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Archive for February 2013


Is it possible to change the way I think?

This is a frequent question we ask ourselves when we’re feeling stuck. Don’t fret or feel immobilized. In fact, feel optimistic. Asking this question is usually what comes before we get serious about real change. What’s important to know is that the human brain isn’t a static organ. It’s unbelievably interactive with everything outside of it. Any time you’ve traveled to a new place, tried a new recipe, met a new person… Your brain had to modify itself, adapt, lay down new neural paths. All learning is based on changing the brain and it doesn’t stop because we age. So the answer is a resounding YES, we can change how we think.

One problem…

The brain has its own agenda. It doesn’t like to change unless it’s important to do so. It takes work and resources to change, and like a good work-out, can feel exhausting. It would rather change the world around it or keep things the same. It’s not sitting in our cranium always hungry to learn unless we (and we are our brain) consciously give it permission and push it forward. Otherwise, its default setting is to keep everything steady and familiar, even trimming reality a bit here and there to fit its view of things. As we enter adulthood, we tend to trim more and more. In other words, we cut reality out along with squeezing things to fit current ways of thinking. That’s why it seems hard to reverse course and let our brains adapt to what’s new. The great psychologist Jean Piaget had a name for this. He called it accommodation. We don’t like accommodating our brains to brand new ways of seeing the world. Some of us even do more than avoid it – we fear it.

So accept the fact that learning is uncomfortable, even hard at times, but we should welcome and not resist that feeling. It means we’re thinking differently. We’re growing. getting better. When we allow ourselves to change our thinking, behavior will soon follow. Better viewpoint leads to more positive, optimistic actions. We’re more likely to get out of our ruts, stay healthy, and have better interactions with children, spouses, family, and friends.

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

Building Confidence

Many parents talk about “redshirting” their kids for Kindergarten, or holding back their children in hopes of building confidence and giving them an edge in the future..  Overall, not pushing a child too much beyond his developmental age is smart… then he can gain some confidence along the way.

What’s confidence any way? Confidence is about the accumulation of two things. Achieving positive outcomes along the way and experiencing failures safely (and turning them around through effort). This is why the experts always tell us to reward effort – not only achievement. The prize may not be 1st place or a top grade, but treading through and getting better and better at things… not giving up. I speak from experience. My high school chemistry teacher pulled me aside one term and said “I know you struggle in this class. I know your friends get A’s easily. But keep in mind your C grade in my class is one of the best grades I’ve given out. I see how hard you’re working. You keep at it, even though it seems you’re not succeeding. You are. You’ll see what I mean later in college.

He was right. I didn’t know it at the time, but Mr. Cunningham was rewarding my effort, not my achievement. When I hit college and graduate school, all that training at being persistent paid off. I excelled, while peers (those who hadn’t experienced as much challenge in high school) began to struggle. I’ll never forget that moment from 30 plus years ago. Thank you Mr. Cunningham, wherever you are.

My advice to parents is this: The early years of school shouldn’t be about maintaining high achievement. That sets up unrealistic expectations that a child has to be perfect. That can lead to them backing off of real challenges later in life for fear they can’t tolerate the prospect of making mistakes or missteps. Conversely, it’s also not healthy to make everything too easy or ensure a child always succeeds. That leads to low self-confidence – a belief that they don’t have what it takes to do things themselves. So, how much challenge is good? Bad? Generally speaking, I’d rather a kid be a little bored at times than always stressed in class. If they’re chronological age is a bit ahead of their peers or they hover around the average, then chances are they won’t usually feel behind. Remember, the early years aren’t a race. Kids have enormous amounts of time ahead of them to catch up and develop (and many develop on their own cognitive timeline anyway. Sometimes fast, slow, often unevenly).

These early years should be about generally keeping up, making friends, getting the basics of behavior down. Learning to keep impulses at bay, while having opportunities to take healthy risks and move beyond their comfort zone. It’s a balance. Every kid is different, but generally speaking, less pressure in the early years leads to happier, more emotionally grounded young adults.

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

Which school is the best fit for your son?

I get asked this question often. I don’t usually endorse particular schools – one reason being that I don’t visit or know them all that intimately. Also, they change over time depending on classroom make-up, types of students, cost issues, and administrators. Having said that, some parents seek out an education consultant if they are serious about private schools. It costs money to work with them – but it’s a great way to get the inside scoop on what programs might be a good fit for your son. Regardless, I think it’s best to visit schools, walk around, get a feel for things (not unlike what a college hunt process will be like down the road), and look mostly for these three things:

  1. Smaller, less crowded classrooms
  2. More male teachers
  3. Opportunities to sit less and break more and get regular physical movement all throughout the day

There are other important variables to consider too, such as hands-on learning, and less language-based instruction. However, sitting long hours is the real enemy for most boys in early education and why they get accidentally tagged as having learning or behavioral disorders.

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

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

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