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Archive for August 2017


Online “Learning Programs” – Do they work?

A mom from Arizona recently asked about a program she saw on the Internet to help her son be a better learner. He hates handwriting. It frustrates him. This program promises to retrain her son’s brain by using handwriting along with listening to music, so that his emotional systems are calmer and he can focus and write with less frustration.

On the surface, the program sounds good, and seems like it would deliver on its promise. BUT, the scientist in me isn’t buying it, for now.

Here’s what I do to be a better consumer of treatments and promises of better living that we are all barraged with daily. Be your own scientist. Think like a scientist. It’s empowering to be a critical thinker!

  1. Watch for labels like “Grounded In Science”. Grounded in science isn’t science. It’s maybe the  start of a scientific inquiry. All new treatments and ideas, no matter how good they sound, need to go the distance. They have to run their scientific course so to speak. That means they need to go through controlled, thoughtful, multiple studies. Researchers have a tough task. They set out to prove themselves wrong in hopes of showing that a pill or a clinical technique has some merit, up and beyond beyond all the other possible reasons it seems to work. Only then do they know it is worth using. This takes lots of time, years in fact.
  2. Watch for testimonials (instead of real studies). Testimonials are always positive. Those are hand-selected and intended to promote the product. They are designed to make you feel good and emotional. When emotional we’re thinking more with our hearts (emotional and irrational) and not our minds (logical).
  3. It’s worth a try… if a program is not very expensive or time-consuming, and you don’t consider it to the exclusion of all other known/tested programs. In the case of this mom from Arizona, she could sit with her son to do writing exercises (calligraphy is fun) while playing calming classical music in the background. New age music and instrumental is often better as lyrics tend to distract. If her son seems to enjoy it, if he gets calmer and seems to focus longer, that will likely help him at school (and homework) where he has to be more attentive and use handwriting.

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

Does Equal Opportunity apply to siblings?

A mom of two boys recently asked: “I have one son in private school and the other isn’t.  Should I explore private schools for the other son, even though, he’s doing great in public school I want to be fair and offer them equal opportunities for success.”

This question really gets at key issues:

  • When a child is doing well, thriving, has friends, grades are solid, and most important, seems happy… don’t change schools. Think of that old expression, If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. In medicine and diagnosing we say it more formally, First, do not harm Or if you are a fan of The Beatles, Let It Be. The more we intervene with good intention, the greater the risk of messing things up.
  • As your children get older, approaching middle school and beyond, you should wholeheartedly adopt the following definition of “fairness”: What’s fair isn’t given them all the same things, but what each of them needs when they need it. In other words, when kids are very young, it makes sense to break every cookie in two, measure each scoop of of ice-cream, buy everybody sneakers at same time. Once they’re older, their individual differences and individual needs branch out and move on different paths of growth… and that’s what should dictate your decisions for giving them what they need to assure them opportunities.

Go with your intuition more as your kids get older, treat them more as the individuals that they are.

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

Don’t over-think your parenting

High parenting expectations (while wonderful, and that’s how most of my clients are) can unintentionally and significantly sabotage best parenting practices. This is true especially in raising young high-energy, spirited boys. That’s because young boys by nature can be all over the map developmentally. Very attentive parents easily get pulled in a hundred directions. They end up chasing each challenge and worrying more and more. That only communicates anxiety back to their kids, which fuels more acting out. Parents need to build in the normal ups and downs of development so these messy moments can play out.

Better to take a low worry, it-will-all-work-out, big picture view. Stick to the basics behaviorally. Maybe add a visual simple chart with clear rewards that are frequent and reasonable. Ignore the tantrums and the inappropriate behaviors until kids calm down and then address what needs to improve. Keep a calm exterior. Don’t raise your voice. Know in your heart of hearts he will be fine, and he will.

Finally, look at what situations he does better in – shows his better self. From that, you can figure out best practices for each of your kids. Is it a calmer, less stressed, less crowded classroom or daycare setting? Is it a more experienced teacher and sitter that he does better with? Around sibs is he worse? If so, plan special 1-1 time to reward him for being patient. Make sure there is always lots of motor movement throughout the day – many breaks – especially before times when he might be expected to sit and attend.

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