Entries in parenting (13)


Anti-Bullying Programs: Are They Effective?

I was recently reading an article that discussed Melania Trump’s recent speech regarding her “Be Best” platform.  One of the three main facets of this program included today’s hot button topic of bullying.  Anti-bullying programs seem to be popping up in every school in the last decade as more and more attention is being drawn to the increasing problem of social media’s impact on bullying.  While there is no denying the negative impact social media has had on the bullying epidemic, I often have to wonder about the efficacy of some of the programs that have been designed to “defeat” bullying in schools.

One such program is Christian Buck’s Buddy Bench, to which Mrs. Trump gave a nod in her speech.  For those of you that don’t know, a Buddy Bench is simply a bench placed strategically on the playground.  The idea behind it is that kids who are lonely at recess can sit on it and other children will ask them to participate in games and activities with their group of friends.  I can certainly see how this bench could be a valuable tool for kids that are new to the school and have not had the opportunity to make friends, which is why it came to Christian’s attention in the first place.  However, it seems highly unlikely to me that students who are predisposed to shyness are going to put themselves out there to be rejected just because a bench exists for that purpose.  And even if they did, how is this teaching them the skills they will need later in life to make friends and assert themselves when there isn’t a Buddy Bench to assist?  As adults it seems unlikely that the water cooler clique will be looking around to see who is sitting alone and inviting them to join the office lottery pool. 

The even bigger issue with the Buddy Bench, in practice, is whether the use of the bench negatively impacts the peers of the children who are more likely to sit on the Buddy Bench.  Let me explain.  If, as discussed above, the shy children are less likely to put themselves in the spotlight by sitting on the bench, who is comfortable doing so?  Often, the answer is children that might have previously exhibited aggressive and bullying behavior, which behavior has alienated their classmates.  When this is coupled with the fact that the kids encouraged to engage with children sitting on the Buddy Bench are often those children predisposed to be sensitive and kind to others, the use of the bench can perpetuate, rather than alleviate, bullying by pairing sensitive children back up with their bullies.   What is the take away message for these children?  It doesn’t matter how someone treats you, you still have to be nice to them.  Worse yet, the take away message for the aggressive child is that it doesn’t matter how you treat others, they still have to play with you.  I am not really sure those are messages I would like to be reinforcing.

While I am obviously not a huge fan of the Buddy Bench, I do really like the programs that work to create kindness by exposing children to service projects that connect them to other populations within their community.  Exposing these children to the reality that we are all people, and helping them learn more about philanthropy and cultural groups to which they wouldn’t normally be exposed, will be much more likely to develop kinder and more thoughtful individuals.  I also love the education programs going into teaching kids ways to be “upstanders”.  It is never a bad idea to teach kids how to assert themselves and stand up for what is right. The message that a group can be just as powerful toward the positive end of bullying as it can be in perpetuating the bullying is a message I want my own kids to hear loud and clear. 

What I would really like to see is parent education about helping your child be more assertive and building self-esteem.  Staff education for teachers about how to identify kids who are being bullied and how to handle potential bullying situations would also be nice.  However, nothing will beat having more qualified mental health providers in the school assessing for potential victims and working with them to build up their assertiveness and confidence.  The truth is that kids are cruel and they are likely to continue being so.  Technology removes the discomfort of seeing the effects of the pain you inflict, which is emboldening kids who otherwise might never bully.  Programs must be aimed at helping victims become less likely to be victimized and educating parents to become more involved and aware.  Finally, the adults of our society could do a lot of work modeling common courtesy.  I have been dismayed to see that as our efforts to create kinder children have increased, we have also become a far less courteous society overall.  What message is that sending to the watchful eyes of our children, I wonder?




How Can You Maintain A Relationship When You Are Starting a Family?

A lot of couples find that their relationship undergoes a drastic change immediately following the birth of a child.  There is often a misconception that having a child will bring a couple closer together.  However, the opposite is more likely.  While having a joint love and interest can allow you to see wonderful qualities in your significant other shine, it can also create new hurdles that previously didn’t exist or just seemed like minor annoyances.

The first facet of the relationship that is likely to be affected is sexual intimacy.  A lot of women remark that changes in their bodies make them self-conscious even before the baby has arrived.  Then, post baby, there is a period of time where healing takes precedence.  A lot of men tend to take cues from their significant other regarding the availability of intimacy so there is a tendency for a long period of time to elapse before normal physical intimacy patterns are restored.  While all of this is normal and transpires in most relationships, for some it is hard to get back to sexual desire once so much time has gone by.  Sleepless nights and physical exhaustion exacerbate the problem. 

Even though having a child is a wonderful experience, it is also a stressful one.  Like any major life transition, it requires a lot of adaptation, which can be very difficult for some.  Add in the demands of a baby and sleep deprivation and it is often a recipe for a lot of irritation, argument, and resentment.  Additionally, there is the whole new world of parenting decision making that may cause a couple to butt heads.  Communication patterns that may have been healthy previously may devolve and bad habits may develop that will be hard to break when things settle into a routine.

Furthermore, it is easy for a child to become the center of your focus.  This is especially true because each new experience causes a shared excitement.  The problem is that a child can become the only thing you talk to your significant other about, leaving no room for focus on other aspects of your relationship together.  Once you begin to disagree about parenting decisions, it becomes hard to see your significant other as more than an adversary when parenting is your biggest or only current connection.

Therefore, the question becomes, what are some easy things that you can do to keep your relationship healthy and strong during this period in your life and going forward?  First, I suggest a “Babymoon”.  Before the baby arrives take some time to be together.  For some people that involves a trip but it can also just involve a staycation where you are unplugged from everything but each other.  Talk openly about fears, concerns, and things that are important to you with regards to parenting.  Try to maintain some physical intimacy even if sex is out of the question and definitely keep a conversation about it going.  Make eye contact and touch each other lovingly a lot.  Foot massages and other forms of loving physical contact help maintain your connectivity.


Once the baby arrives, you may have your hands full, but make standing dates where you spend quality time together and don’t talk about the baby.  A candlelight dinner while the baby sleeps or a picnic lunch in front of the fireplace can be great ways to show each other that you are making your relationship a priority even if you don’t have reliable trusted childcare or money for outings.  While occasionally the baby may make keeping your appointments with each other impossible, it is important that nothing else short of a serious emergency get in the way of this time.  Remember, this is also a time where both of you will be sensitive to criticism and unsure of your abilities to be good parents, so praise each other often. 

It is easy to take for granted that your strong relationship with your significant other will still be strong when you adjust to this new journey on which you are embarking.  However, resentment is likely to build when your significant other feels that they are being taken for granted.  Keep communication flowing and find little ways to let your partner know that they are still a priority in your life. This small time investment now will pay off in a big way in the future when you are sharing the triumphs of parenting together as a team.


How Do You Know If You Are a Good Parent?


Throughout life we all develop an idea of what defines a good mother or father.  Some of those ideas come from media, books and movies.  Certain ideas come from our own personal experiences with friends’ parents or times when our own parents made us feel a certain way.   But the picture we paint for ourselves is very rarely a complete picture.  We take away all of the ideals without any understanding of the challenges.  Let’s face it, how often do we hear people complaining about how HARD it is to be a parent?


The truth is that there is no magic answer for being a good parent.  Even within the same family different children need different things and kids go through so many different phases that as soon as you get one figured out they are moving on to the next.  To make matters worse, or at least more complicated, there are so many outside influences in your child’s life that are out of your control: teachers, friends, coaches, and social media to name a few. 


Before you despair, however, let me say that the simple fact that you are reading this is likely indicative that you are a good parent.  I know this because the only true key that I have discovered that always rings true is that if you are trying to be better then you are a good parent.  You will make plenty of mistakes and that can actually be a good thing.  It is how you handle those opportunities that matter.  By modeling taking responsibility for your own behaviors and asking for forgiveness you are showing your child that everyone makes mistakes and you have to make amends and move forward. 


Remember, it is not your job as a parent to meet every need your child has.  It is instead much better to be a resource for them so that they can learn how to meet their own needs when appropriate.  Maintaining a good connection that leaves your child feeling loved and with a safe place to land no matter what happens is the most important thing. There will be enough problems in your child’s life, but there cannot ever be too much love.


 So, try your best to be aware of your own personal baggage and triggers and don’t let them interfere with what is happening in the here and now.  Your children aren’t you.  Listen when they talk and let them know that their feelings are heard even when they aren’t agreed with.  Try to be consistent and let the rest unfold.  Parenting is a journey that will likely take you on a roller coaster ride.  Don’t worry about being prepared for every dip.  Just enjoy the ride.


Dealing with Fears Through Imaginative Play

As we have seen an increase of acts of violence in recent years, parents have become increasingly mindful of “violent” play.  A lot of parents are censoring toys that involve weapons or any kind of pretend dying.  We also have seen an increase in kids with anxiety levels beyond what we have seen in previous generations.  While I cannot prove a correlation between these two things with a formal study, let me tell you what I do know. 


Kids often deal with things they fear or do not understand through play.  This is why we often see kids with deceased relatives playing doctor to patients who end up pretend dying.  Making it a part of their play allows them to face fears in a safe, imagined way and gain power over those fears.  Bad guys being killed or conquered is the basis of many fairy tales for a reason.  As much as we try to shield our children from the bad aspects of the world, death and crime are a part of reality. 


With 24 hour news it is something that is constantly in our kids’ view no matter how much we try to prevent that from happening.  Doctor’s offices, car dealerships, and restaurants are playing news about horrible tragedies as our kids wait for an appointment or slurp up spaghetti.  Parents are talking at dinner tables in front of their kids who bring the stories to playgrounds at school.  We fool ourselves into believing that our children are distracted enough by their innocent lives to be unaffected by these encounters, but children are like sponges who soak up the world around them. 


By removing their options for play surrounding these topics, we are removing (i) their opportunities to work through fears and (ii) our opportunities for meaningful conversations that allow us to help our children make sense of the world.  Imaginative play for small children is not the same as exploitative video games that normalize criminal behavior.  So certainly, as parents, we should exercise our right for censorship of those things that we feel are inappropriate for their developmental level, but let’s be mindful of potential benefits of exposure to imaginative play we might otherwise view as negative.



Parenting and Technology

Any parent is familiar with the idea of limiting “screen time” with their children, but, due to rapid advances in technology, parents today have a whole new expanse of concerns that former generations have never faced. The consequences of these decisions are bigger than you might suspect.  These days, you cannot watch the news without being faced with stories of children being lured away by online predators or bullied through online forums.  There are tons of books and resources advising parents on how to protect their children from these risks, but what about the quieter and more insidious issues technology presents for children?

First of all, screen time effects sleep.  The back lighting of any screen stimulates the human brain, interrupting REM cycles of sleep, so any screen time within half an hour of bedtime will prevent you from having quality sleep.  It is highly unlikely that our teenagers, who typically sleep with their phones next to their beds, are abstaining from screen time at least half an hour before bed.  This leaves us with a portion of the population (who already requires extra sleep due to biological changes occurring at this stage of their lives) feeling even more sleep deprived.  Poor school performance, low ability to regulate their emotions and poor attention span are just some of the things that can result from this sleep deprivation, which can compound over time.

Technology also appears to be creating children with lower empathic ability.  It is easy to be brazen or hurtful when you don’t have to look someone else in the eye and experience their reaction when you do it.  Kids have always had the capacity to be very cruel, especially in groups, but technology has offered them even more access with which to be cruel, intentionally or unintentionally.  Previous generations never had to worry about being excluded from a party and seeing the evidence of your exclusion on multiple social media platforms in real time.  All of this translates into generations of people who struggle with real human connection.  Think about the time before a class or seminar began or before a meeting at work when you would actually make small talk with others around you.  That small talk sometimes blossomed into friendships, and sometimes it didn’t, but it was all practice that made you feel more connected to your fellow man.  All of that has largely disappeared as we watch people looking at phones or tablets right up until (and sometimes even after) their attention is required.  Technology is isolating and is leading to higher levels of depression.  Even people who are not inclined toward depression can find it extremely isolating when they are struggling with challenges only to open Facebook and see how wonderful everyone else’s life seems to be.  This unfair comparison leads to a feeling that you are alone in your struggles which exacerbates depressive symptoms.

The final scary thing about technology is that it is addicting.  Who can ignore the recent New York Post article that likened Minecraft to digital heroin (this can be found on my home page for reference)?  The truth is that text messages and IM have been linked to dopamine release in your brain and have much the same effect as gambling.  Studies have shown that adolescents who begin using drugs or alcohol are much more likely to become addicts.  It seems that the over use of technology during these impressionable years could lead to similarly addicting outcomes.

Despite all the negative impacts that come from technology, there are a myriad of benefits too.  It is wonderful to be able to use cell phone tracking to know where your child is at all times, or to know they can reach you in emergencies.  Most schools use a lot of technology in the classroom to expand learning opportunities as well. 

So my advice is to teach your kids good technology habits.  Wait as long as possible before giving your child a phone.  Decide as a family when acquiring a phone makes sense.  I suggest that you wait until your child is often attending activities without you or without a supervising adult.  Have periods of time for unplugging such as family dinners and model the behavior you want to see.  Everyone should take that time as a charging break where they plug their phones in and leave them plugged and out of sight for the duration of the meal.  Turn off your phone and give your child your full attention sometimes to model how they should treat others in their lives and allow them to feel truly important to you.  Leave phones at home when you are going out as a family or just have one person take a phone for emergency use only.  Most importantly, buy them an old fashion alarm clock and have them turn off their phones and leave them in a basket near the front door at least a half an hour before bed.  Take your children to volunteer to help those in need to teach them the importance of empathy.  Finally, talk to them often about things they might encounter on line so that they learn how to avoid, and respond to, the pitfalls that may come with technology.