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Archive for the Category Bullying, Social Skills and Friendship


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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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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Name-Calling: Is it the start of Bullying in Young Children?

Name-calling is a difficult behavior for parents to change, particularly in young, active boys. But its a problem among all kids and at all ages. The challenge is that name-calling is a very frequent behavior (it can occur at any time of day, and up to 20-30 plus times a day), and because its frequent, it slips by our radar screens. Many episodes don’t get addressed. After a while, they become routine to young children, and the adults around them.

Its different when a child hits or punches or swears. Those behavior are much less frequent. They stand out. They are obvious to tag as “problem” behaviors. Hence, parents and teachers tend to jump on these more quickly and tend to address them more effectively.

Here are some ideas for decreasing name-calling.

1. Figure out when and why the name-calling is happening. It might be something a boy likes to do in order to get a rise out of people. It might be related to specific events or people. Ask yourself, are there any times of day that name-calling tends to occur more often. Such as before nap, when tired, before or after specific transitions, indoors versus outdoors, during unstructured activities, eating, or when on the playground? Ask yourself, are there certain people who get called names more often than others, such as, peers, siblings, or parents? Usually there are patterns. Finding a pattern is helpful in isolating some of the situational things that we can control and helps us be more prepared to parent effectively.

2. You need a strategy. This is what i recommend. Pick one “bad name” or “name-calling episode” to focus on. Clearly tell your son or daughter that “from here on… anytime you say (bad name), you will get a time-out or I will take something away”. Make certain your child is looking at you when you say this – and ask him or her to repeat it back. That way, there’s no confusion over what the new rules are. If a child is older than 5 or 6, you can try to list a few bad names or “all bad names” and try to attack the problem more aggressively.

3. Then act! When your son or daughter name-calls (and boys tend to test you on this…), you can place him or her in the corner of a room and look away, and make sure you completely ignore them for few moments. If they escalate with worse behavior, ignore them longer. You can also remove whatever your child is playing with, or is engaged with, at that time.

4. Stop using words or warnings or lectures about why name-calling is not nice. They know its wrong. Verbal reminders and lectures don’t work, particularly on boys. For boys, when they experience a spatial change (like going to another part of the room or having an object removed) they notice and can more easily shift their behavior. Older boys or girls can go off to their room for a few minutes. They will want to return to where its more social and fun – and that’s the motivation to change.

Know that if a young boy or girl can get get your attention (even negative attention) for name-calling, they will often pursue it. Its not that they are a bully or a budding sociopath. It may be that they are making a game of it. Boys, for example, tend to like using words to feel powerful and to get reactions from others. Again, talking to a boy and warning him will not tend to help very much in changing his behavior – and actually – it might make things worse. It feeds him more attention.

5. Catch kids not doing it! Realize that if the behavior isn’t happening when it usually does, your child is working to suppress it. That deserves something positive. You can tell your son or daughter something like this: “Hey, you’ve been doing a good job not calling your sister a name. Here’s a hug…”

6. Always remain calm. Don’t let your son or daughter see you get angry. That only increases a child’s stress, adrenalin, or may accidentally empower him or her. Be calm, look away, talk less, and use changes in the environment to make your point (pulling objects away, briefly sitting off to the side, ignoring them for a while, sending them to their room, etc.).

I hope these suggestions help. Certainly, we need to give kids some space to express themselves and their emotions through words, even words that are powerful. Sometimes those words aren’t nice and have the potential to hurt others. Other times, these words do serve a purpose socially. They can let others know we are angry. The goal here is to focus on only those words that are most hurtful and inappropriate and apply the above techniques.

Finally, and maybe most important, don’t forget the old phrase… Monkey see… Monkey do…. Keep in mind your kids are watching your every move, and they learning more by what you say and do, rather than what you tell them they should do!

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

Three Easy Back to School Tips

It’s hard to believe it’s that time again. As we aim to get the most out of our last days of summer, remember that your kids need more than school supplies to be ready for school. Here are three tips:

  1. Start easing back into the school schedule. It’s common to let bedtimes (and wake up time) slip during the summer, but if you don’t ease back into the school routine, you’ll have some very tired and cranky children on your hands. Start pushing bed time back to normal in short increments over a week or two, rather than a big change right before school starts.
  2. If your child is anxious about their first day back, do a “dry run”. Go visit the school and grounds a few times in the week or so leading up to school. Plan something fun afterwards. Just seeing the school under less stressful circumstances can help kids feel much more relaxed.
  3. Look for the warning signs that your child may be stressed. Younger kids show it differently than older kids. Younger kids will be more clingy, tantrum, may have problems falling asleep, and may complain of headaches and stomach aches. Older kids may become quiet, withdrawn, irritable, and more uncooperative. Then sit your kids down and acknowledge what’s happening. Tell them this is a tough time for everyone… parents, teachers, and especially kids. Just labeling it – giving it a name – will help.

What’s your tip for gearing up to back to school?

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Do you have a Tattler on your hands?

You don’t want to raise a Tattletale. But, you also want to teach your children to speak up when it’s important. Here’s a way for you to teach them the difference.

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