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Archive for the Category Healthy Boys Developing


Big, Scary Thoughts

Thinking student sitting at deskA parent of a gifted five-year old wonders why her son often sounds unhappy and fears growing up.

Many smart youngsters can become easily overwhelmed by their brain’s capacity to think too big. Imagine you are only five and you’re thinking about the meaning of life, growing up and having to find a job, wondering what it would be like to be alone! Very young children have no real-life experience to put any of these big, scary thoughts into perspective.

I recommend not spending lots of time talking about these big thoughts with very young kids. That only reinforces them to feel worse. If your child isn’t sharing these uncharacteristic big (negative) thoughts away from you, that may be a sign that you are fueling those concerns accidentally.

Better to acknowledge big, scary thoughts fast, then put them in their place!

First explain that thoughts are in our control: “I know you have very strong feelings and worries. Sometimes your feelings get too big – but they are only feelings and they can change. We can make them smaller or turn them into happier thoughts if we want to…”

Then show your child how to control them: “Let’s move, let’s go outside, let’s do something real like play, run, wrestle, and that’s how we stop those feelings. We don’t have to think of them right now – but if later you still feel them – we can talk about them. We can find good ways (like drawing or singing or making a play about them) to make sure they don’t seem too big or stay around too long.”


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Advice for Potty Battles

Potty training One mom recently asked what to do when her five year old refuses to cooperate and tantrums when asked to simply sit for a few minutes each morning.
He actually said to her, “I will NOT poop – I will never poop again!” 

Potty training is hard. Boys tend to learn it a year or so after girls. Boys also get into more struggles over sitting programs. Having worked with many such cases over the years, I’ve learned that a common feature is this type of control. These boys catch on early that refusing to poop (or follow a basic sitting program) makes them the center of the family universe.

Here’s a simple set of behavior approaches that work. If problems persist, make sure you check in with your pediatric specialist.

– Tell him it’s his choice to sit or not. You will give him one (maybe two) nice, calm reminders when it’s time to sit. If he goes in and sits like a big boy (he doesn’t have to poop… just sit), then he earns a reward. The reward can be something relatively soon after (15/20 minutes on iPad or TV show he likes), or after. When school’s in session, some play time on playground before class is a great reward. The reward can be a sticker on a chart that earns him something later that day or before bed. Anything that is relatively small (not expensive) will work. One parent I know has a prize bag on top of fridge that she can take down filled with small thcotchkes.

– You have to let him fail at this. And be prepared he will throw a tantrum. But try to move on with the day as best as possible. In time it will turn around as he starts to give up control and seeks the reward(s). When (if) he refuses to sit, make sure you calmly remove something important that day or week that’s scheduled. Let the consequences do the work.

– You have to start setting clear house rules. Say “in our house, boys and girls do not poop in their pants. Big boys at school sit on the potty…” Make it declarative (use 3rd person plural). Say it with conviction and power – not with anger – and saying this statement throughout the day here and there is key. You are the leader of your home. you are like his teacher (who he tends to listens to). You don’t take anything personally, You just announce the rules – deliver consequences – and children choose or don’t choose to follow them. This is where he has control, over his decision to join in or not with the rules. Tell him you have faith in him that he will choose the right thing and get his reward.

– When he has an accident, make him participate in cleaning up. He has to put his soiled undies in a special place (perhaps a bucket with a mix of water and light bleach). He has to get into the tub/shower and help clean himself (find ways to help him fix the problem). Kids who pee the bed at night, for example, do it less when they are responsible for helping to make the bed the next morning and change sheets… we want all consequences available to help him shift the behavior.

– Keep a chart – leave open spaces if he doesn’t sit in the morning – and put a nice sticker if he does the sitting.

– Finally, know that peer pressure can sometimes be a good thing. Time with peers (who are brutally honest about these issues) will push him into a better developmental path come fall.

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Q&A: Are ultimatums falling on deaf ears?

A Facebook Fan asked: How do I stop living in a world of ultimatums? 2 toddlers – 3.5 and 2 – and we will try to transition to something, or ask them to do something – once, twice…. we could ask a hundred times – and it seems the only time we get any action is when it comes with an ultimatum – “please do *x* or you’re going to your room”. “you can either do *x* or you can go sit in your room”. etc, etc…. I’m so tired of the threats and ultimatums, and I feel like we’re stuck in this negative loop, and we don’t know how to get out of it…. suggestions welcome!!

Few things to point out here. As soon as you find yourself asking more than 1-2 times (or more for a toddler who needs more prompting), you’re accidentally conditioning your kids to ignore you. Sounds crazy, but that’s what’s accidentally happening. In their minds, when they don’t get a consequence, or don’t get one until after several warnings, you have inadvertently trained them to wait it out… and ignore you… until you escalate your anger. It is best to look at every command or request as a teachable moment for them. Tell them you want their eyes on yours, tell them what you want, make them repeat it back, and tie a consequence it to it. If they’re looking at you, and can repeat back what you say, they’re more likely to follow through. This is true for toddlers and teens alike.

Another thing to ask yourself is how many transitions can we expect from a toddler? Our lives are busier and there’s more things squished into shorter time frames. This makes for more transitions than say twenty or thirty years ago. These days, we see more and more toddlers being referred for tantrums, meltdowns, anger outbursts (all of which are developmentally normal), but the numbers are climbing. That means we’re more stressed and hurried. We’re expecting too much from what these young kids can developmentally digest. So, whenever possible, cut transitions out. Do less. Stay in one place more. Also, there’s a strong contagion effect going on here. We’re very stressed. Toddlers pick it up from our faces, pressured speech, rushed actions. It builds and can lead to a toddler (for no apparent reason) having a meltdown as soon as you want to get them out the door or into the car. Keep calm. Breathe. Enjoy simpler, smaller moments. Stop worrying and take the long-term view. Things will work out great.

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More on Sibling Rivalry

Sibling Rivalry is something parents ask about all the time. Recently, a Facebook mom came to me for help when she heard her son call his younger sister” dumb” when she was trying to count backwards. Here’s how I handle this kind of behavior:

Think back… nothing feels better than to eliminate the competition, so to speak (put down a younger sib in front of parents and you suddenly look smart and win!). It’s primitive, I know, but it’s a part of all of us to some extent. So the trick is to do something more positive about it while not paying it too much attention (and thus accidentally rewarding and encouraging it in the future). What I would do is not get into every moment of their back-and-forth or every sib skirmish. Let most of them fly by – a few build character.

Instead, lay out clearly the lines that can’t be crossed (certain words, overly aggressive tone, put downs/name calling that pick on a person’s body or appearance or abilities…), and forget trying to “teach” boys about being nicer with words. They’ve heard these well-intentioned lectures before. Best to tell them it’s a choice if they want to be mean or bully or inappropriate with their words, but it will cost them something real and automatic. No warnings or second chances: fifteen minutes in their room;  loss of dessert (if it happens at a meal);  being excused early from an activity, or chipping off screen time by 10 minute intervals.

Always stay calm and collected (if you show too much emotion, he’ll likely cue in that it’s worth trying more of in the future.) Check out my YouTube video on sib rivalry too at

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Siblings and Violence – some tips!

One Facebook parent recently asked: how do you stop the unprovoked violence between brothers? While I don’t know her boys, I can give some general tips that work for brothers (and sisters) that resort to being very physical, in their play – and in their disagreements:

1. Work closely with them to determine boundaries. Wrestling is OK, hitting is not. Grabbing an arm is OK, grabbing privates or hitting faces is not. You may wrestle in the playroom, but not in the living room. Your list may be different – but it’s important that each family member has a say in the boundaries. If they participate in making the rules they’ll be more likely to follow them. Rehearse these rules with them and agree to them before any rough play starts. Make a chart of them if you want and post it.

2. Once physical boundaries are set, create specific verbal boundaries. Hitting or wrestling cannot be a substitute for words. If you are angry or upset, you talk about it or walk away, you don’t hit. But, if you are deciding it’s time for a WWE tournament, “STOP” or some other “safe word” must be respected ALWAYS. Some parents enforce a “tap-out” rule. This works great when things heat up. Either child can simply tap the other with their fingers or hand – a signal that no matter what it’s agreed that the wrestling immediately stops. No exceptions. If the rule isn’t adhered to… wrestling privileges are taken away.

3. Keep the rough play to a minimum (use a timer with a bell). Set specific times for physical play – and specific times for settling down. And the same is true for together time and alone time. Make sure everyone in the family – including you – gets some quiet time from the yelling and the wrestling.

4.  If there’s more fighting than playing… you need to step in and send both kids off to separate quiet places until they calm. Both get equal time away. Be aware that they’re often fighting to get your attention, or to get their sibling in trouble. Don’t take the bait. Equal time away from each other (and you) works best.

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