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                Parenting Basics 101

                                    Learn how to be a better parent using tried and true methods

Parenting Blog

I post here from time to time as issues come up, or in response to parent feedback and questions

Parenting Blog

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Parent as a Team

Posted by Dave on August 22, 2022 at 12:40 AM

Although I touch on this idea several times in the Parenting Basics Outline, comments and questions make it clear I've understated the importance of team parenting. Being a parenting team doesn't mean doing absolutely everything together, but it does require you both to be in substantial agreement about how to raise your kids.

For instance, you never want a child to feel they can play one parent against the other as a strategy for getting what they want. It's so damaging to family dynamics and goals that in our household, it's a serious punishable offence! If a kid tries to "divide and conquer," they'll quickly find themselves in trouble with both parents. In truth, most kids will try this at least once, but a strong, unified response from both parents generally puts a quick end to further attempts. By the way, "parents" in this context also includes any live-in adult caregivers, including grandparents, significant others, babysitters, and so on.

Team parenting should encompass every aspect of family life. Putting specific areas of responsibility in the hands of a one parent is fine to help balance workloads, but both parents have to be in agreement on what that means. An example might be managing daily chores. Both parents must agree on what form chores will take and how they will be implemented, but one parent can manage who does what and when. The other parent might be responsible for education issues, like homework, parent conferences, and so on.

Does being divorced change things? It shouldn't but often does. Parents frequently forget that their own struggles shouldn't be allowed to affect the way their children are raised. Make every effort to rise above personal grievances and do what's right for the kids. Never use the kids as pawns in our own battles. Managing divorce in a way that does the least damage to the kids is a significant subject all by itself, more than can be in a short blog post.

Destroying Childhood

Posted by Dave on November 2, 2016 at 7:00 PM

At the risk of understating the problem, childhood as it was experienced for millenia has all but vanished in the last twenty years. It's probably worse than that. We're seeing incredibly fragile young adults, unable to handle the normal pressures of everyday adult experience.The way many of us are raising our kids is leaving them vulnerable and weak.

A very close friend of mine is an army officer, currently in charge of a department that prepares enlisted soldiers of all ages to re-enter civilian life. His staff interview exiting soldiers to find out if they need any support, help guide their decision making about new careers, deal with medical and mental health issues, and get all the paperwork in order.

But the thing he's noticed most recently is the huge number of young soldiers leaving with serious symptoms of PTSD - who have never left the US! That's right. They have never been deployed, have never seen combat, haven't been shot at or bombed, haven't seen anyone die. The only thing they've been exposed to are a few tough drill instructors (not as tough as they used to be) and the rigors and regimenation of everyday army life and training. Old timers in the army say this is a fairly recent development.

College counselors are reporting similar situations. The stress of being away from home and parents' direct supervision and control is just too much for many students. It doesn't take much to send them into a downward spiral. Dropout rates are way up, as well as cases of depression and suicide. College mental health counselors are seeing unprecendented caseloads.

We've even seen a few moms renting apartments near campus so they can be there for their kids, or even having them live with her. College staff report a few parents showing up with their kids for interviews and coming to class to help take notes, meeting with professors and staff as their child's advocate, demanding extra help and accomodations.  Even those who don't go to such extremes will talk to their child several times a day by phone.

Remember the free speech vs. "safe spaces" fracas on a Yale University common last Halloween? A professor was trying to make a point about free speech in society, and students nearly rioted because the professor's comments were "triggering." They claimed a need for "safe spaces" absolutely free of unpleasant or violent speech (meaning, in their case, the entire college campus). The professor was trying to make the point that creating such a space creates a very dangerous negative pressure on free speech. He and his wife were accused by students of promoting hate on campus.

Extreme parenting styles such as "attachment parenting" and overprotective "helicopter" parents (and even some school administrators) are turning our kids into emotional weaklings. At the first sign of stress or adversity, these kids fall apart.

A recent (October 31st, 2016)" target="_blank">Psychology Today article by well-known child psychologist and author Peter Gray PhD explains what's happening to our children - and who's doing it. Click the lnk and read the article. Please. For the sake of our kids, our country, our civilization.


Chores - the Magic Ingredient

Posted by Dave on September 22, 2016 at 8:20 PM

Some of us have known this intuitively for a long time, but multiple longitudinal studies now prove that having done regular chores as a kid (the earlier, the better) is the single most common attribute shared by the world's most successful people. And, it's not just success.

Harvard learned that doing chores and part time work as a child was the single strongest predictor of positive mental health as an adult - more than neighborhood, social class, family, etc.

The University of Minnesota's analysis of 20 years worth of data found that the best predictor of success as a young adult  was the age at which a child began doing chores. The most succesful started doing chores the earliest - ages 3 to 4.

Whirpool asked Braun Research to poll 1001 parents about chores in 2014. What they found is that just 28 percent of kids are regularly given chores, but 82 percent of parents did them as kids.

I've been a strong proponent of chores for kids for decades. My own parents missed the boat on this one, but I made sure my son always had a list of things he was responsible for. By many measures, I consider him to be far more successful than me.

If you've read my other posts you'll know I prefer not to tie allowance to chores, or pay directly for chores, but this is one variable that didn't figure into the research. My own philisophy is that kids should do chores as a way to contribute to the family. An age-appropriate spending allowance recognizes that kids need to learn to manage money and take responsibility for certain regular expenses.

Bottom line - chores are woth all the grief they put parents through. Start them early, and increase the number and complexity as they grow older. Encourage part time work when they're old enough, including helping neighbors with gardeng and other simple jobs when they're young, working up to retail jobs in high school.


Teaching Tools: Building a Work Ethic

Posted by Dave on November 26, 2012 at 8:35 PM

Part of your job as a parent is to help your children build, feel, and understand the internal payoffs that will help them be successful throughout life. One of the most important is a strong work ethic.


Families can teach the social value of hard work by giving their kids household chores from an early age. Even a four year old can help set the table for dinner. Regular unpaid family chores should be part of every child’s schedule, increasing in complexity and length as they get older.


It’s important chores be unpaid for two reasons: pay distracts from the ultimate goal of learning self-satisfaction from one’s own efforts, and it undermines the sense of duty to contribute to the family. The primary payoffs should be the satisfaction of having done a good job, and a simple acknowledgement from their parents for having done what’s expected of them.


The payoffs should be mostly internal. Kids need to learn their efforts are valued, but effusive praise of the sort we hear so often is actually counterproductive. Kids become quickly addicted to over-the-top praise, and they will seldom get it in college or at work.


Or course, older kids DO need to earn money, but they should be encouraged to look for work outside the family. If that’s not practical, you might offer pay for specific one-off tasks that wouldn’t be generally considered a family chore. Family-owned businesses also offer opportunities to earn, assuming no age restrictions apply. Every kid is different, but generally by age fourteen they should be capable of part time employment. Depending on your state’s laws, fourteen year olds can generally bag groceries, operate a cash register, and bus tables with very limited work hours. School permission in the form of a work permit is generally required to protect struggling students’ study time.

The Dangers of Helicopter Parenting

Posted by Dave on November 26, 2012 at 8:15 PM

Don’t want your kids to sink? Teach them to swim!


“Helicopter parents” are those who swoop in to “rescue” their children from every little difficulty in life, sometimes preemptively. It likely seems a good idea at the time, but it’s one of the most destructive things you can do to your children’s ability to become self-reliant.


By “rescuing," you’re really robbing your child of essential learning experiences. Some things are best learned through trial and error, experimentation – and, yes, failure. Instead of learning the things they need to know later in life, they learn instead to be dependent on you! (Want your kids living with you into their 40s? ‘Nuff said.)


So, here are a few “don’ts” to keep you on track:


Homework – it’s theirs, not yours. Yes, sometimes they need help, but you should never do the actual work for them. Help should take the form of assisting them past a rough spot by asking appropriate questions, filling in a missing bit of knowledge that lets them complete the assignment, or guiding them to appropriate resources. Solving one math problem with them to show how it’s done is fine – finishing the paper for them to assure a good grade definitely is not!


Speaking for your child – This one’s a big self-confidence killer. Kids need to learn how to interact with others, especially adults. If you regularly speak for your child they’ll never get there. (Have you heard about the parents who go to their adult children’s job interviews with them?) Not only is this a big confidence killer, it robs them of much needed thinking-on-their-feet skills. If anyone asks your child a question, let them answer for themselves. If they’re having difficulty expressing themselves, you can try a gentle clarifying question or prompt, otherwise bite your tongue! However, if the question is clearly inappropriate or well over their heads, it’s okay to speak up.


Picking your kids’ friends – I have to admit, I struggled with this one myself. My son wasn’t especially good at making friends in his early elementary years, so we tried picking kids we thought would be compatible. Disaster! It quickly became apparent that our selection criteria were well out of sync with theirs. He was unhappier than ever. (Around 4th grade I figured out that he had ADD, and the problem with making friends stemmed from his inability to focus on the relationships. Six months after starting Ritalin he was one of the more popular kids in the class and made the honor roll.)


A friend of mine tells me that during his son’s teenage years they tried steering him away from kids they thought would get him into trouble, but that only built up resistance and he continued the friendships out of defiance. As a result he ended up in serious trouble with the law, and it will follow him for the rest of his life. That was a big eye opener for him and his choices were a lot better afterward.


A better approach is to educate them early about how bad choices can have devastating consequences. If a friend raises concerns for you, it’s okay to say so, but stop well short of demanding they break off the friendship. Be clear about your concerns. Even if they initially minimize the down-side risk of the friendship, rest assured they’ll be thinking about it, and when the time comes will hopefully make good decisions. You can’t protect your child from every possibility, but you must give them the tools they need.

French Parenting: From baby to bebe

Posted by Dave on March 25, 2012 at 4:50 PM

To get right to the point, Pamela Druckerman wrote a book. Buy it.


Okay, you probably want to know a bit more before you plunk down hard-earned cash, but a great deal of what Mrs. Druckerman learned whilst living in France mirrors much of what I say on this site. But, it goes further, much further. And it’s good stuff.


Druckerman is an American parent of a toddler living in France, and her startled observations of the traditional style of French parenting (there really seems only to be one) offer us some useful insights about what we as American parents could do better.


All the things that American kids (especially toddlers) do that drive their parents around the bend don’t seem to be an issue in France. Our kids are picky eaters. Theirs will happily mix escargot and sprouts. Ours shriek and run about the house. Theirs are quite content to sit and play quietly by themselves. Theirs have oodles of patience – not ours.


What’s different?


First, Druckerman says, “they aren’t panicked about their children’s well being.” They are quite aware of life’s hazards and deal with them as needed and un-obsessively. This makes them much calmer about setting limits and giving the kids a fairly large degree of autonomy. Also, the kids aren’t addicted to attention (like most American kids), even though French parents give them plenty – at appropriate times and in appropriate ways.


French parenting also seems to be education-centric. In much the same way I advocate, French parents focus on teaching their kids all sorts of life skills and lessons – starting with patience and calmness. There’s far less of the competitive education going on in pre-school – no Mandarin lessons for four year olds. Toddlers toddle. Parents enjoy their lives and have enforced adult time in the evenings, where the kids are welcome to participate, or not.


I haven’t read the entire book yet, but I didn't have to get far to know that Druckerman’s really on to something useful here. It’s not that no Americans parent in a similar style – some do – it’s that the French just take it for granted. Their view of what a child is – is very different from ours.  This site and blog are about philosphies that are proven to work, but I don't much care it it's American, French, or Martian.

(PS - I've since read the entire book, and it only strengthened my recommendation to buy and read it! Good stuff, cover to cover.)


Teaching Tools: The Allowance

Posted by Dave on December 23, 2011 at 3:35 PM

Kids will begin to need spending money at some point in their lives, and this too is an important teaching tool. If you’ve read my parenting outline, you’ll recall I believe all kids should be able to run a household by the time they leave high school. Among the necessary skills are managing and handling money.


An allowance is not a reward, nor should it be pay for family chores. (Doing family chores is a personal contribution to the family’s well-being.) It is recognition that children need to learn to handle money, and make appropriate choices. It’s also a way to end constant begging for money!


It provides a continuous opportunity to learn to manage money and understand its value. Sure, they’ll spend some of it on frivolous things, but if they want something that costs more than what’s in their pockets they’ll have to learn how to save (with a few wise words from parents to help them along, of course). Learning to live within your means is an important life lesson.


Some parents decide to provide all the basics a kid needs, and a few extras. But anything else a kid wants, he or she is going to have to buy with allowance, earned, and saved money. Younger kids tend to want mostly candy, toys and games, but older kids will also want technology, special clothing, jewelry, sports equipment, and other things you might decide are non-essential.


Does that mean providing only the items an Amish child might have? Certainly not. You might buy a child his first baseball glove or skate board (and helmet!), but any subsequent purchases or upgrades might be on their shoulders. The same holds true for clothing. Parents can supply enough clothing for school and daily use, but if your teenage daughter wants a fancy outfit for socializing or a dance, she’ll have to fund it.


What you purchase for them and what you make them purchase for themselves can reflect your family’s values. My son received books, music, and educational items from me all the time as gifts, often for no special reason. However, video games were his responsibility! Consequently, they were few and far between. He had to balance those purchases with other items such as snacks, sports gear and favorite clothing. (Ever notice how they take better care of things they bought with their own money?)


Some parents have tried including school lunches on the list of things the allowance pays for, but this should be done carefully. Kids need to eat well in order to grow, and an empty stomach or one filled with junk food isn’t conducive to paying attention in class. That doesn’t mean that a child can’t divert dedicated lunch money to other purposes, but by not putting it into the “optional” class with other allowance items you emphasize its importance. Either way, if you find your child is indeed diverting lunch money, it’s time for a serious talk and perhaps other disciplinary measures!


Part of learning to manage finances includes having a checking account and learning to balance it each month once they’re old enough to deal with it, usually around ten or eleven. The modern reality is that they will also need a debit card. Debit card receipts should be treated like checks and entered into the checkbook daily (you can use a computer spreadsheet as a check register for yet another teaching tool!).


Because this is a teaching tool, one or both parents should periodically review the books and statements with the child to be sure all is well. This provides an additional opportunity to teach and reinforce good habits and practices on an ongoing basis, and lets you spot any problems early on. These checkups will need to be most frequent when they’re youngest, and less so when they’re older. However, if your older child starts getting into difficulties due to poor record-keeping, you might need to step up oversight.


The size of the allowance will vary with your family’s means, your child’s personal needs, and most important, their age and ability to handle money. A five year old doesn’t need $20 a week, but that might be right for your middle-schooler. Regardless, keep amounts modest enough that your child is forced to carefully manage it. Too much money can lead to truly frivolous spending by all but the most disciplined child. Also, I don’t recommend making advances on allowances except in rare, time limited, circumstances, since these tend to detract from the need to plan ahead and manage their money effectively.


When to start an allowance will also vary, but five is probably as good an age as any. This is when they start learning about money in school, and is a great time to start teaching the value of money. Keep the amount small when they’re young. Allowance increases should be based on their growing needs, especially as you decide to transfer additional items (like candy and games) to their responsibility.


The allowance is neither a right or privilege – it’s a teaching tool. I’d always told my son that it was his mother’s and my responsibility to teach him life skills, so this argument made perfect sense to him. This concept will come in handy one day when you have a serious discussion about how the money is being managed!


Parents should set rules about the allowance, including some limits on what it can be spent on, which items it must be used for, and how it is to be accounted for. While this level of control might seem onerous to you and your child at times, remember that the allowance is primarily a teaching tool, and as they get older and more adept at money management, the controls can and should be loosened. It may be “their” money, but it’s YOUR teaching tool.


What will you do when Junior has spent his allowance on something he wanted, but now has no money left for necessities he’s responsible for, like school lunch? The temptation might be to say “well, I can’t let him starve” and reach for your wallet, but that’s really a dangerous and ultimately counterproductive road to travel. If you bail out your spendthrift child every time they go into deficit spending at the mall, they’ll never learn the most important lesson of money management (and life!) – self control.


Instead, consider an interest-free loan for younger kids, or a low-interest loan for older kids. The money you advance them this week (along with any interest) comes directly out of next week’s allowance. However, this too can be a slippery slope, so you have a few choices here. You could:

1) Make the loan, but warn them that this is a one-time offer, and that if they can’t manage their money better you’re going to deduct the lunch money from their allowance and pay it directly, just to make sure they don’t ever go hungry,

2) Make them take lunch from home for the rest of the week (and hope it doesn’t end up in the trash),

3) Let them go hungry. I don’t like this option only because it doesn’t work with every kid, and frankly, they need food energy to keep them functioning well during the school day.

Only you will know which option (or another you think up) will work best for your child.


Finally, I don’t advocate cutting a child’s allowance as a means of punishment except in cases where regularly poor or dangerous spending choices are being made. In this case, losing the allowance should not be the only disciplinary measure! The allowance should be restored as soon as your child has a new and clear understanding of the rules and consequences, but if you want to ground them for another week, be my guest!


Teaching Tools: Dealing with Life's Rough Spots

Posted by Dave on December 23, 2011 at 2:15 PM

I talk a great deal about parents’ roles as a child’s most important teachers. Not all subjects parents must deal with are easy ones. You might immediately think of the “birds and bees” talk, but there are other difficult subjects as well. Relationship issues, death, major illness, and disability are also tricky.


Kids need to learn to deal appropriately with life’s most stressful events while they’re still kids. Kids are pretty resilient, especially when they have supportive and loving parents to guide them through. Shielding them from difficult or unpleasant events isn't doing them any favors, because when they encounter them for the first time later in life, they won't have the cognitive and emotional tools they need.


Keep your support age-appropriate. A six-year-old doesn't need the same level of detail an older child or teen might. Answer their questions as best you can, keeping in mind the child's perspective. Concepts a teen might grasp will likely confuse a younger child.


If you feel you might not be comfortable dealing with a topic or situation, perhaps now is a good time to get a handle on it, perhaps with the help of a friend or a professional. Then, when that "teachable moment" comes, you'll be ready when your child needs your support and guidance. Don’t send your kids off into the world unprepared for life’s inevitable rough spots.


All Fun and No Work Makes Jack???

Posted by Dave on November 18, 2011 at 7:20 AM

Two years into his presidency, President Obama made a big deal out of the need to graduate 10,000 new science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors every year, and 100,000 new teachers in these areas. To help get the message out, he held a science fair for middle and high school kids in the State Dining Room at the White House, with all sorts of fun and interesting science and engineering projects on display.


The Obama administration and its predecessors have been hearing from industry representatives clamoring for a way to compete with growing capabilities in countries around the world like China, India, Slovenia and Singapore. Their STEM graduates have increased both in number and quality over the last decade to a point where American businesses have difficulty competing. This doesn’t bode well for the US, where our science and engineering edge has kept us at the front of the pack for the last seventy years.


The push for more and better qualified American STEM graduates started long before the White House science fair, but results aren’t encouraging. While the number of students entering college with a STEM major increased, so did the number of students switching out to other majors or just dropping out altogether. 40%, in fact. With pre-med students, the number is closer to 60%.


Students say they were lured into a STEM major by all the fun they had during their K-12 years, building robots, dropping eggs with parachutes from rooftops, and similar activities. Educators were focused almost entirely on the “fun” aspects of science as a way to catch and hold interest, almost entirely ignoring the fact that most science learning isn’t all that much “fun.”


These students had great SAT scores and high school science preparation in order to even qualify for admission, so what went wrong? Why can’t they cope with the lecture halls? Why are they switching to easier majors or just dropping out altogether?


Simply, because they’ve never experienced learning as work before and don’t know how to deal with it. New college students are faced with a blinding array of difficult subjects like calculus, physics, math and chemistry, mostly delivered in lecture halls – not at all like high school. (1) Many kids say “if it’s not fun, why bother?” The problem is, much of the adult working world isn’t all that much fun, nor is the college education required to get there. Learning complex subjects is often hard work.


You might say “my kids aren’t likely to choose a STEM career, so why is this important to us?” It really doesn’t matter which career path your children choose. With a shrinking workplace and increasing competition for fewer jobs, a strong work and study ethic can make the difference between finding (and retaining) any job at all, let alone one they like.


Today’s kids haven’t learned to experience the simple internal gratification that results from accomplishments, large and small. Hard work can be gratifying, but not necessarily fun. We’ve let their lives get completely out of balance. While all work and no play isn’t good for Jack, neither is all play and no work.


Who’s at fault? Pretty much everyone except the kids themselves. K-12 schools have become fun-centric, with teachers more intent on making their classes fun and entertaining than teaching strong study skills and effective learning habits. School social life trumps academic effort and achievement. Parents, too, focus on the fun aspects of life, perhaps thinking that they want their kids to have a better young social life than their own. The misguided and now largely discredited “self-esteem” craze of the last decade is also to blame.


The stiff competition that exists in college and the working world is almost now entirely absent from K-12 education. Young adults experiencing it for the first time are often left in shock and unable to cope, certainly contributing to the number of twenty-somethings returning to live with their parents.


Our entire pop culture emphasizes immediate gratification, feeling good, having fun and being entertained at all times. More kids today aspire to be famous and rich than to a rich and rewarding work and family life. The strong work ethic that built America and made it successful has been almost entirely lost. Kids have little or no concept of how to work toward a long-term payoff.


Okay, let’s say you’re parents who really get it, and want to teach your children the value of sustained hard work, and to feel and appreciate the personal satisfaction that comes with it. Can you overcome the unbalanced messages they’re getting from school and pop culture? Seem impossible?


It’s not. Many American Asian, Eastern Indian, and Jewish families do it all the time because it’s part of their culture. They simply make sure the message they deliver is stronger and louder than those from outside the family. These families place a high value on learning and hard work and communicate that loud and clear.


They hold their children accountable for behavior, effort, and results. If a child starts slacking off or misbehaving in the classroom, these parents want to know why and look for ways to correct the problem long before it becomes insurmountable. If a child is having difficulty with a subject, they do whatever it takes to get the kid back on track, including conferring with the teacher, hiring tutors, and even learning the subject themselves so they can help.


Make sure your kids get the “education is extremely valuable” message consistently from a young age. Get them involved in learning for learning’s sake. Provide learning opportunities at every turn. Begin with reading to your children daily, and later encouraging them to read on their own. Take them to museums and other interesting places to see what catches their interest, and then enable them to learn more.


When it comes to school, insist on best efforts, and make it clear that slacking off isn’t acceptable. Be firm, be consistent. Treat homework and studying for exams as serious business, nearly always trumping social life. When the work is done, put just as much effort into having fun and relaxing. It's important to keep life in balance - after all, all work and no play....


In the longer term, K-12 schools need to change the way they teach and put some of the hard work ethic and study skills back into the curriculum so as to better prepare our kids for work, college and life beyond. That is, after all, the very reason they exist.


(1) There are also problems with the way in which STEM subjects are taught in colleges, as disconnected theories, formulas and equations to be memorized without putting them into the larger context of the real world. Some colleges are trying to fix this now, but restructuring entire curriculums is a slow process and could take up to a decade to implement.

Why Too Much Praise Kills Self-Motivation

Posted by Dave on April 2, 2011 at 11:40 AM

Over the past 20 or so years, many adults have gotten into the habit of effusively praising children for any effort or achievement – no matter how insignificant – and NEVER criticizing. Over time, kids come to expect that everything they do will result in a flood of positive feel-good messages from the adults around them. It’s a strong, if artificial, motivator for some kids to keep going, even on tasks they don’t really like.


Of course, this all ends when they go off to college or join the workforce. Professors and bosses simply don’t have the time (or inclination) to lean over Janie’s shoulder and praise her every little effort or success. It comes as quite a shock for some young adults. And, just wait for the fireworks and tears when they get criticized for weak performance!


To survive in the real world, adults need to be self-motivated. That’s what employers look for, especially when hiring young people. They don’t have the time to provide that constant external motivation that some kids have come to depend on. It has to come from within.


Effusive praise simply isn’t appropriate expect in cases of extraordinary achievement. Most of the time, a simple acknowledgement is all that’s needed to tell a child she’s on the right track.


Kids need to develop internal motivations instead, and learn to deal with criticism in the relatively safe and supportive home and school environments.


It’s important to expose kids to a wide range of activities that allow them to find those “hot button” interests – the things they will enjoy doing with or without your praise. Once your child finds something that excites them (assuming it’s healthy), gently support and encourage further exploration, being careful to allow your child as much autonomy as possible.


When they start enjoying an activity for its own sake and not for external praise, the activity takes on greater personal value, which in turn drives that all-important internal motivation.


Self-motivation is essential for more mundane activities too. Things like homework and studying for exams, keeping one’s room clean, helping with household chores. For self-motivation to become internalized with these sorts of things the child needs to be impressed with the importance of getting them done, regardless of their level of interest. You might even say he needs to develop a sense of duty – to the family, himself, and others around him.


When it comes to criticism or correction, your child NEEDS your feedback to know when he’s not doing it right or meeting your standards. It’s the most effective way to get them on the right track. Otherwise, they must rely on trial and error, an inefficient method at best. A self-motivated child will generally accept your guidance.


Do you have to catch and correct every mistake? No, and you shouldn’t. Some lessons are best learned the hard way, so pick your issues carefully. A child who learns a hard lesson (with the support of family, teachers, and friends) becomes a much stronger person than one who has not.


I like the following model: Teach them the right way, encourage it, and if they choose to do otherwise make sure they have to deal with the consequences (as long as they are not life changing or dangerous).

How Well Does Your Child Handle Stress?

Posted by Dave on February 24, 2011 at 12:55 AM

“What some kids can shrug off (could) be harmful to others” according to a 2007 study conducted by Daniel Hart, a psychologist at the Center for Children and Childhood Studies at Rutgers University (Camden, NJ) that found ties between certain nervous system responses and behavior problems in children.


Everyone’s bodies react differently to stress. Part of this reaction is inherited, and part is learned. Some kids’ autonomic reactions to stress are exaggerated, and Hart and his colleagues are concerned that kids with stronger physiological reactions to stress are at risk of developing an “under controlled” personality.


Autonomic reactions include heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion, and are not generally considered to be under a person’s direct conscious control.


While most kids can (and should) learn to deal with stress, the over-reacting kids were found to be more likely to have behavior problems like fighting with other kids. They were also likely to experience persistent negative emotions.


The findings of the six-year ongoing follow-up study of 138 children who were in kindergarten through 3rd grade when the study began suggest that these over-reacting kids may need to be shielded from chronic stress, such as the kind that occurs in dysfunctional households.


The risk for chronic stress seems to be greater in homes with lower incomes and less educated parents. The study found a correlation between over-reacting kids who lived in such homes, and reported behavior problems.


On the other hand, Hart and his colleagues discovered that over-reacting kids who lived in homes without chronic stress tended to do very well.


What does this mean for parents? If your child seems prone to over-reaction to stress, do your best to protect her from excess or chronic stress, especially in younger years. Once they learn to handle stressful situations with your help, they’ll need your protection less and less. This is one case where nurture can win out over nature with a little effort.

Book recommendation: The Transgender Child - S. Brill, R. Pepper

Posted by Dave on September 26, 2010 at 1:30 PM

The Transgender Child is the first of its kind - a thoughtful manual for parents of transgender children and their caregivers, co-written by one of our country's most respected gender therapists and an experienced researcher and author of books related to gender variance. Detailed, up-to-date, and easy to read, this book should be a key resource for professionals, parents of transgender children and teens, and anyone who works with them.


The Transgender Child includes a Foreword by Dr. Norman Spack, a leading expert on the care and treatment of transgender children and youth. It is followed by a series of chapters dealing with all aspects of how to deal with the child, their family and friends, their schools and school administrators and staff. Also included are excellent chapters on medical care and legal issues unique to these children.


Everyone who knows and interacts with a transgender child should own and read this book. It is especially valuable when dealing with those unfamiliar with what it means to be born transgender - whether they are family members, neighbors, teachers, or the local Department of Family Services. The Transgender Child adds the authority of leading professionals to any discussion of the child's care and treatment.

I recommend it highly!

It's Time to End the "Self-Esteem" Mistake

Posted by Dave on July 29, 2010 at 9:05 AM

The well intentioned but misguided "Self-Esteem" movement has held sway in public schools since the early 1980s. Here's why I agree with a growing number of psychologists, educators and parents who think it's time to put an end to it.


1   Self-esteem was never the point - it's really just a side-effect - the result of success from hard work. Psychologists and educators agree that self-control is a far more valuable attribute and a better predictor of future success than self-esteem.


2   "You can be anything you want to be" is a myth that explodes when kids enter the adult world. Desire, no matter how strong, doesn't equal talent or skill, and the competition for the most desired careers is intense.


3   Cheating in high school and college increased dramatically between 1992 and 2002 it rose a whopping 61%, with more than 80% of students admitting to cheating. More recent studies (2012) show that it's finally beginning to decline - a bit.


4   Individualism and the focus on self have coincided with a steady increase in divorce. Young people are having an increasingly difficult time building sustainable, realistic, relationships.


5   Kids are taught not to compare themselves with others, but that is exactly what will happen when they enter the competitive world of college admissions and the workplace.


6   Kids are not given constructive criticism or told they need to work harder, and as a result never learn how to improve their performance. When they reach the workplace, many crumble when their bosses criticize their work and pressure them to improve.


7   The focus on the self has resulted in a huge drop in volunteerism and membership in political, community, and fraternal organizations. This doesn't bode well for the health of our country and communities.


 8   "I don't care what other people think, I'm going to do and be what I want." To a point, this is fine. But, too many young people are taking this to an extreme, and find it difficult to fit in anywhere. Psychological studies over the last two decades show a massive increase in self-reported loneliness.


Bottom line, it's time to pull the plug on the "self-esteem" movement. Some lazy teachers like it because it makes kids more docile and easier to handle, but overall, it offers more negatives than positives.

The message needs to be modified to be more realistic. Be encouraging; be honest about their performance (or lack of it); don't tell kids they're "stupid" or "worthless"; stress hard work, self-control, and achievement.


The Importance of Early Infant Attachment

Posted by Dave on June 20, 2010 at 10:30 AM

Nature provides for the care of newborns by creating strong attachments between parent and child. For most (but not all) moms and many dads, the attachment drive comes naturally. This helps ensure the infant’s safety and survival. In addition, this attachment is essential for the development of personality, language, and emotional health.


Broken down into its essentials:

1) A steady, responsive caregiver

2) Social interaction

3) Affection

4) Meeting child’s basic needs – food, comfort

5) Consistency


Scientists are now finding that both moms and dads experience changes in certain hormone levels when a baby is born that condition the parents to nurture and protect their child. One hypothesis is that the changes are triggered by the cries of a newborn. This is a relatively new area of inquiry with much more yet to be discovered.


By influencing the neuro-endocrine system, the structure and function of the infant’s brain development is also affected by this attachment. A child’s earliest experiences helps shape the way he or she perceives other people, and affects many aspects of development including a sense of self, motor activity and skills, emotion, ability to handle stress (especially in later life), reactions to danger, fear and loneliness, and memory.


Because the foundational elements of personality are the result of nature, not nurture, the effects of adequate attachment will vary from child to child. Some are born more resilient than others, and what destroys one child may have little effect on another. However, we can’t know that in a child’s earliest years. Every infant needs to receive all the essentials, no matter who provides them.


Does it have to be the biological mom or dad? Research says no. While nature puts the mother in the number one position, an infant will bond with any nurturing primary caregiver. It’s the interaction that’s most important. Attachments tend to be with only one or two people in any case. Multiple or random caregivers generally results in no real attachment being formed, as is often the case with children raised in large, poorly run orphanages. Few of those children escape without serious emotional deficits, and are often unable to form close, meaningful relationships as adults.


In raising kids, you can make lots of mistakes with relatively few consequences, but this isn’t true with infant attachment. It prepares a child for the future more than anything to follow later in life. It helps build the child’s personality, sense of place in the world, comfort with other people, and so much more that it can be said to be the single most important relationship in a person’s life.


Of course, as with anything important, someone will decide that if some is good, more is certainly better, and then take it to extremes. The same is true with parent-child attachment. A small number of parents have embraced what is called "Attachment Parenting."


The idea seems to be that children should decide when to be weaned from infantile behaviors, such as nursing at mom's breast or "clingy" behavior. In fact, nursing and sleeping with mom seem to be two key components of this fad. So far, anecdotal reports show some kids hanging on to mom as late as 8 or 9.


Little is known about the effects of this on later development, school performance, peer relationships, or the ability of children to flourish and cope in the adult world. The results will only become known over time. I may write another blog entry discussing and examining Attachment Parenting, but my initial take is that it has limited, if any benefits, and may significantly delay important development milestones. It may be more about moms who become obsessed with the mother-infant attachment relationship and want it to last as long as possible.

Why is Marriage in Trouble?

Posted by Dave on June 20, 2010 at 8:55 AM

This may be my one of my shortest blog entries, although I might add to it later. Some ideas are best conveyed with fewer words. The analysis is simple and broad-brush, but still valid.



Why are marriage failures at an all-time high?


1. Parents are too focused on their kids, and aren't putting enough energy into growing their own relationship.


2. The Self-Esteem movement has bred runaway narcissism. Folks are too centered on their own needs and being an "individual" to subjugate themselves to the needs of the relationship. Healthy relationships are about finding common ground - not simply accepting each other's differences.


How to fix this?


1. Return to a marriage-centered relationship - the kids are important, but the marriage is just as important, and a healthy marriage and stable family are the best gifts you can give your kids.


2. Reign in the Self-Esteem movement's well documented excesses and get back to common sense.