Category Archives: Empathy and Compassion

Four Steps to Help Parents Reduce Holiday Stress (Dr. Thomas Phelan)

When school lets out for the holidays, changes in schedules and the pressures of the season can come knocking on your door. Psychologist and author, Dr. Tom Phelan, offers some excellent tips for times just like these. These are from our archives.
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The holidays are coming up, and although many parents look forward to having their children home from school, they also find that after a few days it isn’t so easy having the kids underfoot all the time. The youngsters are all excited about Christmas, they start fighting more often, and when they’re not doing that they complain to their parents that they’re bored.

Dr. Tom PhelanThis season is one of those odd times that combine a lot of fun with a lot of stress. It isn’t easy having the children right on top of you again, especially when they’re all pumped up about the presents they’re going to get and can’t seem to leave one another alone. Here are a few ideas for maintaining sanity during these both enjoyable and difficult times.

1. Help Kids Plan or Structure Part of Each Day
With school-age kids, help them plan or structure part of each day, then let the youngsters figure out what they are going to do to entertain themselves for the rest of that day. Do not fall into the trap of seeing yourself as the resident entertainment committee! You might help Emily by allowing her to have a friend over to eat dinner, watch a video and then sleep overnight. The rest of the day your daughter decides for herself what she’ll do. Or you might take Ryan out to lunch and then to a movie, but the rest of the day he entertains himself.

boys_sled2. Be Clear About the Rules from the Start
Make the above rules clear as soon as the vacation starts, so when the kids come up to you and say, “There’s nothing to do,” you can reply, “You and I will be going out at 4, but in the meantime I’m sure you can think of something.” Above all, don’t keep making suggestion after suggestion after suggestion, only to have a child shoot down each idea as soon as it’s out of your mouth. Making a lot of suggestions to your children for what they can do implies that you are responsible for their keeping busy and feeling entertained.

3. Plan Lots of One-on-One Fun
Plan lots of activities one on one with your children. Just you and one child—no spouse or siblings. Not only does this eliminate the fighting, it offers the opportunity for real closeness and bonding. Most parents find that it’s a lot easier to have fun when it’s just you and one child, rather than the whole family together. This may sound funny, but family fun is overrated! Kids love having a parent all to themselves, and under these circumstances each youngster is usually much easier to get along with.

4. Avoid Feeling Guilty
Don’t feel guilty if—two days before December 25—you find yourself wishing the kids were back in school already. You have lots of company! It’s not easy having a lot of wound-up little ones chasing each other around the house.

Dr. Thomas Phelan is a clinical psychologist and the author of 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 (1.5 million copies sold). His most recent book is Tantrums! Managing Meltdowns in Public and Private. Visit www.123magic.com for more information.

 

The Harder You Work, the Bigger the Snowman (Michael Byron Smith)

As we prepare for the winter season, Michael Byron Smith has some great ideas about how families can share the best of cold-weather times with their children. This article, “The Harder You Work, the Bigger the Snowman,” comes from our archives.
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There is no school equal to a decent home, and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent.

Mahatma Gandhi

The Power of Dadhood, Michael Byron SmithIt starts around October. People, almost exclusively adults, start complaining about the onset of winter. I understand their point of view. Their focus centers on being cold, dealing with icy roads and often dreary weather. I don’t like those things either, but not enough to worry or complain about them.

Few of us have to be in the cold air longer than it takes to walk from our toasty car to our toasty home or office, at least not often. Slippery roads are a nuisance, but where I live in the Midwest, there may be only 10-15 days all winter when the roads are seriously snowy or icy for part of a day. In more northern states, they really know how to deal with their more frequent snowy days and they do it efficiently. There isn’t much you can do about dreary days, but I’ve seen dreary days in every season. With those realities said, I believe any adult that doesn’t like winter has the right to complain about it or move to a warmer climate. But it is also my opinion that children who are raised in areas that have seasons are advantaged in experiences and learning.

The Power of Dadhood, Michael Byron SmithNow I admit that winter comes in last in my list of favorite seasons. Spring, fall, summer, then winter is how I rank the seasons. But I LOVE seasons! In winter, I thoroughly enjoy watching the snow fall while I sit by a fire. And there is certainly beauty in winter if simply a red cardinal resting on a branch with a snowy background.

One of my favorite sensations ever was at my farmhouse in the country, waking in the morning after a heavy snowfall had blanketed the earth the night before. The wind was completely still in the bright morning sunshine. I walked outside and it was the most profound silence I have ever experienced. It was as if the snow had muffled every possible sound, except the squeaky sound of my boots sinking in the snow. The scene was truly a Norman Rockwell painting.

I accept winter and look for those experiences that only winter can provide. This brings me back to children. You rarely hear them complain about winter. They pray for snow and run around outside so much they don’t get cold. When they come in, a little hot chocolate will put the exclamation point on a fun and memorable kid experience. I have many memories of playing outside with friends, coming in with my hands so numb that the cold water from the tap felt warm, and I loved it!

You can join in the fun with them. Have a snowball fight or take them on a hike in the woods. The exercise and cooler weather make it comfortable and invigorating with views no longer obstructed with leaves. And you can sneak in a few life lessons occasionally using tricky little metaphors that may stick with them longer than a boring lecture.

Teachable Moments in Winter
The Power of Dadhood, Michael Byron SmithBuild a snowman with your children. Maybe you can have a competition for the best snowman. The teachable moment may be, ‘the more you work on your snowman the bigger and better he will be–just like anything else you will ever do’. But working hard isn’t the entire answer to success. You have to work smart also. It’s impossible to make a good snowman with very dry snow, even if you work very hard at it. With a little patience, a warmer sunny day will melt the snow wet enough to be able to build your snowman. The teachable moment: Patience and smarts will often save you a lot of time and effort with better results.

Go sledding with your children. Find a nice long hill and feel the thrill of zooming down. If they want to ride down again, they will have to trudge up the hill. The first ride down is free, after that they will have to work to experience it again. Going down is easy. Going up is work! The teachable moment: Nothing worthwhile is really free. There is always effort required by someone. The only ones who sled down for free are those that don’t have the strength and need the help of others to get back on top. Which of those would you rather be?

Not only are there life lessons to teach, but there are science lessons that will be remembered when they are in school. Take your children ice skating. Skating is best when there is very little friction, allowing them to glide effortlessly. But when they need to stop, they want some of that friction back so they dig into the ice. Friction is like fire. It can save your life or ruin it. How people use it makes all the difference!

Some history lessons can be best expressed in the winter. The strength of our forefathers and ancestors can be demonstrated, when there were no furnaces to warm them up with a push of a button; or when their home was a teepee or mud hut. No snowplows helped them out. Grocery stores were rarely nearby and food had to be grown or hunted. Traveling for just thirty miles would take half a day or more and the only heat was from the horse if you were lucky enough to have one. Not until one thinks about how tough conditions were for others in the past will they understand and appreciate the fortune they have today.

The Power of Dadhood, Michael Byron SmithBut maybe the most important of all these moments, whether you stop to teach or not, is to be actively engaged with your children, having fun, creating everlasting memories, and making connections to them that will serve both you and them forever. I already mentioned a couple of winter activities, but there are others you can enjoy with your kids including baking things together, movie nights, reading books, crafts, snowball fights, going to sporting events, and so much more.

Take advantage of every opportunity
I wish everyone a great winter season! Make the best of every day no matter the season, and never miss a chance for a teachable moment for your children. And for you older folks out there who hate winter, just think about how fast time passes for us! It’ll be spring before you know it; the recent contrast of winter causing it to be even more appreciated. I can almost see the tulips and crocuses popping through the ground already. Another teachable moment! ###

Article and photographs by Michael Byron Smith, author of The Power of Dadhood [website]
“Helping Fathers to be Dads” blog

 

Mindfulness: The Art of the Pause (Guest: Dr. Frank Sileo)

Chances are you’ve heard the term “mindfulness.” It is a popular type of therapeutic treatment employed by mental health professionals. But its practice in a casual and relaxed everyday form can be refreshing and quite helpful. Listen in as Dr. James Sutton interviews psychologist Dr. Frank Sileo in this program entitled “Mindfulness: The Art of the Pause.”

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Few folks would argue the fact that, in this fast-paced world today, it pays to step briefly out of the pressure and drive, to pause to recharge and to appreciate all that is near us and with us here and now.

The Cost

Unfortunately, that pause, that reflective moment in time, doesn’t happen often enough. Life in the quick lane continues on, and we are so easily distracted by it. In cases of sustained, non-stop effort, pressure and activity, a cost can appear in the form of characteristics like anxiety, excessive worry, depression, and impulsive (and compulsive) thoughts, decisions and behaviors that bring more trouble than relief.

And it affects children and teens, not just adults.

What’s the Solution?

As one intervention, mental health professionals suggest the practice of mindfulness, the art of taking that reflective pause or break to reframe and step away from stressful situations in order to account for that which is positive and good. In fact, mindfulness is a popular form of therapeutic treatment today, and it’s proving to be effective across all age groups.

As our guest, psychologist and author Dr. Frank Sileo, puts it, it’s a look at all the “pausabilities.” In his new children’s book beautifully illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin, A World of Pausabilities: An Exercise in Mindfulness, he encourages youngsters to find those creative moments to pause, reflect on, and more fully appreciate the simple beauty of all that is around them every single day. What a great and timely topic for this program!

Dr. Frank Sileo

Dr. Sileo is a licensed psychologist and founder and executive director of the Center for Psychological Enhancement in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Since 2010, Frank has been consistently recognized as one of New Jersey’s top kids’ doctors. He has written a number of children’s books on topics that inform as they entertain, and they will be discussed in this program. (33:55)

www.drfranksileo.com

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Volunteers: Something to Be Thankful For (Judge Tom Jacobs)

Volunteers: Something to Be Thankful For, Judge To JacobsFor this season of Thanksgiving, the Changing Behavior Network posts this special piece sent by Tom Jacobs, a retired judge and author from Arizona. Times of great need don’t follow a schedule; we must remain prepared for them at all times. Judge Jacobs speaks of his experiences while serving as a volunteer for the American Red Cross, and suggests how we might help, also. (This article first appeared in the November, 2017 issue of Arizona Attorney.)

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Shortly after Hurricane Harvey hit landfall in south Texas on August 25, 2017, state bar president Alex Vakula sent an email asking bar members to consider assisting those in need through donations and pro bono legal services. There is another way you can help in a national disaster. My story illustrates how you can step up and work directly with disaster victims, almost immediately.

Katrina

In August, 2005, I heard on the news an urgent call for 40,000 new volunteers for the American Red Cross to assist with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I had always regretted not responding to 9/11 and felt this was my chance to pitch in. Two days later, I was on my way to Montgomery, Alabama for a three-week deployment as an “event based volunteer” (EBV). I received a half-day orientation and was given a choice of assignments to choose from. I selected client-services since it would put me in direct contact with the evacuees from New Orleans and neighboring parishes.

After a short van ride with my team of twelve, we arrived in Jackson, Mississippi where our assignment was to interview 1,000 families a day. One hundred thousand people had been evacuated to the Jackson area. We worked in 12-hour shifts, ate when we could, and slept on cots in a staff shelter. In less than a week from the broadcast, I was meeting the evacuees and qualifying them for financial assistance. The need, as it is now with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and possibly Jose is great. EBVs will be needed at least for the next year.

The Joy of Helping Others

When I returned from Katrina, I was hooked on disaster relief. I completed the required courses through the Red Cross and became a certified driver of an emergency response vehicle (the red and white ambulance-looking trucks). My partner, Anne, and I have completed a dozen national deployments serving our clients in floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires. From California to the east coast, we have used the truck to deliver bulk supplies (cleaning and personal hygiene kits, cots, blankets, etc.) to shelters, and conduct fixed and mobile feeding.

In our Harvey deployment, we worked in three small towns in Texas (Edna, Inez and Telferner), delivering lunch and dinner to residents that were without power and water. Direct contact with people in dire straits is a hands-on experience and, admittedly, not for everyone. Even after a few short weeks, seeing them and their families twice a day, establishes a bond. There is nothing to compare with the thanks, hugs, handshakes, blessings and smiles bestowed upon us by our clients. That is our reward.

From the hindsight of a few weeks, in spite of the heat, humidity and mosquitoes (the size of a nickel), would we do it again? Absolutely. It’s the people in need and our ability to answer the call that will help us continue this work. It’s the little four year-old girl who looked at me and said “I’m hungry.” After giving her and her family dinner, she handed me a strip of bark from her front yard and said “This is for you. You can take it home.” Or Evan, a ten year-old boy who came to our truck just to say thanks. It’s the elderly man who hobbled to the truck to hand us a twenty-dollar bill (a fortune to him, we’re sure). We declined his offer since Red Cross assistance is free to everyone, and we don’t take donations out in the field.

Volunteers Needed

Some of the assignments available to the EBVs include shelter work, feeding, nursing and mental health services, damage assessment, warehouse, logistics, etc. You can apply your profession or occupation to specific needs of the disaster, or learn a new skill through Red Cross classes. During one disaster, when I had a half-day off (which is rare), I became a certified fork-lift operator. Again, not for everyone.

Consider becoming a Red Cross volunteer or, at least, an event based volunteer. Assisting others is addictive. Contact the American Red Cross at 602-336-6660; www.redcross.org

I brought that piece of bark home as a reminder of why we do this. ###

 

Judge Tom JacobsTom Jacobs was an assistant attorney general in Arizona for 13 years before being appointed to the Maricopa County Supreme Court. He presided over juvenile and family court matters for 23 years, retiring in 2008. Judge Jacobs is the founder of the teen-law website, AskTheJudge.info. His books on teen law include What Are My Rights? and Teen Cyberbullying Investigated. He and his daughter, Natalie, co-authored the most recent book, Every Vote Matters: The Power of Your Voice.

 

On Thoughts of Veterans Day: Eleanor’s Prayer (Dr. James Sutton)

Here’s a beautiful story about a woman in uniform during World War II … the uniform of the American Red Cross. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt served her country well, always mindful of the sacrifices being made.

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Eleanor Roosevelt wasn’t only the most active wartime First Lady, her efforts to improve quality of life, ease human suffering, and promote a more substantial role for women in America went on for many years after her husband, President Franklin Roosevelt, died while in office in 1945.

As First Lady during World War II, Eleanor performed tireless service for her country through the American Red Cross. All of her sons (John, FDR Jr., Elliott and James) served their country, also. (Two were in the Navy, one in the Army Air Corps, and one in the Marines.)

the Pacific TOUR

At one point in the war, the Red Cross wanted to send Eleanor on a tour of the Pacific Theater, so she could meet and encourage the troops, especially those that were wounded and were confined to  hospitals and hospital ships.

On Thoughts of Veteran's Day: Eleanor's Prayer

You can imagine Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz’ hesitation about such a gesture. In addition to the logistics of moving the president’s wife to locations in the Pacific, the war was still going on in many of those places. What if she were to be injured or killed, or what if she were to be captured by the enemy? The admiral’s concerns were painfully real.

But, of course, who can say, “No!” to the American Red Cross and the White House? Eleanor Roosevelt did complete the tour. She kept up a schedule that would have exhausted a younger person, and, in doing so, brought an uplifting message of support and hope from the folks back home.

Admiral Nimitz praised her efforts and shared with her and President Roosevelt the positive impact of her visits with the troops. In the end, he heartily agreed her tour of the Pacific was a huge success. All who worked at the mammoth task of getting her where she needed to go were impressed with her energy, grace, and cooperative spirit throughout the entire tour.

Eleanor’s Prayer

There a low granite wall at Pearl Harbor that carries the text of a prayer Eleanor Roosevelt wrote during the war. It was said that she carried this text in her wallet all through the war. It says much about the character of this great and gracious woman:

Dear Lord, lest I continue my complacent way, help me to remember somewhere out there a man died for me today. As long as there is war, I then must ask and answer: “AM I WORTH DYING FOR?”

Psychologist Dr. James Sutton is the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network. He is a Navy veteran, and served two assignments in support of the Third Marine Amphibious Force in Vietnam.

The Magic of Storytelling (Guest: Bill Ratner)

BTRadioInt-300x75Storytelling is a great activity for bringing families together in a pleasantly “non-techie” fashion. Voice-over specialist and father, Bill Ratner, shares his experience in storytelling and its effects on his own family.

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Storytelling is as old as recorded time; older, actually. Stories have always had a way of weaving a tapestry of connectedness, of support and dependence upon each other. Stories bring past and present together as they share a medium unique to humans: the spoken word.

The Magic of Storytelling, Bill RatnerBut is the art, practice and opportunities afforded by storytelling, of being and sharing with others, trailing behind our contemporary forms of communication by digital expression? Are we losing something when we can communicate worldwide at a keystroke, yet still be isolated and alone? Have we gone too far with the conveniences of instantaneous messaging? Most importantly, has it taken a hold on our children?

In an earlier interview on the Changing Behavior Network, voice-over specialist, Bill Ratner, shared his most heartfelt concerns regarding screen addiction and digital overload on our children and teens, as well as excessive pressures placed on them by advertising and the media. To address these very issues, Bill wrote Parenting for the Digital Age: The Truth Behind Media’s Effect on Children and What to Do About It. In the book, Bill gives his take on the problems created, as well as potential solutions and needs for reasonable balance.

Parenting for the Digital Age, Bill RatnerPerhaps you’ve never met Bill, but chances are you’ve heard him. He’s a leading voice-over artist and voice actor in thousands of movie trailers, cartoons, television features, games and commercials. Through advertising, he has been the voice of many leading corporations.

But, while raising a family, Bill realized his children were being bombarded by messages he helped create. So, in his concern for the well-being of all young people, Bill founded a program of media awareness for youngsters, wrote Parenting for the Digital Age, and looks to share his thoughts and his experience on the topic wherever and whenever he can.

In this interview, Bill discusses the art and practice of storytelling as one avenue for bringing youngsters and families together, face-to-face, as they share in the time-tested experience of stories. As a bonus, this interview closes with a five-minute story told by Bill, a story that was aired on National Public Radio. (27:42)

www.billratner.com/parentingbook.html

www.TheMoth.org (A prime storytelling website)

Bill and his work are discussed in THIS ARTICLE published in TIME

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Unlocking Parental Intelligence (Dr. Laurie Hollman)

BTRadioInt

Dr. Laurie Hollman explains the principles and benefits of implementing Parental Intelligence in this excellent interview from our archives.

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The behavior of a child or teen sometimes can stump adults completely, leaving many more questions than answers:

Why do youngsters do what they do?

What are they thinking?

How can we better know their inner world?

Unlocking Parental Intelligence, Dr. Laurie HollmanThere’s little doubt that, on occasion, a child or teen’s behavior can frustrate and even infuriate a parent (or teacher). But, without insight, a parent’s response to the behavior often will be less than ideal. In fact, as many of us know from experience, some responses can make things even worse.

Bottom line: Behavior contains meanings, often multiple meanings. Reading these meanings effectively not only helps solve behavioral problems, it can lead to deeper, more fulfilling relationships with those we love most.

Our guest on this program, psychoanalyst and author Dr. Laurie Hollman, suggests that, when parents learn to extract the meaning from their child’s behavior and resolve problems using that insight and sensitivity, they are exercising a perspective and process she calls “Parental Intelligence.” In this program, Dr. Hollman will take us through the five steps of Parental Intelligence, sharing plenty of examples along the way.

Unlocking Parental Intelligence, Dr. Laurie Hollman

Laurie Hollman is an experienced psychoanalyst who has written extensively for many publications. She writes a popular column on Parental Intelligence for Mom’s Magazine and is a contributing blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Hollman’s faculty positions have included New York University and The Society for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. She is the author of the book we are featuring on this program, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior. (28:45)

http://www.lauriehollmanphd.com

 

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Two Thoughts on Forgetting (Dr. James D. Sutton)

For young ones and older ones alike, “forgetting” can be a convenient way of dodging responsibility. But there’s one problem: We rarely forget things that are really important to us. Dr. James Sutton offers a handy tool for dealing with forgetting that just might be intentional.

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Two Thoughts on Forgetting, James D. SuttonEveryone, children and adults alike, sometimes forget. Ongoing difficulty with remembering specific things, however, can be associated with anxiety or worry, or it can be a veiled form of defiant behavior, an undercover way of saying, “I didn’t WANT to!” Let’s take a look at both types of forgetting.

Thought #1: Forgetting That Causes Worry and Anxiety

What about the person who leaves for work or an extended trip only to worry later if they closed the garage door, unplugged the curling iron, or left the front door unlocked? And what about the youngster who realizes she left her overdue library book at home… again?

I recently went to some training on the treatment of anxiety disorders. While there, I picked up a little intervention that makes a lot of sense. It’s based on the fact that added cognitive impression at the moment of “storage” improves memory exponentially. Point: If you want to remember, make a “bigger” memory.

It’s simple, really. As you close the garage door say loudly, “I am now CLOSING the garage door!” Your neighbors might think you strange, but, even hours later, you will KNOW you closed that door. (And the same goes for unplugging the curling iron, feeding the cat, locking the front door or putting the library book in the school backpack with a flourished announcement.)

Thought #2: Passive-Aggressive Forgetting

Forgetting is a convenient way to say, without the risk of saying it, “I didn’t FEEL like doing that; so there!” Passive-aggressive adults can turn a workplace upside down with this behavior, while oppositional and defiant youngsters can brew up a ton of frustration in teachers and parents with forgetting. Then they wiggle off the hook with a less-than-sincere, “I’m sorry.”

60 Ways to Reach a Difficult and Defiant Child, Dr. James SuttonBut, of course, nothing ever changes.

The solution to addressing intentional forgetting is to attack the intention. So, the next time you give the child or student an instruction or direction to be completed later, ask them this question (and try to do it with a straight face):

Do you think that is something you’ll forget?

(Regardless of the look on their face, it’s my guess the question will catch them off-guard. If they stammer a bit, it’s probably because they KNOW they’ve stepped into a bit of quicksand.)

For them to say, “Yes,” would be to expose more of their intent that they generally care to show. (But if that’s what they say, my next step would be to ask them to come up with a strategy for remembering, and then hold out until I get it from them.)

In most cases, the youngster will say, “No,” just to end the conversation. Then, if they DO forget, you’ve created a perfect opportunity to remind them what they told you earlier. The youngster essentially verifies the need for the question with his or her behavior.

Since these kids don’t really like to give adults the upper hand at their expense, you just might have a different outcome when you ask the same question (“Do you think that’s something you’ll forget?) next time. ###

 

A semi-retired child and adolescent psychologist, author and speaker, Dr. James Sutton is the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network. For more tried-and-true strategies for reaching and working with difficult children and teens, consider downloading his book, 60 Ways to Reach a Difficult and Defiant Child. CLICK HERE for more information.

 

Helping Kids with Self-Confidence (Guest: Dr. Frank Sileo)

Radio-style Interview, The Changing Behavior NetworkYoungsters that struggle with self-confidence have difficulty in most areas requiring performance and achievement. In this program from our archives, psychologist Dr. Frank Sileo discusses issues youngsters can face regarding self-confidence and how they can be helped and encouraged.
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Helping Kids with Self-Confidence, Frank J. SileoHow Much Do They Need?

How much self-confidence does a child or adolescent need? “Enough to function,”some might say.

But is that really true? Is that all we want for our children, enough self-confidence to function, to barely get by? No, we want more that that for them. We want them to have the ability to handle the challenges of life as they come, without being sidetracked by doubt or feelings of being less than capable.

And we want them to THRIVE, and we want them to encourage others to do the same.

Helping the Child That Struggles

But what about the youngster with poor self-confidence? What are the signs that tell us a child or teen is struggling? What can we do to help this youngster handle daily challenges or unique and new situations more effectively? How do we help him or her interpret a few mistakes as part of learning a new skill, and how do we encourage them not to beat themselves up with negative self-talk?

Don't Put Yourself Down in Circus Town, Frank J. SileoListen in to this excellent program as your host, Dr. James Sutton, interviews prominent child and adolescent psychologist, Dr. Frank J. Sileo, regarding issues of self-confidence in young people. It’s a timely topic, anytime.

Dr. Frank J. Sileo

Dr. Sileo is the founder and director of the Center for Psychological Enhancement in Ridgewood, New Jersey. And, since 2010, he has been consistently recognized as one of New Jersey’s top kid doctors. Dr. Sileo has written numerous articles on a variety of topics related to mental health, and he has also written a number children’s picture books. One of them, Sally Sore Loser: A Story About Winning and Losing, was awarded a Gold Medal from the prestigious Moms’ Choice Awards. The focus of this program is his picture book for kids entitled Don’t Put Yourself Down in Circus Town: A Story About Self-Confidence. (27:41)

www.drfranksileo.com

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Answers to Parents’ Questions About Raising Teens (Dr. Thomas W. Phelan)

Understanding why teens behave the way they do can help parents implement better responses and interventions. Psychologist and author, Dr. Thomas W. Phelan, offers his experience and insights on raising teens. And, as usual, what he shares makes a LOT of sense.
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Answers to Parents' Questions About Raising Teens, Dr. Thomas PhelanWhat does it mean to set limits with your teenager?

To begin with, setting limits means having what we call “House Rules.” These are agreed upon (and sometimes written) rules regarding issues such as hours, use of the car, alcohol and drugs, studying and grades. Parents can also have an understanding with their teens regarding work, money management, family outings, and even dating and friends. Setting limits can also include agreements about how to handle violations of the contracts that have been made.

Why is setting limits with your teenager such a crucial thing for parents to do? Why is setting limits such an important concept these days? What happens to teenagers who don’t respect limits? What are they like as adults?

Limits are important for two reasons. First, limits and rules are a part of life. In a sense, they are also a prescription for how to live a good life. Being able to put up with reasonable restrictions and guidelines is part of what is known as “high frustration tolerance” (HFT). HFT is a critical skill for adult success no matter what one chooses to do.

Second, reasonable limits keep teens safer. Parents are acutely aware of the Big Four adolescent risks: driving, drugs and alcohol, sex and romance, and technology. Teens and adults who don’t like rules and limits have a harder time getting along with teachers, employers, friends and romantic partners. They also get hurt more often by means of traffic accidents, drug use, unwanted pregnancy and STDs, and internet predation.

What happened to teenagers simply having respect for their elders?

Good question! Part of the answer lies in human history. Adolescence—and the mistrust/dislike of adults that often accompanies it—is a relatively recent phenomenon. Just a few hundred years ago, adolescence probably did not exist. You were a child, and then, Bam!—you were an adult. There was no in between. Adolescence is largely a function of industrialized countries in which education became more and more important for job success. Education, in turn, delayed “growing up” because kids had to remain in school. In the U.S. today, the delay from onset of puberty to leaving home and hitting the job market can be 7-10 years or more. Teenagers really want to be adults, but today they have to sit around and wait for that. Can’t blame them for not liking the long and somewhat nebulous interval. In our culture, I don’t think we do a good job of helping kids make this intermediate existence meaningful.

Why do so many parents fall into the “I want to be a friend, not a parent” trap?

Good parents, research shows frequently, are both warm (friendly) as well as demanding (I expect something from you). Some of us adults, however, are better at the warm part and some are better at the demanding part. Warm-only moms and dads—sometimes known as permissive or pushover parents—are uncomfortable with the demanding role, and so they focus primarily on trying to be a friend to their kids. These children are more likely to develop “low frustration tolerance” (LFT). These kids often develop a sense of entitlement and they have trouble sticking with difficult tasks.

Why is it important for teenagers to be able to make some of their own decisions? How can parents set limits with their teens while still encouraging independent decision-making?

Like it or not, your teens ultimate goal is to get rid of you! You don’t want them living at home forever. You do want them to become competent adults who are financially independent, have their own friends, start their own families, and know how to enjoy life on a daily basis. This goal means your current strategy is to wean you children from your oversight. You want them to make more and more of their own decisions. Another way of saying this is you must avoid chronic and unnecessary parental supervision—otherwise known as overparenting.

In other words, set up your house rules, maintain a good relationship with your kids, and then get out of their way!

There is so much that parents have to guard against these days – social media, a lax culture, politics, etc. – how do parents make the tough decisions they have to enforce with teens today?

First, nail down your house rules. Keep them minimal, firm and fair. Second, stay in touch. Discuss social media, sex, lax culture, politics and drugs with your kids. This does not mean lecture them! Allow for differences of opinion and be respectful.

How do parents stay firm with their kids but not mean or angry? How do you say no to your teen and really mean it? How does a parent stay firm but fair?

Mean or angry is no way to discuss or enforce limits. Whatever comes out of a parent’s mouth during a parental temper tantrum automatically becomes silly and useless—even if the words themselves might look reasonable if they were written down on paper. Parents often feel anxious and sometimes even guilty when they explain a rule or a consequence to a disgruntled-looking adolescent. One important parenting skill is knowing when to stop talking! In many situations, the more you talk the less sure of yourself you look.

Surviving Your Adolescents, Dr. Thomas W. PhalenWhat’s your best advice to a parent who wants to raise an independent teen? What kind of practical advice and real examples do you have to offer?

When they are concerned about a possible problem, parents of teens need to think a bit before they intervene. In fact, there are four possible intervention roles moms and dads can consider. Choosing the best role depends on several things: the child’s safety, the parent/child relationship, and the goal of increasing a teen’s independence.

Role 1: Observer. In this role, a parent really does nothing other than watch what’s happening for a while. Maybe your son has a new friend you’re not sure about. Sit tight for a bit and see how the new relationship develops.

Role 2: Advisor. Your daughter who normally maintains a B average, is getting a D in science this semester. You might ask her what’s up, listen attentively, then suggest she try talking things over with her teacher. Keep in mind, though, that when you are in the Advisor role, your child does not have to accept your advice. Tell them you’ll trust them to work things out. That’s respecting independence.

Role 3: Negotiator. Something is bugging you and you do not feel your adolescent is handling it well. Your next possible intervention role is to negotiate. You first set up an appointment—spontaneous problem discussions are dangerous and volatile. You might say something like, “When’s a good time for you and me to talk about the leftover food in your room? It’s starting to smell up there.”

Role 4: Director. Your 17-year-old son broke up with his girlfriend two months ago. His grades have dropped, he’s lost weight, and he seems always crabby. You think he’s depressed, so your going to gently-but-firmly insist he see a counselor. Listen sympathetically first, then make your suggestion and ask him to think about it. But it’s not going to be negotiable.

What do you think it means to really parent today?

Parenting teens can be tough. As a mom or dad, you can often feel you are being torn into many pieces. It’s important to have a good job description. Here’s one we like:

1. Don’t take it personally. Your teens will be pulling away from you, even snubbing you at times (“How was your day?” “Fine.” “What did you do?” “Nothin’.”) This kind of interaction is normal. Nobody—neither you nor your teen—did anything wrong.

2. Manage AND let go. Respect and maintain your house rules while you increasingly allow more and more independence for your teenagers.

3. Stay in touch with the kids. Maintaining a good relationship with a teen is critical. Use business-like praise, talking about yourself, sympathetic listening, and regular one-on-one (not always family!) fun to keep in contact.

4. Take care of yourself. If you’re old enough to be a parent of a teen, you’re probably a mid-lifer! Not an easy task. Take care of yourself so you don’t take out your troubles on a sometimes irritating and distant kid.

5. Relax and enjoy the movie. Your kids only grow up once. Try to enjoy the show!

Dr. Thomas W. Phelan is an internationally renowned expert, author, and lecturer on child discipline and attention deficit disorder. For years, millions of parents from all over the world have used the award-winning 1-2-3 Magic program to help them raise happier, healthier families and put the fun back into parenting. A registered PhD clinical psychologist, Dr. Phelan appears frequently on radio and TV. He practices and works in the western suburbs of Chicago. Website: 123magic.com