Why No One Can Have it All

July 31, 2012 by · 11 Comments 

A few times this summer I have come to think about the challenging  job of raising children and how parents share that work and balance it with the demands of paid work.  As I  noted in an earlier post, I attended a college reunion earlier this summer.  Most of my classmates have grown children by this time.  A  couple of conversations turned to the complications of sharing child rearing.  One woman professional remembered that her husband was totally unwilling to leave work when a child got sick at school or day care.  This happened despite the fact that it appeared that his schedule was more flexible.  (Of course, in the interests of full disclosure, I need to say that I have not talked to him about this.) Others had similar stories.  I realized again how fortunate I was that my husband was a teacher who was willing to take over child care when he got home in the afternoon so that I could continue my practice which tended to run into the early evening a few days a week.

The issue came up again when The Atlantic magazine published an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, entitled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”  She described her time working for the State Department under Hillary Clinton and commuting on weekends to her home in Princeton, NJ to be with her two teenage sons and her husband.  Eventually she found that a job that made a 24/7 claim on her life was incompatible with being the kind of mother she wanted to be to her sons, especially one who was having a difficult time adjusting to high school.  My response was something like, “Duh.”

If having it all means being able to compete in a job that has to come first in your life,  then I don’t believe that women or men can have it all.  They cannot compete successfully in such a job and have a rewarding family life.  Life becomes one-dimensional, mostly about work.  In our society it is still more acceptable for men to have such jobs and make such choices.  It seems that Anne-Marie Slaughter came to a place that she was unhappy with this one-dimensional life.  I have worked with many families in which fathers were unavailable because they had committed to such demanding work.  The mothers and the children in these families suffered from the father’s relative absence.  And I believe that he missed out as well.  I do not mean to imply that these men were less concerned with family, though perhaps some were.  They simply had bought into the assumption that work came first.

So far I have talked about two-parent  families.  Let me hasten to add that it is that much more complicated for single parents to achieve some balance.  Some single parents have to work long hours because there is no other income to support the family.  The single parents that I know  who are doing well have good supports in family and friends who help them out when they cannot clone themselves.

Ultimately, I think that it is a problem in our society that the jobs that are seen to be most prestigious are incompatible with a good family life.  Outside of those extreme demands parents have to make delicate deliberations all the time about sharing the work of parenting.  With children who have special needs the demands are even greater.  Will there be enough emphasis in the years to come on the need for the workplace to be family friendly?  Will women (or men) who want the flexibility to be available for their children need to accept the “Mommy track?”

I would be very interested to hear how others have negotiated this path, especially in light of the needs of a child with special needs.

 

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Your Children and the Aftermath of the Colorado Shootings

July 21, 2012 by · 10 Comments 

It has happened again.  A dreadful event has broken through our sense of safety in our own communities.  The news complete with interviews and diagrams of how the shootings happened is everywhere–on the internet, the TV, the radio, and in the newspaper.  I hope that you have been able to shield younger children (like 8 and younger)from this exposure.

However, it is likely that your children have heard about the tragedy.  I want to share with you a few resources that I think are quite helpful in guiding parents as they support their children at this time.  These articles emphasize  six basic steps.

1  Be aware of your own feelings and how you might be communicating them to your child.  Take care of yourself.

2.  Limit access to news at this time.  The repeated exposure is likely to be more upsetting to children.

3. Be ready for feelings about the shootings.  Don’t assume that you know what your child feels.  Instead, be available in times to talk (bedtime, in the car) and ask questions.  Don’t wait for your child to bring it up.  Validate feelings.  The emotional upset from this event might bring up feelings from earlier upsetting times in your child’s life.  It’s OK.  Just be available to deal with it.

4.  Keep your home a safe place for having and expressing feelings.

5.  For older elementary school children and up emphasize that this is really a rare event. It does not change whether you are safe in your neighborhood.

6. Find ways that your children can express compassion to someone who needs it in your neighborhood.  These actions are empowering.  Perhaps there is an elderly person who needs a visit.  Maybe you could make a contribution to a food pantry.

Here are the helpful links that I received this morning from the Massachusetts Psychological Association Disaster Response Network.

Resources for Mass Shooting Tragedy

 

APA – Psychology Help Center:

 

 

Red Cross:

 

  • “Red Cross Support Colorado Community After Tragic Shooting”;

http://rdcrss.org/PkaGkW

  • Taking Care of Your Emotional Health After a Disaster

http://www.redcross.org/www-files/Documents/pdf/Preparedness/checklists/EmotionalHealth.pdf

 

NYU Child Study Center:

 

  • School Shootings: Helping Teens Cope– A Guide for Parents. Institute for Trauma and Resilience http://www.aboutourkids.org/articles/school_shootings_helping_teens_cope_guide_parents

 

CNN:

 

  • “Five Tips for Talking with Kids about Scary News”

http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/20/living/talking-kids-scary-news/index.html?hpt=hp_c2

 

SAMHSA:

 

  • Disaster Distress Helpline

http://disasterdistress.samhsa.gov/

 

PTSD Research Quarterly:

 

  • Impact of Mass Shootings on Survivors, Families and Communities

http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/newsletters/research-quarterly/V18N3.pdf

 

 

Play: Serious Business that Teaches Life Skills

July 18, 2012 by · 8 Comments 

This week I have been reading Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College by Sandra Aamodt, Ph.D. and Sam Wang, Ph.D.  The authors describe brain development and child development, linking the two in a very instructive way.  Along the way, they debunk a number of myths, and they offer research data to support all they describe.  While some of the book gets fairly technical in its description brain anatomy and function, it also gives practical examples of ways parents can foster their children’s development.  The authors particularly reassure parents of infants that being a good enough parent and providing a good enough environment is all your baby needs to have her brain develop well.

Aamodt and Wang have an interesting chapter on the development of self control and the importance of play.  Self control develops quickly between 2 and 7 years old.  Then it slows down, but continues to develop through adolescence. People can increase their self control throughout adulthood by practice.

The authors describe a psychology experiment done with preschool children, commonly called the marshmallow experiment.  The researcher shows the child one marshmallow on a table.  She tells the child that she can have two marshmallows if she waits a few minutes without eating the first one until the researcher comes back.  The child can ring a bell at any time to bring the researcher back, but then she gets only one marshmallow. The average wait time for a four year old is six minutes.  The extent to which children can wait on this simple task is correlated with their SAT scores, their ability to cope with stress and to concentrate in adolescence.  It is also correlated with math and reading skill in elementary school.  Self control is also important in social skills.   Children with greater self control on the marshmallow task are rated is less angry and fearful and higher in empathy.  Clearly this simple task measures something that is central to success in school and social situations.

The four year olds who are good at waiting on the marshmallow task use strategies to distract themselves.  They cover their eyes, turn their back, or tell themselves a story.  We know that children and adults (see Will Power by Roy Baumeister, Ph.D.) can improve self-control by practicing.  Of course, it takes self-control to have the discipline to practice.

Parents can provide children with pleasant experiences that offer the opportunity to practice regulating their behavior.  In very young children warm, supportive parenting contributes to self-regulation.  In older children playing board games gives children a fun way to learn self-control.  They have to wait their turn and manage their feelings if someone else is winning.  Of course, if your child consistently loses, you will need to choose a less challenging game.  Consistent failure isn’t fun and doesn’t teach.  In elementary school structured play with others such as in beginning sports or scouts give enjoyable opportunities to practice self-regulation.  Multi-step activities like art or building projects also help children maintain self-control so that they can achieve the goal.  Imaginative play also contributes to this skill set.  In imaginary roles children practice skills they need to manage the social and academic world.  When playing school, one child gets to be the teacher and another has to take instruction.  Pretend roles call for practicing self-control that might be difficult in real life. For instance, the authors note that a four year old who is asked to stand still like a guard outside a castle will stand still four times as long as a four year who is simply told to stand still.

In play children learn to regulate their own behavior.  Self-regulation is a skill that children then bring to whatever setting they are in.  Aamodt and Wang value self-regulation over learning to follow rules or obey adults’ requests.  It is a more adaptable skill that is not dependent on a particular situation?

What is your experience in teaching your child regulate her behavior?  Have you found that particular activities have fostered growth?  I would be interested to hear.

 

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What if She Acts Like This at 16?

July 10, 2012 by · 8 Comments 

Conscientious parents can get themselves quite worried when they think like the title here.  On the other hand, it is pretty normal to do so.  Say your first grader gets very frustrated with her friend when they are planning a pretend scene, and she stomps out of the room, saying mean things and throwing a book.  You notice that this has been happening a lot lately.  She has a short fuse, gets easily frustrated, and her behavior suffers.  If you confront her, and tell her to apologize to her friend, you might have a bigger fight on your hands. You’re even walking on eggshells around her.  It is true that you don’t want a teenager who behaves in this way.  However, thinking in this way usually makes parents feel more anxious and desperate.  They want to eradicate the behavior Now.  Here are my thoughts about this situation.

First, I often tell parents that child development is on their side.  By that I mean that as children grow, their brains grow also.  The parts of their brains that help them have better judgment and better impulse control grow.  As your child gets older, she will be better able to manage frustrations without physical outbursts.

Second, you don’t know that she’ll behave this way when she’s 16, or even 8.  Why get all worked up by predicting the future? No one I know can predict the future.  Cognitive behavioral therapists call predicting a negative outcome a “cognitive error” that leads to greater anxiety and even depression.  It won’t help you cope with what you are dealing with today, that is, her tendency to be explosive when she’s frustrated.

Third, if you predict a negative outcome in your own mind, you might communicate that to your child, either implicitly or directly.  Unfortunately, a child who believes that her parents fear (or believe) that she’ll come to no good is likely to meet their expectations.

So, what can you do?

Notice when you are predicting a bad future and pull yourself back to the unpleasant present.  Your first grader is behaving badly, and you need to help her with it.  You do not know what will happen in the years to come.

Take a deep breath and try to have some faith that you will figure out how to help her with her frustration.  She is young, and she needs to develop better coping strategies.

At this point, some parents might say, “But I’m doing the best I can,”  and that’s the truth.  So, look for help.  Talk to other parents whom you admire.  Get suggestions for reading from your pediatrician.  Or talk to a child psychologist.  There are a variety of issues that could be leading to the behavior I described above.  You can get some help and learn some strategies yourself.  There is no shame in asking for help.

 

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