Advice: Better Parenting

Video and Audio
Dr. Rao - Are Parents also Addicted to technology?

FOX 25 Boston
Setting video game limits for kids
Gaming Agreement [PDF]

Finding Parenting Lessons in 'Where the Wild Things Are'
The TakeAway radio show WNYC

Parenting strategies: It's time out for time outs
Interview in The Globe and Mail, Excerpt

The chance to escape on a quixotic adventure is just what an unruly kid needs, according to Anthony Rao. The Boston-based child psychologist uses Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are as an analogy for how parents should discipline their kids. Traditional "time outs" using a timer and a "naughty mat" don't work, he argues. Many children, especially feisty ones, won't sit on a mat for even a minute, let alone four or five. Instead, tantrumming preschoolers need a private space to conquer their demons before they are ready to rejoin the fold. Read More.

When Time-Outs Don't Work
Excerpt from Dr. Rao's book "The Way of Boys," as it appeared at Motherlode, The New York Times Parenting Blog

Many parents struggle because their sons don't respond to traditional time-outs. Many boys won't sit in a chair for four minutes. They don't seem to understand that it's a punishment. In this case I recommend a technique I've learned to call the time-away.

In a time-away, you send your son to his room with the door closed and there he will stay until he has stopped crying and is ready to comply with the rule he has just broken. He goes to his room as soon as he has done something egregious or as soon as he starts a tantrum. Moms sometimes get anxious when I explain this system. What if he just sits in there playing? What if he's screaming and yelling that he hates me? What if he stays in there for an hour? What if he doesn't feel punished? Does it still work? It works. Not only is it the best way to restore order to your home and get a wild toddler boy out of the driver's seat, this time-away will set up the parenting dynamic between you and your son that will last through his teenage years. Read More.

How the Wild Things Tame Themselves
Article by Dr. Rao, Excerpt

In today's climate of fast diagnosing, Max might be a candidate for ADHD. Rather than turning to psychiatric labels, and the medications that usually follow, Max's mother relies on this effective yet simple behavior parenting technique. What happens to Max while he's banished in his room? No doubt he gets angry. He might scream and cry. He might wish he had a different family and a less rule-bound mom. In the safety of his quiet room, Max uses his imagination like a tool. With it he constructs a boat that carries him far away from his mom, his family, and all the rules young kids are forced to obey. Meanwhile, his mom respects his time-away. She doesn't interrupt his voyage by checking in or telling him how he should feel or what he should think. She respects his ability to make the journey himself. Read More.

Tough Mornings Ahead
Article by Dr. Rao, Excerpt

We've turned the corner on summer. Soon, back-to-school ads will be popping up everywhere reminding us of the difficult transition this fall. Hardest hit are children. In one day, they go from unstructured outdoor play to classrooms with strict routines, sitting, and long lessons. Neurologically speaking, it's very challenging for very young kids. It takes time for them to adjust. Here are some ideas to help families get ready for the start of school:

Read More.

Our Lives Out of Balance
Article by Dr. Rao, Excerpt

Here's what I recommend for American parents under stress, who are doing too much, juggling too many demands, while their kids sit idly by and refuse to help out.

First, shut down all the media. American kids spend upwards of 8 hours a day in front of "screens", none of which adds to their intelligence. Worse, it can lower school performance, cause social problems, and contribute to medical diseases like obesity. Think of computers, television, cell phones, DVD's, Ipods, and gaming devices as a pile of sugar sitting in the living room (or worse on your child's bedroom floor). Ask yourself, is it OK to shovel it in all day? Such media should only be doled out like dessert, in small amounts, provided kids have earned it. School work and helping around the house must come first.

Second, create a clear hierarchy at home. All organizations have leaders. Sports teams, companies, book clubs, classrooms, religious organizations, stores, and restaurants have a boss that sets the tone, the expectations, and everyday delegates what has to get done. Our homes are no different. Read More.

Setting Video Game Limits [PDF]
Tip by Dr. Rao

Start off on the right foot when giving your children gaming and computer systems as a gift. Set expectations from the start, and encourage healthy use of video and computer games by using this Gaming Agreement.

"The Way of Boys"
Book by Dr. Rao and Michelle Seaton, Excerpt (pp. 171-172)

If your son has a couple of behaviors at home or at school that you want to change, here are the basic points to follow in creating your own method for helping him change:

  1. Stay calm. Don't infuse the situation with your own anxiety. Approach the situation with an attitude that this is workable and that your son's behavior is a developmental issue rather than some scary disorder.

  2. Start small. Reward your son for very small first steps. Don't pile on new behaviors until the first simple behaviors are happening at least 80 to 100 percent of the time. Keep track of these behaviors for a week or two, and once they seem stable, you can increase the challenge. Many behavior programs fail because we expect too much too soon. Build slowly on early successes.

  3. Don't punish noncompliance. There is a real temptation to nag or cajole young boys when they first turn their backs on our reward system. After all, we've spent so much time drawing charts, buying stickers. Some parents want to give lots of prompting or to give second or third chances for a boy to comply. We adults seem to want to get to the reward even more than he does at first. Instead, it's best to be completely nonchalant. Say, "That's okay. You can earn your sticker another time. It's your choice."

  4. Stay consistent. Be sure you stick to your end of the bargain. Give rewards as promised. Many behavior programs fail because we don't do our part.

  5. Choose the right rewards. Select rewards he won't otherwise get. If a reward is TV or computer playtime, that only works if it's a commodity he's not getting much of. Offering an extra ten minutes of TV time when he's already watching a couple of hours a day isn't going to be very exciting to him. Boys do best with new privileges, such as getting to feed the family pet (if he doesn't normally get to do that) or getting to choose what's for dinner.

  6. Keep it challenging. In time, adjust the program so that he doesn't get bored. Increase the challenge once he has mastered one skill. He's growing and developing all the time, so rewarding him for the same behaviors over and over makes no sense. Instead, find new big boy behaviors for him to master. Book Info.