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Laser Tag: Proof that behavior management works!

Abstract of digital green light laser line

My nephew’s birthday party turned out to be a great example of the power of Behavior Management. It was my first time at laser tag, accompanied by fifteen screaming, eight-year-old boys.

We first entered a mysterious dark room with neon painted walls. An employee, a young man in his twenties, jumped onto a platform to address the kids. With a raised, but controlled authoritative voice, he announced The Rules. Those rules were printed behind him in large glowing letters. The rules were specific and pertained to playing safely and being respectful of others. He made the boys repeat the ten rules back to him – which they did with great enthusiasm.

This approach drew the boys in. They made sustained eye contact and repeated the rules word-for-word in unison like an army platoon. Next, the young man made the boys agree verbally to abide by the rules or else they’d be expelled from the game. No second chances. And not until everyone agreed, did he push a button that opened a second door allowing us all access to the large laser play area.

All the elements of good behavior management were in place. It worked like a charm. Even running through mazes and shooting laser guns, with music blaring, these active eight-year-olds held it together.

That’s the power of behavior management!

  1. Before entering a new situation, always review the rules.
  2. Sustain eye contact to make sure the rules are being completely attended to.
  3. When possible, print up the rules and have kids repeat them back, so there’s no confusion about expectations.
  4. State consequences clearly… you are removed if you don’t follow the rules.There are no warnings or second chances.
  5. Before anything starts, seal the deal. Make a contract. The deal can be sealed with a verbal agreement, a nod, or in this case, yelling with great enthusiasm.

My story doesn’t end there. After laser tag was over, things fell apart. I’m a psychologist and even I didn’t see it coming.

The kids filed into an adjacent private room with a long table decorated for the birthday party. Balloons were arranged in a wonderful centerpiece. Boxes of fresh pizza were stacked up ready to eat. A beautiful cake was decorated in a Star Wars theme.

Quickly, behavior started to deteriorate. One or two boys left their chairs and roamed around. One kid faked that he had to leave early so he could get his goodie bag before the others, then he showed his goodies off to other boys who started to demand they get their bags too. As soon as parents turned their backs to cut the cake, the balloons were grabbed, separated, and escaped up to the high ceiling. I saw one boy literally trying to climb a wall, and another pushing open an alarmed exit door. He told me he wanted to get outdoors to run. The noise level inside was greater than the crowded main lobby.

These were the same 15 boys who had done so well with laser guns only 5 minutes earlier! What happened? No rules were announced before they entered the party room. No expectations set. No consequences discussed. That made all the difference.

The lesson is this. Never expect kids (boys especially) to carry the rules in their heads from one activity to another, especially at this age. And it’s worth doing the work upfront if you want to have more productive fun and less stress.

Oh – one more thing – if you can, hire the guy at Laser Tag to set up your rules. He was amazing!

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Appreciating the ADHD Mind

ADHD symbol design isolated on white backgroundThere are some scary statistics being reported out there, like these from a 2014 study on ADHD. Don’t panic. These studies don’t mean you or someone you love with ADHD is destined for education or economic ruin. Instead, they highlight the importance of appreciating the ADHD mind and the importance of best fit. They guide us on what not to force onto these youngsters and young adults, many of whom are active boys and men. For example, sitting long hours tethered to desks, being lectured without opportunities to learn by doing – and worst of all – not encouraging motion in one’s work life – is pure misery for the ADHD mind. Fit is essential. Squeezing the more fluid, novelty-seeking ADHD mind into our ever-narrowing one-size-fits-all schools and offices won’t cut it.

ADHD minds were designed to work best when incorporating movement, being outdoors, shifting tasks frequently, being creative, and to literally build, make, and do real things. The ADHD mind wants to experience life directly, in the here and now, and needs the freedom to roam onto unanticipated paths.

Please contact Dr. Rao about reproducing any material found on these pages.

Liar Liar Pants on Fire?

Girl crossing her fingers

Girl crossing her fingers

A mom asked about her child’s fibbing and tendency to exaggerate. She wanted to know what she should do.

When this happens in my office, I tend to stop the conversation and say something like:

“I’m struggling with something right now… and I need your help. I know that sometimes people don’t tell the truth or they say things in an exaggerated way to try to impress others or to avoid getting in trouble.”

Then I wait and see if they respond. Even if they don’t, pausing helps impress upon them that this is a problem that others shouldn’t excuse.

Then I might say, “and I’m uncomfortable right now. I don’t feel that what I’m hearing from you is truthful or it’s an exaggeration. Is what your saying one of those? Could you be exaggerating?”

At this point, kids/teens will be more honest, especially if you are not angry or threatening them with a punishment. If they continue to fib, cut the conversation short and say “Well, I want to keep talking and listening, but it makes me feel foolish if the other person is just making stuff up. Why don’t we take a break and we can talk more later on when we can have a more honest conversation.”


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Check this list before rushing to diagnosis

ADHD symbol design isolated on white backgroundA dad recently contacted me with concerns about his son getting fast-tracked into an ADHD diagnosis and starting medication. I told him to make certain that he’s reviewed my checklist below of the common things that can mask as ADHD symptoms and easily lead a child into a wrong diagnosis.

(At School)

– Teachers who aren’t sensitive to or don’t have experience working with active boys

– Heavy language-based education and not enough hands-on tasks

– Few motor breaks throughout the class day and short to no-recess time to release the normal high activity needs of many boys

– Boys who are younger than their peers, even by a few weeks or months, often get accidentally diagnosed as having ADHD – they’re just less mature and will catch up

(At Home)

– Food additives and preservatives have been indicated in hyperactivity

– Allergies can exacerbate behavior issues

– Exposure to lead paint and other neurotoxins

– Hearing or vision problems

– An undiagnosed learning disability

– High screen/tv exposure

– Lack of sleep

– Anxiety

– Marital discord and any other family based stresses that make kids feel insecure or anxious are notorious for masking as ADHD

There are so many things that can influence a child’s attentional skills and his ability to block out extraneous information to focus. There are also many things that ramp up motor activity, especially when a child is being asked to sit still and engage in less novel or enjoyable tasks.  So don’t think ADHD first, but instead, review possible other causes first.

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Kids and Social Media: Monitor – and Get Tough

Do you have advice on helping teenage boys with their impulse control when it comes to social media and discussions about girls?

The problem isn’t about impulse control. Nor is it concern only with boys. The inappropriate use of social media is happening with girls too. The problem is the technology and 24/7 access to social media that’s driving inappropriate discussion and behavior around sex. Interest in sex is completely healthy and normal, but technology speeds everything up – it drives the discussions too fast via texting, overstimulates the brain with sexually explicit ideas or graphic images, and provides lots of misinformation. This problem is growing as the must-have new technologies get released. We’re in uncharted territory. I’ve spoken to grade school and high school teachers at conferences about social media concerns (sexting), and we can’t come up with a single, simple solution or approach. As long as parents purchase and provide their kids with these technologies, the problems of inappropriate use will continue.

There is one thing a parent can do: monitor and get tough. Especially for younger teens (15 and younger) you’ll need to be on whatever social media they use – Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook – and be watching their activity.  Be clear about which ones they can and can’t use. These are powerful technologies that are easily abused in the hands of minors and teenagers. Frankly, many adults have problems staying appropriate online and many get addicted to social media. Make a simple rule: If your teen is inappropriate, their phones/computer access must be immediately removed for at least one week to make a clear statement that technology isn’t a toy and has dire consequences when used inappropriately – especially around anything sexual.

Please contact Dr. Rao about reproducing any material found on these pages.