What’s the Goal?

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

I spend much of my time as a Parent Coach encouraging parents that they can find ways to manage their children’s behavior.  I can understand why they have a hard time believing me.  After all, parents don’t come to a child psychologist before they have exhausted all their own and their extended family’s and their friends’ ideas.  So, they end up talking to me, hoping that I have some strategies for them, but feeling very discouraged and powerless.  Their darling 3 year old or 9 year old has them totally bamboozled.

I listen and I empathize.  I have seen a lot in my years of work and as a parent.  Nothing humbles a child psychologist like parenthood!  I remember years ago when I told a pediatrician who referred to me that I was pregnant, he said, “You’re good at what you do now, but you’re going to be better.”  I imagine that he spoke from his own experience.  When professionals can offer strategies in a spirit of camaraderie in addition to specific training, it all goes more easily.

Often parents get discouraged because they get stuck in all or nothing thinking.  Consider this situation.  A 10 year old girl is being insolent when she and her father are discussing whether she can go to a movie with a friend’s family.  The father tells her that he won’t talk to her until she can talk respectfully and that she should go to her room until she can do so.  Child goes to next room and continues to say rude things for a bit, but then becomes quiet when the parent does not respond.  The child never goes to her room.  In a few minutes she returns and asks, “Can I talk to you now?”   Was the parent successful?  Hmmm.  It depends on what you see as the goal.  Was the goal to get the child to talk in a respectful way?  If so, (and I think this is the goal), then bravo!  Success!  Start the negotiation again. On the other hand, if the goal is to have the child comply in every way, then this was not a success.  It isn’t all or nothing.  The goal was achieved, but not quite the way the parent wanted.  Life is like that.

If this parent wanted total success, he could insist that the child go to her room.  The child would like then become enraged and be very disrespectful.  After all, she’s being respectful now.  Why should she be punished? Children have a sense of justice, and this would smack of a power struggle more than justice.  Nothing encourages rage (in parent and child) like a power struggle.

Did the child win?  She didn’t go to her room.  However, she became respectful.  There is more work to be done on the “go to your room end.”  But if I were talking to this parent, I would suggest that he doesn’t need to send her to her room to get a result, at least not in this case.

So consider what your goal is.  You and your child might achieve it, but not in the way you intended.  But it is likely that you still achieved your goal.

Helping Your Child with Learning Disabilities or ADHD Get Ready for School

August 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s almost that time.  The time that parents look forward to or maybe dread.  If your child has ADHD or learning disabilities, you may have found the summer a blessed relief.  Parents in this category dread going back to scenes in the morning, scenes about homework, lost papers, and so on.  On the other hand, you might be ready for your child to be in school for six hours a day.  Summer can also be a challenge with changing routines and much more together time.

Here are ten suggestions for preparing for school.

  1. Go to school a few days before it opens to find the new classroom and meet the teacher.  This is not a time for a conference.  The point of this visit is to reassure your child that she can find the room and that the teacher is a kind person.  It’s a quick visit, respecting that the teacher is trying to set up her room.
  2. If your child is going to a new school, walk to school a few times so that she is confident she knows the way, even if you will walk with her.  You are trying to remove as much novelty as possible.
  3. Go shopping for school supplies on your own at an off peak time.  I got this idea from a friend of mine many years ago.  She went to the local office supply store and stocked up on paper, pens, crayons, notebooks, whatever she thought her children might need.  When they got their supply list from the teachers, they chose items from the “home store.”  She later returned whatever they didn’t need.  This saved her a stressful trip with three kids in tow.  I was pretty impressed.
  4. Consider morning routines with your child.  How did last year go?  What worked and what didn’t?  Talk with your child about how you think things should go. Find out what she thinks.  When would you like her to get up, be dressed, have breakfast?  What will the rule be for TV in the morning?  None til you are dressed or none at all?  Many children will be helped by a list posted where they can see it–in their room or in the kitchen–where they can check off the steps as they accomplish them.
  5. Consider homework and bedtime routines.  Again, go over this with your child and be willing to negotiate (within reason).  Is there a break after school before homework?  Is there TV before homework is done?  Is there a limit on how much screen time (TV and computer) is allowed each day?  What is bedtime?
  6. Try to move bedtime earlier a few days before school actually starts.  While I think this is a good idea, I have also seen it really backfire, especially with middle school and high school kids.  For the older kids, you might just let them suffer through a few days.  They’ll get it.
  7. Once school is started, call your child’s teacher (or teachers) and ask to meet soon so that you can explain your concerns about your child and go over the IEP.  It is best to do this early.  That way the teacher knows you and you can establish a good working relationship. Establish how you and the teacher will stay in touch.  Parent-teacher night doesn’t allow time for this.  And you certainly don’t want to wait until a problem comes up.
  8. Look at your child’s room and other places in the home where her things are kept and organize these spaces.  Make sure that she knows where her things are.  This means shoes, backpack, jacket, lunch bag.  Of course, these arrangements will need maintenance, but it’s good to start off clean.
  9. Have you done the paperwork for any medications that will be taken at school?
  10. Set out the expectation that it will be a good year.  Communicate some excitement and talk about the interesting things that will come up in school.

What’s enrichment and What’s “pushing?”

August 1, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Recently I have been thinking about “pushing” kids and how one knows whether or not to push a child in a given situation.  We’ve probably all observed parents we thought were pushig their children too hard.  I have met parents who are considering how their grade school or middle school child’s activities will look on a college application. Many of us have been at children’s sports events and heard the parent coaching from the sideline.  I know all these parents are doing what they think is best for their children.  Often they are offering their children opportunities that they did not have as children.  They may also in a community where many parents are programming their children’s lives in a similar manner.  From their point of view it looks like good care of the children

What is pushing and what is offering enriching  experiences and teaching valuable skills?

  1.  Are we having fun yet?   A friend of mine used to say to her children when they were playing sports, “Sports should be fun.  If you’re not having fun, we should find another activity.”  Of course,  your child won’t have fun every minute.  Sometimes the goal tender lets in a goal and feels wretched about it.  But overall, it should be fun.
  2. Your child should still have time for free play, hanging out time with friends.  Being with team mates in a game is not the same as hanging out together.
  3. There should be time for school work.  If your child has great difficulty with organization or works slowly due to ADHD or a learning disability, she will need more time for school work.  You might wish she should just be more efficient, but it’s possible that she just needs more time  Do you find yourself nagging about homework?  Maybe you need to rethink the schedule, not in a punitive manner.  This is just about being realistic about who your child is.
  4. Your child needs time to relax.  Everyone needs down time.  You child might be enjoying the activities, but if you perceive that as a family you are always rushing, you might want to make a change.  This is a way to teach your child about balance in life.
  5. The motivation to excel at the activity–whether music, drama or sports–should come mostly from your child.  Of course, there are times that you insist on practicing or on going to the game.  This is part of teaching your child to be responsible.  But overall, whose dream is being pursued?  Are you hoping for a sports scholarship to college?  Are you pursuing your dream through your child?  Think about where the motivation comes from.

There are valuable lessons that parent should insist upon.  Children need to be responsible about doing their homework, about helping out around the house, and about doing their best at whatever they do.  They also need to be taught to be good friends.  I like to think that as parents we offer children many opportunities to learn new skills and activities.   Sometimes our ideas work out very well, and sometimes they don’t.  This is how you and your child learn about who she is.  Maybe she has no skill for basketball, but she loves soccer.  Maybe she has no skill at sports, but she loves to play the piano or guitar.  All children benefit from a sense of accomplishment.  Hopefully they experience that in a number of arenas.  These activities provide settings in which to teach good sportsmanship, pride in accomplishment, and self-discipline.  It is my experience that these lessons come most easily when there is balance in life and a good fit between the child and the activity.

Free play

July 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

One night last week I came home from work and heard unfamiliar sounds in my back yard.  There was a whiffle ball game going on in the back yard next to mine.  Five or six children played on their own and their voices drifted over to my screened porch.  Every now and then the game spilled into my not so neat perennial garden when the fielders missed a ball.  “To your left, Matt, in the tall flowers,” I called.  He tiptoed over, found the ball, and resumed play.  It’s clear to me that it’s more pleasant to have children playing in the neighborhood than to have a pristine garden.  No six foot fence separates our yards. By dusk all was quiet.  I presume they went inside for a bath and bedtime.

Last week was the first full week of summer for children in my town.  Many summer programs start this coming week.  Last week, there were lots of opportunities to hear parents and children hanging out.  Prior to this the children were busy with homework after supper.  If they weren’t  doing homework, they might have been at a baseball or soccer practice.  Maybe they were practicing their instruments.  They were busy.

But last week there was leisure for many families.  Parents did not need to get the children up and out by a certain time.  And children could play outside on their own.  I heard from families I work with that the relaxed schedule was very welcome.  Of course, not every family can enjoy this respite.  Many working parents must have their children in some sort of care unless they are on vacation.

Nonetheless, last week gave me a welcome reminder of the benefits of free play.  I could hear children settling disputes on their own, developing their social skills.  I heard parents playing ball with their children and teaching them the finer points of sports. I heard older children teaching the younger ones the rules of the game. All of these facilitate child development.  Children develop socially and cognitively through play.  Many of these same processes happen in organized activities.  But we tend to forget that children can experience these benefits without the structure of a sports team or a dance class.  Our lives are not organized to allow this much of the time.  Next week it is likely that most of these children will be in organized camp activities where they will continue to experience the benefits of play, I hope.

Last week it was a pleasure to hear and see children and families enjoying summer play.


Summer Routines for You andYour ADD Child

June 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Last week I wrote about some ways to find interesting activities for you and your children.  The next task is to think about how to incorporate activities into a reasonable routine for your family.  For the first few days it is delightful to let everyone sleep in (including you, perhaps) and let the day unfold as it will.  But before long, you and the children will chafe. It is hard to get kids going when they’ve become used setting their own agenda.  And soon they become bored.

  • We know that children with ADD and Executive Function Disorder do better with predictable routine.  Once you’ve set a schedule (loosely defined) your children are more likely to go along with it and cooperate with transitions.
  • We also know that these children seek novelty.  While some parts of the day will be the same from day to day, you can vary the day and add interest by planning outings (see last week’s blog).
  • Schedule time that children entertain themselves.  This gives you time to make phone calls, pay bills, or read your own book.
  • Plan with your children how much time they can spend watching television, using the computer, or playing video games.   You can set a specific time of day for these activities.  Or you can set an amount of time for the day.
  • Be clear with your children about their responsibilities, such as, picking up their things, making their beds, reading on their own (for children who don’t choose this themselves), practicing an instrument, and so forth.
  • Vary the activities so that there are quiet times and physical activity times.  Remember that your children will be calmer and more focused if you get them moving for part of the day.  Some will do this on their own.  Some will need to be signed up for swim lessons or have a family bike ride.
  • Make sure that you include time that you spend with your children playing a game, walking to the library, riding a bike–whatever you might enjoy.
  • Consider trading child care with another parent so you get some time off.  Summer brings much more togetherness.  You and they could use a break.  Camps bring this break, but play dates can as well.

If you can establish a routine, transitions will be much smoother.  You will know when you will get a break, which can add to your patience.  Your children will likely be more happy with a range of activities.  Now, enjoy your summer and Happpy Fourth of July!

The Long View

June 16, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Recently I spent several days with college classmates.  We caught up on our lives and of course, we talked about our children.  Some of us had children who had learning disabilities, ADHD, or emotional problems.   But by this time of life, our children are mostly in college and beyond. It was interesting to see how these young people had found their way into young adulthood.  Some have followed the fairly straight path that their mothers did.  Others have chosen alternative routes, but mostly they are productive, independent, young adults.

Many times when I am working with a  parents and their children, the parents ask in distress, “Will she ever go to college?”  “Will she be able to leave home?”  They might be asking me about a third grader. Probably they have just learned that their child has a learning disability or an anxiety disorder.  And likely we are at the beginning of treatment when life is pretty chaotic.  Perhaps the child has meltdowns about homework.  Or the parents can’t get the child out of the door to go to school in the morning.  Or the child has a terrible time getting to sleep at night and keeps everyone up late. These parents are spread pretty thin, and they are alarmed at how poorly their child is functioning.

At times like these I am glad that I have been in practice for over 25 years, that my husband and I  have raised our own son.  And that I’ve also supported numerous friends as they worked their way through the emotional, academic, and social challenges of learning disabilities, ADHD, and anxiety, or depression.  I have seen so many children go through very tough times in school, at home, and with friends, and I have seen many of them get to a place in which they can be productive young adults.

I have been reflecting on what seems to make the difference, at least in my professional and personal experience.  First, these parents kept trying to find the right school and therapist and activities and services for their children.  Involved parents are always a part of success.  At the same time, they did not protect their children from challenges.  They believed in the child’s ability to cope, as long as proper supports were in place.  Third, the parents all liked their children.  They were able to get past the anger and hurt caused by tantrums and misbehavior. They found aspects of the children that were enjoyable, and the children knew that their parents believed in them. Last, these families are all at least middle class.  They have the financial resources to find the services their children need.

So when the frightened parents ask me whether their child will leave home, I tell them not to rule it out and to stay in the game.  And we begin where they are to address the multiple needs these children present.

Thoughts on Families and Gratitude

March 30, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Last year I attended a workshop on helping parents change their children’s behavior called Parent Management Training.  It was offered by the Child Conduct Clinic at Yale University, and it taught an approach developed of thirty years of practice and research with real families.  The first two things I learned to teach parents in Parent Coaching are to be clear and calm when asking the child to do something and tho thank her promptly and enthusiastically when she complies.  In fact, I ask parents to be prompt and enthusiastic in thanking their children for whatever they do that they were asked to.

I have been amazed at how this simple, yet profound, adjustment sweetens family life.  We all love to be appreciated.  And it feels good to be grateful.  Parents are then in a stronger position to address the behavior problems that remain.  An attitude of gratitude is simply therapeutic all around.

Recently, I came across a quote by Melody Beattie from her book, The Language of Letting Go, on gratitude.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It tuns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

In fact, psychologists have recently found data to support the concept that gratitude does more than simply make us feel better.  it is truly good for us.  As reported in The Boston Globe, psychologist David DeSteno, of Northeastern University found that subjects who were grateful for unexpected assistance after a frustrating task were more likely to be helpful to another subject.  DeSteno says, “Gratitude leads people to act in virtuous or more selfless ways.  And it builds social support, which we know is tied to both physical and psychological well being.  The article also quoted psycholgoist Sonja Lyubomirsky, of the Univeristy of California at Riverside, “If you don’t do it regularly, you’re not going to get the benefits.  it’s kind of like if you went to the gym once a year.  What would be the good of that?”

Parents’ expressions of gratitude, especially linked to desired behavior, improve children’s behavior and the relationship between parent and child.  And the consistent expression of gratitude is good for the parents’ well-being.  There’s more than enough good to go around here.