The Super Agent Parent – Could YOU Be at Risk?

Over the last few years there’s been a lot written about the overly close parenting style that’s become increasingly common. You probably know the type – the moms and dads who habitually over manage and overprotect their kids to the point of being ridiculous – and potentially damaging.

One particular strain of this “disease” shows up in the parent who becomes, what I call, a “Super Agent.” There is a dark side to this style and it’s best to make sure you don’t catch it.

The motives of the Super Agent are initially no different from anyone else’s. After all, parents have wanted the best for their children since the beginning of time. Nothing wrong with that. But bad things happen when this normal human desire for their children’s happiness turns into an unquenchable, obsessive urge to create the perfect child — the one who does it all and does it all exceptionally well. And if the child can’t, the parent will.

We’ve all seen it: the dad screaming at the coach on the sidelines of the soccer field, the mother bragging about her daughter’s (parent-assisted) college essay, the surprising museum level quality of the 4th grader’s diorama. Who can blame them, right? Who doesn’t want their child to be everything he or she can be—the straight-A student, the captain of the football team, the first one invited to the prom? But, when the parent’s role changes from loving supporter to crazed super agent, it gets ugly and damage is done.

Just ask Corey Gahan, the one-time world-class rollerblader whose dad started shooting him up with steroids and human growth hormone when he was only 12. Although Corey was one of the best skaters in the world his father wanted more. So Jim Gahan moved his son from Michigan to Florida to train year-round with a famous coach and had Corey home-schooled so that practice time would not compete with school hours. Eventually, Corey became quite ill and blood tests revealed that he had 20 times the normal testosterone levels of a grown man in his system. His dad had been shooting him up for years in order to make him “more competitive.” Corey was banned from competing in his sport for two years after testing positive for illegal drugs. And his dad was convicted of providing steroids to his son and sent to prison.

Super Agent Parents work hard to give their child the edge from the start. At birth their children’s names are placed on the waiting lists of the best pre-schools in town. Baby Einstein tapes and other forms of “edutainment” follow soon after and from there on out the child is thrown into a dizzying array of activities like gymnastics, piano, soccer, flute, T-Ball and Japanese. Although one or two of these can be fun for a child, when the schedule is packed with five or six every week, the child suffers. Pediatricians and pre-school teachers alike are full of tales of exhausted, over-scheduled children who don’t know how to deal with unstructured play time and who are not developing the abilities to wonder and imagine.

As their kids approach elementary school and beyond, Super Agent Parents focus intensely on their child’s popularity or success in the classroom, on the stage, or on the field. And when their child does not make the team, get the lead role, ace the test or get invited to the party, the parents take it personally. They angrily confront the teacher about the grade or complain to other parents about the missing invitation or retaliate by having another party and excluding the kid who snubbed their child.

A few years ago, a story in the Baltimore Sun reported that teachers are leaving the field in droves because of parents who threaten and bully them over their children’s grades. Parental harassment got so bad in one school district that they were forced to implement a “civility policy” aimed at getting these over-demanding, rude parents to back off.

Unfortunately, when parents take over like this children do not learn how to deal with the consequences of not studying hard enough, or how to accept the fact that no one gets to be great at everything, or how to step back and let others shine, or how to deal with hurt feelings and move on from there. They do not get the opportunity to learn how to take responsibility for their actions and may walk away with the notion that mom or dad will always be there to clean up their mess or solve their problem.

The child also gets the loud but unspoken message that no matter how hard they may have tried, in the case of a low grade or small part or a cut from the team, it just wasn’t good enough. For a kid whose identity is still forming that often translates into “he or she” isn’t good enough. The child may begin to believe that in the absence of non-stop stellar grades or soaring popularity that he is sub-standard, disappointing and unworthy of his parent’s love.

For parents, the opportunity to teach their children the importance of trying their best and taking pride in the effort is lost. These experiences, although painful, can help kids learn what it means to be a friend, a neighbor, or a citizen and give parents the perfect chance to talk about perseverance, loyalty, being a “class-act,” the dangers of gossip and cliques, and how to get up and go on when things go wrong.

Since growing up does not happen in a straight line, kids are bound to make lots of wrong turns along the way. Mistakes, bad choices, getting caught and being in trouble are all a normal part of growing up. They are usually relatively harmless if someone is there to catch you and then give you the lecture, the sympathy, or the punishment. But if you never get the chance to make a mistake or step out of line, or if no one takes the time to call you out when you need it, the chances for more serious acting out later in life, when the consequences are far more serious, increase significantly.

The controlling, “step-back-while-I-show-you-how-it’s-done” parental attitude will eventually backfire once the child gets old enough to rebel or refuse. And because more time was spent pushing him to excel rather than on getting to know him, the parent is often at a loss as to how to reach this child once he really starts to push back. Then when the child gets too obnoxious or too insistent, the parent may simply give up and give in.

Many of these kids lose trust in adults and feel they have no one to turn to for advice and support. A recent survey showed that the people children most want to spend time with are their parents. They have a deep need for one-on-one time with their mom or dad. They want to be heard, questioned, listened to, and talked to by their parents and to gain the perspective that comes with age and experience. They need to sound out their ideas, hopes and dreams with someone they trust who loves them unconditionally and is on their side.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of lonely kids out there who rarely have frequent, relaxed, unscheduled time with mom or dad. Success at all costs bears a steep price. While on the one hand we have an enormous number of Ivy League applications going out, we also have a teen suicide rate that has tripled over the past two decades.

We’re at risk of raising a generation of kids who haven’t learned how to really struggle on their own to achieve something of value, how to fight fair, how to win with grace or lose with dignity, how to tolerate rejection or loneliness, how to daydream and imagine, or how to resolve a problem with a friend face to face.

Scary, sad, and not the way to go. Parents beware.

 

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Baby, What a Big Surprise!

Think you’re well prepared for life with baby? Here are a few facts that may amaze you. You don’t know what you don’t know.

  1. Newborns sleep peacefully and barely make a peep during the first week of life. Then they find their voices and all bets are off.
  2. Even though you knew it would happen, the first time they flip from front to back (about 3 months) and vice-versa, you’ll be blown away.
  3. No matter how hard they cry, infants under 4 months don’t shed tears. Their tear ducts don’t develop until then. Why 4 months? Who knows?
  4. Their ability to grasp appears at about 6 months. Before then, pressure on the palms initiates a reflex splaying of the fingers. This reflex is lost as the grasp shows up.
  5. Sometime after 6 months, baby will start making sounds and noises for effect, to get your attention. He’s learned he can make things happen in the world and loves to interact.
  6. His sense of humor shows up at about 7 months. Silly faces, funny noises and baby jokes will get a true laugh from him, not just tickles and raspberries.
  7. By 9 months he will be easily distracted. His attention will be drawn to a toy for a flash, but a second later he’s moved on to chasing the cat. He’s now much more aware of all the stimuli going on around him.
  8. Baby’s first words appear shortly after 9 months. Usually DaDa, sometimes uh-oh. Rarely, MaMa will be first.
  9. Oops, I forgot! Baby may seem to forget skills he’s already learned. He hasn’t really forgotten though, he’s just putting all his concentration on learning something new.
  10. Your little baby can nurture, too. He’ll try to feed or soothe a doll, you, or a stuffed animal by around one year. This is the beginning of social behavior and empathy — encourage it.
  11. Get ready for the relentless days of “NO”- there will be many of them. Translation: You’re not the boss of me. Baby power is taking shape. It’s normal and to be expected and comes from his need to practice independence. Offer choices whenever possible and just remember, you are smarter than he is!

 

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Does Your Child Have “Affluenza?” Uh Oh.

Although this post was originally published four years ago, it bears another look. Why? Because recently, a 16 year old whose blood alcohol was almost three times over the legal limit, stole his dad’s car and plowed into four people, killing them all. His attorney pleaded that he should not be held accountable for their deaths. And the judge agreed. Why? Because the young man suffers from affluenza. Yep, that happened.

What on earth is affluenza? Is it contagious? Is it serious? Well according to PBS, which produced an hour-long television show about it, affluenza can be defined as: “1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream.”

Basically, it’s an addiction to materialism — the overwhelming desire for more, more, more.

But what does that have to do with my kid, you might ask? He’s only three-years-old and more concerned with pursuing the household dog than dogmatically pursuing anything else. Career ambitions? Short-term, we’re shooting for total success in the potty training field and long-term, we’re possibly looking at something involving fire engines.

I know, but it actually does have a lot to do with your kid, and every kid, for that matter. It doesn’t just affect adults. Kids are suffering from it, too — in a big way — and yes, it is serious and highly contagious.

Just pair the affluenza idea with a recent study from San Diego State University and you’ll understand what I mean. Incredibly, they found that the number of teens suffering from anxiety and depression today is five times higher than it was during the Great Depression. Did you get that? And according to an article from Connect With Kids, the experts are pointing to affluenza as a major reason why.

That statistic took my breath away and it should get your attention too, because the trends that appear in the teen set today usually stick around for awhile and then eventually hit the pre-school set a few years later. The patterns and expectations you set up with your children now, while they are little, will last for a long time.

When we launched  this website, we promised to warn you about the inevitable potholes that appear when you least expect them, and hopefully save you some trouble. I know you’ve got a lot on your plate, with little ones running around but as a mom and a family therapist, I’m urging you to pay attention, because this is a big one.

So here’s the low-down on this prevalent and frightening virus: what it looks like like, how it gets passed around, and how you can prevent your child from becoming its next victim.

SYMPTOMS:

Many of the kids who were questioned in the study  (regardless of family income), said they needed the latest ipod, iphone, sports car, designer handbag, or $200.00 pair of jeans in order to feel comfortable and “good enough”  about themselves. Several reported buying something they wanted and then lying about its cost to a parent.

They knew they had crossed an important line regarding trust. But with affluenza, one’s sense of self worth gets linked to their possessions. What they own becomes the mark of who they are. Their accomplishments, ideals, families, talents or dreams for the future are not nearly as important as their “things” in determining how they see themselves.

The symptoms present as an obsession with shopping, or constantly comparing what they have with what their friends have. It’s a disease marked by competitiveness and their perception of “personal lack” can result in feelings of shame, anxiety, depression or unworthiness.

This is not, counter to what you might think, an exclusively upper-class disease. Kids from all racial and socioeconomic groups are affected.

CONTAGABILITY:

This one gets passed around very easily and often gets its start at home. Parents beware! Take a step back and look at how you spend money and family resources. Do your purchases tend to be needs or wants? We all like to indulge ourselves once-in-awhile, but a picture is worth a thousand words and guess which one they’re looking at?

They are certainly going to pick up on the behaviors and norms of their buddies in the neighborhood and at school. But that makes it even more important to make sure that at home, you practice what you preach.

TREATMENT:

Affluenza can be successfully treated. The first step is to spot it and call it for what it is. The rest is based on good, old fashioned follow-through. So here’s the plan:

1. Slow down on all the presents. Save them for birthdays and Christmas or Hanukkah. And even then, keep it modest. In a previous article, I mentioned that a large research study had found that 73% (yes, 3 out of 4) of the stuff parents bought their kids were things that the children hadn’t even asked for. The parents bought the stuff simply because they thought their kid might like it. Don’t go there. It can create an addiction and the story of the overindulged child does not end well. The kids in that study grew up deeply resenting their parents, and vowed not to spoil their own children when they became parents.

2. Set limits. If your child does want something, help him figure out how to either wait for it (“Put it on your Christmas list”); save up for it (remember the lay-away plan?); work for it; or forget about it. Remind him that just because he wants something doesn’t mean he gets to have it. And then, stick to your guns.

3. Hold off on giving them their own credit card until they are mature enough to handle it. Many of the kids in the San Diego study had them and spent over their limit on a regular basis. Unless you plan to fund them for the rest of their lives, you had best avoid that trap. That’s not to say they can’t have a credit card when they go to college for books, emergencies etc., but make sure you check it carefully each month and hold them accountable for any unauthorized purchases. And if they abuse it, cancel it.

4. Get them involved in giving back in one way or another. Volunteering in their community or school is a good way to start. This can start very young, with you!

PREVENTION:

There is no vaccine but there is hope. You are their best shot at prevention. And you can make all the difference. How?

1. Family dinnertime. Once again, it comes up as an antidote. Start right away with this habit and keep it going. Make it a priority to eat together at least 4 or 5 times per week. The research is crystal clear in demonstrating the positive effect on behavior, self-esteem, and overall happiness in children.

2. Spend time with your child playing, talking, and goofing around. Institute Family Game Night and “Special Time” and keep it going. The more quality time they spend with you away from the television and computer, the more confident they will feel about themselves.

3. Encourage them to develop their imaginations and become good at something creative that they enjoy. Something, not a hundred things. Maybe it’s music, or art, or fishing, or rock polishing. Just make sure it’s truly something that they like and don’t go overboard with lessons or teachers. Just give them encouragement and opportunity, and help them to develop their hobby or talent over time.

4. Make a pact with your friends to tone down the birthday parties and limit the excess when it comes to bigger and better. Work with your nursery school or P.T.A. to keep it simple when it comes to holiday parties or celebrations at school. And ask any well-meaning but notoriously overindulging grandparents, aunts, uncles or friends not to go overboard on a regular basis.

You can do this. I hope you’ll try. If you need a little more inspiration, keep in mind the wise words of Frank A. Clark: “A child, like your stomach, doesn’t need all you can afford to give it.” Now that’s something to chew on.


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Give, Not Gimme

HandPrints3+Painted+HandsAre you a bit stressed out about the whole holiday-present- buying thing? Short on time and, maybe, short on funds? We sure are, but the good news is that it’s easy to make the holidays less about material gifts, and more about the feelings behind them — especially for the littles in your life.

One of the most satisfying (and fun) ways to unite  the fam and replace some of the stuff-buying frenzy is volunteering. Volunteerism sets a good example for kids, shows them up-close that the world is much bigger than the small bubble they live in, and helps the community at the same time. A triple win! Start it early, and kids grow up expecting and wanting to participate.

And here’s the secret sauce that seals the deal …  how often do our smalls guys get to feel like they really make a difference in the world? The wonderful, empowering message for kids is that they’re important enough to have an impact on someone or something else. SHAZAM!

Next step … finding the right organization. Not always easy with small humans in tow, because many hands-on volunteer opportunities don’t exactly welcome the younger set. But a little creativity is in order here.

Even the smallest kiddo (with a bit of supervision) can pick up garbage at the park, playground, or beach. You don’t have to be part of a big effort to do this. Get yours together, find some garbage bags, and head out.

Or become involved in repair and renovation efforts for low-income residents. Younger kids might not be able to do the big jobs, but helping out by fetching a paintbrush or holding the nails involves them just the same.

Work at a community food bank or soup kitchen as a family. Find an organization that serves the elderly. Take food to people who are homebound and visit with them. Your kids can brighten a lonely senior’s day instantly. Offer your family’s help at the local animal shelter. Help plant flowers or trees.

Big kids (read tweens and teens) love to do for younger kids, so consider collecting baby clothes and toys for an organization that serves low income families. Who doesn’t love shopping for that adorable tiny stuff?!

Get your young’uns involved in choosing the activity and they’ll be more enthusiastic when the time comes. Approach it with excitement and anticipation — remember, they take their cues from you. You’re creating  lifetime habits here, Mama, and this is one to be proud of. Fight the holiday gimmes this year, show your family the true meaning of Christmas, and log less time fighting for a parking spot at the mall.

 

 

 

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A Sneaky Way To Get Them To Listen

Kids, kids, kids — wonderful, fabulous and absolute frikkin’ masters at the parental tune-out. Have you noticed? But WHY do their eyes glaze over and drift off to some faraway place whenever you offer that brilliant nugget of wisdom that would solve their lastest problem? Why dont they GET that you have oodles of hard-earned advice to share? Shouldn’t they be sitting at your feet, eagerly awaiting your next life lesson?

Well, not so much, if they are over 10. It’s a shock, I know, when the adorable little munchkin who has seen you as the smartest person in the world suddenly goes rogue and raises a suspicious eyebrow whenever you open your mouth to speak. It happens.

Not their fault, not your fault. It’s been that way forever. Part of it is that they have to learn how to work things out on their own and part of it is sheer stubbornness. Despite the fact that you do, in fact, have much to teach (and they have much to learn), once they hit those pre-teen years, they resist. Until they enter their twenties they will never again be fully convinced that you know what you’re talking about, regardless of the topic.

But take heart. I have a strategy that you can use to help get your all-important point across. Your message will be delivered quickly and easily and your kids will go away remembering it and quoting it themselves later to friends and siblings alike.

How does it work? The secret lies in keeping it short and sweet. Think for a minute. When some urgent piece of information needs to be communicated right away, what do we do? If you’re out to sea and run into trouble, you send an SOS. Not too long ago we got the word out with a telegram. Today we send text messages and receive urgent public news through bulletins that slide across the bottoms of our T.V. screens.

The thing they all have in common is that they are short and to the point. No long letters or 25 page reports. And that’s why adages, or old sayings, work so well with kids. They cut to the chase, stick in the mind, and get chewed on later. The wisdom, presented metaphorically, sinks in slowly and effectively. Plus, they have an air of authority to them and make you look like you know something your kid doesn’t.

Paul McCartney, famous for his work ethic, talks about how his dad doled out a favorite expression, “Do it now!” when he was growing up. It was later shortened to DIN and McCartney says that little saying was always working in the back of his mind and has stayed with him.

My parents had a few that they relied on to get their point across and I’ve passed them on to my kids, too. They can be surprisingly effective but must be used appropriately and repeated often. So next time you find yourself deep in the trenches, going head to head with an unreceptive child, try something a little different. Give your speech as usual but seal the deal by tacking on an old-time saying at the end. Next time, the adage alone may be sufficient.

There are hundreds to choose from. Here’s just a sampling:

If, for example, you typically try to get help and cooperation along these lines: “You guys need to get in here right now and help out with the dishes! Im sick of being the only one who….” You could substitute: “Many hands make light work.”

Or, if you want to get a professional procrastinator off his behind and on the job you could try, “The early bird catches the worm” instead of, “If you don’t get off that couch right now you are not going to be able to…..”

When junior comes to you proclaiming his innocence and blaming his brother/sister/friend for the fight/problem/whatever, you can listen sympathetically but then hit him with: “It takes two to tango.”

If you’ve got one who is forever making and breaking promises you can enlighten him with “Actions speak louder than words.”

A habitual complainer can be helped out of her rut with, “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

For a teenager who doesn’t feel he needs to work too hard looking for summer employment because his best friend’s dad has a hardware store and will “definitely” give him a job try, “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”

When you’ve got one who’s in the dumps dealing with a tough disappointment try, “Every cloud has a silver lining” or “This too shall pass” or “When one door shuts, another one opens.”

In order to promote hard work and perseverance you can go with, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

If your child is famous for pulling it off at the last minute you might throw out, “Failing to plan is planning to fail” when he tells you he’ll start the 10 page report that’s due Monday on Sunday morning.

I hope you will find a way to work these in to your Mom Talks. They do have a sticky quality to them and work their magic behind the scenes when no one’s watching.

Here are some more gems to contemplate. There’s at least one for every parenting situation you can imagine!

When the going gets tough the tough get going.

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

A poor workman always blames his tools.

A problem shared is a problem halved.

A stitch in time saves nine.

Don’t put off till tomorrow what can be done today.

You cant judge a book by its cover.

Better safe than sorry.

Charity begins at home.

Don’t burn your bridges behind you.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

Into each life some rain must fall.

Little strokes fell great oaks.

Where there’s a will there’s a way.

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

There’s a time and place for everything.

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Pick Your Battles – A Ten Step Program

We hear that line all time, but have you thought about how it relates to your mommy style? Use it as a guide and you can shift your reactions to the ups and downs of raising your gang and help save precious energy for things that really matter. In no particular order …

  1. Let go of your inner mommy fashionista. Sure, your 2-year-old may have a different aesthetic than you, but who says that purple tutu doesn’t work with the mini-me football jersey she wears to watch Sunday NFL with Dad? And does anyone really care? Look at it as creative expression.
  2. Turn in your ‘food police’ badge. Avoid appetite-killing snacks, offer a wide choice of healthy foods at every meal, and then back off. Research shows that children need to be exposed to a new food several times before developing a taste for it (sugary stuff not included), so keep steaming that broccoli. Don’t cajole, bribe, beg, or force-feed — it sets you (and them) up for lasting food issues.
  3. Know their limits. If you spend an hour or 2 dressing everyone to the nines for the holiday photo shoot, chances are by the time you get to the studio your little one will be ready for a major meltdown. Short circuit it by letting him play happily ’til the last minute. Then do a quick 1 minute  clean-up for the camera and keep it low key.
  4. Stop comparing! This one is tough for most moms, but just because little Austin in play group loves pee-wee karate and is already working on his orange belt doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your Charlie if he whines and sucks his thumb through the entire class. It’s just a sign that the martial arts are not his gig — not for now anyway.
  5. Skip the over-scheduled enrichment activities (see karate above). There’s nothing to be gained by forcing small kiddos to participate in structured groups they’re not drawn to, even if it’s called “play”. Wait until they show interest or try out a range of different options until something sticks. Always leave plenty of time for relaxed free play without rules. Children learn best when engaging their imaginations.
  6. Make it fun when you can. Want them to write a ‘Thank You’ to Aunt Susie for her birthday gift? Try providing a new set of cool markers for the project. Desperate for a thorough room clean-up? Offer to make it a race and set the kitchen timer. Any job that doesn’t have CHORE written all over it is less likely to be greeted with attitude. Channel your inner Mary Poppins.
  7. You can’t pick their friends. I know it’s hard to swallow, but if your daughter can’t stand the sight of your best friend’s child, even though you both always dreamed they’d be best friends, too, don’t force it. You can and should expect good manners, but you can’t make her like it.
  8. If they can do it themselves, they should. Even if the results are imperfect and it takes forever. From getting dressed to helping wash the dishes, and, yes, on to homework and the dreaded science projects, they learn competence by doing — not by watching you doing. Trust me … start this one early and you’ll avoid many future battles.
  9. Be the change you wish to see in your kids. I can’t say it enough. Children model the behavior they observe, not the words they hear. If you want them to be kind, treat others with kindness. If you want them to work hard, show them what hard work looks like. It’s hard to win the fight over video game time when you’re glued to your Blackberry 24/7.
  10. Reality check! Ask yourself: Will this be important in 5 minutes? 5 weeks? 5 years? If the answer is yes it may be worth fighting for. If not? Take a deep breath and walk away.
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5 Bad Habits That Can Harm Your Kids

We all have a few habits we could do without, but we’re not always aware of how they may influence our kids. The first step (of your 12 step program) is to recognize them:

1) Criticizing the way you look. Focusing on that extra 5 pounds, or other physical attributes you’re not happy with, teaches kids (especially girls) that appearance is all-important. It can make them dislike what they see in the mirror, leading to a lifetime of self-esteem issues and a tendency towards unhealthy habits, like yo-yo dieting. The way you talk about yourself matters, and they ARE listening.

2) Emotional Eating. If you use food to feel better when you’re sad or stressed, you could be passing on unhealthy messages to your kids. You’re showing them that overeating is the way to feel better. Instead, work on other ways to get an emotional boost when you’re having an off day. Let them see you talking it out with friends or going for a run to feel better. You probably don’t feel so great after scarfing down an entire box of Thin Mints, but you sure do after pounding five miles of pavement.

3) Emphasizing material things and superficial “girly” stuff. Sure, fashion is fun, but if you focus on the latest designer jeans and the importance of a great mani/pedi your daughter may tend to equate self-esteem with what she has rather than who she is. Instead of shopping, spend time together to learn a sport or a new hobby. Mother-daughter (and mother-son) book clubs are a great option. Tell her she’s smart or kind as often as you compliment her beauty.

4) Using coffee or alcohol to perk up and feel good. If you come home after a bad day at work and blurt out, “I need a drink,” you show your child that alcohol is a good way to relieve stress. Same goes for lunging at the coffee pot first thing in the morning. Instead, look for healthier ways to relax and recharge, like exercise or meditation. You can practice these with the kids, too.

5)  Too much screen time. It doesn’t make sense to tell the kids not to text at the dinner table if you’re sitting there checking your work email. What you do sends a stronger message than what you say. Set family rules about electronics and everyone, including parents, needs to stick to them. Here’s an idea: keep a tech basket in a central location where all mobile devices get deposited during dinner time, homework time, and at a sensible bedtime. Because you know if your cell is within arm’s reach you’ll be itching to use it.

If you find yourself behaving in a negative way around your kids, don’t ignore it and hope they didn’t notice. Point out your mistake and use it as a teachable moment. When you’re able to share your human frailties with them, they’re much more likely to be open with you.

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Don’t Let Their Size Fool You!

If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you’ve obviously never been in bed with a mosquito.

How true! And it goes double for your kids and the impact they can and do have in your life. When you think about it for a moment it’s absolutely mind blowing how such little beings can so easily begin to rule the roost that used to have your name on it.

Within just a couple of years many parents find themselves taking orders from someone who can’t even put together a complete and coherent sentence or wipe their own behind. How crazy is that?

But before I go any further, let me make one thing clear: I am an absolute sucker when it comes to kids. I adore them. I’m not one of those “Children should be seen and not heard,” types at all. In fact, I love to hear what the little munchkins have to say and find myself marveling over their perceptiveness or clear and direct honesty pretty regularly.

But … I am also a firm believer in the notion that they have a place in the family hierarchy and it’s not at the top. That spot needs to be reserved for you and you alone (well okay, you and your spouse). If you want your home to be the kind of place where everyone (including you) feels comfortable, then start early to make sure that your child’s voice doesn’t get too big!

Even though it seems easier to just give him his way when he’s little, it will backfire on you very quickly. I can give you a money-back-guarantee on that one. Once they see themselves as capable of pushing you around it will be hard for them to give it up. Power is intoxicating! And down the road it will get even uglier. If you were humbled by the terrible two’s, I’ve got some bad news for you — adolescents are kind of like huge two-year-olds on steroids.

So yes, of course, feel free to ask for his opinions. Listen to her requests and suggestions. Take their ideas into account when planning an outing or deciding what to have for dinner or when they should go to bed.

But make it clear from the get-go that although you appreciate and will consider their input, YOU will be the one making the decision. This will be an enormous relief to them although they may kick and scream about it at the time. They will probably never tell you how wonderful it is to be able to put in their two cents worth (when appropriate) but not have to take on the burden of knowing what to do.

And as they get older and the stakes get higher, you will be relieved to know that the precedent has been set and you won’t have to spend all weekend long arguing about whether your 15-year-old can go to an all-night hip-hop concert two hours away. You will only have spend part of the weekend arguing about that — and that, my friends, will seem like a frikkin’ gift at the time.

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5 Things Your Pediatrician Won’t Tell You

In the unlikely event that you don’t already know it, let me clear something up.

Medicine IS more art than science.

Sure, we know a gazillion times more about the physiology of illness than we did a generation ago, and every scientific advance makes us better able to understand and cure disease.  But the truth is that everything we learn in school, every new medical gadget invented to measure physical function, and every imaging test developed to scan every millimeter of your innards is being interpreted and applied by a human being.

That human being has opinions, points of view and life experiences that color how they see what’s going on with patients.  That’s why we say that if you put 5 doctors in a room you’ll get 6 opinions. And nowhere is that more true than in pediatrics, where our patients often can’t speak for themselves, and their ‘interpreters’ (parents) may be scared, upset, and vulnerable.

How kid doctors look at a problem when they walk into an exam room has everything to do with what happens next. Your pediatrician won’t tell you this stuff, but it matters.  Big time.

1)  What we think of you DOES make a difference. We all have impressions of people. You think that mother down the block yells too much, so you don’t encourage your kids to hang out over there. You’d rather have her kids at your house.  I think my neighbor across the street is too nosy and intrusive, so when I drive into my driveway and see her at her mailbox I quickly wave and scoot inside before she can stop me.

Your child’s doctor is no different. She has an impression of you as a parent. And that impression may come from her view that your parenting style matches hers.  Or doesn’t. It’s not good or bad, it’s a question of fit.  If she assumes you think the way she does, she may share more of the power in the relationship. She may tell you to watch and wait rather than fill that prescription right away.  Or she may rely more on your description of how that injury happened, and feel comfortable skipping the x-ray.  The result is more collaboration.

Do you feel like the two of you have  a meeting of the minds?

2)  We often depend on YOU for answers. You know your child way better than we do.  You notice subtle changes in behavior and activity that we couldn’t possible catch.  A good pediatrician listens carefully to your description of the problem because it often makes the diagnosis.  You are our patient, too.  If you feel ignored that’s a BIG red flag.

The flip side of this is that we can’t read minds. If you don’t tell us, we can’t know. We also don’t have x-ray vision. If you suspect that the pea Tyler stuck up his nose may be causing that green stuff that’s pouring out, PLEASE speak up.

3)  We CAN be bullied into prescribing antibiotics. Not all of us, not all the time, but many of us are occasionally vulnerable to begging and nagging.  So even though little Megan is on her third awful cold since school started and it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and you just know the cough is going to linger for a week and keep the whole family up at night, please reconsider blocking the doorway until we give in and hand over that prescription for Zithromax. It won’t cure the viral cough and it’s bad for her.

Antibiotic resistance is a huge problem.  Help us curb it.

4)  Most medications in tablet or chewable form DO NOT go bad by the expiration date on the bottle. The pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to know this, but most meds in solid form are perfectly safe and effective for at least 6 months after the date printed.  There are a few notable exceptions, so ask your doctor or check a reputable reference site, but for the most part you’re just fine using that chewable Augmentin you never opened 6 months ago instead of refilling and re-paying.

NOTE: This isn’t true of most liquid meds, which tend to become unstable quickly.  And please don’t pour the old stuff (solid or liquid) down the sink where it can end up tainting our water supply.

5)  A lot of the time kids’ illnesses get better all by themselves (but we’re happy to take the credit). This is the beauty of pediatrics.  Children are amazing little beings who have incredible resilience and recuperative powers.  Their little bodies can take insults that would floor the average adult, and bounce right back.  This is not to say that you don’t need us — you do, but maybe not quite as much as you think.

I often tell parents that as long as your child will drink fluids, eat a little bit of the foods that appeal to him, and is fairly perky, it’s fine to wait 48 to 72 hours to see if Mother Nature will take care it. If things aren’t improving by then, come on in.

So there you have it — a few of our secrets revealed.  Stay tuned … there are plenty more.

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