Tag selfhelp

What Can I Do If My Kid Freaks Out About Routine Dental or Pediatric Appointments?

Trips to the pediatrician and dentist are commonly feared by kids. This fear ranges from mild discomfort to debilitating anxiety. Let me offer six strategies to help:

#1: Avoid unhelpful reassurances. As I’ve written in other entries, a reassurance is a cue that danger is approaching. While parents don’t intend for their reassurance to be heard this way, kids often hear “okay, time to start freaking out.” Think about this for a second. If you were meeting with me in my office and I told you not to be worried about the ceiling collapsing on our heads, you, of course, would start to wonder about the security of my ceiling. Wait until your child shows distress before reassuring, and then keep them brief and proportionate. If they don’t work, as they often don’t, try the other strategies listed below.

#2: Prepare. Confronting fears is like swimming in a cold lake. At the end of the day, it is sustained exposure to the feared object that calms a person down (i.e., one gets used to it).  Some people know this intuitively and are inclined to cannon ball in. But, many prefer to go in slowly, getting used to the water as they go. This is what preparing your child for the appointment is akin to. If you go to Amazon and type in search terms like “kid, dentist” under books, you’ll get a myriad of choices that will allow you to discuss what the medical appointment might be like. You can also get books that generally help with anxiety. My favorite along those lines is the Scaredy Squirrel series by Melanie Watt. (I have the entire series in my office, including a Scaredy Squirrel puppet.) A related technique is to visit the office on a day when your child doesn’t have an appointment, spending time in the waiting area while doing the next strategy.

#3: Relax your child. A relaxed body and anxiety are like oil and water: they can’t mix. So, you can try to train your child to flush anxiety out of his or her body. The three elements to this are breath, muscles and mind. I tend to focus on the first two with kids. I ask kids to pretend that their lungs are in their lower belly, instead of their chest, and to breath deeply, but comfortably, in and out from there. I also ask them to try to make all of their muscles like a cooked, rather than an uncooked, piece of pasta as I walk them through their muscle groups in a soothing voice. There are also resources you can acquire to facilitate your child’s training along these lines. One of my favorites is the relaxation CD that my friend Dr. Mary Alvord and her colleagues have created. Also, and if the cost benefit ration seems worth it, you can acquire a small, portable biofeedback device that can help your child get into a relaxed state; I like the emWave2 for this purpose.

#4: Distract. Once in the office, try to distract your child with something interesting. I was on the sidelines of a baseball game recently when a young girl, who was barefoot, stepped on a wasp. She started crying in terror and pain. I broke out a couple of magic tricks (I keep them with me) and distracted her, reducing both her pain and her anxiety (and delighting her mother). There are an endless number of ways to do this: read a story, play an electronic game, discuss the details of a fun activity coming up that weekend, and so forth. If the medical procedure your child is going to receive allows for this, distract your child during it as well; if it doesn’t, ask if he or she can listen to a portable music player that you provide.

#5: Reward. I wouldn’t do this unless you know that your child is going to struggle. But, if you’re confident that’s the case, tell your child that if he or she is brave, and doesn’t put up a fight, that you will reward him or her afterwards, specifying what the reward will be. Try to keep the reward proportionate to the level of challenge your child is experiencing. So, the reward can be as small as going to ride swings at a local park or as big as a trip to a water park. Then reward, or don’t, based upon how cooperative your child was.

#6: Get help. If these techniques fail please consider consulting with a qualified child mental health professional. Often these kinds of problems can be remedied quickly with treatments that beat having a couple of adults restrain a terrified child. To get a referral near you click here.

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Ten Steps to Take if Your Child is Exposed to a Traumatic Event

What it means to be exposed to a traumatic event varies greatly. The exposure can be direct (it happened to your child) or indirect (it happened to someone your child cares about). It can be a single event or repeated over time. Vulnerable children might also experience traumatic reactions when learning about something terrible that happened to strangers. Moreover, traumatic experiences themselves vary greatly (e.g., watching dad physically abuse mom and witnessing mom get hit and killed by a car are both traumatic, but one more than the other). For this reason, what follows can only be considered general advice that may need adaptation across a range of traumatic experiences and reactions.
#1. Try to keep adaptive rituals in place. Rituals are islands of stability in the torrential currents of our culture. Rituals promote a sense of stability and safety in a child’s life. One of the ways in which traumatic events are most damaging is in how they fracture a child’s basic assumptions about stability and safety. So, try to maintain as many of your usual daily, weekly, seasonal and special occasion rituals as you can. (See Chapter Four of my parenting book for an expanded discussion and a list of methods for pulling this off.)
#2. Monitor your child’s health habits. When excessively stressed our children may start to suffer impairing changes in their sleep, diet and level of physical activity. A brief period of these kinds of reactions is typical. However, if such persists for weeks it is a good idea to get assistance (see tip #9).
#3. Give your child the opportunity to discuss the trauma but do not force the issue. It’s important for kids to know that you, or others who are available (e.g., therapists, school personnel), are interested and willing to discuss the trauma whenever your child likes. However, sometimes kids cope by not talking about what is bothering them. Also keep in mind that younger children may deal best with these kinds of feelings by drawing or playing.
#4. If your child is traumatized by misfortune that has befallen someone else, engage him or her in a plan for making a contribution to reparative efforts. Perhaps your child might draw a picture of support, or help with some volunteer project (e.g., making food, conducting drives), or offer prayers. Making an active contribution can combat a feeling of powerlessness.
#5. If your child is traumatized by something that happened to him or her be careful to not give her or him the idea that it’s not okay to hurt around you. We parents hurt when our kids hurt, and often worse. So, it is natural for us to try to convince our kids, and ourselves, that they are not really in pain or that they are over their pain, when that isn’t the case. It’s very tough to provide empathy for the pain our kids experience, and to stay with them in that experience until they are ready to move on, but doing so is a major gift.
#6. Try to avoid blaming yourself. “If only I had…” is a very normative reaction for we parents when our kid has suffered a trauma. However, it’s rarely helpful as the resulting guilt and shame can have the paradoxical effect of making us less available for the kinds of responses that promote healing and resolution. (Of course, if poor choices or poor judgment on your part has caused the trauma, that is much trickier and would make #9 an even more important step to take.)
#7. Once your child’s pain has been given it’s due (and judging that point in time is an art form unto itself), help him or her to look for the opportunity imbued within all crises. That is, crisis = (pain/2) + (opportunity/2). As one poet put it, the pain is like a dragon guarding treasure. Or like Khalil Gibran put it “your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” Teaching our children to think about trauma in this way is a major way to promote resilience.
#8. Be on the watch for signs of depression (e.g., persisting depressed and/or irritable mood, diminished concentration, not taking pleasure in activities that used to be fun, appetite and/or sleep disturbance, self-blame, hopelessness, harmful thinking) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (e.g., avoiding situations, things or people that remind your child of the trauma, experiencing withdrawal from others or life in general, reliving the trauma in dreams or flashbacks, doing psychological back flips to avoid being reminded of the trauma).
#9. If you see signs of mental illness, or if the trauma is severe, please do not go at it alone. This is complicated business. So, for your child’s sake, your family’s sake and your sake, seek out the services of a qualified child psychologist or mental health professional. (See Chapter Ten of my parenting book for detailed guidance along these lines.)
#10. Don’t forget about self-care. Our self-care can be one of the first things we jettison off a ship that feels like it’s sinking. However, doing so is like throwing the life jackets overboard first. What good am I for my child if I’m breaking down? (Please see Chapter Seven of my parenting book for a detailed review of issues and methods.)

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: 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

Manufacture Joy: Write a Gratitude Letter

I thought it might be a good time of year to review a set of strategies that we parents can use to manufacture happiness. I’m drawing these strategies from the science of positive psychology. The first of these is to write a gratitude letter. I first learned about this strategy from a video presentation by psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman years ago and have since garnered a good amount of professional and personal experience with it. There are five steps:

Step #1: Identify a person towards whom you feel a significant amount of unexpressed gratitude. This might be a person who knows about some of the gratitude you feel but not all of it. This gratitude can be recent or ancient. You can also rotate writing a gratitude letter within a family: week #1 is moms turn, then eldest son’s, then dad’s, etc. Then everyone writes a gratitude letter for the person whose turn it is.

Step #2: Hand write a legible letter of about 300 words. Don’t worry about a precise word count, just land somewhere in that ballpark. (The handwritten nature of the letter produces a more personal feel and indicates more effort on your part.)

Step #3: Schedule a meeting with the person, but don’t tell her or him about your letter. The surprise tends to be more impactful.

Step #4: Read your letter to the person. You typically would not want to chicken out and hand it over for the person to read as that stands to significantly weakens the experience. Don’t worry if you get misty or cry as such usually adds meaning for the other person; plus you probably won’t be the only one.

Step #5: Give your letter to the person.

I’ve done this myself, had families do it in my office and offered graduate students extra credit for doing it. I find that just about everyone (myself included) is surprised by how powerful of an emotional experience it proves to be. The research also suggests that the writer of the letter can experience a bump in happiness for three to four weeks afterwards. So, give it a try it and see how much power you have to manufacture happiness in your life and the life of another.

Stay tuned as I’m going to do a series of these strategies and will end with a list of books where you can learn more.

Six Tips For When You Lose It With Your Kid

All of we parents say and do things with our kids that we regret. These are not knowledge deficits (i.e., we know we’ve erred) but are performance deficits, the causes of which are as varied as the number of stars in the sky. (Most of the time these lapses would not cause the staff at a state’s welfare department to become alarmed, and this entry is not meant to address such instances.) These are moments when our personal reservoir of resources has been depleted by stress and we snap, issuing forth with harsh invectives. This post is meant to give you some strategies to try once you’re back on your game and parenting with intention.

#1: Be kind with yourself in how you think about your lapse. Such moments are as universal to family life as dust mites. Sure, it’d be nice to be rid of them, and we strive for that as best as we can but, at the end of the day, we’re only human. Moreover, research suggests that our kids, assuming our family life is generally healthy, make less of these skirmishes than we do.

#2: Do a psychological autopsy with your child after you both have calmed down. In other words, have a calm discussion about what happened. During this conversation own your lapse without qualification. “John, it was wrong of me to call you lazy and slow witted. Neither of those things are true. I was having a bad day and over reacted to your complaints about doing your homework. That was wrong of me and I apologize son.” Let your kid respond and reinforce that with which you agree. Then, if your child misbehaved in some fashion, try to raise his or her awareness. This is done independent of the apology. That is, I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to place responsibility for my behavior onto my child. “John, thinking more about this, is there anyway you can think of that you could have acted better?” If your child comes up with a reasonable answer you can salute his or her growing maturity. If not, you can suggest what you have in mind. “Well, I think it would have been better for you to do your homework, without complaint, after being warned that I had had enough complaining for one day.”

#3: Consider what you can do to keep yourself from turning this type of intermittent lapse into a regular pattern. Some useful questions to consider: is your self-care sound (e.g., getting sufficient doses of sleep, healthy foods, physical activity, fun, interpersonal connections, and calm)? Is there a pressing stress on you that may need more focused attention? Could you use more help or support and, if yes, how might you get it?

#4: Assuming your child’s behavior prior to your lapse was problematic, consider what you can do to keep such from becoming a dysfunctional pattern. Some questions to consider: could the behavior your child is demonstrating be signally the presence of an underlying problem that needs attention? Are your child’s health habits in need of adjustment? (As much as we adults can be adversely affected by poor health habits, this is even more the case with our kids.) Does your child have any insights into what might be driving the behavior?

#5: Spend one hour a week one-on-one with your child doing nothing but paying attention to him or her and offering positive thoughts and feelings. (Please note that this is different from quality time–a valuable activity to be sure– but which usually involves my dividing my attention with the thing we are doing together.). This dosage of weekly attention is to a child psychologist what an apple a day is to a pediatrician.

#6: If the trigger for your lapse is your child resisting doing a chore or some other obligation, consider setting up a behavioral contract to make it in your child’s best interest, as he or she looks at things, to comply. This switch can turn you from acting like a harsh warden to a benevolent bystander. Click here to read a blog post that covers this method a bit more. Click here to learn more about my book, which covers all the issues in this post in depth.

In closing remember that there is a small army of highly trained mental health professionals available that is willing and able to be of help. To access one data base of such mean-lean-healing machines, 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.

Gratitude Letters

Gratitude letters can promote closeness and happiness in families. Let me describe what such a letter is and then describe how such might be used within a family.

Gratitude letters are usually around 300 words in length, but can be as long as you’d like. The letter is written directly to a family member (i.e., in the first person). To be more personal, write it out by hand. The letter should express only positive thoughts and feelings that you have regarding the person and should not include direct or indirect statements regarding how the person may have let you or someone else down or how the other person might improve as a person. Try to include examples of specific things the person has done or said that cause you to feel gratitude; these examples can be recent or from a long time ago. When it’s time to share the letter do so by reading it to the family member; don’t chicken out and hand it over for the other person to read. You may start to tear up or get emotional. That’s okay (you’ll probably find you’re not the only one). When you’re finished give it to the other person. Allow the positive moment to linger as long as the other person likes (i.e., some of us, though we enjoy it, may start to feel a little uncomfortable with the intimacy that can emerge); in other words, the other person decides when to end the moment or change the topic.

There are a number of ways such letters can be introduced into your family. The first way is for you to start doing the exercise unilaterally for any and all members of your family. If you chose this method don’t announce your agenda in advance; just spring it on the other person. It is also important to not do this with the hope or expectation that the other person will reciprocate.

Another method is to agree, as a family, that you will all do this exercise. The first step is to pick the person who will be the first “victim” (i.e., the one who everyone will write about first) and pick a day and time by which the letters are to be completed and read. You may need to stay after some kids to make sure they do their part; the recipient of the letter should not be the one to do this reminding (if you’re a single parent, ask a relative or friend to do this for you). If a given child is in 4th grade or younger, or has some interfering disability, you can be flexible regarding the length. For children who cannot write, but who are old enough to understand the concept, ask for a gratitude picture instead (if a given child needs it, it’s okay to provide a little help, but do this as sparingly as possible lest the recipient conclude it’s more your work). When the assigned day and time comes around, take turns reading your letters (/showing your pictures) all-together as a family. After everyone is finished, go with any urges to hug and cry and express love and joy. After the first recipient’s turn is finished, assign who the next recipient will be and so on and so forth. When I’ve helped families to do this, we’ve usually spaced the turns one week apart, though you can do it at whatever pace feels right for you.

This experience is usually very positive for families, and often to a surprising degree. (If this is not the case for you and your family, I would wonder if this is a symptom worthy of attention.) You can also find a lot of satisfaction in writing gratitude letters for others towards whom you have unexpressed gratitude, be it ancient or recent. If you’d like to make this a regular self-improvement project, write and execute one a month, at least until you run out of people. You might also encourage others in your family to try writing letters for people outside of your family. Such a practice focuses our minds on positive truths and stands to promote happiness.

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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