Category Archives: Parenting

Doing Behavior Modification Right

Toilet Drinking Ed

Opposite Day was on January 25th and, sadly, I forgot to celebrate it. Maybe that’s for the best now that it feels like we’re living in an opposite world where, as parents, we need to constantly monitor and compensate for what our children see and hear on social media, television, the news, and from the President.

About a decade ago I “invented” the term: “Backward behavior modification.” It’s sort of like Opposite Day in that it captures the natural (but unintentional) tendency for parents to provide positive reinforcement for their children’s negative and undesirable behavior. As a part of backward behavior modification, parents also often ignore their children’s positive behaviors.

Celebrating Opposite Day requires creativity, mental effort, and planning. Saying the opposite of what you mean is difficult. In contrast, backward behavior modification is all natural, but unhelpful. As parents, we seem to do it automatically. It requires creativity, mental effort, and planning to do behavior modification in the right direction.

The latest episode of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast is all about how parents can do behavior modification in the right direction. Now, don’t get me wrong . . . I’m not a BIG proponent of mechanistic, authoritarian behavior modification. However, as Dr. Sara and I talk about on the PPPP, behavior modification is a tool that most parents, at least on occasion, should have in their toolbox.

Here’s a link to the podcast on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

Here’s another link to the podcast on Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

Here’s the official podcast description:

Behavior Modification: To Use or Not to Use—That is the Question!

Parenting is difficult. Parenting is also wonderful. As parents, most days we’re reminded of parenting challenges and joys. In today’s episode, Dr. Sara and Dr. John talk (and John dons his professorial persona and talks too much). Sara and John they talk about adding the crucial tool of behavior modification to your parenting toolbox. Don’t worry, we know how the idea of “behavior modification” can feel to parents; it can feel too sterile and mechanistic. The expectation isn’t for you to use behavior modification all the time, but instead to be able to use it when you need it. Even more importantly, our hope is for you to learn how to use it effectively. To help fulfill our hopes, Sara tells a story of behavior modification gone wrong and John and Sara share tips for using behavior modification effectively.

Don’t forget to like the PPPP on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PracticallyPerfectParenting/

And now we’re on Twitter. You can follow us there:  https://twitter.com/PPParentPod

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Upcoming Workshops!

John II

Coming up in March and April, I’ve got two, two-day professional workshops scheduled at the University of Montana. Together, these workshops can earn you 2-credits through the U of M . . . or you can enroll for continuing education credit (one workshop = 2 days = 13 CE hours). Whatever you decide, coming to Missoula in early March and early April is pretty fabulous. We’ve scheduled these workshops for the first Friday and Saturday in Missoula to coincide with the First Friday Art Walk. That way you can workshop during the day and walk around downtown Missoula and check out fantastic Montana art Friday evening.

The workshops and their descriptions are below:

March 2 and 3, 8:30am to 4:30pm: Working with Challenging Youth and Parents . . .  and Loving It

Counseling difficult youth and challenging parents can be immensely frustrating or splendidly gratifying. The truth of this statement is so obvious that the supportive reference, at least according to many teenagers is, “Duh!” Using storytelling, video clips, live demonstrations, group discussion, and skill-building break-out sessions, John will present essential evidence-based principles and over 20 specific techniques for influencing “tough” clients or students. Techniques for working with youth will include, but are not limited to: (a) the affect bridge, (b) what’s good about you?, (c) empowered storytelling, (d) generating behavioral alternatives, (e) the three-step emotional change technique, and many more. Dr. Sara Polanchek will join John for the parenting portion of the workshop. They will describe essential principles for working effectively with parents, how to conduct brief parenting consultations using a positive, solution-focused model, and strategies for providing parents with specific suggestions and advice to parents. Issues related to ethics and culture will be highlighted and discussed throughout this two-day workshop.

Here’s a link to the registration form for both workshops. Registration Form for JSF Workshops 2018

If you want to call for more information: Call 406-243-5252 and leave a message if our administrative person is away. Or you can always email me: john.sf@mso.umt.edu

April 6 and 7, 8:30am to 4:30pm: Variations on the Clinical Interview: Collaborative Approaches to Mental Status Examinations, Suicide Assessment, and Suicide Interventions

The clinical interview is the headwaters from which all mental health assessment and interventions flow. In this workshop, following an overview of clinical interviewing principles and practice, skills training for conducting the mental status examination (MSE) and suicide assessment interviews will be provided. Participants will learn MSE terminology, common symptom clusters and presentations, and strategies through which the MSE can be more collaborative and user-friendly. Additionally, participants will learn a flexible model for conducting suicide assessments. This model features eight core suicide dimensions and techniques for directly and collaboratively questioning clients about suicide ideations, previous attempts, hopelessness, and more. Five suicide interventions will be featured: alternatives to suicide; separating suicide intent from the self; interpersonal re-connection; neodissociation; and safety-planning.

One last note: On Wednesday, February 14, I’ll be doing my annual 1/2 day workshop on Tough Kids, Cool Counseling in the Schools at the annual meeting of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). We’re in Chicago this year. So if you happen to be in Chicago, check out the NASP conference. https://www.nasponline.org/professional-development/nasp-2018-annual-convention

 

 

 

Your Biggest Parenting Struggles

Twins Together Again

When Sara and I visited Ariel Goodman’s Intimate and Family Relationship class (COUN 242) at the University of Montana, we were instantly surprised.

First surprise? It was the first question: “What was the hardest thing you ever experienced as a parent?”

Second surprise? The second question: “What’s the hardest struggle that parents face today?”

The students made their interests clear from the start. They were curious about the biggest and most difficult parenting challenges. They wanted to know the worst, first.

This wasn’t exactly what we expected from the so-called snowflake generation. These “snowflake” students wanted to know what they needed to know to get themselves prepared. For me, that didn’t quite fit the stereotype.

Sara and I both answered their questions as best we could. If you listen to the podcast episode, you’ll likely catch our themes.

You can listen to the podcast on Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

Or you can listen on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

But Sara and I are only two people with two limited perspectives. This brings me to my question for you. Pretend you’re with these “snowflakers.” How would you answer their questions?

What was the hardest thing you ever experienced as a parent?

What’s the hardest struggle that parents face today?

If you have the time and inclination, let me know your answers here, on Facebook, or via email.

All my best to you in your parenting struggles (and joys).

John SF

Parenting in the Age of Trump . . . and other Parenting Challenges

John and Paul with Fish

This past week, Donald Trump posted another name-calling Tweet about Kim Jong Un being short and fat. Before that, he was famously recorded by Access Hollywood saying it was okay to grab women by the pussy. Somewhere in between, he tweeted about shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pig’s blood and referred to “firing those SOBs.”

This blog isn’t designed to be political. I don’t mean to be picking on Donald Trump. However, the extraordinary number of provocative statements he generates every day makes him a ready example of a poor media role model. His statements are often of the ilk that republicans, democrats, and independents would all rather not have their 12-year-old children hear, much less repeat. The point is that sometimes politicians, news reporters, comedians, musicians, athletes, and other celebrities make statements that are incompatible with mainstream American family values. This isn’t new. For those of us who were parents back then, about 20 years ago President Bill Clinton made a statement about oral sex that—at the very least—constituted horrid advice for teenagers. The other point is that somehow parents have to figure out how to best deal with provocative statements that leak out of the media and into our children’s brains.

In this week’s episode of the practically perfect parenting podcast, Dr. Sara Polanchek and I take on the contemporary Trump phenomenon, as well as the equally challenging phenomenon of comedians who try to make a joke out of holding a picture of a severed Trump head. How should parents deal with this stream of objectionable content?

Not surprisingly, Sarah and I have a thing or two to say about Parenting in the Age of Trump. We encourage you to contemplate, in advance, how you want to address revolting media-based material to which your children will be inevitably exposed. Our hope is for you to identify your personal and family values and then learn how to stimulate your children’s moral development. Bottom line: we can’t completely control the objectionable media discourse, and so we might as well use it for educational purposes.

You can listen to the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

Or you can listen to it on Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

You can follow and like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PracticallyPerfectParenting/

And just as soon as I gain better control of my Twitter finger, then you’ll be able to find us on Twitter too.

 

Why Parents Spank Their Children and Why They Should Stop

John hair and rylee at one

Let’s start with some numbers. About 30% of children have been hit/spanked by their caretakers or parents before turning 1 year old. About 85% of parents use hitting/spanking at some point to “discipline” their children. Spanking and hitting children is common among American parents.

Many parents who spank their children do so for religious, cultural, or other reasons. Many parents who spank or use corporal punishment are, in many ways, wonderful parents. The purpose of this blog—and the accompanying podcast—is not to villainize parents who spank. Instead, the purpose is to explore the positive and the negatives of spanking and guide readers (or listeners) toward the possibility that there are better alternatives to teaching children. If you want to listen now, here’s the podcast link: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/ or https://itunes.apple.com/fr/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting/id1170841304?l=en

The next part of this blog is excerpted from the classic and popular book, “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen.” Just kidding. The book is neither classic nor popular. It also didn’t win any awards. But since I wrote the book, and I like it, I was briefly tempted to exaggerate its beauty and wonder. Now I’m back to reality. It’s a book. Some people find it helpful. But it didn’t make the New York Times bestseller list (yet).

Physical or Corporal Punishment (from Sommers-Flanagan and Sommers-Flanagan, 2011)

Physical or corporal punishment can involve hitting, pushing, slapping, washing children’s mouths out with soap, holding children down, and other physical encounters designed to obtain behavioral compliance. Corporal punishment always involves using direct power to reduce undesirable behavior.

Spanking is a particularly controversial topic with parents and when entering into a discussion about spanking practitioners are warned to use substantial sensitivity and tact (which we will discuss later). For now, we want to emphasize that our professional position on spanking and physical or corporal punishment is straightforward and based on psychological research and common sense. Kazdin (2008) provides an excellent description of what the research says about using punishment (including spanking):

. . . study after study has proven that punishment all by itself, as it is usually practiced in the home, is relatively ineffective in changing behavior. . . .

Each time, punishing your child stops the behavior for a moment. Maybe your child cries, too, and shows remorse. In our studies, parents often mistakenly interpret such crying and wails of I’m sorry! as signs that punishment has worked. It hasn’t. Your child’s resistance to punishment escalates as fast as the severity of the punishment does, or even faster. So you penalize more and more to get the same result: a brief stop, then the unwanted behavior returns, often worse than before. . . .

Bear in mind that about 35% of parents who start out with relatively mild punishments end up crossing the line drawn by the state to define child abuse: hitting with an object, harsh and cruel hitting, and so on. The surprisingly high percentage of line-crossers, and their general failure to improve their children’s behavior, points to a larger truth: punishment changes parents’ behavior for the worse more effectively than it changes children’s behavior for the better. And, as anyone knows who has physically punished a child more harshly than they meant to—and that would include most of us—it feels just terrible. (pp. 15, 16, 17)

For those of you who work with children and are familiar with the behavioral literature on punishment, Kazdin’s position on punishment is probably not new information. Virtually all child development and child behavior experts agree that punishment is ill-advised (Aucoin, Frick, & Bodin, 2006; Eisenberg, Spinrad, & Eggum, 2010; Gershoff, 2002). And if you’ve tracked the rationale for avoiding punishment closely, you may have noticed that we—and Kazdin—haven’t even mentioned two of the main reasons why punishment is inadvisable: (1) Punishment generally models aggression and (2) punishment involves paying substantial attention to negative behavior—which is why it often backfires and becomes positively reinforcing.

In the end, however, Kazdin’s position and all the research data in the world probably won’t convince many parents to stop using punishment. This is no big surprise: Using too much punishment can be habitual, irrational, and cultural—which is why we almost always avoid trying to engage parents in a rational argument regarding the merits and disadvantages of spanking.

We have additional resources on how to talk with parents in ways to help them see alternatives to spanking. These include:

The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast, Episode 19 (10/23/17) on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/fr/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting/id1170841304?l=en

Or via Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

Appendix B, Tip Sheet 1: The Rules of Spanking, from “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen” http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118012968.html

You can also check out Dr. Kazdin’s website and book at: http://alankazdin.com/

And here’s the description of the podcast:

Why Parents Spank Their Children and Why They Should Stop

What do you feel when your lovely child misbehaves and then the misbehavior continues or repeats? What happens when you feel terribly angry and just want to make your child’s behavior stop? What happens if you spank your child . . . and then . . . much to your relief, your child’s annoying behavior stops! In this episode, not only do Dr. Sara and Dr. John discuss the negative outcomes linked to spanking, John also annoys Sara so much that she takes the impressive step of turning off his microphone. Will John ever get to speak again? How long does his microphone time-out last? This episode includes a clip of what Cris Carter, former Minnesota Viking and Hall of Fame wide receiver, thinks about physical discipline. You also get to hear what Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff discovered in her meta-analysis of corporal punishment research.

When talking about B.F. Skinner and the science of negative reinforcement, for the first time in history, John says something that’s technically incorrect. If you’re the first person to correctly identify what John says that’s wrong, you will receive a copy of his book, “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen.” You can enter by posting your idea on the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast Facebook page or on John’s blog, at johnsommersflanagan.com.

 

 

Brain Equity: Grandpa Pancake’s Tips for Healthy Children’s Brains

Rainbow 2017

These are the opening comments from a speech I made, along with speeches from Mike Halligan and Deb Halliday, for the Montana Young Child Conference in Helena . . . The powerpoints with the “Brain Equity Tips” are toward the bottom of this blog.

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Yesterday, today, and tomorrow have and will include many huge and tragic things happening in the world. There’s been hurricanes, shootings, and many other tragic events that are obviously important and that capture our attention.

But it’s also important for us not to become too preoccupied or obsessed with world events, partly because we have obligations and responsibilities right in front of us that also are immensely important. One of these things is parenting. Another is the formal and informal education of young children. We need to make sure that we’re not too distracted to do these things well.

Also, more than ever, local and national and global tragedies tend to divide us into sides. I’m tired of that divisiveness. That’s one great thing about tonight. We’re all on the same page. We can be together in our commitment to children’s education and well-being. For tonight, let’s bracket some of the huge world events and national events that divide us and may occupy a lot of our psyches, and bring our focus back to the very personal, immediate, and interpersonal process of raising and educating healthy, happy, ethical, and successful children

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I had my own, tiny little miniature, difficult experience yesterday. It was very hard. And I’d like to start this talk by sharing it with you.

I turned 60 years-old.

Don’t get me wrong. It was also a wonderful experience. But like lots of things in life: There was joy and there was horror.

Yesterday morning, I had to say, outloud, “I am 60-years-old.” It was painful. I was with my group of 8 doc students. They brought me pastries. Then, one of them asked, “Is it okay if we ask you your age? How polite. I hemmed and hawed. “Very old,” I said. “It’s big number.” It’s a difficult birthday. I’m 60.”

There were gasps. Seriously. Audible gasps in the room. One student acted VERY surprised. She said. “Oh! I was off 10 years! You don’t look . . . I didn’t think . . . I thought you were 70.”

A few minutes later, another one of them asked if they can call me grandpa pancake.

But we all have our limits. I said, NO. It’s Professor Pancake to you.

Being 60 and being Grandpa pancake, I decided it would be okay for me to begin this talk with an old painful memory

At some point in 1983 I got a new girlfriend. I know you might be thinking, what’s up? Now that John is 60 is he just going to ramble from one personal story to another? Maybe so. Someone gave me this microphone and so now I’m just talking.

Anyway, I got a new girlfriend. The point is that she had a 6-year-old daughter. At the time, I was on the verge of thinking I was pretty darn smart and clever. I was getting my doctorate in psychology. I could do Chi Square statistics in-my-head. Life was good.

My girlfriend invited me over for dinner. She lived at Aber Hall at UM because she was the Head Resident. And her daughter will be there. Kind of a big deal.

Dinner was served. Chelsea, my wife’s daughter, wrote our names in crayon, so we’d know where to sit. John, Rita, Chelsea. So sweet. Then, partway through dinner, I noticed Chelsea had a piece of lettuce sticking to her front teeth. Now, in my family of origin, we had this super-funny joke. Whenever someone got food on their lip or teeth, we’d say, “Hey, you’ve got food in your teeth and it’s making me sick.”

That’s pretty hilarious, don’t you think. So, in the moment of being a spontaneous cool boyfriend, I decided to share my family of origin humor with Chelsea. I looked at her and said, “You’ve got food in your teeth and it’s making me sick.”

You can probably guess how well that worked.

Chelsea started crying. She crawled up on her mom’s lap. Seeing the error of my ways, I got down on my knees and apologized.

This is a prime example of what makes parenting so darn difficult. There are an infinite number of multiple and rapidly shifting scenarios. That makes it impossible to be completely prepared for what happens next. It’s like Alfie Kohn wrote:

Even before I had children, I knew that being a parent was going to be challenging as well as rewarding. But I didn’t really know.

I didn’t know how exhausted it was possible to become, or how clueless it was possible to feel, or how, each time I reached the end of my rope, I would somehow have to find more rope.

The multiple and rapidly shifting scenarios that parents face include everything and anything. When I was the Executive Director for Families First in Missoula, I remember a mom who told me her daughter was pooping in the potted plants in the house. There was the mom whose daughter was afraid of the things that came out of toilets. There was a set of parents whose 10-year-old daughter was running the household. The parents whose children wouldn’t wear socks with seams . . . or eat any food that wasn’t white or yellow . . . or who first began using the F word at age five . . . in church.  Grocery store meltdowns, bad report cards, biting at daycare, not reading well, being too bossy with friends, forgetting homework, resisting homework, becoming school phobic, not cleaning their room, cleaning their room too much . . . you know what I mean, the challenging situations parent face are endless.

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For those of you interested and those of you who were at the Montana Young Child event and requested access to my powerpoints, click on this link: Montana Young Child Helena Keynote 2017

Thanks for reading and thanks for your commitment to the education and well-being of all children.

Weekend Listening: The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast is BACK!

John and Ry and Photo

You know you’ve been waiting for this moment, ever since Season 1 of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast ended with a thrilling cliffhanger.

And now, your long wait is suddenly over.

Today is the world premier of Season 2 of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast. You may be wondering: Did Rachel get back together with Ross? Who shot J.R.? Will carnage ensue in GoT Season 8?

As important as they are, the PPPP promises to answer none of the above. Instead, we will rivet your attention with a swashbuckling episode titled, “Technology as a Barrier or Bridge to Family Relationships”

Here’s the trailer (er, description):

This OPENING episode of Season 2 of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast is positively packed with information and tantalizing tips. TECHNOLOGY and SCREEN TIME is a huge issue for many parents. In this captivating episode, Dr. Sara and Dr. John are talking back to technology; they’re saying, “Hey technology, we’re taking you down! Well, not really. But the episode does include a range of AMAZING insights and tips to help parents understand and deal with the dangers and opportunities of technology and screen time. When you tune in, be sure to listen for:

  • Sara’s obsession with using contracts to manage her children’s screen-time
  • A clip from Dr. Dimitri Christakis’s TEDx Ranier talk where he provides a fun critique, partially narrated by Dr. Sara, on Baby Einstein (to watch Dr. Christakis’s full talk, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoT7qH_uVNo
  • How much a baby’s brain grows from birth to age 2 (can you guess?)
  • John’s four tips for raising children with healthy brains
  • Christakis’s three stage theory about how constantly changing screens contribute to children having attention problems
  • Sara’s and Dr. John’s thoughts on the appropriate use of technology and screens for families

Don’t wait. Sit your children down in front of the television (not serious here), grab your favorite personal device, and listen to your favorite podcasters launch themselves into SEASON 2!

To listen on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

To listen on Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/technology-as-a-barrier-and-bridge-to-healthy-family-relationships

Email your ideas, reactions, hopes, dreams, questions, and commitments for underwriting support to: johnsf44@gmail.com