The Godzilla Mayhem of Kids, Parents, and Family Screen Time. Tokyo Is Torched.

Mostly at my new blogs I post shorter stuff, but for some reason I posted a longer piece regarding the use of what increasingly seem like our overlords — our electronic devices. Very much for parents, but anyone struggling with judicious use of technology may find something of interest. Links to a number of recent articles and some books, too. There’s also a cute picture. You can find it here: https://laeastsiderdepressed.wordpress.com/2015/07/20/the-godzilla-mayhem-of-kids-parents-and-family-screen-time-tokyo-is-torched/

Advertisements

Strict, Lax, or Flexible Parenting Styles?

4372508744_98ae356e14_z
photo by abhisek sarda (creative commons)


Popular, popular, popular.
For some reason, this is consistently the most popular post on this blog.  I guess there are a lot of parents out there with questions. Perhaps it’s that parents, lacking a clear sense of what is the “right” way to parent, turn to books. Unfortunately parenting books so often tell you that there is only one way to parent — their way. So this kicks up a lot of anxiety. The truth is parents need to parent in the way that fits the best for their family, without heading toward the extremes. If you grew up in a lax household, you’re not likely to have much luck with being strict — you might — on the other hand, be able to set some boundaries…

With light edits, this is what was posted in July 2007 and May 2008.

(In terms of popularity the post on Bessel Van der Kolk and trauma comes a close second. And I would have thought the post on how to deal with a 3-year-old’s tantrum would have generated more interest.)

Strict, lax, and flexible.
In psychology, we say authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative. These terms based on the research of Baumrind (1971). Sharon Jablon, Ph.D., who runs a test prep workshop for the national licensing exam in psychology (EPPP), has a nice summary of these parenting styles, which I’m going to quote from:

Authoritarian parents expect unquestioned obedience, are demanding, controlling, threatening and punishing. [They] tend to be more detached and less warm than other parents. Children exposed to this parenting style are frequently moody, irritable, discontented, withdrawn, distrustful, and aggressive and tend to have more behavior disorders. …This parenting style was termed “conflicted-irritable” and led to children who were also termed “conflicted-irritable”.

Permissive parents value self-expression and self-regulation. [They] are either permissive-indifferent or permissive indulgent.

a) Permissive-indifferent parents set few limits, provide little monitoring, and are generally detached and uninvolved. Their children have poor self-control, are demanding, minimally compliant, and have poor interpersonal skills. [Apparently, Baumrind didn’t have a label for this sub-type of permissive parenting.]

b) Permissive-indulgent parents are loving and emotionally available, yet set few limits, demands or controls. Their children tend to be impulsive, immature, and out of control. …The permissive-indulgent parenting style was termed “impulsive” and led to children who were termed “impulsive-aggressive”.

Authoritative parents (not authoritarian) are caring and emotionally available, yet firm, fair, and reasonable. They set appropriate limits, and provide structure and reasonable expectations. Children with authoritative parents are usually competent, confident, independent, cooperative, and at ease in social situations. …This parenting style was termed “energetic-friendly” and led to children who were termed “energetic-friendly-self-reliant”.

What have you observed?
Safe to say, you have observed or participated in parenting that resembles one of these categories more than the others. Reflect upon your own upbringing. Does one of these fit? Do the outcomes of these parenting styles described fit with your own experience?

Striving to be the parent you want to be.
If you are a parent, do you fall under one of the categories? Most of us would prefer to be to be in the “authoritative” camp. But most of us tend to veer into one of the other styles, if left to our own devices. In other words, some of us struggle with being lax, while others struggle with being strict. This has to do with how we were raised. By default, we raise our kids how we were raised; or, quite often, we raise our kids in reaction to how we were raised. Many of us struggle with being inconsistent, one of the most difficult battles of parenting.

Just another set of labels.
Remember, these are just labels. People love to categorize the world and say, “There, that’s how it is.” When we do this we blind ourselves to other possibilities. Reality is usually much more complicated. Perhaps this scheme does not fit with your own experience. As with any system of thought, take it with a grain of salt. These things have their day, are useful for a time, are often replaced by more useful ways of thinking. Take what you can use. If you’re interested in reading more about this scheme, click here.

How to Manage a Tantrum

Some further thoughts. I have some further thoughts since this post ran last year.

First, commenting on your child’s good behavior is also reinforcing. This probably applies more to older children, but is worth mentioning. In acknowledging a tantrum you walk a fine line — you don’t want it to become a way for the child to receive attention.

Second, more importantly, you should have a zero-tolerance policy to any disrespectful statements directed at a parent. It’s one thing to acknowledge feelings, another to let a child walk all over you. In fact, this is terribly important. You run the risk of creating a real monster if you let your child express their anger or frustration in terms that are insulting to you, the parent. And the relationship with yourchild you have at 3 is the one you will have at 13. Keep that in mind!

Here’s the original post:

My child has lost it. I’m about to lose it.
This is related to how to praise a child. Here’s a typical scenario: The child, being a 3-and-a-half-year old is extremely frustrated because it can’t have what it wants. Your last nerve was worn out an hour ago, and truth be told, you are starting to dislike your little darling. You are tempted to raise your voice. You are tempted to give the kid a time-out. You are tempted to tap the kid on the side of the head. So what should you do at this point?

A common parenting dilemma.
Some would say that talking to the child at this point is giving the child attention for having a tantrum and this is bad. I disagree, partially. It is true, you don’t want to reinforce bad behavior. But let’s be clear on two points. First, a tantrum at 3-and-a-half is not bad behavior. It is age-appropriate behavior. Nevertheless, you don’t want to encourage the tantrum. Nor do you want to reinforce it with rewards. Second, and more important, you do want to show the child that you understand he is frustrated, or whatever the experience he is having.

But that sounds like a contradiction!
It is, in a way. Here’s what you do. Remembering that you are the adult and the other person is 3-and-a-half, you gather together all the self-composure you can. You get down to his level, so that you are speaking eye-to-eye (that’s important). You let the child know, in a calm voice, that you understand what he is going through: “I’m sorry little Johnny, I can see that this is very hard. I know you really want to eat ice cream right now, but we’re not going to do that today.” You make sure that the child heard you, and you set a limit. You comfort the child a little. You have shown the child two important things: that you are sympathetic to his frustration, and that you are not going to give in to a tantrum. For a child being heard is very important. Being the boss is not. Being in control of situations is actually disturbing for children. It makes them test even more to find out what the limits are.

The tantrum continues.
If the child continues with the meltdown. Now, in the calmest, non-punitive voice you can manage (this takes practice!) you tell the child, “Johnny, I see that this is very hard for you, but if you are going to keep screaming and hitting then you are going to have to have a time-out. Do you understand?” The child may calm down. More likely he will continue full blast with the ear-splitting behavior. Then you gently take the child to its room and close the door. You do this in a very matter-of-fact manner.

Note: Below age 3 or so, a time-out is probably not a good idea. Really kids just cannot self-regulate that young. From age 3 up, an appropriate length of time is a roughly a minute per year of age. So for a three-year-old: three minutes. For a four-year-old: four minutes. And so on.

But what if I’m in public?
Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It is not easy to have people staring at you, as if you have just done something horrendous to your child — and people will stare. Mostly because it is difficult for anyone to hear a child screaming. Possibly because, sadly, people will take any chance they can to feel superior. So, back to the kid. You need to find a consequence for the child that fits the outburst. You might try telling the child that if they don’t stop making this noise that we are going to have to: a) go sit in the car until he’s done, or perhaps b) not visit his friend later in the day, or even c) go straight home. You do not want to overreact. You want to show the child that you are in control, and that the child’s choice has an impact on the situation.

It all succeeds or fails on one critical point.
This cannot be overemphasized. You absolutely must follow up with any consequence you have stated. So from the outset, have it clear in your mind that you are ready to carry out the the consequence. Even if it is inconvenient. Even if it means a change in plans. Even if it makes you feel bad. Otherwise you will not be taken seriously. In fact, the child will have taken one step toward being in charge. Not only is this important because of the message it sends: when mommy or daddy says they are going to do something then they do it. That’s what makes it a limit.

Setting limits, establishing authority.
But also, every time a child sees that he can get away with something it means you will make it much, much harder to establish a limit in the future. Roughly speaking, if a tantrum is reinforced once, it’s going to take roughly 10-15 more tantrums before you’ve re-established authority. Think about that very carefully before you give in to your child. Sometimes it is convenient to give in. Especially when people are staring. But just stop yourself and really think — do I want to go through this ten more times?? In a moment of weakness, this may give you strength.

In summary.
Setting limits with a child can be very difficult. Perhaps your parents didn’t set firm limits? Perhaps there were no limits. Perhaps your parents were too controlling. Nobody wants to repeat the mistakes of their parents. But we need to be able to separate our experience from the experience of our child. We are not our parents. Our child is not us. Here’s a brief recap regarding how to deal with tantrums:

  1. At eye-level, acknowledge the child.
  2. Use a calm voice. This says, “I’m in control.”
  3. Offer a consequence if the behavior continues. Take a deep breath and use a calm voice.
  4. If necessary follow through with the consequence. You’ll be saving yourself a lot of energy in the long run.
  5. If the child is able to calm himself down, then you might even praise him for doing such a good job. It is no small accomplishment for young children to learn to self-regulate difficult emotions.

A final word of caution.
There is no cookie-cutter approach to parenting. You will find that what works for one child does not work for another, even within a family. You will have to find out what works for each child, and it will take time. You will also have to experiment to learn what is comfortable for you as a parent. Each parent, even within a family, may have different abilities to stay calm, acknowledge the child, deliver consequences. Parents do not develop bottomless patience over night. It takes practice. Don’t be too hard on yourself if things go wrong. Simply take a look at what went wrong, and what you can learn from the situation. In this way, we learn not to make the same mistakes over and over.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.

2.5 Million American Children on Atypical Antipsychotics?

Those darn kids.

More and more, children that are unmanageable, disagreeable, or just plain moody are getting diagnosed with bipolar disorder or ADHD. What do I hear from more and more clinicians on this issue? Let’s take a look at the parenting. Are the parents willing to take charge of their children? Are they setting limits? A lot of things cause kids to act out, and they might be amenable to something less than antipsychotic medication.

I got wind of this article from Furious Seasons who got it from the Guardian UK. “The chief symptoms are mood swings, which, however are common in children of any age”(!) Here are some quotes from the Guardian:

“Antipsychotic drugs for children have taken off in the US on the back of a willingness to diagnose those with behavioural problems as having manic depression. Even children barely out of babyhood are getting a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the modern term for the condition.

“The chief symptoms are mood swings, which, however, are common in children of any age.

“David Healy, an expert on bipolar disorder, said there were now 2.5 million American children on antipsychotics. However, the UK guidelines on the disorder, from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, urge caution.”

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.

Tantrum: How to Deal with My Child

451090111_9afd98e135_zphoto by jennifer woodward maderazo (creative commons)

My child has lost it. I’m about to lose it.
This is related to how to praise a child. Here’s a typical scenario: The child, being a 3-and-a-half-year old is extremely frustrated because it can’t have what it wants. Your last nerve was worn out an hour ago, and truth be told, you are starting to dislike your little darling. You are tempted to raise your voice. You are tempted to give the kid a time-out. You are tempted to tap the kid on the side of the head. So what should you do at this point?

A common parenting dilemma.
Some would say that talking to the child at this point is giving the child attention for having a tantrum and this is bad. I disagree, partially. It is true, you don’t want to reinforce bad behavior. But let’s be clear on two points. First, a tantrum at 3-and-a-half is not bad behavior. It is age-appropriate behavior. Nevertheless, you don’t want to encourage the tantrum. Nor do you want to reinforce it with rewards. Second, and more important, you do want to show the child that you understand he is frustrated, or whatever the experience he is having.

But that sounds like a contradiction!
It is, in a way. Here’s what you do. Remembering that you are the adult and the other person is 3-and-a-half, you gather together all the self-composure you can. You get down to his level, so that you are speaking eye-to-eye (that’s important). You let the child know, in a calm voice, that you understand what he is going through: “I’m sorry little Johnny, I can see that this is very hard. I know you really want to eat ice cream right now, but we’re not going to do that today.” You make sure that the child heard you, and you set a limit. You comfort the child a little. You have shown the child two important things: that you are sympathetic to his frustration, and that you are not going to give in to a tantrum. For a child being heard is very important. Being the boss is not. Being in control of situations is actually disturbing for children. It makes them test even more to find out what the limits are.

The tantrum continues.
If the child continues with the meltdown. Now, in the calmest, non-punitive voice you can manage (this takes practice!) you tell the child, “Johnny, I see that this is very hard for you, but if you are going to keep screaming and hitting then you are going to have to have a time-out. Do you understand?” The child may calm down. More likely he will continue full blast with the ear-splitting behavior. Then you gently take the child to its room and close the door. You do this in a very matter-of-fact manner.

Note: Below age 3 or so, a time-out is probably not a good idea. Really kids just cannot self-regulate that young. From age 3 up, an appropriate length of time is a roughly a minute per year of age. So for a three-year-old: three minutes. For a four-year-old: four minutes. And so on.

But what if I’m in public?
Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It is not easy to have people staring at you, as if you have just done something horrendous to your child — and people will stare. Mostly because it is difficult for anyone to hear a child screaming. Possibly because, sadly, people will take any chance they can to feel superior. So, back to the kid. You need to find a consequence for the child that fits the outburst. You might try telling the child that if they don’t stop making this noise that we are going to have to: a) go sit in the car until he’s done, or perhaps b) not visit his friend later in the day, or even c) go straight home. You do not want to overreact. You want to show the child that you are in control, and that the child’s choice has an impact on the situation.

It all succeeds or fails on one critical point.
This cannot be overemphasized. You absolutely must follow up with any consequence you have stated. So from the outset, have it clear in your mind that you are ready to carry out the the consequence. Even if it is inconvenient. Even if it means a change in plans. Even if it makes you feel bad. Otherwise you will not be taken seriously. In fact, the child will have taken one step toward being in charge. Not only is this important because of the message it sends: when mommy or daddy says they are going to do something then they do it. That’s what makes it a limit.

Setting limits, establishing authority.
But also, every time a child sees that he can get away with something it means you will make it much, much harder to establish a limit in the future. Roughly speaking, if a tantrum is reinforced once, it’s going to take roughly 10-15 more tantrums before you’ve re-established authority. Think about that very carefully before you give in to your child. Sometimes it is convenient to give in. Especially when people are staring. But just stop yourself and really think — do I want to go through this ten more times?? In a moment of weakness, this may give you strength.

In summary.
Setting limits with a child can be very difficult. Perhaps your parents didn’t set firm limits? Perhaps there were no limits. Perhaps your parents were too controlling. Nobody wants to repeat the mistakes of their parents. But we need to be able to separate our experience from the experience of our child. We are not our parents. Our child is not us. Here’s a brief recap regarding how to deal with tantrums:

  1. At eye-level, acknowledge the child.
  2. Use a calm voice. This says, “I’m in control.”
  3. Offer a consequence if the behavior continues. Take a deep breath and use a calm voice.
  4. If necessary follow through with the consequence. You’ll be saving yourself a lot of energy in the long run.
  5. If the child is able to calm himself down, then you might even praise him for doing such a good job. It is no small accomplishment for young children to learn to self-regulate difficult emotions.

A final word of caution.
There is no cookie-cutter approach to parenting. You will find that what works for one child does not work for another, even within a family. You will have to find out what works for each child, and it will take time. You will also have to experiment to learn what is comfortable for you as a parent. Each parent, even within a family, may have different abilities to stay calm, acknowledge the child, deliver consequences. Parents do not develop bottomless patience over night. It takes practice. Don’t be too hard on yourself if things go wrong. Simply take a look at what went wrong, and what you can learn from the situation. In this way, we learn not to make the same mistakes over and over.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.

Parenting Books: Hazards and Fortunes

The hazards of parenting books.
If you’ve ever sat down in your local bookstore and started reading parenting books, you find that there’s one for just about every point of view. If you are looking for definitive answers you will be disappointed and confused. Authors take stances as varied as “spare the rod, spoil the child” (spank when appropriate) to advocating “family bed” (where parents and kids share a bed). So you can buy a book that appeals to you, go home feeling that your style of parenting is right, will result in successful children, admission to ivy league schools, or, for the less ambitious — well adjusted children.

Why so many parenting books?
You might also notice that there are a lot of these books. The reason? One reason is that people are unsure how to parent. New parents are hungry for advice. Somewhere along the way in our fast-paced, mobile culture, some basics of parenting stopped being held down from generation to generation. Many parents suffered through inadequate parenting themselves, and despite the best intentions, simply don’t know what good parenting is. As a result, new parents are vulnerable to claims that “this is the correct way to raise your child, help her sleep through the night, get her to eat” — whatever the claim may be.

There’s gold in them books — the fortunes.
Another reason is that there are so many of these books — they are big sellers. Publishers are not overly concerned about whether the parenting approaches are valid or not — they are interested in selling books. So marketing, rather than the well being of children, takes a front-and-center role in the flood of information that parents confront. As I’ve said before, parenting books are a part of the self-help market, and that’s a very lucrative market.

Who knows your child?
In the end, none of these authors knows your child, nor do they know you. If you are an anxious new parent having a difficult time with your child, you are not alone. Often, your pediatrician will be able to help you with your questions. If your child seems to be having a behavioral problem, then how you approach the problem needs to be tailored to both you and your child.

For instance, if you are letting your child cry himself to sleep, but find it very anxiety provoking to do so, then that is probably the wrong approach for your family. Your child will pick up on that anxiety. New parents are generally anxious enough as it is. Difficult emotional and behavioral problems can become entrenched, creating a tremendous amount of anxiety for a family. And anxiety is contagious — more on that another time.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.

Parenting: Heading Off the Tantrum

3766009204_8721a00dde_zphoto by mindaugas danys (creative commons)

Here are two simple tactics for heading off tantrums — giving choices and verbally preparing the child — both are remarkably effective. You give the child a choice. What the choices are is much less important than the fact of offering choices. For example:

  • Would you like to clean your room or would you like to take a nap now?
  • Do you want to finish your dinner and have some ice cream, or are you ready to brush teeth?

As you can see, often the questions can be quite leading, and the child will have no problem making the choice. In offering a choice the child feels a sense of some control and agency. And in this first move toward independence (the second being adolescence) having a sense of agency, the ability to do what you want, is very important. Offering choices also conveys respect. I’ve seen offering choices in action, and it is very effective. Try it sometime. You prepare the child. If you know that the child is not going to like doing something, then give the kid a “heads up.” For instance, if you’re going to a dental appointment, let the child know a day or two in advance. If you forget, even an hour before is helpful. And keep reminding the child.

You know we’re going to the dentist tomorrow. I don’t like the dentist. Why’s that? It’s scary. I know it’s scary. I’ll be there with you. I know you don’t like going to the dentist that much, but we’re going to go tomorrow.

The child may react positively or negatively, either way you’ll have a chance to discuss it with her. You will also be showing the child respect. You are not going to ambush her with a trip to the dentist. Imagine if someone told you out of nowhere, “I’m taking you to the dentist.” Or, worse yet, imagine if someone took you for a drive and then pulled into the dentist’s parking lot. How would you feel? Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.