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Archive for July 2013


Get Outside!

Take every opportunity to get the kids outside. It reduces stress and improves mood!

We’re a society that spends too much time indoors, with longer school days, higher homework demands, more electronic gadgets, and greater fears that the world out there is dangerous or uncomfortable. I think we need to give boys greater freedom to move about and explore their backyards and neighborhoods, to camp, hike, bike, and discover spaces outside their home. Reductions in stress and general improvements in psychological well-being have been associated with being outdoors, enjoying natural light, experiencing natural sounds and sensations such as the wind and a myriad of sights and textures that television and computers can’t duplicate. When we are so disconnected from the natural environment we were designed to experience, many of us feel empty and a bit depressed. For young boys, being stuck indoors increases their stress level and lowers their frustration tolerance. We were designed to move about and explore, and boys in particular have a very high drive for this.

–excerpted from The Way of Boys

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Turn off the (insert electronic’s name here)!!!

A mom recently asked, Why is it that when I ask my children to shut down their electronics they sigh and give me a hard time. I am trying to not get mad and take it personally but it is hard not to lose my cool. Any advice?

The sighing is one thing. Sure, it’s irritating to hear, but that’s something to ignore as long as your kids follow through. But the rest of it (giving you a hard time) is a choice they make to push back (inappropriately) on the rules. It’s a power play that you can’t tolerate. Today it’s screens, and before you know it it’s about curfews and driving. This kind of push back deserves a consequence from the parent. Try this:

Next time you are about to be in that situation where you want screens off, say “Hey, look up, this is important. (make sure you get eye contact). I going to come back in a few minutes. When I do, I will ask you nicely to shut down the computer. At that time, it’s your choice to push back on me and complain. If you do, you miss it all day tomorrow… your choice. I hope you make a good one. See you in a few minutes” (then walk off)

Keep doing this for a while. It will increase your kids compliance because it puts the control in their hands.

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Another Q&A: Learning Social Skills

Another Facebook Fan asked: Our middle boy just turned 5. He has high energy and is very competitive. At home and with his brothers he’s fine, but with other kids he gets aggressive, hits, gets upset easily. Good news is he’s immediately remorseful when he does something wrong. He has poor impulse control.

Being a behavioral psychologist, I’m often steering parents toward teaching a new, better behavior rather than getting trapped in diagnostic or developmental labels alone. Those are helpful to know, but ultimately we want things to improve. In this case the target behavior is complex – social skills (cooperative, non-aggressive play with peers). Here’s a plan:

Set up small play groups and activities that are time limited and involve only one or two other kids. Start with kids you think he’ll do best with. Start small. 10-15 min sessions. Then break. The plan is to reward him for success in suppressing his negative behaviors in these short time periods. If he can’t last that long, stop the play (get a whistle). Then try again in 15 minutes or half-hour – or next day. Practice these small play sessions and gradually increase the time, increase the number of kids, and vary the activities. Even better to use a timer and show him how long it takes to earn the reward. Always remind him right before you send him into the play group what he needs not to do… no touching or fighting. And, make him keep eye contact with you and repeat that back to you before he goes in to play. Make certain he knows the consequence is attached to his behavior – and it’s ultimately his choice to earn it or not.

It may seem unnatural to play and socialize this way… but this isn’t much different from any new skill we have to learn – think of practicing catch (which kids spend thousands of hours at) before they do it naturally. It’s a long series of rehearsals before they’re good enough to actually field and throw in a real baseball game.

The goal here is to over-practice the target behavior (perfect, pro-social behavior) but you have to demand 100% compliance – and that’s why you stick to a short time period and yank him as soon as it goes wrong. No more coaching him from the sidelines or second chances. We want to use the value of the reward (not you) as the agent of change. You’re more a teacher in this context (less of a nurturer), and always remain calm. Don’t shout, don’t look worried, just stop the play and wait. Model calm control. show him by example what self-control looks like.

Social skills, for some kids, are a very complex to learn. Another analogy is playing the piano. No one sits down the first time and plays. It’s based on practicing tiny, small key strokes. Rehearsing those until they feel comfortable and easy. Only then, you add new parts of a song, chaining them together. Always going back to the basics to rehearse anything that isn’t going well. Game with social skills. You’re practicing tiny controlled moments until he’s able to succeed (i.e., suppressing aggression), and gradually increasing that (more kids and new situations). Go slow and steady. Be patient. Expect lots of rehearsal to turn this around. Think of it as his learning to play Chopin!

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