Tag Archives: child development

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.

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The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast — Episode 2

Hello Parents, Fans of Parents, and Fans of Healthy Child Development:

I need a tiny bit of your time and help.

As you know, the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast was launched on October 31. Yesterday, Episode 2 became live. The title: Practically Perfect Positive Discipline. Today, I’m flexing my marketing muscles (which, as it turns out, are disappointingly more like Gilligan’s than the Incredible Hulk)

Podcasts are a competitive media genre. One way we can try to improve our status from way out here in little Missoula, Montana is for people to listen, like, and rate.

Here’s how you can help:

If you use iTunes, here’s the link. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting/id1170841304?mt=2#episodeGuid=2d80f23353e2c7f9d21af865f190d2c4

Please check it out and if you like it, like it, and then give it the rating you think it deserves. We’re trying to get enough ratings to climb up the iTunes rating list.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can get to our podcasts via this link: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/2016

And, either way, we’d love it if you’d like our Facebook page. To do that, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Practically-Perfect-Parenting-Podcast-210732536013377/?notif_t=page_fan&notif_id=1479160427608384

In addition to your social media ratings, we’re ALWAYS interested in your supportive or constructive feedback. We also take questions and suggestions for new show topics. You can provide any or all of that here on my blog or directly to me via email at john.sf@mso.umt.edu

Thanks!

Dr. John and Dr. Sara, The Practically Perfect Podcasters

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The Montana Parenting Podcast Needs You!

In about 10 days Dr. Sara Polanchek and I will produce our first parenting podcast. This is a project supported by grants from the Engelhard Foundation and the Morris and Helen Silver Foundation. We are very grateful for this support.

If you’re reading this, consider offering us some assistance. Nope, I’m not asking for cash (not yet anyway). What we need is a little of your fabulous creative input. In particular, please email Sara or me or post on this blog your answer to the following question:

WHAT COOL, CATCHY, AND PROFOUND TITLE SHOULD WE GIVE TO OUR PODCAST?

Okay, maybe you need more information.

The plan is for Sara and I to produce about 50 parenting podcasts. Each one will be about 15-20 minutes long. We’re trying to be interesting, sometimes provocative, and cutting edge. For example, our first podcast will be on spanking or corporal punishment and, among other things (like our pithy and educational anecdotes),  we’ll be weaving science and Adrian Peterson and Chris Carter’s commentary on corporal punishment into the show. In fact, we have so much to say on this that it may end up being a two-parter.

We have many planned topics, but since our goal is 50 “episodes” you’re also welcome to provide us with your thoughts on topics YOU think we should cover.

We also have lots of expertise (IMHO), but if you happen to be an expert or know an expert whom you think we should have as a guest on our program, feel free to offer that too.

The goal of the podcast is to provide interesting and helpful information for parents and parenting educators. The podcast will be posted on the National Parenting Education Network (NPEN) website, as well as other websites interested in promoting positive, research-based, developmentally sensitive parenting for the 21st century. You can check out NPEN at npen.org. We advocate FIRM, but NONVIOLENT parenting.

In summary, please share any or all of the following:

YOUR IDEAS FOR A SMASHING PODCAST TITLE

YOUR IDEAS FOR FUN AND INTERESTING TOPICS

and (here’s the money thing)

YOUR IDEAS FOR COMPANIES OR INDIVIDUALS WHOM YOU THINK WOULD LIKE TO SPONSOR INDIVIDUAL SHOWS FOR THE BARGAIN PRICE OF $200 (OR MORE).

Thanks for reading and have a fabulous weekend!

John SF

 

 

Parenting Consultations with Divorced, Divorcing, and Never-Married Parents

Working with parents who are divorced, divorcing, or living separately can be both challenging and gratifying. In this excerpt from “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen” we discuss some key issues and provide a case example. The main purpose of this post is to stimulate your thinking about working with this unique and interesting population of parents.

Here’s the excerpt:

Divorce will probably always be a controversial and conflict-laden issue within our society. In part, this is due to moral issues associated with divorce, but it is also due to the many knotty practical issues divorced parents frequently face.

Divorce Polemics

Divorce and single-parenting choices still carry stigma and so parents will be monitoring for any judgments you might have about them. You may have very strong opinions about divorce or about people choosing to adopt or bear children while single. If this is something you can’t put aside and be nonjudgmental about, it’s best to put your views in your informed consent so parents know this explicitly about your practice. In most cases, professionals have values and beliefs they can keep in check while working directly with people who make choices far different than the professional might have made. For instance, you might firmly believe that all children should be born into a two-parent family with parents who are married and committed to the family, but you might still be able to be very helpful to a single gay parent who adopted a 10-year-old disabled foster child.

Because they’ve sometimes faced moral and religious judgments, divorced, divorcing, and never-married parents have substantial needs for support and education. Consequently, you should prepare yourself to provide that education and support. Their parenting challenges can be particularly acute and confusing.

The issue for practitioners working with parents is to avoid laying blame and guilt on parents for divorcing (generally, they already feel guilty about how their divorce might be affecting their children). Instead, your role is to help divorced, divorcing, or never-married parents manage their difficult parenting situations more effectively. What we need to offer is (1) emotional support for divorce- and post-divorce-related stress and conflict; and (2) clear information on specific behaviors parents can engage in or avoid to help their children adjust to divorce.

Providing Support and Educational Information
Most divorcing and recently divorced parents are in substantial distress and so parents and need comfort, support, and information. Consequently, we recommend talking with parents about divorce in a way that’s empathic and educational. In the following case, a father with three children has come for help in planning to tell the children. His children are 4, 6, and 8 years old.

         Case: Talking about Divorce

PARENT: I’m really worried about how to talk with my kids about the divorce. I can’t get the right words around it. I know I’m supposed to say something reassuring like, “Your mom and I love each other, but it just hasn’t worked out and so that’s why I’m moving out because it will be best for us to live separately.” But then I worry that maybe my kids will think even though I love them now, it might not “work out” either and then I’ll end up leaving them, too.

CONSULTANT: This is tough. I respect how much thought you’ve given this. Even though the differences between you and your wife make it too hard to live together, it’s extremely hard to leave the home and torturous to talk with your kids about it.

PARENT: That’s for sure.

CONSULTANT: I can see you love your children very much and it feels really important to talk with them about the upcoming divorce using words that won’t scare them too much and that will help them know you and your wife tried, but you have now decided that the divorce is for the best. But before we do that, I have a different piece of advice.

PARENT: What’s that?

CONSULTANT: You should plan to have more than one divorce talk with your kids. I know you want to do this right and that’s great. But the good news and the bad news is that you’ll need to have this conversation many times. As your children grow older, they’ll have different questions. It’s your job to tell them you love them and to explain things in words they’ll understand, but not to tell them too much. There’s no guarantee they’ll understand this perfectly and so it may relieve pressure for you to know you’ll get other chances. Some people like to think of it like having a sex-talk. Kids will have different questions about sex at different ages and so parents shouldn’t have just one sex-talk. You need to be ready to have a sex-talk at any time as your child is growing up. The same is true for talks about divorce. You need to be ready to talk about it now and whenever your kids or you need to talk in the future. I’ve got a great tip sheet for parents going through divorce and I’d like to go over that with you, too. [See Appendix B, Tip Sheet 10: Ten Tips for Parenting through Divorce.]

In this situation, the family’s educational needs are significant, so the practitioner will probably offer the father a tip sheet, additional reading materials, and a recommendation to attend a group class on divorce and shared parenting.

It can be difficult for divorcing parents to talk with their children without blaming the other parent. This can be either blatant or subtle. We recall one parent who insisted he had the right to call his former spouse “The Whore” in front of the children “because it was the truth.” In these extreme cases, we’ve used radical acceptance to listen empathically to the emotional pain underlying this extreme perspective and then slowly and gently help the parent to understand that “telling the truth” to the children should focus on telling your personal truth and not on the other parent’s behavior. Although it can be difficult for divorced or divorcing parents to hear educational messages over the din of their emotional pain, it’s the practitioner’s job to empathically and patiently deliver the message. Usually divorced and divorcing parents eventually see that criticizing or blaming the other parent can be damaging to their children.

More information on this and other topics related to working with parents is available on this blogsite (see the Tip Sheets) and in the “How to Listen so Parents can Talk” book.

See: http://www.amazon.com/How-Listen-Parents-Will-Talk/dp/1118012968/ref=la_B0030LK6NM_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403469599&sr=1-9

 

Who Needs Parenting Education Anyway?

Today and tomorrow I’m in Minneapolis at the annual work meeting for the National Parenting Education Network (NPEN). The room at the Search Institute (our host for the two days) is filled with very nice and very intelligent people—all of whom are deeply dedicated to making high quality parenting education a norm in the United States. Being with these fabulous people gave me a 15-year-old flashback.

I transported back in time and saw myself as the executive director of Families First Missoula, making a routine appearance on a local television news show. The vintage female newscaster was interviewing me about the upcoming Missoula “Parents’ Convention.” The Parents’ Convention was a full-day—including  a keynote speaker and 75 minute break-out sessions—all designed specifically for parents. It was pretty darn cool.

The newscaster nodded attentively. I explained how the event was created for parents because parents often didn’t get respect for all the knowledge required to fulfill their parenting commitments. This Parents’ Convention was about treating parents as professionals. As I finished talking, the newscaster turned to the camera, exclaiming, “Do go!”

I was pretty happy.

But moments later she scrunched up her face and muttered: “If you need that sort of thing.”

I wish I’d been ready for this negation of my message. But I wasn’t and so I just ignored her. Instead, I wish I’d explained that good, competent, and effective parenting is NOT NATURAL. I wish I’d emphasized that everyone needs parenting education and that everyone should want the sort of knowledge that just might make them a little better parent.

And this flashback takes me to another one.

This time I’m doing a short stint of in-home family therapy. There’s a mom with her 8-month pregnant teenage daughter and the room is filled with worries—worries about whether this teen mom is ready for what she’s facing. In a massive effort at denial, the soon-to-be grandmother turns to me with a strange and strained grin, stating, “Once she holds that new baby in her arms, she’ll know what to do . . . don’t you think?”

The answer then—and now—is the same. “No. She will not naturally and automatically know what to do. Parents need education. Parents need support. And parents need to know they need education and support. Rarely are parents really ready to face the enormity of their task. It’s hard to competently cope with sleep deprivation, mood swings, a wailing baby with poop somehow defying gravity and making its way up your child’s back, as well as the many other emotional, physical, and psychological demands of parenting.

And so this is why I invite you all to go to the National Parent Education Network’s website. For a mere $25 a year, you can join the movement to make high quality parenting education more accessible for to all parents. Somewhere inside, behind our strange and strained grins, we all know that parents need our help and that it’s the children who will benefit.

NPEN’s website: http://npen.org/

Montana Parenting Homework, Part II: Backward Behavior Modification

Parent Homework Assignment 9-1

Backward Behavior Modification

One amazing thing about parenting is how easy and natural it is to do things backward. For example, imagine your 7th-grader comes home with a report card that has five A’s, one B, and one C. If you’re like most parents, you’ll take a quick look and say something like, “Why’d you get that C?” or, “How can you raise that B to an A?”

Even though these questions make excellent sense, they’re in direct violation of a very basic principle of human behavior. That principle is: Whatever you pay the most attention to will tend to grow and whatever you ignore will tend to shrink. Despite this powerful principle, our human and parental tendency is almost always to pay close attention to the F’s and C’s in life, while only offering a passing glance at the A’s.

Another version of the same problem happens with parents who have two or more children. Your children may coexist very nicely together 60 percent of the day and fight like cats and dogs for the other 40 percent. Unfortunately, in that situation the natural tendency is to give almost all your attention to your children when they fight and very little attention to them when they’re playing nicely.

The consequence of violating this basic principle is:

  • Your 7th-grader feels his efforts are underappreciated and becomes less motivated.
  • Your children, sensing that they can get more of your attention by fighting than from playing together nicely, may begin fighting even more.

Our first point with this homework assignment is to reassure you that it’s perfectly natural to pay more attention to “bad” behavior than “good” behavior. But, it’s equally true that even though paying too much attention to bad behavior is natural—it’s not helpful because it can become a reward for bad behavior.

Our second point is that you should work very hard to:

Pay more attention to your children when you like what they’re doing than you do when you don’t like what they’re doing.

Or, better yet, try this:

When giving out consequences, be boring, but when giving out rewards, be passionate.

I had this lesson driven home to me many years ago. While doing therapy with teenagers who were in trouble for delinquent behavior, they started telling me how much satisfaction they got from making their parents angry. When I asked about this, they said things like, “I love it when my dad’s veins start sticking out of his neck” or “It’s cool when I can get my mom so mad that she spits when she talks.”

Keep these images in mind the next time your child does something that gets under your skin. Then, instead of a long lecture complete with bulging veins and spitting, be short and boring. Use a monotone to say something like: “I don’t like it when you do that.”

Then, when your child comes home on time, or gets an A, or plays nice with her brother, or makes an intelligent comment about virtually anything—that’s when you should launch into a passionate and positive lecture—complete with bulging veins and spittle.*

*These rules may not hold perfectly for your unique child. For example, some teens may not like much positive attention. That’s why you’re the best judge of whether a particular parenting strategy will work with your child. We’re also kidding about the spittle; that’s hardly ever a good thing to see.

To look at the book this blog is based on, go to: http://www.amazon.com/How-Listen-Parents-Will-Talk/dp/1118012968/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1341534736&sr=8-1&keywords=how+to+listen+so+parents+will+talk