10 Commandments of Parenting

Okay that’s probably a little overstated.  But I don’t know about you, I am overwhelmed by all of the parenting advice that exists in the world today.  I once heard that today’s parents have read as much information about parenting as pediatricians used to know back in the day.  I’m a child psychologist and I’m overwhelmed by all of the Do’s and Don’ts.  So I thought, why not, I can’t make it worse right?  Here’s my list of what I consider to be the 10 most important things you should do in a day as a parent.  To be followed by the top 10 things you should not do (in a future post).

1) Hug and kiss your kids.

In addition to this, squeeze their hands, pat their backs, tickle them, scratch their backs…you get the idea, touch them.  It’s amazing all the research that’s been done to show how powerful touch is for a person’s mental, psychological, cognitive, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

2) This should be a no-brainer, but tell your kids you love them.

And not just at bedtime or in the carpool lane.  But spontaneously when you’re playing with them, say, “You know, I really love you.” Look them in the eyes when you say this too, so many parents say it out of habit, and kids want to hear the real deal.

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3) Spend a minimum of 20 minutes of one-on-one “quality time” every day.

This means the child picks the activity, the child leads the activity (they get to tell you what to do), and it is dedicated to having fun and enjoying each other’s company.  Obviously, it doesn’t count if you’re helping him do his homework…the child picks the activity.

4) If you are married or living in the same house with your child’s other parent…

…show some affection and kind words to that person in front of your child.  It’s amazing how secure that makes a child feel, and as a bonus, you’re showing your child how to treat a wife/husband/partner.

5) Have your kids do some kind of chore every day and start young.

Even a two year old can put toys back in a toy box.  A five year old can feed the cat, make her bed, and put dirty clothes in a hamper.  Children feel secure and reassured when they live in a tidy house and when there is order to their world.  They also have a boost in self-confidence from being contributing members of the family.

6) Follow through, follow through, follow through with consequences.

If you threaten to put him in time out if he sasses you one more time, and he sasses you, put him in time out.  If you tell the kids to quiet down or you’re turning off the t.v., and they continue screaming, turn off the t.v.  You are establishing your power as a parent and teaching them to respect you because you mean what you say.  I can’t emphasize this point enough.

7) Consistency is key.

If today your kids are allowed to eat in the living room because you’re exhausted and don’t feel like enforcing the rule, but tomorrow you are back to enforcing the “no eating in the living room” rule, guess what?  Your kids will be less likely to follow any rules because they know they are negotiable or fickle.

8) Only create rules that really matter to you.

Related to rule seven–if you have hundreds of rules in your house, you certainly won’t remember them all and neither will your kids.  Make sure you actually care about your rules.  For example, lots of parents have the no jumping on the bed rule, but in my house, I don’t care.  It’s never made sense to me.  As long as you are supervising, it’s a blast for you and the kids.  Now that’s just an example, the point is, only pick the rules that are the “biggies.”

9) Take care of yourself. 

If you are eating poorly, sleeping poorly, and stressed out, you will not be the best parent.  Many times we put ourselves last as parents. Make sure you give yourself the same attention you give your kids (i.e., eat your veggies, drink your water, get your exercise, turn off the t.v. and go to sleep.)

10) Laugh every day!

Laugh at your own silly parenting mistakes. Laugh at your silly kids.  Laugh at your “to do list” and how it’s not humanly possible to get it done. Laugh at the ever growing hole in your sofa because the stuffing is coming out – but laugh because you know you can’t buy a new one because the silly cats keep peeing on it ….oh oops, I’m not sure where those examples came from. Laugh!

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Teens, Tweens, and Screens

kids-teens-tv-video-games-710x190 Times have changed since we were kids.  Screens are everywhere.  Teens not only have access to televisions; many of them have their own.  But that’s old news.  Given Hulu, Netflix, and online reruns, computers are the new, just-for-me TV’s.  They come in all sizes so we can take them everywhere we go.  We have desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones, gaming systems, and all the devices I’m too old to be hip to.  We don’t just watch TV on them.  We game.  We shop.  We “socialize.”  Students are not only required to write papers on a computer, but many need online access to complete homework assignments.  Some students are even given textbooks on tablets.  Video screens are so integrated into our daily lives, it seems there is no getting away from them. Since the dawn of the internet, those who market to individuals using screens of all types have been studying how to keep us watching, playing, or subscribing.  They’ve gotten very good at it, and today’s teens have never known a world without it.  Machines are built to cater to us, and studies show our brains are responding much like they do to other addictive stimuli.  The more we get, the more we want.  More screen time means more food, less exercise, and less time for family, friends, and practicing real life skills.  Kids and teenagers hooked on screens can be irritable, defiant, and sometimes aggressive when a parent tries to limit their access.  Excessive screen time has been linked to a whole host of negative outcomes—including conduct problems, social issues, and decreased school performance, just to name a few. Since kids and teens are just learning how to draw those boundaries, it’s our job as caregivers to set limits for them.  Fortunately, research has also taught us a few things about managing screen time with kids.

Your children may need less screen time if:

  • They plan, think, and talk about gaming when doing other activities.
  • They often game to escape real life problems, anxiety, or depressed moods.
  • They lie to others to hide their screen use.
  • They become irritable when attempting to cut down on screen time.

Setting appropriate limits:

  • Only allow a maximum of 1-2 hours a day of screen time (all screens).
  • No screens in bedrooms, at meals, or bedtime.
  • Keep screens where you can monitor time and content.
  • Watch media with your kids or at least monitor what they watch.
  • Monitor internet history (on all screens), texting, and social media usage.
  • Know who your kids are talking to online.
  • Friend them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and MySpace – make it a requirement for them to friend you if they want to use those sites.
  • Ensure their access is as limited as the technology allows (sometimes this means getting hi-tech helpers involved to lock it down for you).
  • If your children are irresponsible with technology, take it away.

How to make the transition to less screen time easier:

  • Model appropriate use of screens.
  • Engage with your children more and get them moving outside with you.
  • Get them involved with peers and family. Those who need the most practice socializing are the most likely to avoid it with screen time and other things, which only prevents them from learning those real world skills.

Though screens often give parents a needed break, every time we say “yes” to more screen time, we say “no” to healthier alternatives. Don’t be afraid to let your child be bored. The skills they learn and practice in response to boredom will surprise you (making friends, playing sports, developing projects, being creative, reflecting on themselves and the world around them, and so much more.)

Tweens, Teens & Screens Parenting Workshop kids-teens-tv-video-games

 

Do your kids spend too much time watching TV, playing video games, surfing online, or piddling on their phones? Does misbehavior tend to correlate with separating them from their beloved “screens?” Could you use some more ideas about how to successfully disengage from these activities and reconnect your children with family and friends? If you’re struggling with how much time your tweens and teens spend in front of a screen, come join our Tweens, Teens & Screens Parenting Workshop. Learn how to tell if your child is addicted to gaming, what types of influences screens have on your child’s behavior, reasonable time limits, building reward systems, and more! Workshop held Wednesday, October 22nd.

Learn more about our Tweens, Teens & Screens Parenting Workshop.

Click here for our complete list of groups, camps, and workshops.

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Is Instagram Safe for Your Kids?

wake-county-nc-instagram-photos-710x190

The answer is “NO.”  Thanks for asking.  End of article.

What?  You want actual facts, proof, and detailed testing.  (Sigh.)  Okay, you talked us into it 😉

For those not in the know, Instagram is primarily a mobile phone application that lets users take, edit, and share photos and short video clips.  It’s super popular among tweens and teens because it combines sharing and commenting, and lets users apply artistic filters for extra flair.  If you have a high-schooler or even a middle-schooler, check her phone.  She has Instagram.

“Selfies,” often silly or provocative self-portraits taken at arm’s length with a smartphone, are prominent with adolescents on Instagram.  The app builds on this trend by encouraging “rate us” posts and beauty contests.  Teens, most frequently girls, post pictures of themselves, measuring “success” and popularity through the number of likes or positive comments received.  Not only is this a recipe for an unhealthy body image and low self-esteem, but the online “approval” concept can have a snowball effect by encouraging teens to take progressively more provocative photos for greater online attention, pushing them further and further outside of their normal comfort zones.

Instagram has clear policies about what’s allowed, its staff scans for offensive and inappropriate material, and the app itself supplies users with links to report abuse.  However, Instagram is setup as a real-time sharing platform in a world that hasn’t invented instantaneous monitoring and removal of inappropriate content.  The consequence of instant sharing is that controlling distribution and viral popularity is impossible…

As an example, one child can share a photo with 20 others, then each of those kids can share the pic with 20 more (potentially across several new forms of social media), and so on ad infinitum.  Because this sharing is so rapid and exponential, much like a virus, thousands of people can have the image in a matter of minutes.

Those photos of underage Wake County students will never be completely erased, since viewers and followers could have copied and saved the pics to their phones and elsewhere.  Right now, those photos are probably on someone’s smartphone or computer.  They will always be out there somewhere, and if that doesn’t give you a parenting chill down your spine, we don’t know what will.

To gain a more comprehensive understanding of Instagram, we decided to spend some time with it.  When first installed on our phone, we received a warning for all the things we were going to let the app do and have access to.  Most likely you child isn’t going to read this carefully (or adjust the app’s default settings), even though a couple of them are very important.

Photos shared on Instagram are publicly visible by default.  Unless the privacy settings are changed, strangers lurking can find your child’s photos.  Not to be an alarmist, but there are communities dedicated to posting pics of young girls in sexually suggestive poses.  To make things worse, the precise location of where your child’s photos were taken (i.e. your house) can be accessed unless the proper settings have been selected.  (Luckily, this feature isn’t activated by default.)  And when your teen includes hashtags (#’s) with her postings, photos become even more visible to communities beyond her private followers.

Instagram’s “Explore” feature lets you check out random pics of what’s out there in cyberspace.  Pages came up in batches of 18 photo/video icons, all of which could be clicked on for a larger, more detailed view.  The first 3 pages pulled up were mostly harmless, with a few major exception involving a racial slur, a sexual reference, and 2 objectifying photos.  While it should be noted that Instagram is rated “for kids 13 and up,” there is no real way of blocking under-age users and its parent company, Facebook, has been pushing for even looser restrictions.  Based on our time in the Explore section, we found this rating to be relatively accurate and the content to be about on par with a PG-13 movie (which can include violence, brief nudity, sensuality, language, adult activities, etc.)

But the “Search Tags” section was an entirely different story.  This is where curious children looking for inappropriate content are definitely going to find trouble.  While obviously inappropriate search terms are blocked, it wasn’t difficult to use synonyms as a workaround.  In other words, a good vocabulary will be your child’s enemy.  Even with innocent hashtag searches, you’ll eventually land on inappropriate content.  We were genuinely shocked at the imagery found, much of which was purposefully blurring the line of what would be considered adult material.

When clicking on “Report Inappropriate Content,” the categories broke down as such—
• I Don’t Like This Photo (you can supposedly block accounts or certain pictures you don’t want to see)
• This Photo is Spam or a Scam
• This Photo Puts People at Risk (includes Self-Harm, Harassment or Bullying, and Drug Use sub-categories)
• This Photo Shouldn’t Be on Instagram (which breaks down into sub-categories of Nudity or Pornography, Graphic Violence, Hate Speech or Symbol, or an Intellectual Property Violation).

We found it hard to believe with all of the loopholes and inappropriate content littered on Instagram, that an Intellectual Property Violation was the 4th best option they could come up with!  Even though the Instagram Terms of Service specify that users shouldn’t post partially nude or sexually suggestive photos (which obviously isn’t enforced well enough), it doesn’t address swearing at all.  During our time with this app, all manner of swear words were present and accounted for, including several F-bomb photos and videos.  Typing in #swearing returned a lot of middle finger pics and even a video of a mom encouraging her 4-year-old to repeat a long string of curse words.  Cute, right?

Although we’re picking on Instagram, it’s not necessarily the most extreme app out there.  You should really be monitoring ALL of the “fun stuff” happening on your children’s phones (and computers).  There are too many social media platforms out there to name and something popular today like WhatsApp may not be the cool thing next week.  Don’t assume your tween is only on Facebook talking to grandma.  She’s communicating with her “real” friends and peers elsewhere, away from your prying parental eyes.  And for mainstays like Twitter, know that if your child doesn’t want you to see his posts, he can simply start a new account and not tell you about it.  Overall, teens and tweens gravitate towards visual phone apps that provide instant sharing and the illusion of privacy, and there are a few other popular platforms with strong teen followings that you should be aware of.  Vine for example is a place to post short video clips and has a reputation for inappropriate sexual and drug content (the app is rated 17+ in the iTunes Store).  Tumblr supposedly has a popular anorexia community glamorizing ultra thin girls and Pheed provides the questionable platform of letting users charge money for access to their live-stream channel.  (We’ll let you do the math on that one.)  One other app that should be on your radar is Snapchat.  The concept here is that users can send photos and videos that self-delete seconds after they’ve been received.  As a result, this has become a common way for teens to send sexy or naked photos.  And even if it’s not being used for sexting, this app promotes the inaccurate idea that your kids can send temporary images that will be permanently deleted.  (But surely everyone has heard of a little something called a screenshot.)  Because social media is constantly emerging and evolving, even places like the benevolent Pinterest, known for attracting crafty moms looking for recipes and decorating tips, now has its share of porn.  If it makes you feel any better, your child is almost certainly not active on ALL of these social networks… But which ones they are a part of and how they’re using them is YOUR responsibility.

“So what’s a parent to do?”  Glad you asked.  Educating your children on social media safety is your starting point.  In particular, talk about keeping social communications limited to friends, not open to the general public.  You’ll also want to discuss how images and conversations can quickly spread online and in social media, and the consequences that such massive exposure can bring.  It’s also paramount for your child to understand that the distribution of nude photos of minors (anyone under 18) is illegal.  And let us not forget that while it’s critical to take precautions so that questionable photos don’t go public, it’s also important to address why these photos would be taken in the first place, and how that ties into your family’s values and morals.

As a parent, if you don’t know what risks are associated with a particular app, then your child shouldn’t be using it.  If this means you need to become social media savvy yourself, then it’s time to do your homework.  There are plenty of websites out there that give you the lowdown on which social media sites and apps are age appropriate for your child.  Make an official list of which apps you’ll allow your child to use.  You need to know your stuff so you can competently talk to your kids about making smart and safe choices on their phones and online.

If you’ve already been left behind and have no idea what your child is up to in social media, we give you permission to snoop.  You need to know what your kids are getting into, so if this means thoroughly reviewing everything on their phones, so be it.  In our opinion, children should be given the privilege of social media access only with the understanding that there is no “right to privacy” from their parents.

For the un-indoctrinated that still have young children without smartphones, wait as long as you can.  It’s much harder to take them away than to not give them in the first place.  For those who already have kids with a phone… (Are you sitting down?  Good, because you’re not going to like this)… TAKE IT AWAY.  “Blasphemy!” you say?  Perhaps to your child, but you should really ask yourself if your tween can function without a phone.  If your child’s schedule involves going to school, coming home, waking up, and repeating, then the answer is most likely “yes.”  Does your child need a phone for extracurricular activities because her pickup times can be erratic, or is having a smartphone just a fashion statement or a social norm?  Do they genuinely need it for learning, or is that a flimsy excuse you’re hiding behind?  Taking away your child’s phone may seem like a radical idea but several studies have shown all kinds of negative correlations associated with increased social media use.

To quote a spidery superhero and his uncle, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  But by definition, kids are… well… immature and often irresponsible.  So putting the power of social media into their hands can be dangerous.  That doesn’t mean you have a “bad” kid, just a “human” one.  Because their brains aren’t fully developed yet (especially the common sense part), minors are simply not at an age where they’re fully aware of the consequences of their actions.  Couple this with the instant nature of current technology, and you can understand how kids today aren’t even given the chance to properly think things through before impulsively firing a photo off into the world.  (Remember the time it used to take just to get traditional camera film developed and printed?)

For those No Wimpy Parents willing to make the gigantic step of removing phones, you get a cookie!  (Seriously, email us your address, and we’ll send you a cookie.)

For those parents with special circumstances or older children (we’re talking about HIGH school, NOT MIDDLE), here’s Plan B—Get your kid a DUMB-phone.  That’s right, the one in the store that just CALLS and TEXTS—something that literally can’t run apps.  But even DUMB-phones still have a camera function which could cause photo-texting problems.  So you may also want to consider disabling this feature.

After reading all of this, if you’re still not willing to make any changes, then you have to send US a cookie.  (Sorry, those are the rules.)  But seriously, our hope is that we’ve at least made you aware of what’s going on out in the world of social media.  If you’re going to allow your child to use Instagram in particular, please change the privacy settings in the application by going to Edit Profile: Posts are Private.  Also select the Photo Map and make sure the app is NOT revealing the location of where photos are taken.

We live in a dizzying age where cool new apps are instantly consumed and constantly replaced by our kids.  And frankly, it’s hard to keep up.  At this point in time, we strongly feel as if our kids are being used as guinea pigs to test and work out the kinks of this new technology.  And that’s not a position in which we want them to be.  At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself “Is having our tween take pictures of herself, adding cool filter effects, and sharing with her friends (and followers) worth the risks that come along with it?”  …And that’s not a rhetorical question.  You have to make a conscious decision to answer it and consistently enforce as needed

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Is Your Child Overweight? Is It Your Fault?

Childhood obesity

Because health and weight issues can cause physical, social, and psychological problems, it’s important to educate parents and make them aware of our country’s overweight childhood epidemic.  The number of obese kids and teens in the United States has continued to rise over the past three decades.  And according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010 more than one-third of our children were classified as being overweight or obese!  Sure, genes and other factors can play a role, but I say it’s time for us parents to take responsibility where we can and start fostering healthier family habits.  Parenting requires more thought and effort than hushing your kids when they get too loud or reprimanding them when they talk back.  (If you were told otherwise, immediately UN-friend that person on Facebook.)  Parenting should be all-encompassing, and that includes keeping our kids healthy.  But unfortunately, this generation has seen far too many parents drop the ball by allowing their kids to eat too much garbage, play too many video games, and go to bed whenever they want.  Not only is this detrimental to your child’s health, but this kind of laziness undermines your authority at home.  Since you’re the family’s leader and role model, you’re going to have to be the one to kick-start a positive change.  Are your kids important enough to go down this difficult road?  Or are you going to be a “wimpy” parent and let them continue to eat bags of potato chips while watching Spongebob for hours on end?  I have three words for those willing to act—

Diet.  Exercise.  Sleep.  (Repeat.)  Okay, that’s four words.

For the purpose of this article, we’re going to primarily focus on your child’s diet.  And when I say “diet,” I’m not referring to your daughter drinking liquid meals for a month in order to quickly, and temporarily, lose some pounds.  (Even obese children should NOT be placed on a weight reduction diet without the consultation of a health care provider.)  I’m talking about a permanent and healthy lifestyle change involving eating a balanced “diet” of healthy foods.  But just in case you’re still not sold, let’s review the list of problems resulting from bad eating—childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma, sleep apnea, and of course being bullied or teased.

Your first parenting step is to provide healthy meals and limit your child’s consumption of unhealthy foods.  Though calories are important, I’m not going to endorse obsessively calculating those (after all, focusing too much on this can lead to a world of other issues).  I want us to start off simply and concentrate on the basics—what’s healthy and what’s not.  A healthy diet includes consuming plenty of water, raw vegetables (broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes), fresh fruits (blueberries, kiwis, avocados), lean meats and protein (eggs, black beans, turkey), and whole-grain products rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber (found in 100% whole wheat breads, cereals, and oatmeal).  And remember, because your kids are growing physically, mentally, and emotionally, be sure to include some low or non-fat milk and dairy products (milk and yogurt include calcium and vitamin D for strong bones), a little bit of salmon (a low-mercury fish with omega-3 fatty acids for brain development), and a handful of nuts here and there (which research is finding may help stabilize mood).

In addition, you should limit the consumption of sugar (not just desserts—watch out for sodas and chocolate milk served at school), processed white-flour products, saturated fat (found in pizza, cheese, beef, ice cream), and processed snacks and foods (chips, candy, many cereals, canned foods with high sodium).  Also be careful not to ruin a healthy snack with unhealthy toppings and sauces.  Drowning your broccoli in ranch dressing or loading up a sweet potato with butter and sugar defeats the purpose of eating healthy.  I also try to give my kids fruit in its natural, whole form.  But when I DO give them juice, I limit it to one small glass of 100% fruit juice per day.

Giving your kids a multivitamin can be a good idea, but I’m a big proponent of getting nutrition naturally through food itself.  (In other words, a slice of pizza and a Flintstones vitamin for breakfast isn’t going to cut it.)  Most pediatricians recommend parents go as natural as possible, buy organic when available, and avoid artificial sweeteners for their kids.

Don’t go cold-turkey with food (unless you’re literally eating cold turkey).  It’s important to recognize that you and your children are only human and having a less-than-healthy treat every now and then is reasonable.  I personally live by the 80/20 rule in which I eat healthy 80% of the time, and treat myself 20% of the time.  Remember to do the math—there are 7 days in a week, so this doesn’t mean you can go hog wild on fast food for an entire weekend 🙂

You can easily get lost in the dense amount of food and health information found online.  I would suggest starting with reputable websites that discuss the overall healthiest foods for your family, commonly called “superfoods.”  See which of these you can incorporate into your family’s meals.  There are so many fun foods for your children to try, that there’s no reason why you can’t find something that’s both healthy and delicious.  Include your kids in the process by taking them on a grocery store or farmer’s market adventure—letting them choose new foods they want to try!

It’s also important to consider portion sizes.  This is a touchy subject for some parents, because they fear even bringing up the “that which shall go unnamed” subject could lead to an eating disorder.  But it’s also super important to teach kids the delicate balance between eating too much and too little food (rather than just avoiding the subject).  A subtle way to adjust portion sizes without communicating that food is bad (or that your child is doing something wrong) is by introducing medium-sized plates for your meals.  NourishInteractive.com has some great information and worksheets on portion control for children.  It also teaches your kids to listen to their hunger cues, to stop eating once they’re “satisfied” (not “stuffed”), and to NOT eat out of habit or boredom.  Experts don’t encourage the “clean your plate so you can get dessert” philosophy.  (Sorry Mom, you were wrong.)  Think about it.  Are you really going to force your child to eat more food than they want just so they can cram an extra unhealthy treat into their bellies afterwards?

In addition to healthy eating, parents should require physical activity as a part of their child’s healthy living.  Kids are supposed to get about an hour of physical activity each day.  Shocked?  Well start sending them outside to play—tag, jump rope, soccer, walking, trampoline, etc.  Just get them doing something ACTIVE and reduce their time in front of TVs, on phones, and playing video games!  The vast benefits of exercise include strong, healthy bodies (including brains) and enhanced emotional well-being.

Now for the mental health spin—Research shows that fit children who exercise regularly experience the following benefits:

SHARPER MINDS—One study found that kids scored higher on math and reading comprehension tests after exercising for 20 minutes.

MORE CONFIDENCE—In turn, that confidence may improve their academic performance.  Active kids tend to get better grades.

BETTER MOOD—Many studies have found that kids who exercise feel happier.  Physical activity releases brain chemicals that are natural stress fighters and anti-depressants.

SOUND SLEEP—Kids who exercise regularly fall asleep faster than other kids.  They also stay asleep longer.  The more vigorous the activity, the bigger the sleep benefit.  Getting enough sleep lifts mood, improves judgment, and boosts memory.

And did you know that lack of sleep is linked to weight gain?  Sleep deprivation mucks with your metabolism and correlates with eating more (and usually unhealthy) food.  In addition, poor sleeping habits can lead to behavior problems, ADHD, and learning issues at school.  And since proper sleeping habits are also closely linked to growth, try to have your child get the 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night that most kids need.

Now I bet you’re thinking—”This is all so overwhelming.”  I know.  But it’s important.  And you can do it!  Making a substantial and permanent change can be a slow and difficult process, so take it one step at a time.  Build up your food knowledge and healthy habits bite by bite.  Your family’s eating, exercise, and sleeping routines are all setting examples for your kids to follow far into adulthood.  And trust me, the more your children see that you care about healthy living, the more likely they will be to adopt those same values as their own.  So the effort is well worth it!  Good luck!

For more ideas on how to help children maintain a healthy weight, visit The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Visit NoWimpyParenting.com for more tips on parenting.

Dr. Wynns is “doubly qualified” as a parenting expert:  She has two girls of her own, ages 10 and 8, AND is a child psychologist.  She owns Wynns Family Psychology, a child/adolescent specialty practice in Cary, NC providing therapy and assessment services to children, teens, and their families.  WFP offers social skills groups for preschoolers, elementary school children, middle schoolers, and teens.  It also provides assessments for ADHD, Learning Disabilities, Giftedness, Depression/Anxiety, and Asperger’s Syndrome/Autism.  Parent consultations and coaching for teens are available.  For more information, visit WynnsFamilyPsychology.com or call (919) 467-7777.

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Banish Bedtime Battles!

For many parents, when we think of the “dream” bedtime routine, we imagine tucking in our smiling children each night, kissing them on the cheek, and tiptoeing out of the room as they begin to softly snore. Well, for many parents, the nightly bedtime routine is more of a nightmare. Kids refusing to go to bed, coming up with excuses to avoid bed, and coming out of bed in the middle of the night over and over again are just a few of the common problems parents struggle with. For effectively winning these bedtime battles, it takes a No Wimpy Parenting approach:

1)      Don’t wait until the last minute: Many parents start the frantic “bath, brush your teeth, p.j’s” routine 15 minutes before they want their children in bed. This tactic backfires for the parent and kid: The parent has asked for something that is impossible to achieve. The kid is stressed because the routine is so rushed and there is no time to relax (an essential ingredient for a smooth bedtime routine). Allow 30 – 45 minutes for a relaxing routine involving bath or shower, quiet reading or play, snuggles and bed.

2)      No electronics an hour before desired bedtime: Research shows exposure to any screen suppresses melatonin, the natural hormone our body produces that makes us sleepy. Establish a family rule that all t.v.’s, computers, video games, and phones are shut down at a certain time every night. (I know, I know, all moms have no trouble falling asleep in front of t.v. at night but that’s because we’re all sleep deprived!)

3)      Establish a positive, brief routine when tucking the child in that has a definitive end. Many children will continue to ask questions, ask for water, hop out of bed for “one more” something…anything to postpone the moment you walk out of the room. Establish a policy that once their head is on the pillow, they can’t get out of bed (unless it’s a bathroom necessity). Have a fun ritual like saying prayers, giving silly kisses or hugs, turning on night light, and walking out.

4)      Have consequences for misbehavior and rewards for positives: Give warnings in advance that if the child continues to come out of bed, refuses to lay down, etc. they will get a consequence the next day (no t.v. before school, extra chores in the morning, or have an earlier bedtime the next night, etc.). Use a sticker chart or marbles in the jar to reward kids for smooth bedtimes each night. Have the child trade out for a fun reward on the weekend – trip to the dollar store, ice cream shop, or extra videogame/t.v. time.

5)      Consider your child could be over-tired. Kids and teens who are chronically sleep deprived release a stress hormone that is essentially like a boost of caffeine – this stress hormone makes them hyper, irritable, and wild (which is why many parents are surprised to find out that their kids are actually exhausted, because they don’t seem tired). Try backing up the bedtime in 15 minute increments until you find your child falling asleep much more quickly at night and being less hyper and irritable at bedtime.

Parents have been battling their children to go to bed since the cavemen (and women) insisted their children lay down in their bedrock beds. It’s an age-old battle, but follow these steps and your children (and you) will drift off to sweet dreams.

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Are you BFF’s with your teen?

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The boundaries between parent and child have faded for some families.  Some parents want to be “best friends” with their teens, at the expense of taking on a parental role.  In my field, we often call this type of relationship “enmeshed.” While these blurry boundaries often occur between a mom and teen daughter, this phenomenon can happen within any parent-teen dyad. This enmeshment causes conflict between the parent and teen when the parent is confronted  with a situation in which he or she needs to act in a parental role.  It can be confusing to the teen as well, as in “why is my mom all of a sudden acting like this?”  Or it can reduce the parent’s feeling of authority and ability to act appropriately.  Also, at times, the parent will defer “parental” duties to the other parent which further creates distance between the other parent and the one parent and teen best friend pair.  Often as a result of this pattern, the parents experience discord in their marriage and there is family conflict in the home.

What do these “blurry boundaries look like?” 

  • Conflict in the home: There is often a lot of household conflict for families dealing with an enmeshed parent and teen.    The enmeshed parent may feel satisfaction and appreciation for close relationship with his/her teen, when so many other parents complain of the distance they feel from their own teens.  However, parents are also seeing the conflict that arises as a result of trying to maintain the “best friend” relationship with teens.  There is often a lot of conflict between the other parent (“the bad guy”) and the teen, as well as between the parents.  The parent who is enmeshed with the teen often has a sense of competing loyalties and feels overwhelmed by trying to keep the peace at home while preserving relationship with teen and with partner.
  • Discipline difficulties: When there is an incident which requires parental discipline or boundary setting, it puts the parent in a bind (e.g., when parents discover drug use, sexual activity, or failing grades).  Does she not discipline or does she allow something because she has this information?  Or, as is often the case, discipline is left to the “bad guy” parent (often times the father, but not always).
  • Isolating the other parent: The parent who is not part of the close bond often feels left out.  This creates a negative impact on the relationship of that parent and child, as well as the couple because now the teen and parent are depending on each other for emotional support.
  • Inappropriate self-disclosure by the parent– the parent (often times it’s the mom, but not always) will begin to also disclose and share personal information to the teen (often a daughter) which is problematic.  She may share something such as risk taking behaviors she engaged in as a teen in order to provide insight and advice to the teen, however, we know from research that parental attitudes and acceptance are one of the indicators of teen behavior.  Or, she may share her own emotional struggles (e.g. her insecurities or her dissatisfaction with her marriage) which unknowingly emotionally burden the teen.
  • Impaired peer functioning: Additionally, this relationship can impair the natural social functioning for the teen, as his/her emotional needs are being met by the parent and there is less of a need to nurture age appropriate relationships.

Tips for reestablishing healthy boundaries (No Wimpy Parenting style)

1)      First, parents need to be reminded of the developmental needs of teens.  One of the primary developmental needs of teenagers is to become independent of their parents.  They are testing boundaries and limits in order to establish independence.  If there are no limits to push, it can be confusing and difficult to successfully navigate this important developmental stage.  In order to successfully pass through this developmental stage on the way to becoming an adult, teens need to have some distance between themselves and their parents and to learn from the results of their decisions.  Parents need to provide boundaries and limits to ensure safety and to provide their teens with boundaries to test.

2)      Communication is very important – communicate openly about what is going on and why a shifting of roles/relationships will ultimately be beneficial to family members.

  • It’s helpful for family members to identify the strengths of each relationship (e.g. mom-teen, dad-teen, mom-dad), as well as the weaknesses or sources of conflict.  Based upon what is perceived to be going on with the family, family members are encouraged to take on new roles with each other.  For instance, if teen and dad complain that they fight about rules all the time, then I would encourage them to go out and do something enjoyable together to increase the positive interactions between them.  In addition, I would encourage mom to take on some of the discipline that she may have deferred to father.

3)      Expect the teen to push back initially. During the transition, expect your teen will fuss, fight, and use guilt trips to get you to be “friends” again (e.g., the teen says “I can’t believe you’re being so mean. I don’t think I can trust you anymore.”) Remember the No Wimpy Parenting approach: You are your teen’s parent, not friend. Your role as parent who has proper authority and power is what she needs, not a friend.

4)      Ultimately, it is about finding balance again between the family members and helping the enmeshed parent to shift his/her role to act more as a parent than a friend and encouraging the teen to resume the natural developmental tasks of adolescence.

Remember the teen years are rocky for any family. Keep your eye on the prize: raising a confident, respectful, well-adjusted teen who transitions into adulthood as smoothly as possible (and yes, once you’re both adults, you can be friends THEN)!

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A, B, C’s and 1, 2, 3′s of Advocating for your Child in School (No Wimpy Parenting style)

Back to school can be a stressful and exciting time for parents and kids. For parents who have children with special needs or unique challenges, it can be an even more overwhelming time. Whether your child has been diagnosed with AD/HD, Asperger’s, a Learning Disability or is gifted…it can sometimes be an intimidating process to interact with school officials to make sure your child’s needs are being met. Many parents become quickly frustrated and confused when trying to negotiate the complicated waters of setting up IEP’s, testing their child for gifted services, or even creating a plan to help a child “catch up” in a certain subject. As a parent of a child who qualified for AG services, I know first hand the delicate balancing act of advocating for your child and not offending the school or teacher. Being an advocate for your child in the school system takes a “No Wimpy” approach: after all, there’s nothing more important fighting for than your child! Here are a few ABC’s and 1,2, 3’s to get you started:

A)    Avoid the blame game. Discussing an important issue with busy and overworked teachers and staff can be difficult. Even if you believe the school has been slack or made mistakes, try to keep your cool. Go into meetings with a problem-solving, non-attacking approach. Remember to try to be considerate of the teacher’s time and thank them for setting aside time to talk with you. If teachers and administrators are using too much “jargon,” feel free to ask for clarification or consult with a professional outside of the school (psychologist or tutor). Even though you may have to be persistent, keep in mind that ultimately everyone involved wants what’s best for your child.

B)    Build good relations from the start. Don’t wait for an issue to emerge to introduce yourself to your child’s teacher. Raising a concern will be easier and less confrontational if open communication has already been established. There are many ways to become a positive force in your child’s classroom (i.e., volunteering, bringing in bribes treats, eating lunch with your child and saying hi to the teacher)

C)    Connect with others. There’s strength in numbers and most likely any school-based issue is not unique to your child. Look into your local PTA to connect with other parents. If you’re concerned about a disability of any kind, contact your state’s federally funded parent resource centers.

  • Autism Society of NC: click here
  • Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center: click here
  • AD/HD resources: click here

1)      Know your rights. Most issues have a good chance of bhttp://www.chadd.orgeing addressed to everyone’s satisfaction within your school community. But if you are unable to get to the resolution you need, legal means are available. If your child’s disability affects his educational performance, you have the right under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) to have your child tested to determine his special education eligibility. You can also request mediation or a “fair hearing.”

2)      Document events. Keep a record of all meetings and phone calls including dates and people involved along with your initial document and any letters. We all know as parents our “to do” lists grow longer every day. It’s tough to remember when you made a request or who was the contact person to help you with the next step. Keeping a log of meetings and contact people will help you stay organized. Politely informing the school you are documenting the events also lets the school know you are serious.

3)      Develop possible solutions and define the next steps: This sets a positive tone indicating you want to work in partnership with the school to resolve the problem; you’re not merely complaining, but offering potential solutions. At the end of the meeting ask:

  • What is the next step?
  • Who will be responsible for that step?
  • When (a date) will the next step occur?

This step is crucial; it keeps the meeting from being merely a gripe session and increases the likelihood of a positive outcome. Leave a copy of your written document with the teacher.

Here’s the video segment on My Carolina Today on this topic: http://www.mycarolinatoday.com/2011/08/advocate-for-your-child-at-school/

Additional resources:

http://www.nolo.com/products/the-complete-iep-guide-IEP.html

http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/ec/policy/resources/

http://abss.k12.nc.us/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/32236/File/student-parent/parents_rights_handbook.pdf

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