What is the right way to discipline my child?
Discipline is an important and necessary part of parenting. As parents it is our job to socialize our children so that they are able to successfully participate in our society. A major part of socialization is having boundaries for acceptable behavior and teaching our children these boundaries. Discipline is also one of the most challenging aspects of parenting.
Every child needs boundaries. When you set boundaries and enforce them consistently, you show your child which behaviors are acceptable and which behaviors are not acceptable. Boundaries provide the container within which your child can freely express him or herself. When you are clear and consistent about the boundaries you provide, you help your child feel safe and secure. When boundaries are unclear, inconsistent or permeable, your child does not have a safe container. This can cause him or her to feel anxious and to test the boundaries, which could then lead to more misbehavior.
Boundaries, although clear and consistent, can be flexible or rigid, or vary on a continuum of flexibility and rigidity. How flexible or rigid the right boundaries are for your child depends on your child’s needs for predictability and security, your needs, and your child’s developmental level. It can also vary depending on the situation. It is important to find the right balance between rigidity and flexibility for your child.
To read about practical tips for discipline and setting boundaries, please visit this page: http://www.squidoo.com/parenting-a-compassionate-approach-to-discipline, written by Dr. Iektje Stephens, one of our parenting consultants.
I have tried time-out, and I have tried taking away privileges, but nothing works. What can I do to handle my eight-year-old’s temper tantrums?
Some children are easier to parent than others. Some children have very challenging behaviors and require much more of our parenting skills. Some people call this “parenting plus” or “expert parenting.” Parents with a child like this often feel like they have tried everything, particularly all the strategies described above, and nothing is working. This can be very frustrating and disheartening. Dr. Ross Greene and Dr. Stuart Ablon have extensive expertise in working with these children who are difficult to parent. Based upon their experiences they have developed the Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) approach. We have found that this approach is very effective for our clients who struggle with explosive outbursts and oppositional behaviors.
Dr. Greene and Dr. Ablon have found that many “explosive” children have challenges with self-regulation and flexibility. Things like “switching gears” (i.e. changing from one activity to another or from their point of view to someone else’s), tolerating frustration, controlling impulses, organizing and planning, are much harder for them than for most other children. These children often have “meltdowns” or temper tantrums that can become very violent and overwhelming. Somehow standard rewards and consequences, which work fine for most kids, seem ineffective in preventing these tantrums. According to Dr. Greene and Dr. Ablon, these children are neither manipulative nor coercive, they just don’t have the flexibility and skills needed to handle frustrations that most other children do have. Just as children who have a learning disability such as dyslexia need extra help with reading, these children need extra help with flexibility and frustration tolerance. The Collaborative Problem Solving approach is designed to help parents learn how to avoid meltdowns and teach their children skills to become more flexible. If you are interested in learning more about CPS, you can make an appointment with any of our parenting consultants by calling (512) 891-1500.
How can I help my child/teen succeed in school?
There are several things you can do to maximize your child’s chances of success in school:
- Make sure your child gets good nutrition and plenty of exercise. Both nutrition and exercise have been shown to positively affect learning and school performance. To learn more about the benefits of good nutrition and exercise, visit this page: http://www.apacenter.com/helping-your-child-succeed-in-school-i-healthy-food-and-exercise/.
- In order to ensure that your child is able to pay attention in school, absorb what he is learning, and encode new information in his long-term memory, it is essential that your child gets sufficient sleep. To learn more about the benefits of sleep to learning and school performance, and for practical tips on helping your child sleep, visit this page: http://www.apacenter.com/helping-your-child-succeed-in-school-ii-sleep/.
- A supportive parent-child relationship is an essential foundation for your child’s success. When you have a supportive relationship with your child, she will feel more emotionally secure, which will help her feel more confident in school. Having a positive relationship with your child can prevent homework and school assignments from becoming a major source of tension and conflict. To read more about how a positive relationship with your child can help her succeed in school and practical tips for how to create such a relationship, please refer to this page: http://www.apacenter.com/helping-your-child-succeed-in-school-iii-a-supportive-relationship-with-your-child/.
- Recent research has shown that some unexpected study habits are more effective than others in helping kids learn new information. For example, varying the place where you study helps you remember information better than when you always study in the same place. It is not exactly clear why this is, but scientists think that when you vary your setting and study activities you help your brain make more diverse connections with the subjects you are learning. To find out more about successful study habits, check out this page: http://www.apacenter.com/helping-your-child-succeed-in-school-iv-successful-study-habits/.
- Another way mothers and fathers contribute to their child’s success in school is by being involved in their child’s education. You can be involved in many different ways. There are several things you can do at home, such as creating an appropriate environment for studying and homework, providing your child with necessary materials, helping your child with homework, and exposing your child to educational experiences outside of school. Other ways to be involved include communicating regularly with your child’s teachers and participating in activities for parents at your child’s school. Research shows that a mother and a father each contribute to their child’s school successes in different ways. Therefore, it is important for both parents to get involved in their child’s education. For more information you can refer to the following page: http://www.apacenter.com/helping-your-child-succeed-in-school-v-get-involved/.
- In order for your child to be excited about learning, take on new challenges and learn from failure, a growth mindset is important. A growth mindset regards intelligence and talent as malleable and subject to change through experience and practice. As parents, you can encourage a growth mindset in your child by praising effort instead of intelligence. It is important to compare your child’s current efforts to her past efforts. Note how she has improved rather than comparing her to her peers. Also, you can teach your child that their brain is a muscle and that all skills can be learned through hard work. To find out more about how to cultivate a growth mindset, see this page: http://www.apacenter.com/helping-your-child-succeed-in-school-vi-a-growth-mindset/.
How can I help my child be more motivated to do well in school?
Using the six steps outlined above should help you get a long way in helping your child be motivated to succeed in school. Cultivating a growth mindset and having a loving and supportive relationship with your child are especially helpful. There are two kinds of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation means that the child is motivated by the task itself and by pride in mastery. Extrinsic motivation means that the child is motivated by external rewards, such as money for good grades. Intrinsic motivation is the most effective type of motivation, but if the child is not intrinsically motivated for a specific type of task then extrinsic motivation can be effective too. Parenting consultants at the ApaCenter have written several blogs about motivation. Check out this page: http://www.apacenter.com/drive-the-surprising-truth-about-what-motivates-us-book-media-rec/ about an interesting book about motivation. This page http://www.apacenter.com/increasing-academic-motivation-creating-an-atmosphere-for-exploration-and-change/ has several practical tips about increasing academic motivation.
My child is not sleeping well. What should I do?
There are several things you can do to help your child or teen fall asleep more easily at night.
- Stick to a regular bedtime and routine. Be sure to start the bedtime routine in plenty of time to get your child to bed so she gets the number of hours of sleep she needs. As a rule of thumb, it is helpful to have your child in her bed about a half hour before she needs to fall asleep.
- During the hour before your child’s bedtime, avoid stimulating activities, such as watching TV, playing computer or video games, or engaging in other activities that stimulate your child.
- Dim the lights around the house and sooth your child with relaxing activities, like taking a warm bath, reading a book, or cuddling and talking with your child.
- Make sure your child’s bedroom is cool, dark, and comfortable. Remove any television and/or computer from your child’s bedroom. If possible, it helps to use the bedroom just for sleeping. Play and do other stimulating activities in other parts of areas. That way, your child associates the bedroom with sleep. If that is not possible, try creating a “sleeping corner” around your child’s bed used only for sleeping.
- Ask your child what helps him calm down and relax. Some kids like to have a night light, while other kids have trouble falling asleep with a light. Some kids like a favorite stuffed animal. Some kids and teens like to listen to music before falling asleep. Just make sure you avoid having the TV on where your child is sleeping because electronic screens tend to wake up the brain.
- If your child or teen has persistent difficulty going to sleep on time, stick to the same bedtime and wake-up time, even on the weekends. Sleeping in excessively on weekends can disturb the sleep pattern during the week.
- Getting enough exercise during the day reduces stress and can result in your child falling asleep more easily and sleeping more soundly.
How can my child/teen and I get along better?
Parents often feel like they are stuck in a power struggle with their child, or that it is difficult to connect with them. There are several things parents can do to restore a close relationship with their child.
For young children, it is important to devote time to playing together with, “special play time.” Make sure you devote 10-15 minutes of your undivided attention to your child each day. Allow your child to lead the play, and “follow” your child’s play by describing what you see your child doing. Avoid evaluative feedback, i.e. avoid telling your child how to play. Remember, children are expert players!
For older children and teens, parents can develop a closer relationship by participating in the activities their child enjoys. This could include playing a sport, creating art, reading books together, or talking with your child about subjects which fascinate him or her.
Open and honest communication is important at any age. Show your child that you are listening by reflecting back what your child has said to you. Check in again with your child to make sure you heard them correctly. Try to empathize with your child’s feelings without judging their feelings to be right or wrong. Rest assured, they are more than how they feel. Don’t be afraid to admit when you have made a mistake and apologize to your child. In doing so, you are modeling to your child how to take responsibility. Importantly, the more positive your relationship is with your child or teen, the more likely it is that he or she will respond to limit setting and behavior management.
To read more tips for building a close relationship with your child, see this page: http://www.apacenter.com/tips-for-building-a-close-relationship-with-your-child/.
At what age should children be allowed to play video games?
This is a difficult question with which many parents struggle. The “video game” question can apply to many forms of technology, e.g. TV, computer, cell phones, iPods, et al. Video games are not inherently good or bad. They are just a communication medium, like TV, books, the Internet, and so on. They should not be categorically vilified. Like movies and books, there are some games that educate and enlighten and there are other games that pander to our primal fascinations with sex and violence.
The brains of young children are developing rapidly and there is some research to suggest that exposure to highly stimulating media, such as that within certain video games and TV programs, might “wire” the brains of young children to such an extent that they grow accustomed to intense environments. Such children might become bored and inattentive when in less stimulating or perhaps traditional environments, e.g. listening to a teacher give a lecture in class or working a puzzle. One hypothesis (with some correlational research) purports that children exposed to TV at young ages are more likely to be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD as they mature.
From a different perspective, research on neuroplasticity indicates that the brain is really like a muscle because it grows in response to stimuli. Video games contain rich environments with many complex cognitive challenges that give one’s brain quite a workout. A growing body of research supports the hypothesis that video game play improves cognitive functioning in many areas.
So, there’s no clear answer to the question of when or if you should allow your kids to play video games. We think it is better to err on the safe side by limiting exposure to various forms of electronic media for children under 2, while gradually allowing more access as children mature. You should always monitor and limit your children’s exposure and check to ensure that content is appropriate. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (www.esrb.org) is a great resource when you need help determining the appropriateness of certain media. For more information, check out this page: http://www.apacenter.com/at-what-age-should-children-be-allowed-to-play-video-games/.
How much is too much TV/computer time/videogame time?
We are of the opinion that video games, like TV, should be viewed as a privilege and not a right. Thus, children can earn their limited access to games (and TV) only after they’ve fulfilled other responsibilities, e.g. homework, chores. Also, you should consider establishing an aggregate “media time” limit such that TV, the computer (for recreation), and video games all fall under one cap. Within that time cap (maybe an hour per day) kids can decide how they want to divvy up their time.
Perhaps most importantly, you should aim to serve as a good role model for your children. If you try to limit your child’s game time, but you are always on your laptop, texting on your phone, watch a lot of TV, keep the TV on for background noise or play a lot of video games yourself, your child will want to, too. On the other hand, if you are active in sports, play ball with your kids, have hobbies, read a lot, set firm boundaries on your own screen time and so on, it will send a powerful message to your kids. Children often adopt the values of their parents for better or worse. By being mindful and setting a good example, you will likely help your child stay on a path for personal and academic success.
For some teens, video games and technology can become addictive. If TV/internet/videogame use is beginning to interfere with your teen’s ability to successfully participate in various areas of his life, i.e. in school and with friends, perhaps your teen has developed a technology addiction.
ApaCenter’s Dr. Mike Brooks has written a series of blogs on technology addiction. For more information on technology addiction and what you can do about it, please go to the following links:
How do I manage the work/family balance?
Balancing work and family is a challenge for all parents. Mothers often feel especially guilty about leaving their child in someone else’s care in order to provide income for the family. Recent research suggests that overall, a mother’s full-time employment during her child’s first year of life does not affect her child’s development when compared to the children of stay-at-home moms. Part-time employment even has some beneficial effects. The results of one particular study suggest that mothers need not feel guilty about working outside the home during their children’s first years of life. The benefits of working (more financial stability, higher sensitivity to the needs of your child, access to higher quality childcare) generally outweigh potential risks. Therefore, children who have a working mother are generally just as well-off as children who have a mother who stays home full-time.
In the whole discussion about the work/family balance, fathers are often ignored. For decades, research about parenting has focused almost exclusively on mothers. Over the past two decades, however, interest in the role of fathers has been increasing. There is now a growing body of research on the unique role fathers play in the lives and development of their children. Turns out, the father’s role is pretty important. In fact, it is just as important as a mother’s role.
Fathers have a unique influence on the development of their children that is different from the influence of mothers. While fathers respond just as sensitively as mothers do to the needs of their children, the way fathers play and interact with their children is different. When fathers are actively involved with their children and play with them, this has beneficial effects on their children’s social skills. Children who have close and positive relationships with their fathers also have greater confidence and self-esteem and generally do better in school and on cognitive tests. Balancing the needs of work and family is a challenge that all parents face. Whenever possible, it is important that both parents are actively involved with the care for their children. For more information about this topic, please read the following page:
How can I deal with my teen’s moody behavior?
When a teen is angry, he or she is trying to tell you something. Sometimes they are simply frustrated with your rules and limits. Other times their anger reflects underlying fear, sadness, confusion, or feelings of rejection. Whatever the reason for your child’s anger, don’t let it drive you apart. Your teen still needs you, maybe more than ever.
The first guideline for dealing with an angry teen is to keep the lines of communication open by arranging frequent fun times together, so you’re not always focused on conflicts. Consider planning an outing where you can talk with your teen about his or her anger. Start a conversation with something like, “I’ve noticed that you’re yelling and arguing more than in the past. What’s going on?” Then listen, ask questions to understand, and avoid giving any instruction or directions unless your child asks. Do let you teen know how to express his/her anger appropriately. In some cases extreme anger or irritability can indicate the presence of more serious concerns, like depression or reaction to a trauma. Some youths need outside help learning to express anger appropriately. In these situations, consider seeking the advice of a psychologist or counselor.