game system in his or her bedroom?” Until I see a well-controlled research study that investigates this with a sample that is large enough to allow for broad generalizations, it’s hard for me to feel strongly either way. But, my intuition, is that if you follow all the other guidelines in this blog entry, and your kid is generally doing well in life, it’s probably okay. But, I wouldn’t hook up access to television programing as there are too many ways that could be problematic (e.g., becoming too withdrawn from family life, putting it on when he or she should be sleeping). Also, keep in mind that if having a video game system in the room proves to be problematic, it doesn’t take an act of congress to undue it 😉

#8 What are the signs that the video gaming is becoming, or has become, problematic? The easiest sign is that your child is acting like he is crack dependent and the game playing is the crack. If this is the case, see this blog entry that breaks down how to deal with this kind of scenario. Otherwise, the gaming is problematic if it is interfering with any other important developmental tasks or if it is associated with symptoms. If in doubt, I’d recommend seeking out the services of a qualified mental health professional. For a referral click here.

Ten Tips for Expecting or New Parents

So, you’ve joined, or are about to join, the parenting club. Welcome! No matter where you go in the world you will find you have sisters and brothers who are willing to extend an abundance of empathy, wisdom, encouragement and assistance. Indeed, consider this blog one such resource. In this entry I’d like to offer 10 tips for this phase of your parenting life. (I will write this as if you are in a two parent household, but these tips can be easily adapted to other situations.)

#1 Establish your boundaries with in-laws and other well intended people. Some in-laws are wise and know not to offer unsolicited advice. But, others need help in understanding that you will reach out if and when you want advice. I’d suggest each of you speak with your own birth parents about this. This needn’t be unpleasant and can be done in a lighthearted way. Then, insist on these boundaries lest you want to live with no end to unsolicited advice.

#2 Don’t put the pressure on yourself to act like you know what’s coming. It doesn’t matter how intelligent and insightful you are. There is no way to reason to how much love, exhaustion and lunacy you will feel, and that’s totally okay. So, try to be at peace with that.

#3 Try to accept that there is no way to prepare fully for the chaos. Sure, it’s totally okay to nest and set things up. But, at some point the preparation can become like a soldier ironing his trousers before going into battle. Developing a certain comfort with chaos is very helpful to your mental health. (As a related matter, it’s always interesting to watch couples trying to determine the “perfect” time to have a child, as if a tornado could be put in a box.)

#4 Make an active plan for couple time. If you are not disciplined and proactive about this your romantic relationship will take a heavy hit. For a related blog entry click here.

#5 Agree to a childcare plan. Many parents wonder if it’s better for the child for the mom to stay at home or not. Bottom line: assuming the person(s) taking care of your child do a good job, it’s best to do the thing that will make you and your partner feel most satisfied. There is no one right choice. It’s a matter of personal preference.

#6 Agree to a nighttime feeding plan. Your new baby will sleep for only a few hours at a time until he or she gains enough weight to not need feedings throughout the night. So, have a discussion about who will do what when. There are so many permutations of this that I haven’t space to list them. It’s just important to talk it out lest the person doing all or most of the work builds up resentment.

#7 Make sure to take maintain a self-care protocol. Like many parents, you may be tempted to go on a cross for your child, but this is rarely in a child’s best interest. Just like the tip above regarding couples, it takes a proactive plan to stay at your best for your new baby.

#8 You are going to make lots and lots and lots and lots of mistakes and that’s okay. I still remember trying to lullaby my eldest Morgan to sleep, at around 3 AM, with the melody from Hush Little Baby but with made up NC-17 lyrics having to do with how much I needed her to get to sleep. As long as you keep trying to do well you’re probably doing at least well enough.

#9 You’re going to overdo things as a first time parent, and that’s okay. I remember having wipe warmers for Morgan and our grandmother neighbor finding that to be very funny. (I would now find it to be funny too but it’s semi-disrespectful to show such to a first time parent.) It’s normal to overdue for the first one, so don’t let anybody mock you for that. (By the way, by the time you might have a third child you end up carrying him or her around by the ankle.)

#10 Set up a college fund. Even if you put in a few bucks a month, that’s something. The expense can be overwhelming later, so this is an area where it’s better to err on the side of over preparing.

May God bless you!

Top 12 Humorous Parenting Quotes

I’m in the middle of a hectic summer schedule, so I thought I’d let others do my writing by sharing my top dozen favorite, humorous parenting quotes of all time:

I’ve never understood horror movies. If you want horror have a couple of kids. Richard “Old Man” Harris, Pawn Stars


Parents don’t want justice. They want QUIET. Bill Cosby

Never raise your hand to your kids. It leaves your groin unprotected.                Red Buttons

Raising kids is part joy and part guerrilla warfare. Ed Asner

My second favorite household chore is ironing, my first one being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint. Erma Bombeck

I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it. Harry Truman

Most children threaten, at times, to run away from home. This is the only thing that keeps some parents going. Phyllis Diller

The biggest thing I remember is that there was just no transition. You hit the ground diapering. Paul Reiser

Like all parents, my husband and I just do the best we can, and hold our breath, and hope we’ve set aside enough money to pay for our kids’ therapy.        Michelle Pfeiffer

I am not allowed to sing, dance, laugh or wear short skirts. Having a teenage daughter is like living with the Taliban.  Kathy Lette

There is nothing wrong with teenagers that reasoning with them won’t aggravate. Anonymous

One thing they never tell you about child raising is that for the rest of your life, at the drop of a hat, you are expected to know your child’s name and how old he or she is. Erma Bombeck


Helping Your Teen Overcome Anxiety About Dating

While many of us would just as soon not have our teen date, thank you very much, we know that overcoming fear and apprehension about such is an important developmental hurdle. This entry, my 75th to date, reviews seven tips for you to share with your teen and four tips for you.

Tips for you to share with your teen:

Tip #1: Normalize your teen’s anxiety. Many teens think that other people find this to be much easier than they do; moreover, the sexes are notorious for thinking that the other sex doesn’t freak out as much about this stuff. But you and I know that most people can relate to the sense of dread and anxiety that most experience when first starting to date (e.g., dialing six digits of your crush’s phone number and hanging up, about 25 or so times, because you couldn’t dial that fateful seventh number). Tell your stories, especially if they are funny, as in comedy = pain + time. (Click on the following link for an example of a funny story I tell about my own dating experiences in order to help nervous teens: Using Our Screw Ups To Help Our Kids)

Tip #2: Teach the art of the flirt. That is, give your teen some tips on how to engage in risk-free explorations of the other person’s interest. There are so many ways to do this, and I’m sure you have your own strategies. But, here are some:

√ Create a pretense to call the person (e.g., information about an upcoming test, confirmation of the location of an upcoming event) and see if the person seems happy to be talking on the phone. If your teen is open to it, offer a role play.

√ Friend the person on Facebook (or follow on Twitter, or engage on Tumblr, etc) and see how receptive he/she is to the chit-chat. A nice opening line can be a compliment.

√Ask the person if he or she would like to share some non-dating experience such as lunch at school or studying at the library. Or your teen could offer that he or she has no taste in clothes and could the other person–whom your teen offers has amazing taste–meet him or her at the mall and help his or her sorry self pick out a piece of clothing or two. The same strategy could be employed in picking out a piece of sports equipment.

Tip #3: Teach your kid that you can’t have fun without diving in. Said more like a psychologist: the only effective way to deal with developmentally appropriate fears is to confront them and that avoiding them only makes them stronger. I elaborate on this theme in this blog entry: My Child Gets Afraid A Lot. what Can I Do? And, make sure your teen understands that electronic asks (e.g., texts, Facebooking) are wimpy and often reflect poorly on the asker.

Tip #4: Teach your child that a “no” ain’t no thing. Actually, when I’m working with a teen or adult who is afraid of the ask, I’ll say something like “Bryon, I really hope that Morgan says ‘yes’ when you ask her out. But, for the sake of our work, it’d be better if she, and the next bunch of girls you ask out, would all say ‘no’ because this would increase the chance that you’d figure out that it ‘ain’t no thing’ to get rejected as there are a nearly limitless supply of girls lined up right behind those guys.”

Tip #5: Encourage your child to not try to be anyone other than who he or she is. I suggest to teens that getting someone to like them based on false information is a complete waste of everyone’s time and effort and will very rarely work out (even a broken clock is right twice a day, but the odds of success are very low).

Tip #6: Give your child some tips for the date itself. If your child gets a “yes” response, he or she can become even more freaked out. But, there are lots of ways to create a less stressful date. First, going in a group can cut down on stress. Next, going to an event or movie requires less interaction, and so can be less intimidating (a strategy I often employed when first dating female creatures). It can also be helpful for your teen to prepare a list of conversation starters (e.g., top five favorite movies, recording artists, vacations experienced, things to spend money on in the case of winning the Powerball, places to visit in the world).

Tip #7: Teach some tips for reassuring and impressing the other teen’s parent-lunatics. The stuff that impresses you, would probably impress them. And, if those parents are involved in any administrative aspects of the date, it’s good for someone from your camp to confirm that their camp is situated well for that role (see the blog entry I mentioned below on monitoring).

Four additional tips for you:

Tip #1: Make sure your teen’s sex education is up-to-date. For example, I really like the book Seductive Delusions: How Everyday People Catch STDs by family practitioner and friend Jill Grimes, M.D. This book does does a super job of educating teens about STDs. Actually, I wish every teen (and adult) would read Chapter One, on herpes (I made sure my teens did as soon as I read it).

Tip #2: Make sure your teen is sufficiently monitored. This blog entry elaborates on what that means: Recent Research: Teens Need Parents to Monitor Them.

Tip #3: Let your teen know that you’re interested in discussing any aspect of any of this but take “no” for an answer and don’t pry (after you’ve established that the monitoring is sufficient that is).

Tip #4: When your teen is interested in talking, try to drop what you’re doing to listen. Teens are like windows that are only intermittently open, and usually not on your schedule. So, when they are open, try to take advantage; those interactions will likely end up mattering more to you, when you are later reflecting back on the meaning of your life, than whatever it was you were doing when your teen approached you.

Tip #5: If your teen’s anxiety about all of this proves to be overwhelming, seek out a mental health professional who can offer him or her cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is usually the indicated psychotherapy for overcoming this problem. For a list of potential treatment providers, click here.

In closing let me offer that one major topic that I’m not taking on here, but will subsequently address, is how to handle situations in which your teen has a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered orientation or if he or she is unsure about all of that. Stay tuned.

By the way, I asked my 15 year old son Gannon to read this entry for edits. Besides asking, “why do we need to be monitored?!” and laughing again at the humiliation I experienced on my first date (referenced in the link above), he said, and this is as good as it gets: “I think it’s good.”

Good luck!

Six Tips For When Your Child Has Experienced an Injustice

We parents do everything in our power to protect our children from experiencing injustice, including lobbying school personnel, coaches, other parents and law enforcement officials. However, it is inevitable that everyone experiences injustice, from the mild to the truly dreadful and horrifying. What follows are six tips for responding to these experiences after you’ve done all that you reasonably can or should to prevent the injustice or right the wrong.

#1: Let your child experience her pain. It hurts to experience an injustice. Empathic statements can help.  “You deserved that leadership position, what happened is wrong and it makes sense that you’re in pain over it.” “Being bullied is a shaming, awful experience and I understand how hurt you feel.” “Being arrested when you’re innocent is something no one should ever have to go through. You must feel more terrible than I can even imagine.”

#2: Let your child know that everyone goes through this and sometimes it happens because a person has displayed excellence. We all want to believe that we live in a just world where all wrongs can be righted and where virtuous, hard-working people do not have bad things happen to them. We all want to live in a world where others do not respond to our gifts and successes with jealousy, envy or resentment. But, in my experience, such perspectives are right up there with Disney’s “happily ever after” concept. Just as all bodies living in the world are exposed to germs and viruses, and need to learn to respond effectively to them to survive and thrive, our psyches need to learn to respond effectively to injustice when it inevitably comes our way.

#3: Teach the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.” Regardless of one’s spirituality, the wisdom behind this psychological model is sound. Indeed, it is often used in helping people to recover from addictions because it can be the antidote to many kinds of madness that facilitate self-medication.

#4: Look for the opportunity imbued within all pain. The pain must be given its due for this to work well; this is not about being in denial about the injustice, or being pollyannaish about it. However, once the pain has been given its due think of the injustice, as one poet put it, as a dragon guarding treasure. Resilient people think this way: they take the hit and expect to become better because of it. Teaching your child how to do this at a young age is a major gift. (To read more on this theme see my blog entry Failure: An Important Part of a Psychologically Healthy Childhood.)

#5: Timing is everything here, but let your child know about injustices you’ve experienced, including your thoughts about what you did in response that was effective, ineffective or some combination of both. (Of course, you’re going to want to consider what material is developmentally appropriate for your child. For a discussion that highlights similar issues see my blog post Helping Children Cope with Scary News.)

#6: Teach unilateral forgiveness. In my judgment unilateral forgiveness is the psychological equivalent of an ironman triathlon. Yes, bilateral forgiveness (when the other person has acknowledged fault and has asked for forgiveness) can be, especially when the wrong has been mighty, a marathon unto itself. But, forgiving when the other person has not asked for it, or even feels justified in the injustice they’ve perpetrated, puts a person on one of the highest psychological roads a human can traverse. This is not the same thing as denying the injustice. This is not the same thing as tolerating the injustice or not protecting oneself from future manifestations of it. It is to say that bitterness, revenge and products of their sort are like poisons that hurt the victim most of all while forgiveness promotes healing and the capacity to not become owned by the injustice. Just as the case with training for an ironman triathlon, it takes lots of time and practice–often for many years and with many stumbles along the way. And, it can’t be forced. But, it’s a journey worth any effort we can offer it, both for ourselves and for our children. (To read a great self-help book on forgiveness see Forgiveness is a Choice.)

In closing, let me suggest that you may need to take additional steps if your child has been traumatized by the injustice. For a discussion on these issues see my blog post Ten Steps to Take if Your Child is Exposed to a Traumatic Event or click here to find a psychologist in your area.

What Should I Do When My Kid Throws a Fit?

Temper tantrums in childhood are nearly as common as the flu, though no one has developed a vaccine for them. What follows are the four most common problems that I’ve found are at the root of tantrums followed by four guidelines for how to respond.

Problem #1: Your child needs more positive one-on-one time with you

Possible Fix #1: One hour a week of special time

Just as plants grow their branches around obstacles to get light, kids grow their behavior towards that which gets them attention; neither process is conscious. In run-and-gun households–and aren’t we all this way these days–it’s easy to be quietly grateful when our kids are behaving and to give them passionate attention when they screw up. Sure, this kind of attention is like eating an unwashed radish, but if you haven’t eaten in days that can be a pretty delicious food. Moreover, our relationship with our child is like any other relationship in our life: speed bumps are more likely to cause crashes when the relationship hasn’t gotten enough positive attention.

My prescription would be to spend at least one hour a week one-on-one doing nothing but paying attention to your child, expressing positive thoughts and feelings about him and proportionately complimenting anything that he is doing or saying that is praiseworthy. This technique is called special time, which is different from quality time (i.e., in quality time something else is usually getting my attention in addition to my child). My space here is too limited to describe the technique, but I’ve elaborated upon it in the first chapter of my book Working Parents, Thriving Families, and a few days ago I did interview with USA Today that describes it more.

Problem #2: Someone is experiencing a significant stress

Possible Fix #2: Try to either eliminate/reduce the stress and/or increase resources

All of us break when our stress/resources ratio tips too heavily to the stress side. Resources are enhanced when we do things to rejuvenate ourselves, child and adult alike (e.g., socializing with friends, seeing an enjoyable movie). When we break we tend to break in the direction of our vulnerabilities. Adults may drink more, yell more, withdraw from others and so forth. Kids may tantrum. So, ask yourself whether there has been a recent increase in stress in your child’s life or in the life of someone else in the family. If yes, a starting point might be to see if such can be eliminated or reduced. If not, then I would try to be patient and try to increase everyone’s care.

Possible Problem #3: Your child doesn’t feel like doing something

Possible Fix #3: Incentivize future occurrences of the something

 One of the most important tasks we parents have is to grow our child’s capacity to do things when she doesn’t feel like it. No psychological muscle better predicts success in both vocational and interpersonal pursuits. So, if my child is freaking out just because she doesn’t care for a rule or restriction that is developmentally appropriate, I would set up an incentive for future occurrences. Lets say she’s freaking out because you’ve told her to clean her room. Perhaps you might decide that, going forward, access to TV is earned each day by having cleaned the room appropriately (i.e., to spec and without freaking out). You are not taking TV away in these instances. Your child is either deciding to earn or not earn TV based on her behavior. No matter what you’re going to insist on the room being cleaned, less you create a training program for throwing fits, but whether it results in the TV being earned or not is dependent upon your child’s choices.

I have a much more detailed description of setting up a range of behavioral programs in my parenting book. You can also find additional guidelines at this blog post: Seven Tips for When Your Child Refuses to Do a Chore.

Possible Problem #4: Your child is showing the expression of a diagnosable psychological problem

Possible Fix #4: Seek our the services of a mean-lean-healing machine

 Tantrums are like fevers. You know there’s a problem but it could be many different things. Like a fever, you try treating it yourself first if it’s mild. However, if it persists, or if it’s serious (e.g., the tantrums are violent), then it’s good to do as you would do with a medical problem: seek out the services of a clinician well trained to diagnose and to treat the problem(s). To find possible candidates, click here. Here are some related blog posts:

Signs That a Kid Needs Mental Health Services

Seven Common Myths About Counseling

Affording Mental Health Care

Ok, here are some things to try at the point of the fit, keeping in mind that these may not work or be appropriate for your child.

Guideline #1: Don’t reward the bad behavior

Caving in to your child’s demands often creates a training program for the bad behavior. Your child gets the idea, often not even consciously, that throwing fits gets him his way. Moreover, I wouldn’t increase your positive attention during the fit, which leads to the next guideline.

Guideline #2: Extinguish the flame

Your attention can act as oxygen for the flame. For example, lets say your child throws herself down on the ground in a fit of anger. I would, if she won’t hurt herself and others or damage property, and if it’s possible for you given other demands on your time, leave her alone as she calms down. You might say as you leave: “What you’re doing is inappropriate. Let me know when you’re ready to clean your room.”

Guideline #3: Use timeout

Timeout can be done in ways that are not effective. But, if you’ve gotten some good counsel on how to do it, this can be a good time to use it (again with the parenting book?!…sorry, its just that there is just so much relevant information that I can’t cram in here and I don’t want to leave you hanging).

Guideline #4: Do a psychological autopsy

Once everyone is calmed down, which might be after the fit, later that day or sometime after that, I would sit down with your child and deconstruct what happened. We all lose IQ points when we’re upset. We do well to wait until everyone’s brain is fully back online before doing this work. Some of the best teaching can be delivered through questions: “What happened yesterday when I asked you to clean your room?” “What do you think about how you acted?” “What would be a good way for you to make up for what you said and did?”

If you have two adults parenting in your household it might be good for the parent who was not involved in the conflict to do this autopsy. If the transgression was slight, a heartfelt apology may be sufficient. If not, simply apologizing is not good for your child’s character development. Therefore, I would look for a proportionate reparation he could make, for his sake (e.g., using his own allowance to replace a magazine he ripped up, writing out an apology, offering to rub mom’s feet ;-).

Dealing with this issue can be a true pain in the neck, and make one wonder what exactly are the criteria for arranging for an adoption out of the home, but it’s very important work. And, you are to be saluted for taking it on!

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