Back To School. Going back to school brings up different feelings for different family members. The kids loathe the idea and parents tend to love the idea. Go figure. In most families , summers are not nearly as structured as school days. That’s a good thing. Everyone needs a break sometimes and kids are no exception. Obviously, the extremes don’t work either. Now at least making your kids read over the summer will likely stop their brains from going to school sleep, but, not allowing kids to be kids, is just a shame. You are only a kid once. So, here we are on the brink of a new school year. How do we get our kids psyched up? Make this a new school year. Everything starts fresh once again. It’s like a New Year and now is the time to make some resolutions with your kids. How about these. Make a list of what your child is capable doing and make them actually follow through. Get your family on a schedule. Organization is the key to success. We all know this, but actually getting organized is not as easy as it seems. Try it this time. Snack time ; free time; homework time ; dinner time; family time; alone time. Very few families actually follow a schedule. If they did, we would have an increase in functional families.
This year make sure you do not over-schedule your child. Have them be successful at whatever they do, so don’t overwhelm them. Encourage them to make some new friends. “Nice ones” like them. Feed them healthy foods. Don’t go completely crazy, but cook healthy meals for your kids. They will repeat this with their kids. Make sure they get plenty of exercise and sleep. These two factors are commonly the cause of dozens of childhood and teenager disorders. Get them a physical and be sure they are up on all of their shots.
Be empathic. Going back to school is like a Monday morning back to work. It’s just a lot harder for kids to work through disappointment than adults, so cut them some snack until the week before school starts and then enforce the code. The Parent Code. This is the one that paves their road for success. Happy paving.
Assertiveness is the capacity to comfortably communicate one’s feelings and intentions in a positive and confident manner. Once a child has established the capacity to rely on themselves age appropriately and demonstrate consideration for another, assertion has to do with how a child then communicates themselves to others.
Assertiveness is based on healthy self-esteem and an internal conviction that the child has a purpose . Such mental strengths supply the child with comfort in letting others know how they feel and what they want. Absent are frequent temper tantrums or passivity. Instead is a firm and clear expression of needs and desires.
Assertive children tend to do well in school, have many friends, and infrequently get bullied. They tend to be leaders, intelligent, and likable. Being assertive is not being selfish. Rather, it is an expression of self-love and a representation of being their own person. When assertiveness is practiced, compromise is possible. Take two children who want to both play different games. Each of them conveys their desire to the other in direct and clear ways. The outcome is the decision to take turns and play both games. Respect is then achieved for each of the players.
Parents help children learn assertiveness in two basic ways. First, the parent models being assertive with their own children by holding their child accountable for themselves and second, by validating and respecting the child’s attempts to be assertive. When 5 year-old Billy told his mom that he could tuck himself in bed at night, despite her longing for that continued ritual, she let him put himself to bed and Billy felt like a really “big” boy.
Practicing assertiveness with peers is an invaluable part of character development and assertive children are the least susceptible to peer pressure. They are comfortable saying “no”. Children who lack adequate assertiveness tend to be either too aggressive or too passive. In extreme cases, this can lead to embedded personality traits . For example, children who have impulse disorders, such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder , have assertiveness failures. The either “act out” or control others as a means of getting their needs met. On the other end of the spectrum, are the “passive-dependent” children. Afraid of their own feelings and behaviors, they “give in” to others and allow themselves to be manipulated. This is the most common type of child who gets bullied.
Teaching children how to speak up for themselves is one of the most important virtues a parent can do. Work with your child on assertiveness skills. It’s well worth the effort.
Practicing Assertiveness: The Bully Game:
Take turns with you child playing a bully and a victim. Even better, team up with another family member and have two bullies and one victim. Write out 5 different bully situations such as : ” a bully comes up to you and demands you give them your lunch”. The first part of the game is feeling identification. Have each person, including the bullies, identify how they are feeling. ( Tip: Bullies feel vulnerable!). Next, collectively come up with three solutions demonstrating an assertive response to the bully. One such resolution could be “i’m sorry but that isn’t going to work for me” and walk away. Remember, assertiveness is clear ,firm , and based on strength. Practicing what I call “Bully Busting” empowers children to face their fears and resolve their plight using their parents and siblings as partners in the practice. The number of examples of practicing assertive behavior is limitless. Responding to bullies is just one of many. Design your own game based on the particular struggles your child faces in his or her own environment.
Once a child becomes comfortable with Assertiveness, he or she will then become a model to their peers about how to get one’s needs met in healthy and practical ways. For example, when peers give each other advise about how to handle something, often times that advise is used more readily than what they hear from their parents. After all, they are both the same age and also the same size and everyone knows both really matter.
“Treat others the way you wish to be treated”. Such a simple cliche but if a child has not developed the capacity to put themselves in another’s shoes, consideration is not possible. When is a child old-enough to be considerate and how can they be taught this virtue?
Normal Developmental Theory teaches us that before a child is able to consider another, they must be able to both consider themselves separate and comfortable enough inside their own minds with their own feelings. They do this by accepting the concept and experience of feelings without judgment. The process of regulating one’s feelings is called “self-soothing” and this is not an automatic process, it involves a certain type of experience with one’s caregiver who practices a certain type of parenting. Picture the pre-school child who sub-vocally states to herself after falling on the playground, “it’s gonna be okay”. Clearly, the child is repeating a parental memory experience inside of themselves causing their entire being to calm down and get back up and on that horse. This function is the result of an intact “ego” , or “self worked! ” and commonly develops by the age of 5 to 6 if their environment is healthy.
Before a child can be considerate to another, they need to be considerate to themselves. This is taught to them by their parents in the early years working to lessen their stress by soothing and comforting. This process then becomes a part of the child and available to apply to themselves and others. The child who only gives to others and not themselves is at just as much risk and the child who can only give to themselves. Balance is healthy
Consideration is a virtue that can also be taught and practiced at home. Actively asking kids to try to understand what their brother, sister, or friend might be thinking and feeling is how parents can practice consideration. But, consideration should not be a function or taught as a response to guilt. Statements like ” you should feel bad for not thinking about your sister” will create guilt not compassion. Consideration is about lessening strife through caring and love not shame for doing something wrong. One involves feeling bad while the other involves feeling love. And, love is taught not inherited.
How does one practice Consideration in a fun manner? I like to make up games. Here is mine on practicing Consideration in a quick 10 minute family game.
Consideration Family Game:
Take a stack of 3×5 index cards and write out some common situations where Consideration could be practiced. Try to make your vignettes applicable to your particular family. For example, if you have common issues of sibling rivalry, one such card could be “how could someone show consideration for Billy having twice as much homework than his sister Kelly ?”. Each family member then writes out their own answer and shares them with the entire family. As long as the answer was Considerate, everyone claps and states “good job”. Such a game should only take about 10 minutes and involve only 4 to 5 questions. Like any other virtue, practice and modeling is what makes the trait sink in.
First comes Self-Reliance, then comes Consideration, and next comes Assertiveness. A true Kid Crusader in the making.
Virtue, developmental milestone, or perhaps the single most valuable human trait, self-reliance is about the capacity to self-care. Once a child has achieved the notion of existing independently from their caregivers, the optimal parenting position is to assist their child in learning how to transition from receiving and internalizing love and nurturance to applying this function to him or herself. This function is the bedrock of self-esteem and true autonomy.
Each stage of a child’s development comes with age-appropriate self-reliant tasks which, when achieved, pushes that child forward in their individual development. As these tasks are mastered along various stages of development, the child then additionally feels stronger, confident , and less dependent on their parents for doing things for them that they can do for themselves.
Implicit in self-reliance however is the necessity of perseverance and parental encouragement which can often be difficult when children enjoy the benefits of being catered to by their parents. After all, who doesn’t like being nurtured, comforted and provided for? In fact, the conflict between seeking self-reliance versus remaining dependent or reliant on others is the core conflict in the development of children and teenagers alike. On the one hand, most teenagers want independence but on the other wish to be taken care of due to their discomfort with the multitude of changes and challenges facing them on a daily basis lowering their already unstable self-esteem. Here, parents fall into their own conflicts over providing for their seemingly vulnerable child versus insisting on pushing them to work it out themselves with you the parent as their Mentor. How these conflicts are managed have a significant effect on how well the child will weather the throws of adolescence and for the teens, how well they will endure the tasks of young adulthood.
Parents who insist on their children to be self-reliant for their particular age tend to produce healthier offspring than those who continue to placate their child by doing too much for them. In fact, in the extreme cases of parents failing to hold their kids responsible for self-care invariably create a sense of ongoing dependency on their parents which leaves the child feeling angry and needy. If this pattern continues through high school, the then college bound young adult does not feel or perform independent enough to successfully function well enough away from home.
Parents can help their children develop a healthy sense of self-reliance by both encouraging and insisting that their child performs tasks that they can functionally master at each age. Take toilet training for example. If parents did not insist that their toddler stop wearing diapers and use the toilet, most children would remain in diapers and then pull-ups far beyond what their body is capable of managing. Here, the initially resistant toddler refuses to use the toilet but when finally does feels like a bigger boy and girl enhancing their development and growth. Vitally, the parent must tolerate their child’s potential complaining and even regressing when placed in the position of self-care, but once the child can witness their own success, a new level of self-reliant achievement and esteem is reached and the child actually becomes less anxious, more mature, and even more respectful.
Self-reliance is a virtue that is additionally needed for a child to be able to care for others and is an achievement that children can additionally teach to their peers. Recognizing one’s internal strength and practicing this attribute leads to a high functioning and helpful individual. Before a child is able to help another, they need to first know how to care for themselves. This involves the function of self-reliance and self-soothing.
Many fathers never realize how important they are to the development of their children. Yet, as early as in Infancy, the father’s participation in the basic needs of a child have tremendous immediate as well as lasting effects. For example, when fathers help with holding, feeding, and soothing an infant, this experience provides the child with a sense of two, rather than a single caregiver. Here, the small child recognizes that not just one, but at least two caregivers are there to provide relief during stressful times and leads to the establishment of basic trust.
Once children enter the toddler years, the father’s presence and time with their young child helps them to better manage separation from mother in order to develop a better sense of self and ensure a more comfortable capacity to manage stress. Toddlers and pre-school children who have invested fathers, tend to be more successful tolerating change and adaptation and also tend to be more popular.
Because fathers tend to play differently with their kids – dads tend to be a bit more “physical” then moms in their quality of play, it assists both boys and girls to manage aggression better and not get as carried away when they play with their peers. This is due to the fact that most fathers will both have fun but also calm the waters when the play gets too rambunctious. This process then becomes internalized inside of the child.
By the time kids become school age, the father then helps boys and girls better understand gender difference. Here, when boys and girls become more identified with either being male or female, fathers help boys better understand what it feels like to be a boy and give them a direct reference model. As when moms provide the same for their daughters, the parent’s gender role is very helpful in helping kids feel comfortable about who they are and who they might become.
And then there is the tween and teen years where the father becomes a frequent buffer due the conflicts between mothers and both sexes as they attempt a more complete separation from moms on the road to greater autonomy. Of course he doesn’t take sides, he rather tries to better calm the waters.
Children who grow up without invested fathers sometimes develop a condition called “father hunger”. These children often experience significant problems with regulating aggression, making friends, and feeling comfortable identifying themselves as being “male”.
Taken together, the roles of fathers are vastly important in the lives of both boys and girls and the dads who enjoy this time and dedication experience the greatest joys in being a father and rejoicing in raising healthier children.
Dr. Keith Kanner
“OUCH”. The connotations associated with Tough Love are commonly negative. It feels as though the approach is “mean” and “harsh”, rather than a “wake up” call that behavior needs to change. The approach does entail “love”, but the delivery is not done in a teddy bear fashion. It is direct and to the point. The behavior must change or there will be a consequence. This approach is based on Learning Theory. That negatively reinforcing a behavior reduces the repetition of the behavior in question. A child hits their sibling and they gets a time out because a parent will not allow their child to do something “wrong”. Tough love. What is the alternative? Reinforcing “positive” behavior? Positive Parenting? Nope, the research does not support this approach. This is why. Kids are not that simple. They are not dogs. If a kid thinks they can get away with something, they will. This is reality. When a child has a limit, they are forced to change. If they get a reward for being “good”, this has nothing to do with the “bad” behavior. Rewarding successful behavior is also essential, but, it’s not enough. Parents need to be the “bad” guy sometimes and it’s a tough position to take for most parents. Why? It is much easier to gratify a child than punish them. Most parents cringe when they feel as though they have made their own child cry. “Ouch”. Guilt is one of the most common pitfalls of good parenting. But remember, no pain, no gain. Limits promote growth and inhibit regression. Most successful schools in fact utilize a Tough Love approach and are the most effective in promoting appropriate behavior and have the fewest problems with both Bullies & Mean Girls. These school also produce the most students who go to College. Why? The students know that there are Standards that must be followed or there will be a price to pay. Kids can understand this and it is helpful, not harmful.
The difference between technology and human behavior are quite different. Technology does change , but human behavior does not. People behave consistently despite the changing world around them. For example, violent television and video games are proved to cause overstimulation in most kids if they are overexposed. Overstimulation is a human condition. However, the ways that we effectively deal with it is the same now as it was 100 years ago. Limits. Tough love. Dealing with behavior is well defined with research and clinical data. Kids need limits when they break the rules. Otherwise, they become entitled and self-centered. Parents have to sometimes be the “bad guys” because they love their children. In fact , the optimal role of a parent is to help their child to function in society, and not live in some sort of “special” bubble.
Kids who act out have problems. They have not internalized rules and the essence of right versus wrong. Limits, rules, laws, and adult intervention are necessary to keep kids on track but this does not happen a lot of the time. Why ? Parents fear setting limits. They fear their kids not liking them and fear they are hurting them. No. Limits are love. Kids need parents to draw the line. They are not yet capable of self-responsibility until they reach at least late adolescence ( 17 years + ).
Even Sigmund Freud in his landmark essay Civilization and its Discontents spelled out how without rules, laws, and holding people accountable, society would not exist,and he was right on this one. Parents need to set limits. They need to be tough when their kids are not towing their own ability to self-regulate according to their age. Infantilization is treating a kid as though they cannot follow a rule. This communicates to the child that they don’t have to. When they reach Adulthood, they become selfish, non empathic, and pathetic. “YUCK”.
So parents, don’t be afraid to be “tough” in the love department when your kid acts entitled or don’t tow the line of what they are able to accomplish. It’s okay to reinforce when they do something well but it is equally or more important to stop them from doing something wrong or stupid. That is love. Looking out for the best interests of a child’s complete development is the optimal role of good parenting. But, you have to be tough sometimes to show your kids that you really do love them.
Background: Planning ahead for a successful summer is important for the mental health of the child and parent alike. Many parents wait until the very last minute to schedule activities for their child creating problems with scheduling and camps filling up quickly. Another common pitfall is either allowing the child free reign about their summer activities or, on the other hand, the parent micromanaging the activities of their child’s summer. Parents need to both ask themselves what they believe is in the best interest of their child over the summer as well as consulting with their child to determine their understood needs as well. Ideally, summertime should be a balance between scheduled activities and play for the child. Time should be scheduled for activities such as camps, academic remediation if necessary, and plenty of time for rest and play with friends. Summer is also a time to try new skills that often cannot be attempted during the school year because of too many time constraints (i.e. taking up a musical instrument). Finally, summer is also an important time for families to spend time together on vacation or merely enjoying each other’s company.
Referencing activities, the attentive parent should be the one to introduce the concept of a balanced summer to their child and then discuss options with them allowing the child some choice in the type of scheduled activities they will participate within. (i.e. the type of camp they may attend; a type of sport to learn). Children and adolescents are not capable of doing this alone. Once determined, it is important to find programs which are organized, have a low staff to camper ratio, have good reputations, and are importantly, fun.
Balancing fun camps and activities with some academic or artistic activity helps keeps the child’s mind in learning shape and often makes the transition back to school in the Fall an easier transition. Research shows that a scheduled and balanced summer also leads to higher self-esteem, greater productivity, less anxiety and opposition, and more harmony around the house. Parents following these recommendations are less anxious as well.
1. Parents: Introduce the concept of a balanced summer
2. Plan out activities in advance and put on a schedule
3. Give some choice in picking the type of activities to do
4. Find programs with good reputations and low staff/camper ratios
5. Plan academic remediation if necessary
6. Don’t forget about family time
Listen to this Blog be discussed live on the next Your Family Matters radio show on April 10th @ 9am PST . WsRadio.com. Show are also archived at that site
Considering that during the lifespan developmental transitions are inevitable, Midlife is no exception. In fact, Midlife introduces perhaps the biggest questions as to whether or not an individual has spent the first half of their lives fulfilled or not. Whereas the Adolescent transition is about weaning away from childhood fantasies and greater strives towards becoming an independent adult, Midlife is the second stage of Adult development. In early adult development, the quests have to do with financial, relational, and solidifying a secure lifestyle, Midlife is about facing the idea that life is half over. This significant difference of so-called tasks of “success “ becomes a major focus in the mind of the middle adult consciously and unconsciously along with retirement and death.
As the body and mind age, a sense of vulnerability begins to set in. Physical maturation and aging ; financial stability; interpersonal happiness; and an overview of whether or not the person has a sense of both fulfillment and enjoyment fills the mind of that middle adult. “Am I where I want to be at this stage of my life” ; “Do I feel fulfilled”.
Depending upon the particular individual, the outcome can go in a variety of directions. For some, they feel content and fulfilled and the transition to middle life is accepted and enjoyed. Within this group, the areas of finance, personal happiness, interpersonal relationships, and an acceptance of aging are met in stride and the individual continues to live their life without much change other than an acceptance of some things they cannot control such as an aging body and mind. Here, there is a preservation of their current lifestyle and some logical planning for the future, such as retirement, and a general sense of perhaps slowing down a little.
For others in entering midlife, the experience might be much different. For those who do not feel content with their life review up to this point can lead to one of two roads : eliciting active change in order to improve their well-being mentally and or physically, or in the extreme sense they go into a crisis. The midlife crisis group are the ones who struggle with either accepting the inevitable changes in midlife or who do not feel as if they can make the necessary changes to improve their present state of affairs and plan for some changes to make their lives better and perhaps the best they have ever been. Here is where haphazard actions can manifest often leading to greater conflicts and sometimes failure.
On the other hand, when a person in Midlife can logically consider their life review, they can plan some changes which could enhance their life, not complicate it. For example, in midlife when a person is not feeling financially stable or even happy with their current means of income, this might be the adaptive time to transition into some new profession or way to manage their monies. If their health is not where it should be, this could be the time to take better care of their bodies. If they do not have any friends, this could be the time to meet new people – join a club, learn a sport, or make more of an effort to reach out to people.
Changes have to do with choice and motivation once a person has determined what those changes need to be. However, by midlife, life habits have become incorporated in the person’s character or personality making transitions very difficult due to potential fears of the unknown. This is where careful planning, discussing changes with trusted friends, and taking very active steps while managing the discomfort of change becomes the quest. Keeping in mind that the outcome is designed to improve, not reduce stress and life enjoyment should be the catalyst propelling the individual to take some action to make the second half of their life better than the first.
The final stage of life is Late Adulthood. Here, the tasks are to review one’s life with pleasure, not regret, and to have a family of friends and loved ones helping to commemorate the full life that a person has lived. Dying happy and filled with love , accomplishment, and not afraid is perhaps the ultimate goal. To get there however, the Midlife individual needs to be logical, realistic, and make a plan that they dedicate themselves to follow through with realizing that with all change come challenges and managing some feelings of anxiety which are normal whenever a person makes a significant change of direction. The outcome however is worth it and lowering stress and improving the quality of one’s life has proved to extend life, not shorten it.
I usually don’t compare people to dogs, but then again, we are all animals by nature. As a dog lover of 6 ( 4 are rescue dogs ), I have 2 labs and a Golden and energy are their middle names, especially the Labs. I know quite well that if they don’t get that 15 to 20 minutes of exercise a day ( we play fetch and an interesting version of dog/person baseball ), they will likely get into trouble or dive me crazy . On the other hand. If they are given the attention to get things off their “paws”, they are loving, relatively calm ( Labs?) , and rest peacefully at night. If this sounds familiar to kids, you are dead on.
The plethora of studies emphasizing the beneficial effects of regular exercise for children far exceed the amount of space for this week’s column. I will instead suffice it to say, exercise is better than any magic pill for both the physical and emotional sides of life. What’s nice is that the effects are immediate and long lasting if they are fun and enjoyable.
But for most kids, exercise is boring unless they are really into sports. This lasts into the teenage years when some then decide to pay attention to their bodies and decide to get into shape or are forced to by that high school coach The motivation here for most of the teens is to attract the opposite sex and become stronger than the concept of exercise as a form of self-therapy and self-care. That comes into play for many adults. The rest of the teens and adults alike tend to be sedentary and often overweight and depressed.
Now, getting kids to exercise when they don’t want to is a common parental battle often compared to bring a horse to water. On this one, I think we pick this battle for it has to do with both the physical and mental health of our kids. As a loving parent, we owe them a long and healthy life. So, how do we win this one? It’s actually pretty easy especially if you have dogs.
1. Exercise yourself as an example to your kids. Modeling behavior as a parent carries a lot of weight. Most kids identify with their parents – both the good and not good stuff – Exercise and fitness is obviously a good one.
2. Exercise with your kids on a daily basis. I personally love this one. My kids and I do a variety of challenges daily. Running time trials ; swimming; tennis; or we make up games like “tickle monster”. We engage in one of these for 20 minutes a day and we all feel and act better towards one another.
3. Reward the behavior. Make the outcome a celebration – make a healthy smoothie together. Kids love to win by the way and parents need to be okay with losing.
4. Take turns making up sport or activity games. The rules might get a little confusing and change frequently, but the idea is that everyone plays and gets the benefits of exercise. Consider NOT keeping score to reduce competition unless they are all against you make a big deal if they beat you.
I officially recommend adding running to your parent list of “things to do with my kids everyday”, and watch the benefits before your eyes. Stay healthy.
Dr. Keith Kanner
Anchor/Host Your Family Matters
Mental Health Expert/Contributor
NBC California Nonstop