Monday, May 23, 2011

How Much TV Is Right for Kids?

Now who are the meanest parents in town?
Published on March 4, 2011 by Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D. in Suffer the Children

     Over the years, I have counseled many parents to limit their child's TV-watching to one hour a day of PBS only and to keep the television turned off at other times. To this well intentioned advice, I am often met with looks of incredulity and even protests. "I like to watch the news when I come home from work," objected one father, who had brought in his son Bertie for an evaluation for ADHD. To this father I replied helpfully, "You could download the news on your I-pod and listen to it later when your son has gone to bed. Or watch it in your room later in the evening." His wife backed me up, "You could listen to the news on your I-pod when you are washing up the dinner dishes." Realizing he was outnumbered, the father capitulated, "If you think it will help Bertie." To this I nodded my assent. Of course it helps a child to have fewer media distractions when he is trying to focus on his homework. What ten-year-old kid can focus on reading or arithmetic with TV's, cell phones, video games, Face book, and I-pods screaming for his attention? Who could focus on algebra in a video arcade?

When giving this advice to parents, I always add that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents limit all "screen time"-TV, movies, video games, and computer games-to a total of one to two hours a day for children age two and over. For children under the age of two, the Academy recommends no screen time at all. The AAP (which is now beginning to sound like an ally of the Tiger Mother) also recommends that parents should not put a TV in their child's bedroom. The pediatricians who make these recommendations are concerned that violent shows can contribute to aggressive behavior and distractedness in children, and might even cause trauma. As most of us realize from our own experience, classic children's movies like Bambi can be terrifying to a four-year-old.

      Sometimes it helps to tell parents that I practice what I preach. For many years while my children were growing up, I limited their TV-watching to one hour of PBS a day. When young, they accepted this without protest. It helped that our next-door-neighbors chose to have no television set at all. It was a great treat for the neighbor kids to come over to our house to watch Sesame Street and Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood on our tiny TV set. But by the time my kids got to middle school, they began to protest that all their friends watched commercial television. My husband and I were nothing short of the meanest parents in town for preventing them from watching the shows that their friends did. Eventually, they learned to re-position our old fashioned satellite dish to commercial channels when we were not home. Charmed by their ingenuity, we grudgingly tolerated Beverly Hills 90210.

      Now that my children are having children of their own, the tables are turned. What goes around comes around. Does my son allow his own little son to watch television? Not a chance! He and his wife have decided not to have TV in their home. Now who are the meanest parents in town?

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7 Tips to help a Distracted Child

These simple tips will help a child who is distracted.
These simple tips will help a child who is distracted, inattentive, or having problems focusing on his school work. The tips are also useful for any child, and can even prevent inattentiveness in an ever more distracting world.

1. Keep a calm home environment. This means not yelling at your child if he doesn't mind you or settle down to do his homework. Of course every parent can be pushed to the extreme and "loses it" occasionally. Every parent yells or screams at a child once in awhile. If this happens, simply apologize to your child and reassure him that you love him, while explaining that his behavior is sometimes frustrating.

2. Limit media distractions in your home. Many children are not as good at filtering out noise as adults are. This means that having the television on while your child is trying to do her homework may interfere with her ability to concentrate. Limit your child to one hour of "screen time" per day. This means limiting television, electronic games and other forms of eye-candy. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that early exposure to television is associated with ADHD in children. They also recommend that parents not put a television set in the child's room, and that you keep the TV turned off when you are not watching a specific program.

3. Have your child's vision and hearing tested. If your child suddenly starts to have trouble at school, take him to the pediatrician for a vision and hearing test. Sometimes a child is not able to express that he is having trouble seeing or hearing clearly. Several times in my experience, a child's teacher thought he might have ADHD, when the real problem was nearsightedness.

4. Stay positive in your child's presence. Don't argue with your spouse or partner when you child is around. Surprisingly, children worry about their parents just as much as their parents worry about them. Hearing parents argue or even talk in loud voices can be scary to a child. Even if the arguments are not serious, to a child's vivid imagination arguments might signify that his parents are headed for a divorce. Tell your child only the good things in your life, and keep the arguments for when the child is not present. Even if your child is in the other room, he can still hear your tone of voice and pick up on angry feelings. To air out differences, parents should think about having lunch together or taking a walk alone to clear the air.

5. Be "in the moment" with you child at least once every day. Have a few minutes each day when you can focus 100% of your attention on your child: read her a book, play a short board game, or make a drawing or a painting together. If you prefer outdoor games, go to the park and play basketball or tennis with your child.

6. Have clear rules and enforce them consistently. Parents should come to agreement about the rules concerning their child, and back each other up. Being on the same page about discipline is especially crucial if a child is having trouble focusing. When parents ask me about a good book on discipline, I always recommend 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D. His method really works, especially for younger children.

7. Enroll your child in a sport to channel his extra energy. If your child is "hyper," he may need more outlets for his energy. Remember, Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps had trouble focusing in the classroom and was diagnosed with ADHD. After being on medication for four years, Phelps decided that the medication was an unnecessary crutch. With the help and support of his doctor, he weaned himself off medication at age thirteen. Phelps learned to control his inattentiveness at school by using the power of his mind, and found a wholesome outlet for his extra energy in competitive swimming.

Copyright Marilyn Wedge 2011

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Friday, May 20, 2011

How the brain works?

A video to explain how the brain works during our daily activities and learning processes process in English with Chinese Subtitle.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Top Ten Do's and Don't about effective discipline

Published on May 4, 2011 by Robert Taibbi, L.C.S.W. in Fixing Families

Okay, you know the basics - no grounding for life, no giving in to candy whines at the checkout line, no time-outs for 6 hours. But bedtime is a moving target and getting up and out in the morning can often have all the drama of an Wagnerian opera.

It doesn't have to be like that. What's needed is discipline. This shouldn't be confused with punishment, those negatives designed to send home a lesson. Discipline is more subtle and more important. It's about teaching your child self-regulation, about self responsibility, and ultimately about creating a sense of security. We now know from research on infant mental health that children as young as 6 months can begin to grasp the concept of No.

This setting of boundaries, when combined with a nurturing relationship, helps your child feel safe. Children without discipline feel anxious, are constantly testing to find and define limits, and over time feel entitled and become demanding. Through discipline your child isn't just learning who's the boss, he's learning how to shape his world.

The Top Ten

The principles of discipline - no emotion, action, consistency, coordination - are simple and effective. Where most parents get stuck is in the fine-print - translating these concepts into concrete action. Here's a list of Top Ten Do's and Don't about effective discipline:

#1. No whining. We're talking about you, not your child. This is the no-emotion rule. Tell your 7-year old child to please pick up his toys, but be matter-of-fact about it. If you are upset about seeing the mess of toys on the floor, go calm down first, then tell him. Keep your instructions short and sweet - no lectures on responsibility, no reminders about the mess from Tuesday, no ranting on about how no one will ever want to marry him because his room is a pigsty. Skip it. Tell him to pick up his toys, by when, and build in a treat (you can watch TV, have some ice cream) when it's all done.

It's said that parents are the child's favorite toy, and the things you get most worked up about - spilled juice, messy rooms - rather than good grades, acts of kindness, signs of responsibility - are instinctively what the child will gravitate towards. Certainly it's okay to get upset when you child runs out in the road. It teaches her that this behavior is really a big deal that she needs to never do. But if you get just as upset about running out in the road as you do about spilled popcorn on the rug, your child gets confused about priorities, or just sees you as always upset. Save your excitement for positive and important things.

#2. Play It Again Sam, again -- Routines, routines, routines. Shape behavior through effective routines - a routine for getting up and out in the morning, one for after school, one for after dinner, one for bedtime. Kids change from the outside in, and the wildest, most out-of-control child will learn to eventually settle down through regular routines and structure. They provide the backbone of security and dependability that kids need.

What's hard to doing them is that you need to set them and keep everyone on track, including yourself. It's the challenge of behavior over-riding emotion - you don't have to feel like to do it, you do it and then you will feel like it. Figure out in advance what routines might work best - playtime before homework, reading aloud after bath - and give your child a forced choice - do you want to take a bath before or after you brush your teeth? Make your bed before or after breakfast? Don't be a drill sergeant micro-managing the process, be more the cruise-ship coordinator - now let's move on to our next activity - bedtime! .... Build in positives to balance out negatives - story after you're all ready for bed, time for video-game after homework is done.

#3. No sudden moves. Your kitchen timer can be your best parenting friend. Keep the routines moving along by giving a warning and setting the timer between activities: "Okay, guys, it's time to get ready for bed. You have 5 minutes. When the timer goes off you need to shut off the computer." Don't march into the room and say, "Okay, it's time to get ready for bed, shut that off now!" This will start WWIII or severe toxic doses of whining, especially if your kids have one more life left in their video-game or are just about to jump to the next level. Give notice.

#4. Empathize with emotions, not behaviors. Your child needs to feel like you understand how she feels, that you will listen to her about her emotions. This is how children learn empathy and this starts as young as 14 months. Empathize with your child's emotions - Yes, I know you wanted to go swimming and I know you feel mad.

That said, you want to hold your child responsible for his behavior - "I know you feel mad, but you cannot hit your brother. I know you want to play your video-game, but you need to finish your homework." This is accountability. Don't confuse it with empathy. Because your child is mad, don't let the homework slide, don't tolerate the hitting. If you do, your child learns that his strong emotions can over-ride his bad behavior. Not a good a lesson to teach.

#5. Put out the fire. Just as you want to separate emotions from behavior, you also want to separate emotions from problem-solving. What this means is that if your child (or your spouse for that matter) is upset, this is not the time to try to get him to understand, make your point, solve the problem. The problem at that moment is your child's emotion. Emotions create tunnel vision and solutions can't be processed.

Put out the emotional fire first by listening - I know you're angry, I know you're disappointed - and by nodding your head. Saying more than that - What do you mean Tuesday?; When you get older... -- is like putting gasoline on the fire, making the emotional fire worse. Empathic listening helps calm the flames and should help your child calm down. If it doesn't and she is still out-of-control, move to containment - hold her or put her in time-out so she can self-regulate. Once she's calm, then talk about the problem - "Okay, you're feeling better. Let's talk about a different time that might be better for doing your homework." These are basic survival skills and are especially important as children move into their teen years when their emotions are apt to get stronger and louder

We finish our list of discipline tips and ways to put them into action:

#6. Don't pull rank. While you're probably tempted to say (oh, 20 times a day) "Because I said so, that's why!" Resist. This pulling rank is about your frustration and anger and your attempt to gain control.  While you may momentarily feel better, your child misses the point about what you're asking. Instead help your child better understand you and how you think by making one-sentence, no-emotion comments about your concerns or worries: "I want you to come home at 6:00 because I'm worried that if you get too tired, you'll have a hard time getting all your homework done." He doesn't have to agree and might even argue, but that's okay and you can still stand by your guns.

Understanding your motivation and intentions makes you seem less like a bully. By modeling good communication and self-responsibility, she has an opportunity to better understand what makes you tick. Over time your words will come inside and she will better understand what makes her tick.

#7. Words matter. This is tied to consistency. Do what you say, say what you mean. If you tell your child that you are all leaving the house at 8:00 am, set the timer and leave at 8:00. If they are half-dressed, bring the clothes and let them get dressed in the car. If they missed their breakfast, grab a banana and some cereal, and they can eat it on the way to school. If you don't be consistent and match words and actions, your child learns that words don't matter. Again this is part of creating a feeling of stability and reliability. Without it they get confused, they test.

#8. Use logic. Or rather logical consequences to shape behavior. This is how we learn as adults. You don't pay your electric bill, your lights get turned off. You come to work late 2 weeks in a row and your boss sits you down for a serious talk, writes you up, or fires you from your job. It's an effective way to learn, it's real life and it teaches children responsibility by showing them the consequences of their actions. "I'm sorry it took you a long time to finish cleaning your room. We don't have time to read a story (or watch TV or go swimming)." Again, matter-of-fact, don't nag, don't scold; it's not about you. This approach can keep you from railing on. It side-steps your kids just seeing you as being mean and missing the bigger point. It teaches your child how life really works.

#9. One positive deserves another. Research tells us that positives shape behavior much more effectively an negatives. The famous studies by John Gottman on marriage and relationships shows that couples need a 4:1 ratio of positive to negative comments in their relationship in order for the other person to hear anything positive. Less than that and the other person feels like you are always being critical or on their back.

Kids are no different. They move towards the positive, especially when there is emotion behind it - excitement, real appreciation -- and when it is specific - You are doing such a good job sharing your toys with your brother; I really like the way you helped carry the dishes into the kitchen when grandma came over - rather than just a generic Good job guys. Look for what's good, rather than always zeroing in on the bad.

#10. Get on the same page. This is for you and your partner. While you both have different personalities and hence, different styles, you shouldn't have different rules or different priorities. If routines fall apart because Dad is in charge instead of Mom or visa versa, kids lose their stability, get confused, start testing, squeeze through the cracks between you both, or quickly learn to play one of you off against the other - ask easy-going Mom instead of mean Dad.

It's easy for parents to polarized - one tough, the other easy-going - as a way of balancing the other guy out. Often underneath it all is a relationship problem that is being played out through the children. This parental split is a relationship issue between you both that needs to be solved. If you suspect that is the case, get the kids out of the middle, talk about your differences and if needed, get professional help.

These do's and don'ts apply to all kids regardless of their age. What you do need to sensitive to is updating and refining them to fit your childrens' changing developmental needs. With a younger child the language will be simpler, the amount of direction may be more. As children get older, you can explain more, can give them more options, get their input in solving problems, give them more room to establish their own routines. By teenage years, your job moves towards being more that consultant, and you save you power for really important issues like health and safety. The principles stay the same, the fine-print changes.

A Plan of Action

If you are seeing a need to make changes in your family, the best place to start is by making a change in yourself. Here are some guidelines to help you get going:

Pick one area. Don't try and do the big make-over. As you look at the list, review your family life, pick on area that you want to work on first. It may be setting good bedtime routines, it may be controlling your own emotions, it may be increasing the positives or talking with your partner about a workable game-plan. Start small so you can build up your self-confidence while not overwhelming your kids.

Come up with a plan. So you decide, for example, that you want to get a handle on bedtime routine, map out the changes in advance when you're not stressed and are clear-headed. Envision how you would like it to be. Think in terms of behaviors - what do you want to do differently, what do you want your children to do - rather than worrying about emotions - how you want them to feel. Change behaviors first and emotions will follow. Be as specific as possible, and build into your planning anticipated obstacles (sharing of the bathroom, individual times for reading stories) and ways around them.

Let you kids know what's coming. Again, it's about prep and warnings: "Tomorrow, I want us to change how we do bedtime. Because I want us to have time to read together, I want you get ready for bed a little bit earlier, take a bath, and pack up your stuff for school. I'll give you a warning and set the timer to let you know when it's time to shut off the TV.

Expect resistance. Some kids handle change better than others, but it's human nature to want no change at all. Be like Mary Poppins - clear, matter-of-fact, no drama, lots of positive comments - good job getting your pajamas on. Empathize with emotions but stick to behaviors.

Get support. If you have a partner, work together as a team, either backing you up, sharing the responsibilities (I'll handle Tom if you get Kathy in bed). Talk about first aide if you find yourself getting frustrated (come stand next me or just give me a quick hug) in order to help you stay on track. If you are alone, work out a plan to call someone for support while the kids are taking a bath. Figure out in advance what you need to be successful.

Evaluate, fine-tune. See how it goes, make minor adjustments (still too rushed, need another 10 minutes) but don't scrape the idea if it doesn't go as smoothly as you hoped. You're not just changing behaviors, or literally rewiring brains - your kids as well as your own. It takes some repetition and time.

Pat yourself on the back. It isn't about doing it Right, it's about doing it different. That's what counts.

Bring in the reinforcements. Finally, don't hesitate to get additional help if you need it - online information, a parenting skills group, a couple of sessions with a counselor. Don't discourage yourself by thinking you have some intractable personality defect; it's about learning skills, pure and simple. Recognizing a problem and being willing to tackle it is 50% towards fixing it.

Treat yourself the way you wish to treat your kids. With determination, support, patience, and a positive attitude.

You'll discover that you can do it.

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