Tag Archives: parenting

Self-Regulation is Central

Scarecrow

Self-regulation is central to nearly everything in life. I suppose maybe that’s why Dr. Sara Polanchek and I have been ruminating on it so much in our Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast series. In fact, the podcast that became available today is more general and less parent-focused than is usual. Again, that’s because self-regulation or self-control in the fact of outside forces or stressors is so important for everyone.

To read my more general self-regulation blogpost, click here: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2018/06/04/the-secret-self-regulation-cure-seriously-this-time/

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

To listen on Libsysn, click here: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

And finally, here’s a description of the podcast that’s live today!

The Secret Self-Regulation Cure (Seriously, this time)

For this Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast you should just let yourself relax, let go of all expectations, and tune in. You can even practice being bored, because one part of the secret to self-regulation is that it’s all about embracing your boringness (Spoiler alert, Sara gets bored at the end). Another way of putting this, is that the deep secret to self-regulation (which John shares in this episode) is to repeatedly focus on one comforting thing that is—or becomes—boring (for you science types, that means focusing in on one comforting stimulus). Another big part of the secret to self-regulation is mindful acceptance. Of course, you probably know that mindful acceptance is from Buddhist philosophy, but the concrete application of mindful acceptance involves accepting the fact that you will always get distracted and won’t ever be able to meditate or use progressive muscle relaxation perfectly. You can only strive to be imperfectly mindful (and you shouldn’t even strive to hard for that).

If you make it through this podcast episode without falling asleep, then you might be able to answer one of the following questions:

  1. According to Herbert Benson, What are the four parts of the “relaxation response.”
  2. What’s the problem with counting sheep as a method for dealing with insomnia?
  3. What was the spiritual mantra that John shared?

And if you can answer one of these questions and be the first person to post it on our Facebook page, then you will win something—something in addition to having that warm, positive feeling of having been the first person to post the answer.

Here’s the link to our Podcast Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/PracticallyPerfectParenting/?hc_ref=ARRyCtUkbbKwI1usTfQpgCtCAHB3Pi4EVR3fikiq3gd5A-C07BjG7mY7Lqtel9x2jiA&fref=nf

 

 

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The Secret Self-Regulation Cure (Seriously this time)

The Road“I’m in suspense,” Sara said. “I’ve been in suspense since the last time we recorded, because John said he had this big secret and I don’t know what it is.”

Partly Sara was lying. She wasn’t in much suspense, mostly because the “last time we recorded” had been only five minutes earlier. But, as I’m sure you realize, capturing and magnifying in-the-moment excitement is the sort of behavior toward which we Hollywood podcasting stars are inclined.

Sara stayed enthusiastic. When I told her that I thought every self-regulation and anxiety reduction technique on the planet all boiled down to a single method that Mary Cover Jones developed in 1924, she said things like, “That’s exciting!” and “I love Mary Cover Jones.”

[Side note] If you end up needing a podcasting co-host, be sure to find someone like Sara who will express enthusiasm even when you’re talking about boring intellectual stuff. [End of side note.]

Mary Cover Jones was the first researcher to employ counterconditioning with humans (although she rarely gets the credit she deserves—but that’s another story). Counterconditioning involves the pairing a desirable (pleasant or comforting) stimulus with a stimulus that usually causes anxiety or dysregulation. Over time, with repeated pairing, the pleasant feelings linked with the desirable stimulus are substituted for the anxiety response. Eventually, the person who has experienced counterconditioning can more comfortably face the undesirable and previously anxiety-provoking stimulus.

My belief is that counterconditioning is the first, best, and only approach to self-regulation and anxiety reduction. Put another way, I’d say, “If it works for self-regulation, then what you’re doing is counterconditioning—even if you call it something else.”

I know that’s a radical statement. Rather than defend my belief and philosophy, let me move on and describe how you can begin using counterconditioning to make your life better.

Let’s say your goal is for you to experience more calmness and relaxation and less agitation and anxiety. That’s reasonable. According to Herbert Benson of Harvard University, you need four things to elicit the relaxation response.

  1. A quiet place
  2. A comfortable position
  3. A mental device
  4. A passive attitude

Benson was studying meditation way back in the early 1970s. Okay. I know I’m digging up lots of old moldy stuff from the past. But take a deep breath and stay with me.

Let’s say you’re able to find a quiet place and a comfortable position. If you’re a parent, that might be tough. However, even if you find it for 12 minutes as you lie in bed, waiting for sleep, that’s a start. And really, all you need is a start, because once you get going, you don’t really even need the quiet place and comfortable position. On airplanes, I use this all the time and it’s not quiet and I’m not physically comfortable.

The next question that most people ask is: “What’s a mental device?” or, “Is that something I have to strap on my head?”

A mental device is a mental point of focus. In Benson’s time and in transcendental meditation, the popular word for it was “Mantra,” but Benson’s research showed that it can be almost anything. One mental device (that’s actually physical) is deep breathing. Another one is to sit comfortably and to think (or chant) the word OM. Benson also found that simple words, like the numbers “one” or “nine” also were effective. But, as I mentioned on the podcast, you can use other words, as long as they are—or can become—comforting. For example, I know people who use the following words:

  1. I am here
  2. Here I am
  3. Peace
  4. Shalom
  5. Banana

For those of you with religious leanings, you might want to use a specific prayer as your mental device. For those of you who are more visually inclined, you could use a mental image as your mental device. For those of you who are physically-oriented, you could use progressive muscle relaxation or body scanning.

The point is that all you need is a point . . . of focus.

Now comes the hard part. Because we’re all human and therefore, imperfect, no matter how compelling or comforting or soothing your mental device might be, you won’t be able to focus on it perfectly. You will become distracted. At some point (and for me it’s usually very early in the process), you’ll find your mind wandering. Instead of focusing on your prayer, you’ll suddenly realize that you’re thinking about a recent movie you saw or a painful social interaction you had earlier in the day or your mind will drift toward a future social situation that you’re dreading.

What’s the solution to the wandering mind?

Well, one thing that’s not the solution is to try harder.

Instead, what Benson meant by a “passive attitude” is that we need to gently accept our mental wanderings and distractions. More commonly, the words we use for Benson’s passive attitude are “Mindful acceptance.” In other words, we accept in the moment of distraction and every moment of distraction, that we are humans who naturally become distracted. And then, after the noticing and after the acceptance, we bring ourselves back to the moment and to our chosen mental device.

On the podcast, Sara asked, “What if, as I try to focus on my mental device, I notice that all the while I have an inner voice talking to me in the background?”

What an excellent question! The first answer is, of course, mindful acceptance. For example, when you notice the inner voice, you might say to yourself, I notice my mind is chattering at me in the background as I focus on my mental device. Then, without judging yourself, you return to your mental device. A second option is for you to find a more engaging or more soothing mental device. Perhaps, you need two mental devices at once? For example, that might include a soft, silky blanket to touch, along with your “I am here” mantra.

As Mary Cover Jones illustrated over 90 years ago, the counterconditioning process is a powerful tool for anxiety reduction and self-regulation. I happen to think that it’s the only tool for anxiety reduction and self-regulation. Whether you agree with me or not isn’t important; either way, don’t let anything I’ve written here get in the way of you identifying and using your own cherished mental (or physical) device. At first, it might not work. It will never work perfectly. But, like Charles Shulz was thinking when he created Linus’s special blanket, life is way better when you live it with a comforting counterconditioning stimulus.

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For more information about Mary Cover Jones, you can go here: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2011/11/25/a-black-friday-tribute-to-mary-cover-jones-and-her-evidence-based-cookies/

Or here: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2017/07/17/brain-science-may-be-shiny-but-exposure-therapy-is-pure-gold/

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As I write this (6/4/18), the podcast isn’t quite up yet . . . but will be soon!

To listen to The Secret Self-Regulation Cure on iTunes, go here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

To listen to The Secret Self-Regulation Cure on Libsyn, go here: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

To check out our podcast Facebook page, go here: https://www.facebook.com/PracticallyPerfectParenting/

The Secret Self-Regulation Cure: A Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast

Rocks and Trunk Up

Often, parents and professionals place too much emphasis on children’s surface behaviors, such as “being patient and polite” or “high academic, athletic, or music/art achievements.” This isn’t terrible, but it misses an important idea. In fact, being a patient, polite, high achiever requires several different foundational skills or abilities. One of these foundational requisites is: Self-regulation.

In the latest Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast, Dr. Sara Polanchek and I talk about how to help children develop self-regulation skills. Aside from being fun and hilarious (I’m mocking myself here), this podcast includes useful (but not necessarily “secret”) information.

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

Or you can listen on Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/the-secret-self-regulation-cure?tdest_id=431110

 

 

 

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

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.