Thursday, July 29, 2010

Power Struggles and Choices

Times have changed since the “Children should be seen and not heard” days. Now, parents must find ways to empower their children without sacrificing their own authority. Any parent knows that this is not an easy thing to do. Power struggles happen when the parent wants to be in total control and the child wants to be in control, too. Unfortunately, this can start around the age of 18 months and doesn’t end until, well . . . the child leaves the nest!

The most common issues that result in power struggles with young children include, taking baths and going to bed. For older children we can add doing homework and chores. For teens and adolescents, curfew is a big issue. However, if this is your only issue with a teen, consider yourself lucky.

Having raised three children, I remember bedtime struggles when they were toddlers. Little did I know they were just warming up for that adorable adolescent stage when not only did they resist going to bed at a decent time, but they insisted on staying up until two in the morning on the cell phone or texting friends.

One way to avoid power struggles is to give your child positive choices. Offering choices can give your child a little power or control over a few things in his or her life. This doesn’t mean you let your child “run the show” or make all the decisions. It means you allow your child to make a choice between two behaviors and then follow through with that choice. It can sound like this, “You can either turn the cell phone off right now, or lose it for a week. Your choice.”

The choice for a young child could be, “You can pick up your books or your trucks first, which one can you do faster?” A choice for a school-age child sounds like this, “You can either wash the dishes or dry them. Which one do you want to do?”

Be sure to adjust the number and types of choices to fit the age of your child. Choices allow children to feel more in control or his or her world and can help eliminate many (but not all) negative power struggles.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Parental Depression

The challenges of family life can be trying and a bit overwhelming at times. Usually a good night’s sleep and a bright morning will restore your spirits. But if you go from occasionally feeling “down,” to persistent feelings of irritability, guilt and sadness, you may be suffering from depression.

Child Trends Databank tells us that both dads and moms may experience depression, but women are more likely to experience this than men. While depression strikes those in all income levels, lower socioeconomic classes suffer from depression more frequently; eighteen percent of parents in households receiving welfare showed signs of depression, as compared to 4 percent of parents not on welfare.

Education also makes a difference. Parents who have not graduated from high school are much more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression than parents with higher levels of education (9 percent versus less than 5 percent).

It’s important to deal with depression as it can tear at the very fiber of family life. The young children of depressed fathers are more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems. Depression can also cloud thinking and judgment. Depressed mothers tend to not take normal safety precautions that they ordinarily would not miss, such as insisting that the child sit in a car safety seat.

The good news is that depression can be treated successfully. If you are a depressed parent, talk to a doctor about your feelings of depression and discuss treatment methods, for you and for your family’s sake.

Parental Signs of Depression, Child Trends database
Ahluwalia, S.K., McGroder, S.M., Zaslow, M., and Hair, E.C. (2001). Symptoms of depression among welfare recipients: A concern for two generations. Child Trends Research Brief, December 2001. Child Trends: Washington, D.C. Available at:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Responding to Children's Fears

As new parents, most moms and dads dream about their beautiful, healthy babies growing to become happy, well-adjusted human beings. What they don't expect are the challenges that some children may encounter, including something as common as fear. If you have ever had to deal with a fearful child, you know this can be difficult to deal with.

What factors contribute to children’s early fears? According to the North Dakota State University Extension faculty, two key factors are the child’s maturity level and emotional susceptibility. As a child grows, different fears may be noticed at different times. For example, fear of strangers declines as a fear of monsters rises. A two-year-old may fear the dark, a bath, loud noises, animals or separation. Four-year-olds may add the fear of death, while a school-aged child’s number one fear is that of losing a parent.

Researchers also distinguish between “fluid” and “fixed” fears. A fluid fear is one that comes and goes. Fluid fears are usually considered normal. It may be a fear that changes from week to week or persists for a limited period and begins to fade away. A fixed fear is one that lingers or intensifies. Fixed fears may require a lot of patience to work through.

Parents can help children understand fear by validating the child’s feelings and openly discussing their fears. Set the tone with honesty and allow the child to express his or her feelings. Help children to realize that some fears are real and sensible such as fear of heights or dark streets. Others just appear real. Help them understand the difference between real and fantasy with patience, gentleness and open communication.

Author and researcher Laura Berk (Development through the Lifespan, 3rd Edition, 2004 Boston: Allyn & Bacon) suggests that to help a child manage fear parents should reduce the child’s exposure to frightening stories in books and television until the child is best able to distinguish appearance from reality.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Family Meal Time

In a recent book entitled The Surprising Power of Family Meals, author Miriam Weinstein asks this question: “What if I told you that there was a magic bullet - something that would improve the quality of your daily life, your children’s chances of success in the world, (and) your family’s health . . . something that is inexpensive, simple to produce, and within the reach of pretty much everyone?”

That magic bullet is the family meal. According to research, eating together as a family on a regular basis has some surprising effects. When sharing a meal together, family bonds become stronger, children are better adjusted, family members eat more nutritional meals, they are less likely to be overweight, and they are less likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs.

One benefit of eating meals together is the affect on strengthening family bonds. Family meals provides a daily time for the whole family to be together. For younger children, having routine family meals can provide a sense of security and a feeling of belonging in the family.

Older children and teenagers, too, prefer eating together as a family. In a recent Columbia University study, 84% of teenagers said they preferred to have dinner with their families. Research also shows that youth who have regular family meals report getting better grades in school, are more motivated at school, and get along better with others.

Your family is probably like all others – you’re busy! So how can you make time for family meals? Take a pledge to eat five meals a week, breakfast, lunch or dinner, as a family for five weeks. After five weeks it will become a family tradition. Let me know if your family takes the pledge and how you made time for the family meal.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Debates Over Spanking

Many parents spank their children as a way to teach right and wrong and wonder whether this is best for their children. Likewise, among child development researchers there has been a lot of debate about whether physical punishment is the best way to discipline a child.

Spanking does produce immediate results - it generally stops the child’s misbehavior – at least in the short term. Spanking may not always be harmful unless it is excessive. Some professionals even suggest some guidelines for calm, controlled ways of spanking that may effectively stop misbehavior (Baumrind, 1996).

Other studies show that spanking may work in the short run, but over time, the parent may have to spank harder and longer to get the child to stop misbehaving, and the child may actually misbehave more (Grogan-Kaylor, 2004).

In addition, children who are spanked may not learn how to control themselves based on choices about right and wrong. And sadly, when parents spank out of anger, physical punishment may escalate and injure the child (Gershoff, 2002).

Parents can choose from many ways of disciplining and guiding their child, such as time-outs, or taking away privileges. Parents can also use reasoning; they can explain to the child what they did wrong and what they could do differently. They can set a good example by showing the child how to behave appropriately. Most of all, parents can create a positive climate in the home by praising and encouraging good behavior and giving a child attention and love. If you are having difficulty with your child’s behavior, seek professional help for finding the best way to guide your growing child.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nurturing Mothers

Did you grow up in a warm and nurturing home? Did your parents listen, show they cared, and talk things over with you, teach you new things, and respect you? Recent research shows that positive parenting behaviors can be passed down from one generation to the next.

According to an international team of researchers reporting in the Journal of Child Development, mothers who were raised in positive, nurturing homes during childhood and adolescence are more likely to raise their own children in warm, sensitive, and stimulating ways.

Those who were raised in a low-authoritarian household as preschoolers, and in low-conflict homes during middle childhood, and who had trusting and close relationships with their parents during the teen years, were more likely to engage in such positive parenting with their own young children.

This study was based on interviews and observations of more than 200 New Zealanders followed over 20 years, beginning during childhood - and as participants in the study became parents themselves.

The way we were parented shapes our parenting style. Parent education for all new parents, where they learn to create a positive environment for their children, can start a chain reaction that lasts across many generations.

Looking for a parenting class? Check out my six-hour class at:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Child Care Safety

Parents who both work outside the home and working single parents have a difficult decision – how to care for their young children while they are at work. I know I agonized over day care decisions for my children when they were young. Parents often worry about their child’s safety as they evaluate various childcare options.

New research offers a comparison of the risks of injury and death in different childcare settings. According to a study published in the American Sociological Review, childcare centers might be safer than private homes. Researchers caution that overall, childcare is “quite safe,” and over all is even safer than care within children’s own families (Wrigley & Dreby, 2005).

Researchers from the City University of New York found that between 1989 and 2003, fatalities were seven times more likely to occur in family day care than in center care. Most deaths in private homes involved babies who died from being shaken “by a caregiver stressed by constant crying.” The workplace itself may be a crucial difference – family day care providers have less support from other adults who can step in to help or monitor their work, may have less training, and are more isolated than center providers. These findings provide more support for the importance of the providers’ training, licensing and support to ensure that children are safe.

Certainly, parents need to take a number of factors into account when making their decision about child care, such as the location of care, cost and group size. No one type of care is uniformly ‘better’ than another for all families. High quality family day care can provide a warm and responsive environment, especially for infants.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Children's Bad Habits

The five most common habits that children develop (and parents complain about) are nail biting, thumb sucking, hair twirling, breath holding, and yes, nose picking. Did that surprise any of you? Probably not! As a parent of three, I could probably add a few more unpleasant childhood habits to this list! Most parents get annoyed or worry about their children's bad habits. However, you may be relieved to know that, in most cases, a habit is just a phase in the normal development process and no cause for alarm.

According to Pediatric psychologist Dr. Tim Wysocki, a habit is a strong behavior pattern that is repeated over and over, and the child displaying the behavior usually lacks awareness of the habit. One of the most common childhood habits is nail biting or picking at the fingernails. Some studies estimate that 40% of children between the ages of 5 and 18 chew on one or more nails.

What causes bad habits? Experts admit they’re not always sure what causes a habit, but that it is a learned behavior that usually provides a positive outcome for the child. Habits may develop as entertainment for a bored child, or more commonly, as a coping mechanism to soothe an anxious one. Other habits, such as thumb sucking, may be remnants of infancy and may linger into childhood because of its positive associations. Still other children will engage in habits to attract attention or as an attempt to manipulate their parents.

The good news is that most habits disappear. Most habits are harmless, but if a habit affects your child’s physical or social functioning or persists even after you have calmly tried to eliminate it, the behavior may have a more serious emotional or physical cause. In these situations, you may want to consult your child’s doctor or a mental health professional.

Source: Bad Habits/Annoying Behavior, University of Michigan Health System,

Monday, July 19, 2010

Teen's Developmental Tasks

As children enter into their teen years, they begin a physical and emotional journey that will bring them into adulthood. Parents can play an important role in helping teens establish who they are.

Teenagers begin to interact with each other in more adult ways as they mature. Experts at the University of Florida say this is linked to physical development, and that peer groups may change during the teen years as they grow at different rates. While their bodies are changing, teens also are learning to accept their appearance and not feel pressured into the perfect body image.

Sexual maturity also occurs during the teen years. Teens begin to define what it means to be male or female, though most conform to society’s definitions of gender. UF researchers say teens often confuse sexual feelings with intimacy, and do not get into long-term relationships until later years.

Another teen process many of us are familiar with is establishing independence from parents and other adults. During these years, teens learn to rely on themselves. Although many Americans do not gain economic independence until after long schooling, it’s during the teen years that they begin to consider careers and financial independence.

Teens also begin to determine their own values and beliefs, although research shows these are usually based on their parents’ values and beliefs. They also begin to work towards socially responsible behavior, such as employment or marriage. So while parents may feel overwhelmed by the tide of what feels like counter assaults on what they’ve taught their children, it’s important to remember, they still do have tremendous influence.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Being a Nurturing Parent

In the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day lives, juggling our families, work, chores, finances, homework and car pools can feel overwhelming at time. As parents, managing the varying needs of our children can also become challenging. However, putting effort and energy of healthy, nurturing and frequent interactions with your children will provide rewards that last a lifetime.

According to the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect, you can strengthen your relationship with your children by making certain your children know you love them, even when they do something wrong. Also, offer your children encouragement and praise for the skills they are developing. Spend time with your children and learn to listen to them. Use nonphysical options for discipline, such as using “time-out” or something as simple as redirecting their attention.

Additionally, provide your children with access to people and activities that help them develop healthy and supportive relationships. For example, take your children to museums, libraries, or sporting events. Take advantage of youth enrichment programs and religious or youth groups in your community. And be sure to communicate with your children’s teachers, coaches and child care providers.

Finally, when you need help, ask for it. Parenting can be difficult at times. Seek respite care, parenting classes, counseling or an understanding friend or relative for support when your stress may be affecting the way you treat your child, so you can also reap the rewards of parenting a healthy and happy child.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Facts on Children's Lying

Everyone remembers the story of Pinocchio, the little wooden boy and his “conscience” Jiminy Cricket. Of course, Pinocchio had a problem with lying, as every time he did, his nose would grow. As parents, we don’t have the benefit of such evidence when our children lie.

In a recent study of over one thousand kindergarteners followed over three years (Gervais et al., 2000) teachers reported that 71% to 83% of children do not lie. Mothers, however, showed less trust in their children as only 33% to 37% reported that their children rarely lie. Teachers did agree with mothers in one area - that boys were more likely than girls to lie frequently.

Some children will lie only on occasion in tempting situations and research findings support that occasional lying among children is normal. However, some children will lie frequently, usually in a given setting such as school. The problem with frequent lying in children, as stated by experts (Gervais et al., 2000; Stott, 2004), is that over time, with experience and cognitive developmental gains, they perfect their skills of deception with adults.

The researchers reported that children perceived to lie regularly at age 7 were also likely to lie consistently at age 8. And children who lied on a continual basis were more likely to act disruptively at home and at school. So parents need not panic if you catch your child in an occasional lie, but children’s lying on a constant basis is cause for concern and calls for intervention.

Gervais, J., Tremblay, R.E., Desmarais-Gervais, L., & Vitaro, F. (2000). Children’s persistent lying, gender differences, and disruptive behaviours: A longitudinal perspective. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 241, 213-221.
Stott, F. (2004). The surprising truth about why children lie. Scholastic Parent & Child 68-70.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Getting Along With Your Teenager

Have you ever felt that every time you talk to your teenager it turns into an argument? Do you think your teenagers spend all their time with friends you don’t approve of and that they care more about their friends that their family? Do you ever wonder why your teen is being so difficult? I heard a friend recently explain that she was certain an alien came down and had taken her 13-year-old daughter’s brain and replaced it with an alien form.

These are common complaints of parents of teenagers. They feel as though the young child, whose world once revolved around them, has vanished and in his or her place an indifferent, often irritable teen now exists. These parents don’t understand how a loving child can change so drastically.

Relax! First of all, most parents deal with this. Second, as your children enter their teens, their perception of the world around them is no longer limited to the one once explained by you. Their brain is now capable of complex reasoning and things that once went unquestioned now must be decided upon for themselves. Your children are also exploring belief systems and ideologies different from what they were raised on. This may explain why they hang around with peers whom you don’t approve of as well as why they challenge your decision a great deal more often than before.

Teens are beginning to function as individuals. The heated arguments that are generated are either an effort to grasp what you believe or gain some independence. This tension will die down as they grow older and more confident in who they are and what they believe. Remember, though it may seem that your child couldn’t care less about your opinion (you know the “rolling eyes” routine?) most teens say that their parents are still the deciding factor in what they believe and who they will eventually become.

Think of all the adults you know that say they swore they would never be like their parents . . . only to become parents and find themselves being just like their parents. Think about it!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Talking to Children about Failure

Most people grow up with the idea that failure is a major problem in their lives and they will go to great lengths to avoid it. Often this includes avoiding many activities they would truly enjoy just because they are not comfortable with the risk of failure.

Because children often tend to compare themselves to peers, they sometimes come home from school or extracurricular activities feeling a sense of failure. Your child may also be afraid of your reaction as well. Negative reactions from parents do not help a child learn to accept failure or take risks. Trying to soften the blow and make excuses can be confusing to children. The child is trying to sort out the incident and needs support, guidance and encouragement.

The best reaction to a child who has experienced failure is for the parent to provide support and encouragement. While failure should be viewed as an unavoidable learning experience, your child may view failure as letting you down or as proof that he or she will never succeed. Failure and setbacks are opportunities to learn and successful people try to evaluate the outcome rather than focus on the win or loss. Affirm your child’s feelings and assure him that it’s OK to make mistakes. Ask your child: “What can you do differently next time?” or “Would you like me to help you practice?” Remind them that failure and mistakes are a part of life – taking a chance, even if we fail, is a powerful learning experience.

Source: Gebeke, Deb, Talking to Children about Failure, (1994) North Dakota State University, NDSU Extension Service

Monday, July 12, 2010

Teens do Hear Prevention Messages

If you’ve ever watched a Charlie Brown cartoon, perhaps you noticed that every time the mother is talking, her words are represented as a nebulous “wah wah wah wah wah.” When my family wants to let me know they’re not taking my conversation seriously they mimic Charlie’s mom. I often think that’s what they hear when I talk to them about drugs and alcohol. But, I have new hope that my effort is worthwhile!

Recently released data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that youth who reported talking to at least one parent about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol or drug use in the past year were significantly less likely to report binge drinking in the past month. Teens were also asked about illicit drug use, and the survey found that 10 percent of teens who talked to a parent about the dangers of drug use still used drugs in the past month, while 13 percent who did not talk to a parent used drugs. When we’re talking about 3 percent of 14.6 million children, this translates into about a half million children!

So, the next time you feel like your children are hearing “wah, wah, wah, wah, wah…” think again! Your conversation about the dangers of alcohol and drug use could prevent your child from using these substances.

The report is available on the web at, a public health agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the lead federal agency for improving the quality and availability of substance abuse prevention, addiction treatment and mental health services in the United States.

Friday, July 9, 2010

What Middle School Kids Want to Talk About

Can your middle-school child talk to you? Most 10-14 year olds want a warm, close relationship with their parents. However, only about a quarter of adolescents nationwide find their parents “approachable and available to talk”
What do young teens want to talk about? A study appearing in the journal, Family Relations, asked a sample of middle school students, “’If you could ask your mom or dad any question and know you would get an honest answer, what question would you ask?’”

The largest percentage (44%) of youth turned in questions about family, especially questions about the parent-child relationship. They asked questions about rules and responsibilities, such as “’Are some of your rules really necessary?’” They also wondered about parental love and asked, “Do you think I am really important?’” Some questions had to do with feeling connected, such as, “Why don’t you have any time with me?” Trust and conflict also came up around issues of privacy and respect. Only 1 in 4 middle-schoolers turned in questions about dating, drugs, puberty and school, the topics that parents tend to talk about.

To keep the family relationship strong, parents will need to be open to listening to what their young adolescents want to talk about and not impose their own agenda. Youth may be less interested in talking about sensitive subjects, as parents would expect, and more likely to want to discuss understanding each other, getting along, expressing love, and understanding themselves.

Source: Richardson, R. A. (2004). Early adolescent talking points: Questions that middle school students want to ask their parents. Family Relations, 53, 87-94

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Teaching Children about Money

In today’s society where the consumer is king, at what point do we address the spending habits of our children? Few schools offer financial education, but parents can teach their children about the importance of sound money management.

University of Florida researchers say children should be introduced to the concept of money between the ages of three and five. Have children handle money so they can see and understand it. Begin teaching them that two nickels equal a dime, five nickels equal a quarter, and more.

Children should not have allowances until the ages of six to eight. Researchers say the amount of an allowance should be based on maturity of the child and the budget of the family. Also, do not tie the allowance to household chores. Instead, offer children money in addition to their allowance for completing extra, age-appropriate activities around the home such as cleaning the garage or mowing the lawn.

During the pre-teen years, parents should help children develop a spending plan. Teach them how to save and spend allowances based on their plan. This is also a good time to open a savings account and show children that a dollar deposited today will be worth more in a year. They can begin to understand risks and rewards related to saving and investing.

Introducing children to money at an early age can help increase financial understanding, making the transition into teen years (when they will have control of their own money) easier.

Reading to Children

When my children were little, we used to set aside some time before bed for reading. What we read about really didn’t matter as long as my children were interested. And research has shown that reading aloud helps children learn to read on their own. It improves their language skills, increases their vocabulary, and helps them learn how books work.

In an article published in the journal of The Reading Teacher, researchers explained ways that parents (as well as teachers) can make the most out of story time based on the research about what helps children learn from reading aloud.

Reading aloud gets children actively involved in thinking and talking about the book with the parent. One strategy is to ask a question and give the child time to answer. Another is to repeat what they say and extend it by adding a few words of your own. Another step is to prompt the child to talk about the book in their own words by asking, for example, “What do you think this child should do next?” Parents may also ask the child how the book relates to their own experiences.

Parents can also help children build their vocabulary by focusing on words and explaining their meanings. These authors recommend not sending the child to the dictionary, but creating “child friendly” definitions and talking about how words are used and connecting them to words kids already know. Regardless of the method used, it’s important for parents to show they are interested in what the child has to say by giving the child time to think and answer in her or his own words.

Lane, H. B. & Wright, T. L. (2007). Maximizing the effectiveness of reading aloud. The Reading Teacher, 60, 668-675.