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What is the solution for rushed mornings?

Stop doing too much parenting

Caring parents can often do too much for their kids. They remind, cajole, and assist, while their kids foot-drag their way through the morning. Parents get stressed and rush themselves out of the house to rescue their kids from being late to school. Kids begin to feel ordered around and dig their heels. Everyone is tense and unhappy.

One solution is to step aside and let kids manage the consequences of their behavior. Ask someone at school to speak to your child when they arrive late. Teachers and principals are often willing to talk about why mornings are important, what didn’t go well, and strategize how to make things go better. Kids need to know that their teachers and classmates depend on them and that they are part of a community. If you over-assist, children are robbed of owning and managing their own behavior. Many children won’t make changes until they face real-life consequences directly, (e.g., catching an unappreciated look by their teacher, or making up time and work at the end of the day and hence loosing an opportunity to do something more fun that had been planned).

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Motivating Boys To Become Better Young Men

Parents, being adults, try desperately to talk with their sons about deep feelings. They fear their sons are hiding their emotions and that’s causing all sorts of problems behaviorally. Pushing most boys and young men to “open up” and express emotions can backfire. They often shut down. While it’s important to not bottle all emotions up, a surprisingly different approach is often more effective in helping boys feel positive and moving them developmentally forward.

Find what they desire and then push them to make positive changes in order to earn what they want. Case in point, one young man wants an iPhone and guitar desperately. He can think of nothing else. Those are symbols of power and young adulthood, but he’s not acting like a young adult these days. He fights with his parents and doesn’t do basics, like homework and chores.

Rather than explore in long-term therapy how he feels or why he does these things – as if there are deep rooted problems to bring to the surface – I recommended to his parents that they set up a simple behavioral program to earn the guitar and phone based on incremental, realistic changes. If the boy is motivated to earn these things, he will change.

What’s most surprising in my years as a psychologist is how effective this simple strategy is with boys and young men. They adopt greater maturity not by talking through their feelings, but by working harder and harder for what they want to achieve and own.

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Social Media Isn’t Really Social

boy and electronicsA parent recently asked about ways to help her young teenagers connect better with other kids. Since middle school, it’s been harder for them to find and keep good buddies. It’s affecting their mood. They are at home more and tend to resort to screens to pass the time. Yet, like most kids, they think they’re “seeing their friends” and “talking with them everyday.” But they aren’t. Turns out, social media isn’t real socializing.

How do we know? Serious problems, related to social media, are now starting to show up in teens. It’s impacting twenty-somethings as well. They are having a very rough time finding and keeping real friends. They feel anxious when meeting new people. Forget dating. They use apps to try to connect, but most report it often results in hookups or endless rejections that lower their self-confidence.

These problems go beyond what is being reported in my office. It’s being talked about nationally. Research is mounting on just how bad heavy social media can be. The saddest part is that these wonderful, caring young people truly believe they are keeping up with and getting closer to friends. Yet, they report being lonely and hungry for real friends and partners and intimacy. By the time young adults leave for college, or take a gap year, or start work, they are far behind the curve socially.

The best way to handle this is to get your kids out of the house where they tend to be stuck on – and have greatest access to – screens. Push them out if you have to. It’s not the norm (developmentally speaking) that they are at home that much by mid to late middle school. They should be hanging with peers more, and in fact, they should be wanting to be with friends and not at home. That’s more the “healthy” norm. Any down time at home on screens isn’t “chilling,” it’s actually escaping and killing precious time and opportunities to gain social skills.

One mom I know makes her kids go to the library after school for an hour. They started to meet other kids there, get some homework done, and it’s blossomed into deeper relationships. Another teaches her kids to navigate on public transportation and has prepared them to go into town and have fun safe adventures in the city.  Another demands her kids work small jobs no matter what, and volunteer, so her kids get real experience dealing with real people in situations that they have to be friendly, polite, kind, and productive.

So – when you see your son or daughter today on the iPad, laptop, or smartphone, keep in mind all those minutes and hours add up to days and weeks and months lost experiencing interactions in real time with real people. Do them a major favor and get them outside and engaged in the real world.

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Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark

Recently in my office, a young girl told me she is fearful of sleeping in her own room. The reason? It’s dark! But she wants to try, so her mother wrote down what I told her, thinking it scared girlcould be a nice way to remind her each night not to be afraid.

There’s no reason to be scared…There’s nothing in the dark that’s not in the light. 

She laughed. She hadn’t thought about it that way.

We agreed she can put on a light if she wants and lower it each night to get used to the darkness.  Each step closer to sleeping in her own bed will make her feel empowered and confident.

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Are Mindfulness and Meditation the New Adderall and Prozac?

Little gets me excited in psychiatric literature… but this did: A Harvard MRI study of people practicing mindfulness-meditation techniques shows increased thickness in the gray matter of the brain’s cortex. The brain areas that got thicker involved attention and emotional regulation. Why is this so important? Those are the two most common complaints – the two most common justifications – for putting more and more children on medications. I hear it too, in my office everyday. He isn’t focusing, he’s too distracted, he’s behaviorally impulsive. She’s overwhelmed, and gets so worried and depressed.

So – stop for a moment (as you would in any mindfulness technique) and focus on this post. Don’t just click off and go into the next, and the next. Let this get absorbed. Let this sink in. It could change your life and your child’s life.

It’s time to get all kids practicing simple mind-body techniques. A few minutes everyday would do it. These techniques are easy to learn, they feel good and are cost-effective (don’t cost a dime), can improve physical health, and now, as studies are starting to show, improve brain, behavior, and emotional functions.

How simple? Start with taking a few breaths, close your eyes, or stare off onto something that pleases you. Think of nothing else. Hold onto that feeling as long as possible. You just experienced mindfulness!

So it’s time to get ahead of the curve. This is where the latest brain science is headed. There are enough studies emerging now to seriously consider these (often ancient) techniques as essential, like good nutrition, exercise, and getting enough sleep. These techniques are being taken more seriously as an effective alternative to the use of chemical psychiatric agents. As always, consult with physicians you trust before starting (or stopping) any prescribed medication. Get second opinions too. But, remember, medications aren’t the only – or necessarily the best – way to get the brain into a healthier state.

Modern life has eroded many of the basic rituals and behaviors that keep us sane and balanced. It’s time we brought them back! These include daily healthy physical movement, being outdoors more, securing moments to reflect and relax free of technology, and engage in positive (real) social contact instead of the often competitive and negative (virtual) contact we get exposed to on social media. Mindfulness and meditation are a part of these healthy life habits.

The promise here is profound, but real. Engage in daily practices and sound behaviors that keep you and your family on the road to health – and yes – happiness!

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