Harmless teasing, joking, or bullying? What’s a parent to do?

January 20, 2014

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Is There a Difference Between Teasing and Bullying?

When you hear the word “bully,” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?—A scene from The Karate Kid where Johnny and his merciless gang of Cobra Kai’s pummel the vulnerable “new kid,” Daniel?  Or do you think about tweens being emotionally and psychologically degraded through verbal put-downs and social exclusions?  The latter example can be more difficult to address, because this more subtle form of bullying is often harder to identify.

A teen client was recently depressed because a classmate was teasing him and making fun of his football team. This went on for days. Because it was a friend, it made the situation especially confusing.  The teen was embarrassed and upset, and he had no idea how to handle the situation.  As a self-admitted “jokester” and “prankster,” I know that a little good-natured teasing is a normal part of friendship.  But I’ve also found that the fine line between humor and hurt feelings can be a precarious one to walk.  And sorting through those subtle nuances can be as tricky as untangling a kindergartener’s shoelaces.

This complicated grey area begs the question, “Where is that official line between harmless teasing and outright bullying?

Unfortunately, this is not only a tricky question to answer, but is perhaps the wrong question to ask in the first place. Rather than viewing these situations through our adult lenses (which can result in us being overly dismissive or too eager to get involved), I submit that it’s more important to consider how your child is being affected.  If he’s happy and comfortable with the teasing, it can probably be interpreted as good-natured ribbing. However, if he feels anxious, angry, or sad, then maybe things have crossed the line.  (And if your child is confused about how he feels, advise him to pay attention to his “gut instinct.”)

So what can you do as a parent to help and educate your child on bullying and teasing?  Firstly, encourage conversations about this topic.  It’s especially important that you’re the initiator since many kids don’t want to talk about being bullied (because they’re ashamed or feel as if it’s their fault).  Asking direct questions like, “Are there any kids at school who tease you?” or “Do kids leave you out?” is a good way to get things started.

If you suspect your child or teen may be getting teased or bullied, here are some ways you can foster and maintain open communication:
•    Ask subtle questions like “Who do you normally hang out with?” or “Are there any kids at school you don’t like?  Why?”
•    Maintain close communication with teachers at school and through parent-teacher conferences.  Don’t exclusively focus on academics!  Ask your teachers questions about how well your child gets along with his peers, with whom does he spend the majority of his time, and if they’ve ever seen examples of your child being excluded or bullied?  Even if his teachers haven’t noticed anything concerning, if you suspect problems, raising these question should promote future awareness.
•    Get your child involved in a social skills group to learn how to be more assertive, better read social cues, recognize annoying behaviors, and make friends
•    Teach your child to hang out in crowds – bullies like to target kids who are typically alone
•    Have your child practice ahead of time how she’ll respond to bullying—with assertive words, steady voice, eye contact, and strong body posture.  Your child can learn to visualize what she wants to happen—walking tall, shoulders back, strong voice saying, “I’m not going to listen to you talking to me that way.”
•    If your child is being teased by a friend, encourage him to say in an assertive voice, “That’s not funny. Please don’t say that anymore.”
•    Do NOT encourage physical retaliation – it will likely result in your child being disciplined at school.  Despite the prevalent notion that you should “fight back” to stop bullying, your child’s retaliation is just as likely to escalate a situation into something more violent or dangerous.

•    Work with your child’s school. It’s their responsibility to coordinate the response to bullying in school.
•    While your emotions are bound to run high, try to keep them under control. Stay rational and stick to the facts when working with school officials to remedy the situation.
•    Never tell your child to simply ignore the bullying. Giving this advice may make him feel as if you’re ignoring the situation and trivializing his problems. If he walks away feeling as if he shouldn’t have wasted his time, he may not open up the next time he encounters a problem.  You can also encourage him to use a sense of humor to throw off the teasers – acting as if the received verbal jabs are compliments, or responding to teasing with compliments, etc.
•    Ask your teen to let you know about cyberbullying ASAP, and never tell them to respond to it online.  If it gets too malicious, your Internet Service Provider may be able to help track anonymous cyberbullies. You can also contact your ISP or web forum administrator to see if it’s possible to block future texts, emails, or posts from known cyberbullies. If the bullying behavior gets really extreme or has threats of violence, extortion, child pornography, or hate crimes, contact the police immediately.
•    If your child has trouble opening up to you or you need additional help, seek professional assistance from an experienced child psychologist.

Wynns Family Psychology is a child/adolescent specialty practice in Cary, NC providing therapy and assessment services to children, teens, and their families.  We offer social skills groups for preschoolers, elementary school children, middle schoolers, and teens.  We provide assessments for ADHD, Learning Disabilities, Gifted, Depression/Anxiety, and Asperger’s Syndrome/Autism.  We offer parent consultations for parents as well as coaching for teens.  Visit our website for more information: WynnsFamilyPsychology.com or call (919) 467-7777.

Sibling Strife

August 20, 2013

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“But she started it!,” comes the whine from the backseat. If these are familiar words (and I know they are), you’re not alone. Most parents have kids with at least one thing in common: sibling fighting. Unless your children are far apart in age (or they’re benevolent aliens from another planet), they’re going to fight. So the real question is, “What is the best way for us parents to handle it?” Do we intervene? Do we ignore? Do we throw water at them like fighting dogs?

We all know sibling rivalry is a natural part of growing up. And we all remember stories from our own childhood of fighting brothers and sisters. (I personally have memories of screaming and hair-pulling fights in the family car. P.S. My sisters and I are the best of friends now). But most parents would agree: even though they’re “normal,” sibling fights drive us crazy. They cause additional stress on marriages and create a general climate of negativity and familial unhappiness. Siblings often lure moms and dads into their disputes, each often finding a corresponding parent to support their side. But it’s important as parents to present a united front (even if you disagree), in order to set a positive example and teach your kids to resolve conflict themselves.

One fundamental cause of sibling rivalry is jealousy.  Because children often assume there is a limited amount of parental love, attention, and material items, this leads to conflict. (Researchers believe siblings close in age and of the same gender can be especially competitive with each other.) And though parents try in vain to make things “fair,” this is a stressful and next-to-impossible goal to maintain. To this day, my own mother keeps a Christmas List spread sheet for her “thirty-ish” year old children to make sure she spends the same amount on each child (as close to the penny as possible). Even though I can’t say I mind this policy, I encourage parents NOT to aim for equality, but to tell kids that in the end, things balance out. It’s also helpful to remind kids that “Life isn’t always fair,” which will be especially true once they leave the nest. So if one of your kids has done an exceptional job on something, point it out.  Give her extra praise and attention. It’s ok to make these daily decisions moment by moment, without having to worry about the long-term consequences of giving a child more strokes than the other.

And when in doubt about whether or not to intervene, remember this rule of thumb: “Don’t rush to break up a fight. Ignore the small stuff, and address the biggies.” If you’re always jumping in to solve their problems, your kids will never learn to resolve conflicts themselves. I often jokingly tell parents, unless you see blood or hear an agonizing scream, let them work it out on their own.  Oh, and of course lead your children by example.  Do you really expect your kids to behave better than you do?

Want more help with surviving sibling conflict? Check out our Sibling Strife Workshop! This unique workshop includes separate classrooms for parents and sibling pairs—each teaching strategies for resolving sibling conflict.

Click here for the flier: [Note: Date has changed to September 30th!]

http://wynnsfamilypsychology.com/Portals/16/forms/sibling-conflict-class-cary-raleigh-nc.pdf

Want more tips? Listen to my podcast on the topic: http://stayhappilymarried.com/2013/08/26/sibling-strife/

Banish Bedtime Battles!

October 11, 2012

For many parents, when we think of the “dream” bedtime routine, we imagine tucking in our smiling children each night, kissing them on the cheek, and tiptoeing out of the room as they begin to softly snore. Well, for many parents, the nightly bedtime routine is more of a nightmare. Kids refusing to go to bed, coming up with excuses to avoid bed, and coming out of bed in the middle of the night over and over again are just a few of the common problems parents struggle with. For effectively winning these bedtime battles, it takes a No Wimpy Parenting approach:

1)      Don’t wait until the last minute: Many parents start the frantic “bath, brush your teeth, p.j’s” routine 15 minutes before they want their children in bed. This tactic backfires for the parent and kid: The parent has asked for something that is impossible to achieve. The kid is stressed because the routine is so rushed and there is no time to relax (an essential ingredient for a smooth bedtime routine). Allow 30 – 45 minutes for a relaxing routine involving bath or shower, quiet reading or play, snuggles and bed.

2)      No electronics an hour before desired bedtime: Research shows exposure to any screen suppresses melatonin, the natural hormone our body produces that makes us sleepy. Establish a family rule that all t.v.’s, computers, video games, and phones are shut down at a certain time every night. (I know, I know, all moms have no trouble falling asleep in front of t.v. at night but that’s because we’re all sleep deprived!)

3)      Establish a positive, brief routine when tucking the child in that has a definitive end. Many children will continue to ask questions, ask for water, hop out of bed for “one more” something…anything to postpone the moment you walk out of the room. Establish a policy that once their head is on the pillow, they can’t get out of bed (unless it’s a bathroom necessity). Have a fun ritual like saying prayers, giving silly kisses or hugs, turning on night light, and walking out.

4)      Have consequences for misbehavior and rewards for positives: Give warnings in advance that if the child continues to come out of bed, refuses to lay down, etc. they will get a consequence the next day (no t.v. before school, extra chores in the morning, or have an earlier bedtime the next night, etc.). Use a sticker chart or marbles in the jar to reward kids for smooth bedtimes each night. Have the child trade out for a fun reward on the weekend – trip to the dollar store, ice cream shop, or extra videogame/t.v. time.

5)      Consider your child could be over-tired. Kids and teens who are chronically sleep deprived release a stress hormone that is essentially like a boost of caffeine – this stress hormone makes them hyper, irritable, and wild (which is why many parents are surprised to find out that their kids are actually exhausted, because they don’t seem tired). Try backing up the bedtime in 15 minute increments until you find your child falling asleep much more quickly at night and being less hyper and irritable at bedtime.

Parents have been battling their children to go to bed since the cavemen (and women) insisted their children lay down in their bedrock beds. It’s an age-old battle, but follow these steps and your children (and you) will drift off to sweet dreams.

 

Controversy #1: Early Entry to Kindergarten

April 16, 2012

This is a two-part article series on “Controversies in Kindergarten.” Part I focuses on “Early Entry to Kindergarten.”

In North Carolina, we have dozens of parents who are stressed, frustrated, upset and confused.  They are frantically trying to research their options, get a straight answer, and make decisions that seem life-changing at the time.  What has these poor parents so riled up?  The August 31st birthday deadline for kindergarten entry.  If your child is born on August 31st or before, you can breathe a sigh of relief and know your 5 year old will bounce into a kindergarten class this fall.  Your child may not know his alphabet or numbers, or maybe she won’t know her shapes yet.  But because she’s five, the red carpet will be rolled out for her.

Now, if your child was born on September 1st or later, it’s a whole different ball game.  Even if a child was born at 12:03 a.m. on September 1st, parents must go through an intensive process including IQ and achievement testing to determine if their child is eligible for early entry.  Because the testing can’t occur until AFTER April 16th each year, this is the week parents are finally able to start the early entry process. As a child psychologist who administers and oversees these assessment batteries each spring, I often hear that the school system does NOT make this easy on parents.  The process is almost like completing a small dissertation by the time it’s all over with.

What’s involved with the “early entry” process:

  • Parents have to collect work samples that prove their child’s genius (“See that, that’s his interpretation of the Impressionistic era.  And see, that’s his drawing of the Eiffel Tower.”)
  • They have to garner letters of recommendation (Really, for a four year old?  “Susie’s use of macaroni noodles in her art project was truly inspirational”).
  • Then of course there’s the testing… a child psychologist must administer the IQ and achievement tests required by the school.  The child must score at the 98th percentile or higher.

In NC, the school system does not hide the fact that its bias is that kids should NOT enroll early.  In fact, their website says, “Most children, including most gifted children, will not benefit from early entrance to kindergarten.”  It’s important to consider why the school might discourage early entry: financial, class size, and having to provide gifted services for these kids which enroll early.

Although it’s a current trend to hold your child back so they’ll start kindergarten as one of the oldest and biggest (see article “Controversy #2: Redshirting Kindergarteners”), I disagree with this as a general rule.  I think many kids who are a “fresh five” or about to turn five are completely ready for kindergarten.  In fact, there’s a window where a child is eager to learn and ready for the next developmental leap.  The kids who have passed the tests at my office and go on to early entry to kindergarten THRIVE!

 The advantages of starting your child in kindergarten “early” are often:

• Providing the challenging and enriching curriculum for which a child is ready. If a child is bright and ready for the next stage of learning, it is important to provide that challenging environment at the right time.

• Hitting the “window” for a child’s excitement and readiness. Many times a child who will be turning five in September or October has been anticipating going to kindergarten at age 5. Many of his peers are going to kindergarten this year and it’s helpful to enroll a child when he is excited and ready to go to “big school.”

• Financial – no more paying for expensive daycare and preschool.

• Time – Your child would be taken care of for 6-7 hours a day now leaving more time for parents to work, focus on other siblings, clean the house, get coffee…you get the idea.

The disadvantages of starting your child “early” in kindergarten may be:

• If the child is immature emotionally, socially, or behaviorally, you may be setting your child up for failure or frustration. If your child has demonstrated in preschool or daycare that he is not able to sit and attend to a lesson, get along well with peers, or transition easily from one activity to the next, he may be put in a situation for which he is not ready.  This may set his entire educational experience off to a negative start. (This child may also cause problems for the teacher and the other students who have to deal with his behavior.)

• If the child is not ready academically, again, she will be set up for a very frustrating year. If she is consistently requiring extra attention from the teachers because she does not understand the material, she is likely to develop a negative attitude towards school.

• If for whatever reason, your child is not developmentally ready for kindergarten, you may see other behavioral or emotional problems pop up (i.e., your child acts out because he is not ready for the structure and expectations of kindergarten.)

Early entry to kindergarten is equivalent to a child skipping a grade. Although there is no perfect list of criteria to know whether your child is ready for kindergarten, you want to see that your child:

• Knows her ABC’s and numbers at least 1 – 10. Even better if she can sound out some simple words or recognize some sight words. Also better if she has shown applied math skills (i.e., she has four blocks and you say, “If I gave you two more blocks, how many would you have?” She says, “six.”)

• Has demonstrated the ability to sit for periods of time in a structured setting and attend to a “lesson.”

• Can handle separations from mom and dad well.

• Is able to play well with peers. It’s still normal for children to squabble over toys or fight, but you want to see your child playing well much of the time.

• Has demonstrated the ability to respect adult authority figures (other than you) by following directions and instructions.

• Can handle transitions during the day from one activity to the next.

• Is mature enough to be able to function comfortably with approximately 23 older children throughout a 6-7 hour day.

Although this is a personal decision and parents have to look at their individual child, I encourage parents not to get discouraged by “the system” and assume it’s a dead end.  Yes it takes a little time and money to go through this process.  But if you consider the time and money of another year of preschool or daycare, it’s a great deal if you can go ahead and send your child early.  On a personal note, I have a daughter with an August 20th birthday.  She was a “fresh five” when she started kindergarten.  She has excelled in school and is now a “gifted” third grader.  If she had been born 12 days later, there’s no doubt we would have attempted early entry.  She would have been bored to tears doing one more year in preschool learning the “letter of the week.”  The bottom line is you know your child best.  Follow your parental instinct and don’t get overwhelmed or discouraged by the process.  At the very least, you’ll have great documentation of how wonderful your child is at this age!

Dr. Kristen Wynns is the owner/founder of Wynns Family Psychology, a specialty child/adolescent practice in Cary, NC providing therapy, testing, and custody services for children and teens.  (WynnsFamilyPsychology.com) She is also the founder and creator of “No Wimpy Parenting” SM.  NoWimpyParenting.com is a resource for parents who want to take their power back.  Articles, videos and podcasts, blogs, and a Q/A section for parents provide tips for parents to gain more confidence and competence as parents.  Dr. Wynns also offers phone, Skype, or face to face consultations to provide your family with individualized and customized recommendations and feedback.  Visit NoWimpyParenting.com or call (919) 805-0182 for more information.

 

Controversy #2: “Redshirting” Kindergarteners

April 16, 2012

This is a two-part article series on “Controversies in Kindergarten.” Part I focused on “Early Entry to Kindergarten.” Part II focuses on the trend of “redshirting” kindergarteners.

Many parents have never heard of the term “Redshirting” unless they are sports fans. Because I do NOT follow sports that often, I’ll explain simply that redshirting is a concept taken from college sports, where athletes will practice with the team for the first year but sit out competition while they get bigger, stronger, and more competitive. In the world of competitive parenting, redshirting is a growing trend in which parents “hold back” their child from starting kindergarten at age five, and give them an extra year to get tougher, bigger, and smarter. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that academic redshirting occurs at the rate of about 9% per year among kindergarten-age children (West, Meek, & Hurst, 2000). The practice of parents waiting until their children are six to enroll them in kindergarten has become so widespread that CBS’ 60 Minutes has recently aired a segment on this controversial topic.  For a link to the CBS’ 60 Minutes: “Redshirting: Holding kids back from kindergarten,” go here.

This trend is especially popular among parents of boys. With a generation of parents who were spoon feeding their infants organic baby food while playing Baby Einstein videos set to classical music in a black and white room, redshirting is another avenue for the hypercompetitive parent. Redshirting is possibly as controversial and emotional as the process of “early entry” to kindergarten (see article on Controversy #1: Early Entry to Kindergarten). On the “pro” side, parents believe this practice of redshirting is simply giving their child every advantage to succeed academically, socially, and athletically – “leveling the playing field” so to speak. For parents who are “against” redshirting, they believe parents are actually setting up an imbalanced and unfair playing field for the other kids who are age appropriate for their grade. They believe before their children even start school, they are setting up a competition with other students. What does research say about which camp of parents is correct? Unfortunately, the studies on this practice provide us with mixed results thus far. We do know that in general, advanced kids tend to “level out” as they reach third grade. There are also some studies pointing to later emotional and behavioral problems in children who were redshirted.

Because the research is inconclusive about the effects of redshirting and few school districts prohibit it, parents are usually the ones who have to decide whether to keep their child out of kindergarten for an extra year. The following are some points for parents to consider in making a decision:

  • Try to be realistic about your child’s social, emotional, and academic skills as when determining his or her “readiness” for kindergarten. In other words, don’t delay entrance into kindergarten just because the child is likely to be among the youngest in the class or has a summer birthday.
  • Get a second opinion: Ask your child’s preschool teacher, Sunday School teacher, soccer coach, or pediatrician about their thoughts about your child’s readiness for kindergarten.
  • If you want a more thorough assessment of your child’s readiness, many child psychologists will offer a brief “screening” to assess your child’s emotional, social, behavioral, and academic skills. The psychologist can then provide you feedback about the advantages and disadvantages of redshirting your child.
  • Ask about your school’s kindergarten readiness screening procedures or tests to get an idea of how your child might fare in the kindergarten classroom in which she or he will most likely be placed.
  • Consider what else your child will be doing if she did not start kindergarten? Will she continue in a preschool program with much younger children? Will he remain at home and have access to social interactions with same-age peers?
  • Assess your child’s learning “window.” Is he or she excited about starting “big school” and bored with the “same old, same old” of preschool?

No matter when your child starts kindergarten, it’s a new beginning for him or her—and for you. It’s important for parents to project a positive and calm manner when discussing kindergarten with or around their child. There are many ways parents can prepare their child for kindergarten success: 1) Ensure your child has time every day to PLAY! Research shows that play actually leads to improved academic skills. Play, which is really a child’s ‘work,’ contributes to cognitive, physical, social, and emotional growth. 2) Plan to have your child visit the school and meet his or teacher before the first day of school. 3) Talk to your child about the routine in kindergarten and give him or her a schedule using pictures or words, depending on your child’s reading level. Most importantly, remind yourself to cherish the memories of walking your little tyke into school with an oversized back pack on, whenever that big day arrives!

West, J., Meek, A., & Hurst, D. (2000). CHILDREN WHO ENTER KINDERGARTEN LATE OR REPEAT KINDERGARTEN: THEIR CHARACTERISTICS AND LATER SCHOOL PERFORMANCE. (NCES No. 2000-039). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Dr. Kristen Wynns is the owner/founder of Wynns Family Psychology, a specialty child/adolescent practice in Cary, NC providing therapy, testing, and custody services for children and teens.  (WynnsFamilyPsychology.com) She is also the founder and creator of “No Wimpy Parenting” SM.  NoWimpyParenting.com is a resource for parents who want to take their power back.  Articles, videos and podcasts, blogs, and a Q/A section for parents provide tips for parents to gain more confidence and competence as parents.  Dr. Wynns also offers phone, Skype, or face to face consultations to provide your family with individualized and customized recommendations and feedback.  Visit NoWimpyParenting.com or call (919) 805-0182 for more information.

Make a New Year’s Resolution to “Get on the Same Page” with your spouse!

January 2, 2012

I recently did a podcast with StayHappilyMarried.com on this topic – how do you get on the same page with your spouse, when it comes to parenting? Click here if you’d like to listen http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/12/prweb9049863.htm

This topic is near and dear to my heart for many reasons. First, I know during my 13 year marriage, one of the most common sources of conflict is debating over how to discipline and raise our children. Second, I frequently observe most of my clients struggling to maintain consistency between spouses and undermining each other’s authority when it comes to parenting.

One of the number one sources of conflict for couples is parenting disagreements. Frequently, parents become more polarized in parenting styles, discipline techniques, and expectations for children’s behavior over time. The parent who is slightly more permissive becomes much more lax in the face of a parent who initially was slightly more strict, but is now extremely rigid and demanding.  Couples feel they are constantly compensating for the other parent’s weakness and this lack of unity leads to a great divide between the couple.  On a day to day basis, couples are often undermining the power and authority of the other parent. They may do it in subtle ways (i.e., “Did Daddy REALLY say no t.v. for the rest of the night?!”) or in an outright obvious manner (i.e., “Mommy is wrong. She shouldn’t have let you stay up late like this. This isn’t good. Go to bed!”). Parents may question the other spouse’s punishment IN FRONT OF THE CHILD! The father may say, “You can’t ground him for that, that’s not fair!” Couples may have frequent arguments about parenting and feel like they are individual parents rather than co-parents. This division leads to the couple feeling a lack of intimacy, constantly irritated and stressed, and eventually a lack of trust.

So how do couple’s try to resolve this? Many couples TRY to get on the same page by “giving in” to make their spouse happy. For example, a wife might say, “Fine, I’ll be better about disciplining them. But you’ve got to stop screaming at them so much!” This type of pseudo-compromise might work in the very short term. But without a more fundamental shift in the individuals’ perspectives about co-parenting and the need to present a united front, couples quickly drift back to bad habits. They may argue, criticize the other parent, try to get the child(ren) on “their side”, and sabotage the other parent’s efforts to be a good parent.

Couples who are seeking a permanent resolution to overcoming the divide need to strive for the following:

  • You and your spouse need to be explicit with each other about what your rules and expectations are. If necessary, write them down, review them and be sure they are workable. In areas in which you differ, find a compromise that you both can live with – and stick by it.
  • You and your spouse need to commit yourselves to communicate about every significant issue in your family life. At least once a day the two of you need to check in with each other and discuss what happened that day that was important. At the same time, talk about long-term issues that may be confronting the family.
  • You and your spouse need to resolve your own ambivalence on important family matters and agree on a position on these issues. For example, if you’re confused about the benefits and harm of spanking, you need to research the topic or seek expertise of a child psychologist, then make a decision TOGETHER about whether you will spank or not.
  • Present a united front to your children. Spouses need to communicate with each other about rules and consequences for the children. Children always look for a kink in the armor between the parents, so make sure you agree on the rules. Children learn how to play one parent against the other, so parents should confer and agree on rules, requests, and discipline before sharing their decision with the children.
  • Find ways to cooperate, not compete, with each other. That doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything; but it does mean that you are committed to working together toward a more harmonious relationship and family life, and you are not going to let differences undermine your common goals. Each of you needs to demonstrate some flexibility.
  • Learn the skills of conflict resolution. These include:
    • Listening
    • Clarifying points of difference
    • Taking each other’s feelings seriously
    • Generating alternative solutions together
    • Negotiating
  • If you and your spouse disagree over how to handle your child’s behavior, it should never be discussed in front of your child-period. Realize that when one parent undermines the other parent in this way, it hurts both parents. That’s because your child is going to question both of you. Sometimes, kids feel like they have to choose sides. And not only that, they’re going to feel insecure that the two of you don’t seem to know what to do-because after all, if you knew what to do, you’d be agreeing. So these things have to be handled privately.

Make it your #1 “Couple’s” New Year’s Resolution to solidify “Team Parents”! Parenting is hard enough as is. Turn to your spouse as a valuable teammate and see how 2012 can be the best year yet!

Wynns Family Psychology often works with couples and parents to offer practical and solution-focused tips to improve a family’s functioning and happiness. Visit WynnsFamilyPsychology.com for more info.

A, B, C’s and 1, 2, 3′s of Advocating for your Child in School (No Wimpy style)

August 13, 2011

Back to school can be a stressful and exciting time for parents and kids. For parents who have children with special needs or unique challenges, it can be an even more overwhelming time. Whether your child has been diagnosed with AD/HD, Asperger’s, a Learning Disability or is gifted…it can sometimes be an intimidating process to interact with school officials to make sure your child’s needs are being met. Many parents become quickly frustrated and confused when trying to negotiate the complicated waters of setting up IEP’s, testing their child for gifted services, or even creating a plan to help a child “catch up” in a certain subject. As a parent of a child who qualified for AG services, I know first hand the delicate balancing act of advocating for your child and not offending the school or teacher. Being an advocate for your child in the school system takes a “No Wimpy” approach: after all, there’s nothing more important fighting for than your child! Here are a few ABC’s and 1,2, 3’s to get you started:

A)    Avoid the blame game. Discussing an important issue with busy and overworked teachers and staff can be difficult. Even if you believe the school has been slack or made mistakes, try to keep your cool. Go into meetings with a problem-solving, non-attacking approach. Remember to try to be considerate of the teacher’s time and thank them for setting aside time to talk with you. If teachers and administrators are using too much “jargon,” feel free to ask for clarification or consult with a professional outside of the school (psychologist or tutor). Even though you may have to be persistent, keep in mind that ultimately everyone involved wants what’s best for your child.

B)    Build good relations from the start. Don’t wait for an issue to emerge to introduce yourself to your child’s teacher. Raising a concern will be easier and less confrontational if open communication has already been established. There are many ways to become a positive force in your child’s classroom (i.e., volunteering, bringing in bribes treats, eating lunch with your child and saying hi to the teacher)

C)    Connect with others. There’s strength in numbers and most likely any school-based issue is not unique to your child. Look into your local PTA to connect with other parents. If you’re concerned about a disability of any kind, contact your state’s federally funded parent resource centers.

  • Autism Society of NC: click here
  • Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center: click here
  • AD/HD resources: click here

1)      Know your rights. Most issues have a good chance of bhttp://www.chadd.orgeing addressed to everyone’s satisfaction within your school community. But if you are unable to get to the resolution you need, legal means are available. If your child’s disability affects his educational performance, you have the right under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) to have your child tested to determine his special education eligibility. You can also request mediation or a “fair hearing.”

2)      Document events. Keep a record of all meetings and phone calls including dates and people involved along with your initial document and any letters. We all know as parents our “to do” lists grow longer every day. It’s tough to remember when you made a request or who was the contact person to help you with the next step. Keeping a log of meetings and contact people will help you stay organized. Politely informing the school you are documenting the events also lets the school know you are serious.

3)      Develop possible solutions and define the next steps: This sets a positive tone indicating you want to work in partnership with the school to resolve the problem; you’re not merely complaining, but offering potential solutions. At the end of the meeting ask:

  • What is the next step?
  • Who will be responsible for that step?
  • When (a date) will the next step occur?

This step is crucial; it keeps the meeting from being merely a gripe session and increases the likelihood of a positive outcome. Leave a copy of your written document with the teacher.

Here’s the video segment on My Carolina Today on this topic: http://www.mycarolinatoday.com/2011/08/advocate-for-your-child-at-school/

Additional resources:

http://www.nolo.com/products/the-complete-iep-guide-IEP.html

http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/ec/policy/resources/

http://abss.k12.nc.us/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/32236/File/student-parent/parents_rights_handbook.pdf

“No Wimpy Parenting” talk about sex with your kids

June 12, 2011

NoWimpyParenting.com is FINALLY here!  After months of fine tuning the philosophy and creating the website, NoWimpyParenting.com is up and running.  As I’ve said many times, I’m passionate about starting a parenting revolution “one parent at a time” by providing parents with advice and a “kick in the pants” when needed.  NoWimpyParenting.com is a resource for parents with articles, podcasts, videos, and information about how to schedule individual consultations with me. I offer an array of parenting consultations to meet any budget: email/chat consultations, Skype/phone consultations, face to face consultations, and intensive home interventions.  See NoWimpyParenting.com for more information or to contact me.

I recently did a “No Wimpy” segment on My Carolina Today about talking with Talking with your kids and teens about sex.   Click here to watch the video.  It is fair to say that talking with kids and teens about sex is not for the faint of heart.  Many parents would do just about anything to dodge having that discussion with their kids.  The fact is, kids are learning about sex at younger and younger ages.  Parents need to take a “No Wimpy Parenting” approach and just tell it like it is.

 

  • When kids are younger, it’s appropriate to have the “sex talk” and stick to the basics.  As kids get older, parents need to expand the discussion and talk about STD’s and Pregnancy, Sexual abuse and Date Rape, and “Sexting”/Inappropriate online sexual activity
  • You must practice your game face!  Teens will run from the room if you get embarrassed and stammer and blush when you discuss sex.  Know that your child or teen may confess something to you or ask you a question that will make you blush to the tips of your toes.  It’s not a bad idea to practice having a relaxed and matter of fact talk with your teens before you attempt it in real life. (Seriously, stand in front of your mirror and practice having a discussion with your teen about sex.  Or talk with your spouse about what you will say when you are faced with an unnerving question).
  • Timing is everything!  It’s often a good idea to initiate a discussion about sex when you and your teen are driving somewhere or engaged in a “hands on” activity.  It is NOT advised to sit your teen down in the formal living room face to face and say, “Soooooo, we need to talk.”  That will guarantee your teen will be mapping out the escape route before you’ve even opened your mouth for the next sentence. If your teen spontaneously asks you a question about sex, stay calm and say, “I’m glad you came to me with that question” (try to quickly collect your thoughts as you say that).
  • Don’t pat yourself on the back after having a sex talk one time.  You’ll need to revisit the topic(s) again and again.  As kids get older, they will be developmentally ready for more details and hard “facts.”
  • Don’t stop short – make sure to discuss your family and religious values as they relate to premarital sex.  Yes we all hear the statistics about teens and sex.  But there ARE kids and teens who are raised in homes in which the values are to wait until marriage to have sex.  That is still a reality for some kids/teens and parents need to make sure to explain WHY those values are important to the family.

Starting a Revolution: One parent at a time

February 13, 2011

Big things are coming this year.  A new parenting website will be coming soon….it’s under wraps now.  I’m going to be doing more parenting segments on My Carolina Today.  And oh yeah, I’m going to start a Parenting Revolution.  First topic, recognizing if you’ve given away your power to your kid(s).  Check out the segment on My Carolina Today and then read more.  Let me know if you’re ready to sign up for the revolution.

http://www.mycarolinatoday.com/2011/01/parents-take-control/

5 steps to taking back your power

It’s time to start a revolution in America.  Bit by bit, day by day, parents are slowly giving away their power.  To whom you ask?  To their children!  There seems to be an epidemic of kids and teens running their households and parents are left with their hands in the hair, shrugging and wondering, “Where did I go wrong?  How did this Happen?  Or “Why don’t my kids respect me?”

 

Step 1: Ask Yourself, “Have I given away my power?”

Some parents may not be aware of how they’ve given away their power.  It happens over time and it can be such a slow and subtle process, (and kids are so darn clever) that many parents don’t realize it, until it’s too late.  Here are some signs you’ve given (or are giving away) away your power:

  • When you ask your kids to do something, they frequently say, “No because…” or “First I’m going to…” or “I can’t because…”
  • Your kids throw tantrums or get furious if you won’t take them where they want to go, buy them what they want, or help them with something.
  • You often find yourself threatening and warning over and over again until you’re so frustrated you lose your temper.
  • Your kids make decisions about what they’ll attend and not attend, when they’ll go to bed, or when they’ll turn off the t.v. or computer at night.
  • Your kids ignore or laugh at your rules – even if you say there’s a curfew or a bedtime, it’s not really enforced and the kids know it.
  • You often feel frustrated at the lack of respect you get from your kids and feel like, “My kids do what they want to do and don’t ever listen to me.”

 

Step 2:  Reflect on “How did this Happen?”

Some of the current popular philosophies of raising and educating children are disastrous for our families. We allow the child too much freedom and put the child in control.  We are encouraging our children to be free and outspoken, to be empowered. But we are not helping them build their character. We are not teaching them enough about limits and discipline, about empathy and respect. Someone once told us, it’s good to give your child choices, but we’ve taken that mentality and gone to an extreme.

 

Step 3: Redistribute the power appropriately (i.e., fill up your water gun!)

There are small things parents do every day that allow their children/teens to have power.  Quiz question 1: If you ask your teen to take out the dog and he says, “In a minute, I’m busy” you have two choices: One: You respond by saying, “I said take the dog out now please.” Two: You sigh with frustration, accept his response and walk out of the room. Which one maintains your power and authority as the parent?

 

Quiz question 2: You ask your child to eat two pieces of broccoli.  You ask your child if he ate it and he says yes.  When you walk by his chair you see the piece of broccoli on the floor. Do you A) roll your eyes and toss it in the trash or B) confront your child and give him a consequence for lying.

Keep your water gun filled. Imagine parenting as a big water gun fight.  Every time you give away your power to your children, you’re giving them water from your water gun.  If this happens enough, you will have an empty water gun.  Then guess what happens when you come face to face with your child in the living room with your water guns raised, your child looks at your empty water gun and laughs saying, “What are you gonna do?”  You don’t have any ammo left.

  • Many parents argue too much. They go on explaining the same thing dozens of times. If you have said something two times, then that’s enough. After the second time, you should ACT and not TALK.
  • Follow through: If you say, “If I find your shoes in the living room again, I’m going to donate them to Goodwill”, donate them to Goodwill if you find them again! Once your children know that you will do as you say, then you won’t have to do it. They will respect your word!
  • Too many choices!  Yes it’s good to give kids choices.  But you shouldn’t be asking them, “Do you want to go to bed now?”  “Do you want to go to church today?” If it’s something you want your kids to do, make it a statement, “Time for bed.” “We leave for church in 10 minutes”

Step 4: Maintain the new power structure and BE CONSISTENT!

  • Follow through with consequences: If you ground your child for a week from his phone, don’t let him have it back in two days because he’s harassing you for it.  If you put your child in time out for 4 minutes, and she giggles and runs away in 2 minutes, bring her back again.  See punishments through!
  • Keep it simple. Don’t try to focus on too many behaviors and issues because it will overwhelm you and you won’t end up following through on anything.  Choose the top 3-5 behaviors you struggle with, and try your best to correct and discipline those behaviors every single time.
  • Keep looking out for sneaky power suckers – small things like kids ignoring you when you make small requests, kids refusing to cooperate, kids telling you what they are willing to do…small things eventually add up to filling up their water guns and depleting yours.

Step 5: Watch out for regression to the “old ways”

Many parents enthusiastically embrace new parenting strategies and do a great job…for about 1-2 days.  Then reality hits….long days at work, tired parents, smart kids…and parents lose their resolve and get sucked into the bad habits again.

  • Find an accountability partner – whether it’s your spouse, your parent, your best friend…You need someone who will ask you DAILY – “How are you doing with Billy? Are you still following through?  Are you still being consistent?  Are you correcting his behavior every time he misbehaves?”
  • Another idea is to keep a parenting log and at the end of the day, take 5 minutes to write a summary of the day.  Example: “Sent Suzy to time out twice for noncompliance but she was great the rest of the day.  I verbally corrected Tommy a few times for disrespect and enforced grounding from t.v. which was given to him yesterday, etc.”
  • Finally, remember these things aren’t to give your ego a boost and wear your kids down.  Kids NEED and WANT boundaries and limits.  It makes them feel safe, secure, and loved.  So know that what you’re doing isn’t just going to make you feel good, it will ultimately make them feel good too!

Kristen Wynns, Ph.D.

Licensed Psychologist, Owner of Wynns Family Psychology

Wynns Family Psychology is a specialty child and adolescent practice in Cary, NC serving children ages 2 and up.  Our focus is to deliver high-quality therapy, testing, and consultations from our team of caring, professional, and highly competent doctoral-level psychologists.  Wynns Family Psychology services include individual, family, and group therapy, educational and psychological evaluations, Autism and developmental evaluations, and custody consultations.  For more information, visit wynnsfamilypsychology.com or call (919) 805-0182.

Early entry to kindergarten: the good, the bad, the ugly

January 26, 2011

In North Carolina, we have a handful of parents who are stressed, frustrated, upset and confused.  They are frantically trying to research their options, get a straight answer, and make decisions that seem life-changing at the time.  What has these poor parents so riled up?  The August 31st deadline for kindergarten entry.  If your child is born on August 31st or before, you can breathe a sigh of relief and know your 5 year old will bounce into a kindergarten class this fall.  Your child may not know his alphabet or numbers or maybe she won’t know her shapes yet.  But because she’s five, the red carpet will be rolled out for her.

Now, if your child was born on September 1st or later, it’s a whole different ball game.  In North Carolina, parents must go through an intensive process including IQ and achievement testing to determine if their child is eligible for early entry.  And let’s be honest, the school system does NOT make this easy on parents.  The process is almost like completing a small dissertation by the time it’s all over with.  Parents have to collect work samples that prove their child’s genius (“See that, that’s his interpretation of the Impressionistic era.  And see, that’s his drawing of the Eiffel Tower.”)  They have to garner letters of recommendation (really?  for a four year old?  “Susie’s use of macaroni noodles in her art project was truly inspirational”).  In NC, the school system does not hide the fact that it’s bias is that kids should NOT enroll early.  In fact, their website says, “Most children, including most gifted children, will not benefit from early entrance to kindergarten.”  It’s important to consider why the school might discourage early entry: financial, class size, and having to provide gifted services for these kids which enroll early.

Then of course there’s the testing…which is where I come in.  I’m a child psychologist who administers the IQ and achievement tests required by the school.  Each year I empathize with the stressed parents who have bright, eager kids who are ready for kindergarten but missed the cutoff – by a day, by a few weeks, or by a few months.  I LOVE this testing – it’s a joy to work with little adorable bright kids.

Although it’s a current trend to hold your child back so they’ll start kindergarten as one of the oldest and biggest, I disagree with this as a general rule.  I think many kids who are a “fresh five” or about to turn five are completely ready for kindergarten.  In fact, there’s a window where a child is eager to learn and ready for the next developmental leap.  The kids who have passed the tests at my office and go on to early entry to kindergarten THRIVE!  Here is an excerpt from an email sent to me from a parent of a child I tested last spring (who had  November birthday, passed the tests, and went on to early entry in kindergarten): “J. is THRIVING in kindergarten and is happy to get on that bus every single day!  His first report card was almost all 4′s and O’s (outstanding), and he received the ‘Outstanding Eagle’ award (similar to Student of the Month)!!!!  And he’s not even five until next week!   We are so happy for him!  A million heartfelt thank you’s!!!  I really struggled with this decision and it has been a blessing, we will be forever grateful!!”

Although this is a personal decision and parents have to look at their individual child, I encourage parents not to get discouraged by “the system” and assume it’s a dead end.  Yes it takes a little time and money to go through this process.  But if you consider the time and money of another year of preschool or daycare, it’s a great deal if you can go ahead and send your child early.  On a final note, I have a daughter with an August 20th birthday.  She was a “fresh five” when she started kindergarten.  She has excelled in school and is now a “gifted” second grader.  If she had been born 12 days later, there’s no doubt we would have attempted early entry.  She would have been bored to tears doing one more year in preschool learning the letter of the week.  The bottom line is you know your child best.  Follow your parental instinct and don’t get overwhelmed or discouraged by the process.  At the very least, you’ll have great documentation of how wonderful your child is at this age!

For more information on Wynns Family Psychology, visit http://wynnsfamilypsychology.com/EarlyEntryKindergartenTestingNC/tabid/1166/language/en-US/Default.aspx


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