Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Let the Moments Happen this Holiday Season

Many of us are trying too hard to make the perfect life for our children. This includes working non-stop to make "the ultimate" holiday experience. Reading Jamie Lee's post, How to Have Fun Without Even Trying (http://blogs.parentcenter.babycenter.com/), reminded me that the best memories are not produced through "planned" outings or events. The best memories occur spontaneously when you least expect them. If we try too hard to make a situation or an event perfect, we may be losing out on the golden opportunities that occur at random. These random occurrences could produce the most memorable memories ever.

My advice to everyone reading my postings during this holiday period is to have a general plan to follow. However, be open to deviations from this plan. Do not be too goal directed. For example, suppose you plan to take a walk through the Great Forest of the Mighty Trees in order to experience the awe of these spectacular structures of nature. Now imagine that your kids get out of the car and spot a giant ant hill and want to study it. You were looking forward to the brisk walk. Your kids want to look at the ant hill. What do you do? Do you yell at them to start walking? Or, do you look at the ant hill until they are done? Answer: YOU LOOK AT THE ANT HILL UNTIL THEY ARE DONE! By studying this ant hill, you may learn more than you have ever learned before. Plus, taking time to study an ant hill may be the best experience throughout the holiday festivities. Be open and be aware. Take advantage of these special moments.

For more holiday advice, read my previous posts:
Sail Through the Holidays with a Smile and Try Buying a Family Gift to Share.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

ADHD Pills for Everyone?

A group of scientists have recently written a commentary in Nature encouraging the legal and mainstream use of "enhancement drugs" such as Adderall and Ritalin for people who want to increase their performance in certain areas. These drugs would be made available to all people, not just those with a diagnosis of ADHD. These researchers state that "society must respond to the growing demand for cognitive enhancement" and that "we should welcome new methods to improving our brain function." These researchers argue that these medications help improve performance not only for those individuals with ADHD, but for many others without this diagnosis as well. It is clear that on university campuses around the world that students are using Ritalin and Adderall to get better grades.

Ed Silverman in his Pharmalot blog has written an excellent commentary to this article, Should Everyone Use ADHD Pills As Brain Boosters?. I encourage you to read the Nature and Silverman article and let me know what you think. For me, this is a bit scary.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Locked Seclusion for Our Misbehaving Children?

Ashley Fantz of CNN has recently written an article, Children forced into cell-like school seclusion rooms, about a 13-year-old male, Jonathan King, who committed suicide in a seclusion room at a school in Georgia. Jonathan had a history of being aggressive toward his peers and was frequently placed in "time-out," a concrete room latched on the outside. Jonathan was placed in time-out the day he died and hung himself with a cord a teacher gave him to hold up his pants. He apparently was not searched prior to being placed in this locked seclusion. On top of this, a substitute employee was in charge of watching the room on the day Jonathan died. This employee reported that he had not been trained in the use of seclusion and didn't know Jonathan had threatened suicide weeks earlier.

Should we use locked seclusion for our misbehaving children? Is it safe? Sometimes locked seclusion is necessary to address very severe, aggressive, behavioral outbursts. When a child becomes physically assaultive and dangerous, a limited use of locked seclusion may be necessary. It can be used safely when proper procedures are followed. However, locked seclusion should only be utilized by trained mental health and special education professionals. It should not be used by frustrated and untrained parents or teachers who have run out of other things to try.

This story is a tragic reminder that we are not addressing the severe challenges of many of today's youth with professional care and best practices. In Jonathan's case, this tragedy could have been prevented. He obviously had significant mental health and behavioral issues that could have been impacted positively by a professional team of providers, including a psychologist, psychiatrist, and trained special educator. Instead he was supervised by someone with no training at all. A more appropriate scenario would have included the following: Jonathan would have been searched for dangerous items prior to being placed in time-out. Trained staff would have constantly watched him since he had recently threatened suicide. Every 15 minutes, staff would have documented his mental status and other observations. A specific plan of how to use locked seclusion would have been formulated in advance by a multidisciplinary team. If these "best practices" procedures would have been followed, then Jonathan would most likely be alive today.

In all fairness to the school, there is an increasing number of children in the educational system who are quite aggressive and hard to manage. Since there are few affordable treatment programs, parents are forced to keep their child in a school placement where minimal treatment is delivered. Schools are forced to accept these children when it is not appropriate to do so. As a result, the children frequently receive inadequate care by untrained professionals. What these children need is a comprehensive treatment program that holistically addresses their emotional, behavioral, and academic needs. However, these types of programs are few and far between. If a family has money, then there are more options. However, even with money, it is still hard to find quality and effective care.

This story also provides a reminder that we as a society continue to view punishment as an effective way to raise our children. My career began in residential care with adolescents who had severe behavioral challenges. I have worked in inpatient child psychiatric settings and have been a treatment director of a long-term residential treatment facility. Throughout my experiences, I have witnessed staff who would rather place a child in locked time-out than work to promote positive behavior. I have seen parents who do not believe in the powerful approach of "catching children being good." In one of my first employment experiences at the former Capistrano by the Sea Hospital in Dana Point, CA, Larry Stednitz, Ph.D. of http://www.strugglingteens.com/, taught me that children with the most severe difficulties can be changed through the use of engagement in activities and positive interventions. At Capistrano by the Sea, we worked with the severest of the severe with minimal use of seclusion and restraints.

Locked seclusion is necessary at times, but in my experience, it is vastly overused. Punishment is certainly necessary at times, but it should be used sparingly in a mild form. It is much more effective to use the principles of Re-Education, formulated by Nicholas Hobbs in his book, The Troubled and Troubling Child. Among these principles is a belief that we have to help kids be confident by establishing quality adult-child relationships and helping them develop a sense of competence with some type of skill or activity. When parents, teachers, and mental health professionals use these positive interventions with kids, the need for locked seclusion dramatically decreases.

In order to help all the other Jonathans in our country, we need to push for more cost-effective day treatment and residential treatment facilities that are staffed by trained mental health and special education professionals. We need to bring professionalism to this field and not accept educational programs that are staffed by people who do not know what they are doing. We need to keep educating others that positive interventions work with children and that severe punishment, such as the use of locked seclusion, should only be utilized as a last resort. We need more monitoring and regulation of programs that do use these restrictive behavior management techniques. We also need to support parents in helping them find quality care. When we help our troubled youth experience success, we experience success as well.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Gluten-Free Diet: Helpful or Hype??

Karen Springen of Newsweek has recently written an article titled, A New Diet Villain, about the newly popular gluten-free diet . She reports that Americans are spending $2 billion a year on gluten-free products that advocates claim can help autism, ADHD, and other disorders. She addresses whether this new diet is helpful or more about hype. According to professionals she interviewed, no systematic scientific studies have been conducted verifying the efficacy of the diet. However, many parents have noted remarkable results.

Dr. Kenneth Bock, in his book, Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies: The Groundbreaking Program for the 4-A Disorders, outlines a strategy that looks at each patient with one of these disorders like a puzzle waiting to be solved: finding and treating the root cause of illness rather than its symptoms, reducing the body's toxin load and helping the body heal itself through nutritional and medical therapy. A gluten-free diet is part of his healing strategy. This book has been very enlightening for the parents of the children I work with. Several have claimed substantial improvement in their child's affect and the ability to socialize.

If these approaches intrigue you, as they do me, my advice is to read through the literature and make your own decision regarding what to do. We would love more scientific data, and I am sure it will come. Until then, we have to take our best guess in our decision-making to help our children be as successful as possible in the future.

What do you think? I would love to hear your opinion on this matter.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Does Your Child Have Sensory Processing Disorder?

Does your child get overly active in big groups? Does your child have difficulty tolerating clothing of certain textures? Is your child lethargic and in need of lots of prompting to do anything? These are just a few symptoms of a possible Sensory Processing Disorder. A very informative article by Michelle Kemper Brownlow, Desperately-Seeking Stimulation, provides much valuable information to help parents explore this avenue of inquiry. In my practice, many children are said to have this disorder. The diagnostic process of Sensory Processing Disorder is not well defined and the corresponding research is limited. However, the general theory described by Carol Stock Kranowitz in The Out-of-Sync Child is quite intriguing. And, many children in my community have been greatly helped by an occupational therapist. If your child has symptoms described by Ms. Brownlow, then more specific evaluation may be indicated.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Try Buying a Family Gift to Share

David Crary, AP National Writer, has recently written an article titled, Meltdown fallout: some parents rethink toy-buying. He describes how a group of parents involved in the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood are asking toy makers to target parents, not children, in their advertising. These parents are concerned that parents who are facing financial devastation in this economic crisis are unfairly being urged by their children to buy certain toys for the holidays because of ads seen by their children on television. These parents want the ads that target children to stop. I agree with these parents and have added my support to this campaign. You can add your support as well by going to http://www.commercialexploitation.org/.

Since my family is also going through hard economic times, we have faced issues with our children just as this article describes. We have had numerous requests for toys and "things" that we just cannot afford.

As an alternative, we have come up with a unique solution. We have decided to urge more sharing of the "stuff" we have. In addition, we will buy gifts that we can all share as a family. We have found this solution to be very appealing because we can urge more sharing within our family. Of course, our children will get a few personal items of their own, but we have had to cut back on buying gifts that we would typically buy.

With creativity and brainstorming, I am sure your holiday season will turn out well. Do not, I say do not, stretch yourself too thin financially by buying toys your children just do not need. By learning to share, and appreciating what you have, you will find that your children will be just as happy, or even happier in the long run. They will also learn to appreciate what they have a bit more.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

7 Tips to Help Children Weather the Economic Storm

Are you continuing to experience economic stress in your family? If so, I encourage you to review my article, 7 Tips to Help Children Weather The Economic Storm, featured on Basil and Spice (http://www.basilandspice.com/).

Basil and Spice is an outstanding and well-known internet news source for author and book views on a healthy life. There are many additional articles about relationships, family, health, and other topics that you may find useful to live life in a quality way.

I wish you the best during this holiday season!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sail Through the Holidays with a Smile

My wife, daughter, my son, and I are on a road trip to California. We are determined to have a happy and meaningful holiday experience, even if the devastating economic crisis hangs over us like a dark cloud. We are not going to let any doom or gloom ruin our fun. Listening to Suze Orman, the financial guru who frequently appears on television, has made me realize that the holidays can be extremely joyful even in the hardest of times. The holidays for us are about being together, singing, eating, reaching out, and taking time to breathe. This isn't necessarily what we always actually achieve because we are stressed out like the rest of you. However, our desire is to wholeheartedly participate in these activities and decrease the emphasis on "stuff." We have to be careful with our spending. As an alternative, we are reaching out more to others.

While driving, I had a desire to reach out to you. Some of you are very happy this holiday season. If this is you, then spend time really counting your blessings. Others of you are having a hard time. If you are one of these people who are facing hardship and/or strife, take a step back and assess the positives that you actually have in your life. Refocus your attention on the small things that bring you joy. If you cannot find anything to appreciate, go outside and find something to smile about. Smile at a child playing or at a squirrel going up a tree. When we refocus our attention on "smaller things," our minds take a break. Once you return to the challenges you face, you will find that your powers of problem-solving are strengthened and your ability to experience joy in your life is enhanced. If you need further tips for managing the stress of the holidays, I encourage you to read a Mayo Clinic clinic article, Stress, depression and the holidays: 12 tips for coping. I wish you all the best.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Is Our Field Guided by Science?

In my profession, I continually hear that we need to use evidence-based therapies when treating children with certain psychiatric conditions. I also hear my colleagues saying things like, "There is no evidence that dietary changes reduce the symptoms of ADHD. " It is a nice idea that we as professionals try to be guided by empirically validated interventions in our practice. But are we really guided by science? The answer is ,"yes" sometimes, and "no" many other times.

In many situations, we are not guided by science. In fact, professionals in the fields of child clinical psychology and child psychiatry often practice using a "trial and error" approach. This point is clearly portrayed in the recent article by Gardiner Harris in the NY Times, Use of Antipsychotics in Children is Criticized. Mr. Harris reports a finding from a panel of drug experts that a substantial number of children with ADHD are being prescribed a powerful antipsychotic medication (Risperdal). This drug has not been not approved for the treatment of ADHD by the Food and Drug Administration, the side effects can be quite negative, and the efficacy in the treatment of ADHD has not been established empirically. Judi Warner argues in her subsequent NY Times article, Tough Choices for Tough Children, that children with big problems are being given big, bad drugs because no one really knows what to do with them."

Parents need to realize that our field, including the fields of psychiatry and child clinical psychology, still is not an exact science. There are many times when we do not exactly know how to treat a particular condition and thus, we have to try many different strategies. Medication is often seen as one of the first things to try since we tend to perceive the field of medicine as scientific and all-knowing. But, our treatment strategies are often not well researched and thus, we have to keep trying things to see what works.

As noted in my book, Understanding Your Child's Puzzling Behavior: A Guide for Parents of Children with Behavioral, Social, and Learning Challenges, I firmly believe that parents can be active team members when they are confronted with a child demonstrating extremely significant emotional and behavioral challenges. These parents need to learn how to conduct initial assessments on their own, develop personal philosophies regarding what is happening with their child, and learn about the backgrounds of care providers to whom they turn for help. They also need to collaborate as much as possible with friends, natural caregivers in the child's life (e.g., teachers, family practice physicians), and with the specialists they turn to for help. A coordinated collaborative approach often works bests. Empirically supported interventions should be tried first, but when that fails, other alternative interventions should be tried as well. I encourage concerned parents to buy my book, download the worksheets from our website (http://www.lifespanpress.com/), complete these worksheets and implement the expected and valuable insights obtained.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Do We Expect Too Much From Our Kids?

Alan Kazdin, Ph.D. is a very distinguished psychologist and researcher in the field of child clinical psychology. He has just written an article for Slate (http://www.,slate.com/) titled, Why Can't Johnny Jump Tall Buildings?. He believes that parents expect too much from their kids when these kids are learning new behaviors and skills. After reading his article, I was reminded that learning often takes much time and practice. We must be patient while our children begin to acquire what we expect them to know and demonstrate. It is invaluable to celebrate your child's successes no matter how small the gains are. Read this article for more tips and advice on how to positively support your child in the learning process.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Discourage Your Child's Obsessions?

In my practice, I frequently encounter children who have very specific interests (e.g., airplanes, movies, Star Wars, politics (believe it or not, this is true)). These children think and talk about these interests constantly, to the point where others, including parents and professionals, begin stating that these children have significant "obsessions." Some of these children may have autism, some may have ADHD, some may have OCD, and others may be considered normal. The question frequently posed is "Should I discourage my child from thinking about this all the time?"

Earlier in my career, I would have answered this question with a definitive "Yes!" However, as my experience with children has accumulated, I now have come to believe that there are instances where a child should actually be encouraged to follow the obsession. If you can somehow make it so that the obsession is a socially acceptable activity with lots of rewards, then allowing the child to follow the obsession is not such a bad thing. For example, if a child is obsessed with American history (this also happens), then teaching the child to be a historian could be a goal. If a child is obsessed with math, teaching a child to be an expert mathematician could be the goal. If a child is obsessed with machinery, a strategy could be to help the child learn as much as possible about different types of machines.

People may fear that the obsession could interfere with other activities, or that the child will not be "well rounded". However, in my mind we have actually become "obsessed" ourselves with the idea of being well rounded. Not everyone is meant to be well rounded. Why does everyone have to be like everyone else? Why can't some of us "hyperfocus" on the things we like and be a little bit odd in other areas of our lives? These are just some thoughts of mine that surfaced when I read the article, Using Your Child's Obsession in Homeschooling . Read this for yourself and see what you think.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Take Your Child with ADHD on a Walk!!

When a child has attention difficulties at school, one of the first ideas teachers, other professionals, and parents think about is that child has ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and is in need of medication. Partly because of this thinking, the use of medication for children with ADHD has risen dramatically over the past number of years. As reported in Pediatrics , the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, during the years 2002 to 2005 the number of children with ADHD who were prescribed medication increased a whopping 40.4%. Similar increases in the prevalence of medical intervention were seen for children with autism, depression, and diabetes. Concerns about this alarming trend have been voiced by experts in the field. For example, Stuart A. Seale, MD, board-certified family physician, has voiced concern that our medical establishment is treating pediatric chronic diseases with the same approach as that used with adults--primarily through the use of medications.

If you have a child with attention difficulties, there are many other more natural interventions to try before medication is utilized. Tara Parker-Hope has recently reported in the New York Times that researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that walking in nature was just as effective in helping children with ADHD concentrate as was a dose of medication. This is an exciting finding. We have all known intuitively that being in nature helps children with attention challenges and now we have the data. When your child has attention difficulties in school and/or elsewhere, I encourage you to take the child for a wonderful walk in nature. Try this and other natural remedies first, before any type of medication is used. Even if your child is already taking medication, get outside! It can't hurt!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tough Talk for Tough Times

Tough Talk for Tough Times

I and others were recently interviewed by Alandra Johnson of the Bend Bulletin about how to help children in the current economic crisis. She has summarized her findings in an excellent article called, "Tough Talk for Tough Times"(www.bendbulletin.com). Included in the article are valuable suggestions regarding how to talk with your children about the issues you are currently be facing. I enourage you to read her article and sumbit your own comments and reflections.

Additional parenting guidance for the economic crisis may also be found by viewing my recent CNN interview (www.lifespanpress.blogspot.com) and by reading a recent article published by the American Psychological Association Dollars and Sense: Talking to Your Children about the Economy(www.apahelpcenter.org).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

iParenting Media Award Winner!

iParenting Media Award Winner!

Understanding Your Child's Puzzling Behavior has just been chosen for a distinguished iParenting Media Award !! The iParenting Media Award program evaluates, selects, and honors the best products in the marketplace. We are very excited that our industry has recognized the importance and utility of this guide for parents who are looking for ways to help their struggling child find success. The helpful steps to effective intervention presented in the guide can be very helpful for parents of children with any type of behavioral, social, and learning challenge. The guide has been very helpful for those children with ADHD, autistic spectrum disorder, anxiety, depression, and even normal challenges of childhood. We encourage you to spread the word!!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama: Inspiration for Our Children

Obama: Inspiration for Our Children

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

President-elect Barack Obama quote from 2008 victory speech.

"..triumph of the American story."

President Bush's praise of Obama's impressive win.

There is nothing more powerful than to have a role model to believe in, a role model to become inspired by, and a role model to help guide one’s journey on a personal path to success. No matter what your political persuasion may be, the story of Barack Obama's extraordinary climb to success can be used as an example for our children of how hard work, dedication, and the relentless pursuit of one's dreams will help one achieve the impossible. Obama's path to the presidency was begun against all odds and resulted in the most astonishing election victory in American history. We and our children are now witnessing events that will be told to children for generations to come. This mind-blowing success story gives absolute proof that we can achieve far beyond our wildest imagination.

I urge all of you parents to sit down today and talk with your children about Barack Obama and his path to the presidency. Use this discussion to teach your children to dream big, believe in themselves, work hard, and to persevere against all odds. Help your children to train the inner voice to say “Yes, I can.” When you combine this dialogue with the strategies presented in the previous Help Your Child Find Success entry in this blog, you will find that no matter what challenge your child is experiencing, he or she will have more hope, enhanced strength, and increased endurance. The previously unattainable idea will transform into a more obtainable aspiration.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Anxious Children: What Treatment is Best?

Anxious Children: What Treatment is Best?

The New England Journal of Medicine has recently published a large research study looking at what treatment works best for children with anxiety disorders, medication or cognitive behavioral treatment. This study has been described in detail by Lindsey Tanner of the Associated Press. Sertraline (Zoloft), a selective_serotonin_reuptake_inhibitor, and cognitive behavioral therapy were found to be equally effective on their own. However, when a combination of sertraline and therapy were used together, the reduction of symptoms of anxiety in the children was much greater. The implications of this study are that a combination of medical and psychological treatment is the most effective treatment for children who have struggled with significant anxiety that has affected their day-to-day functioning and relationships with other people.

This study is quite significant and will no doubt increase the use of SSRIs with children. Insurance companies and national associations will use these results to promote the use of medication as the crucial component of helping children cope with anxiety. Even though cognitive behavioral treatment is just as effective as medication on its own, taking a pill is much quicker and more cost-effective to administer. Many parents will chose to take the "quick fix" approach and ignore that these children actually need to learn life-skills as well.

I strongly encourage parents to deeply self-reflect before giving their anxious child a pill. Before you jump to medicating your child, be sure that the anxiety is not just a situational feeling. We all become anxious from time to time. Many times, this anxiety goes away when the situation changes. Also, be sure that you are teaching some of the basics of cognitive behavioral therapy (e.g., relaxation, reinterpreting events). We all have to learn to overcome our fears through lots of hard work. In order for children to become strong adults, it is a wonderful skill to how to manage fears through positive self-talk, brief relaxation (i.e., deep breathing, visualizing a safe place), and persistence. If we give too much power to medication, our children will be less inclined to learn the success principles that are so important in life.

Of course there are times when medication is indicated (e.g., persistent symptoms of anxiety over time that are greatly affecting performance and relationships) and the decision to medicate is a personal one made on case-by-case basis. However, even if medication is utilized, the children on medication still need to be taught how to effectively overcome the challenges that they will face throughout their lifetime. The medication may "cut the edge" off the symptoms of anxiety which could help the child be more able to learn. The medication will not teach such skills as assertion, prioritization of life's goals, and reinterpreting stressful events (e.g., calling someone up on the phone, entering a group of people) as "no big deal." The more that children are taught how to manage fears and stressors, the better off they will be.

To learn more about children and anxiety, go to my recommended resources page by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Helping Kids Cope: When The Economy Hits Home

Helping Kids Cope: When The Economy Hits Home
Watch my recent interview on CNN about now to help children understand and cope with the current economic crisis. To view the interview click here. You may also view the interview on my blog at: http://www.lifespanpress.blogspot.com/.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Keeping the Dream Alive: An Inspiring Story

Keeping the Dream Alive: An Inspiring Story

Ken Mink is a basketball player at Roane State Community College in Harriman, Tenn. This in itself is not necessarily news since there are thousands of basketball players in our country. The astonishing part of this story is that this man is 73-years-old!!!! How many of you play basketball at 50? 40? 30? 20? He plays at an age where he is fully qualified for the full payment of social security, when any bus will give him a discount rate as a senior, and when many people his age are having to physically struggle just to go to the grocery store. He plays basketball on a college team!! If he isn't breaking the age barrier, I do not know who does. Jim Litke, AP sport's writer, has written that Ken Mink has achieved his long-standing dream of playing basketball on a college team. He played college ball in his 20s but was unable to play for his entire eligibility period. He kept his dream alive throughout the years and now he is back. This is a lesson for all of our children, and even for us, that it is important to keep your dreams alive no matter what your age. With vision, persistence, and hard work, dreams can and will come true. For the full text of Jim Litke's story click here.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Economic Crisis and the Mood Swings of Parenting and School

The Economic Crisis and the Mood Swings of Parenting and School

Due to the typical calendar year of school, and the nature of seasons, parents and children go through cycles of excitement, hope, boredom, and discouragement. However, most of these individuals are not aware that these cycles are normal and predictable. Let me be a bit more specific. At the start of the school year, most parents and children are excited for the year to begin. New clothes are bought, new teachers are met, a new binder is organized, and friends whom you have not seen for the entire summer are seen again. However, after period of time, the reality of the school year sets in. The newness wears off. Some boredom and discouragement sets in. This happens between the middle of October until the holidays. The holidays give a positive boost to many people because there are things to look forward to during the holiday break. In January, most children and parents are excited for school to begin. However, they are probably not as excited before. From the latter part of January until spring break, boredom and discouragement is at its all time high. This is the longest stretch of the year without something exciting. Once the weather becomes nice and spring break hits, positive feelings are again on the rise because summer vacation is near. There is lots of planning regarding what to do for summer activities. Once school is out the excitement is peaked. However, during July some of the boredom again sets in. As the school year approaches, this cycle repeats itself. I am articulating this to you because it is important to put all of yours and your child's emotions in context. You are more affected by these cycles than you may realize. As a psychologist, I have years of data on this cycle. I know when my busy times will be. I can almost predict how people will be. This year will be more intense. The economic crisis and election are added stressors that we have not had for some time. Because of these, you may find yourself having more intense ups and downs than in past years. I encourage you to keep these cycles in mind and realize that we are going into a period of the year where it is common to experience boredom and discouragement. The issues in our country have made these cycles even more apparent. If you are feeling discouraged, please have faith that the cycles will swing to the positive. At this time, you need to be strong and hold on. Pretty soon the cycle will pull you to a more positive state of mind.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sat on CNN - Economic Crisis and Children

Please join me tomorrow morning (Saturday, October 18th) on CNN at 8:00 am (Central Time). I will be talking about the effects of the current economic crisis on children. I will be covering the following:

Seven tips for talking to your child about the economic crisis
Over the past several weeks, people have become increasingly concerned about and impacted by the current economic crisis. Parents are worried. We are all worried. Many changes to people’s living situations and lifestyles are now taking place. When parents are worried, the children soak this up like a sponge. Like adults, children respond to financial stress in diverse ways. Many children are fine and show little impact. However , there are many other children who respond by becoming more withdrawn, shy, anxious, and clingy. Other children have responded by becoming more active, impulsive, and even aggressive. T o ensure that your child weathers the storm of these days of hardships in a positive way parents are encouraged to do the following:
  • Be aware that children will be impacted by the current challenges in our country, some more than others. Those who are affected may not show signs of anxiety in an obvious way. Your child may be affected and if this is the case, more support is necessary.
  • Hang out with your child as much as possible. If you are extremely busy, even a little time is better than no time. Just knowing you are there will be a source of comfort. When you are with your child, you do not necessarily have to do something structured. Just being with your child is wonderful in itself.
  • Talk to your child honestly about what is currently happening. There is no need to go into complete detail about everything. Just, briefly explain. If your child wants to know more, then explain as much as the child developmentally can understand.
  • Offer to be there for him or her. Tell your child that you would love to talk if he/she has concerns of their own.
  • Emphasize resilience. Tell your child that he/she will be fine. Explain that many families throughout the history of the world have faced hardships and have done well.
  • Be a good listener. Don’ t try and fix your child’s feelings. Just listen and acknowledge the feelings shared.
  • Keep your family routine as consistent as possible. Keep your dinner and play times the same. Keep the child in their school if at all possible. Children do best when their routine is not drastically altered.

If you feel that your child’s emotions or behavior are greatly impacting daily functioning, then it may be time to seek professional help. Parents are encouraged to first consult the natural caregivers in their child’s life such as the teacher, school counselor, or family physician. These professionals see all types of children on a regular basis and will have a good sense of if more specialized help is needed. These professionals also will have ideas regarding to whom to turn for help.

Times are tough and listening to all the negativity around us can be quite the bummer. But, rather than giving up, stay positive and find that inner strength to hold on. With patience and persistence the good times will soon be upon us again.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Does Your Child Need Residential Treatment?

Sometimes children and adolescents demonstrate behaviors and emotions of concern that cannot be managed at home. These youth may be in need of residential treatment. This can be a very emotional idea for parents to consider. I am actually a true believer of residential care since I began my career in a hospital based program in the 1980s (Capistrano By The Sea Hospital in Dana Point, CA). I saw wonderful and positive changes take place in the participating youth. This program is no longer in existence due to the budget cuts of managed care. In place of hospital programs, therapeutic schools have filled the void. There are now a variety of outstanding programs that are tailored to individual needs. If you are seeking residential care for your child, I recommend that you hire an educational consultant to help you find the appropriate program. Educational consultants are professionals who spend their career investigating/evaluating programs and providing placement services to parents. The first place to look for a possible educational consultant is to contact StrugglingTeens.com. My mentor and former boss at Capistrano By The Sea (Larry Stednitz, PhD) is now an educational consultant with this organization. Dr. Stednitz, Lon Woodbury, MA (director), and colleagues do a remarkable job in placing the young person in the right program. These professionals are all certified by the Independent Educational Consultants Association.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Parenting in the Age of Change

As a child, I grew up with the belief that all families would forever operate like the families in Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best. In these television programs, there was a father and a mother who got along well. The community was safe. The kids had normal childhood struggles, but for the most part, the children were well behaved and the family was harmonious. People were honest, kind, and acted in a manner that was good for the community. I loved to watch these television shows and also loved to listen to the wonderful stories of previous childhoods as told by my parents. Since becoming a parent, I frequently reflect on these movies and stories. Life seemed so much simpler back in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. Life seemed so wonderful.

But then when I really start thinking, I realize that most of these images of family life are select stories, in select conditions, and often glamorized by Hollywood . In reality, there is no way that things could have been that wonderful for everyone. Think about it. Let’s take a few events from the 20th century. World War I occurred from 1914 to 1918 and was fought primarily in Europe. This war resulted in over 40 million casualties. Of course, this affected families tremendously. In 1929, there was a stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. People lost their money overnight , and people were forced to stand in line for food. This economic hardship surely caused the parents and families great stress.

World War II began as the depression was ending. People in Europe lived in great fear, and many of their loved ones were killed. The families in Europe were worried that the Nazis would take over everything. We had a brief moment of peace in the United States after World War II, but elsewhere in the world, families in the Soviet Union and Asia went through a period of immense upheaval as their individual countries came under communist rule.

In the ‘50s, we became engaged in a new conflict, the Korean War. Again, more loved ones were lost, and many families in Asia lived in fear. At that time in the United States, we were very scared that everyone was becoming a communist. We became paranoid. As an example, in the early 60s, teachers in my elementary school taught us how to survive in a nuclear blast.
In addition to this fear, many families of varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds faced immense discrimination. The southern part of the United States continued to practice segregation of whites and blacks. African American families did not experience the same privileges that our family of European descent probably took for granted.

Finally, in the ‘60s, we engaged in another conflict, the Vietnam War. During this war, many of our nation’s children were drafted to fight an unpopular war. This war was a major cause of the social unrest during that period of time. Many of the kids at that time looked for alternatives to the current lifestyle and war. They rebelled, became hippies, and engaged in all sorts of behavior that left their parents in shock.

Throughout the history of the United States, people immigrating to the country had to work hard and often away from the family and children they loved. All these events in our country have had profound effects on children and families at large. My childhood primarily was in the ‘60s, and I personally grew up in fear that the country was falling apart. I was very concerned that the Soviet Union would eventually take over.

With due respect to previous generations, I have come to the realization that parenting has always been a challenge. I presented this to my 85-year-old mother, and she agreed that life has always been hard. She noted that people loved the classic movies and shows because they depicted a life that could be, not one that was. The films and shows presented a fantasy in which they could escape. There has always been fear and uncertainty about the future. For many families in the world, there has always been fear of war, economic hardship, periodic environmental disasters, and other stressors that we are facing today. Now is really no different than before.

The only difference between then and now is that the types of stressors have changed. We now have an information overload from the media and internet. We are constantly bombarded with news of doom and gloom. Partly because of this, we live in fear. Further, our families have changed in make-up and composition. We now have many single-parent families, families with divorced parents, same-sex parent families, and families with mixed ethnicity and/or culture. We are also experiencing new economic hardships that we have not seen since the Great Depression. Many families cannot pay their mortgages, and higher gasoline prices are making us all tighten our belts. The current economic situation is downright scary. And as we all know, we have lived in fear of terrorism since the September 11th tragedy. These attacks have changed our perception that the United States was a safe place to live. We are undergoing so many changes in our country that it is really hard to keep up with them all.

The review of these events helps to put all our worries about parenting in a historical context. Throughout time, parenting has always been challenging. There have never been perfect conditions in which to raise a child. Parents have always faced hurdles to overcome. The majority of parents throughout time have been successful in child rearing. The same is true today. Most children end up okay. This is not to minimize the hardships we are currently experiencing. Instead, this is to raise awareness that having to face great challenges is nothing new. As a parent myself, I can totally relate to the concerns many parents have about raising their children. Knowing that previous generations of parents felt the same anxiety about raising their children helps me to not feel alone. Knowing that many parents before us in possibly worse situations from mine were successful in their childhood is quite reassuring that my children will be okay as well.

You, too, can be a successful parent even in the face of all the hardships and changes we are experiencing in our country. You can raise your child in a quality manner. Your child can grow up to be happy and successful. To greatly increase the chances of successful parenting, it is important to focus on the “little things” with your children. Really take the time to appreciate your children for who they are. Spend a lot of time loving them. Frequently hug them, kiss them, play with them, talk with them, guide them, support them, and respect them. Try to face the life challenges that have been given to you in a grateful manner. It is good to realize that someone somewhere else has been given challenges that are far worse. Do your best to stay positive. Have faith that things will be okay as they have been for generations of parents before you. Realize that parenting has always been challenging, but the majority of children do quite well in life. Keep working hard and do your best to enjoy the process.

Parenting has always been challenging, but it has always been one of the most rewarding things you can do. Your children will give you much joy and wonderful memories if you allow yourself some enjoyment. When I come home at night after a long day at work, I typically am greeted with a very warm reception, “Papa!.” My daughter and son both are excited to see me. It is fantastic. I cannot think of anything better than to watch my children grow in a happy, healthy, and successful way. It is a delight for me to see my children smile and have fun. Whatever your situation is, keep your hope and vision for them alive. In time, you will be quite pleased with the outcome of your efforts.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Help Your Child Find Success!

Dear Readers,

With the new school year about the begin, now is the time to develop a plan in order to ensure that your child finds success. Most parents may focus on improving a child's challenge areas. However, I am increasingly believing in the power of strength-based interventions to facilitate positive growth in all children. Nicholas Hobbs, Ph.D.,author of The Troubled and Troubling Child, developed the principles of ReEducation with one being that all children must experience joy in their lives on a daily basis. Mel Levine, MD, author of A Mind at A Time, argues that we must work on strengthening the strengths. Martin Seligman, Ph.D., author of Authentic Happiness argues that people must engage in positive activities to increase their well-being. My recommendations for you these next two weeks is to identify several strengths or gifts in your child. Then, take some time to think about how you could help your child to develop these positive aspects even more. When you implement this strength-based strategy, you will be amazed at the difference in your child's emotional well-being. This in turn will result in more receptivity to work on things that are hard. The approach to take is to strengthen the strengths while you are addressing the areas of challenge. Once you identify these strengths, spend some time thinking about how to address the challenges has well. Once you have completed these activities, go for it! By the way, do not overload your child. Most of us can only work on a few things at a time. Thus, only choose one or two strengths and challenge areas to work on at one time. If you want more information, buy my book, Dr. Levine's book, and Dr Seligman's book. By combining this information, you will have a wealth of knowledge than can help any child in-need. One additional reference than can help ensure your child finds success is The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. This book has truly inspired me and will inspire you as well. Good luck this year and let me know if you have any comments, questions, or advice.


Steve Curts, Ph.D.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Welcome to my new blog!!!

Dear Parent,

I welcome you to my new blog. The purpose of the blog is to help parents of children with puzzling behavioral, social, and learning challenges. Much of the blog's content will follow the steps presented in my book, Understanding Your Child's Puzzling Behavior: A Guide for Parents of Children with Behavioral, Social, and Learning Challenges. This book is very appropriate for parents of children with ADHD, Asperger's, high functioning autism, ODD, anxiety, depression, and other disorders. The book is also appropriate for parents of children who are experiencing normal challenges of childhood. The thrust of the book is to help parents better understand the needs of their children, how to make a strength-based plan of action, and to know to whom to turn for help. It is a short book and for less than $15, you can save thousands of dollars to uneeded trips to professionals. Your interventions will also be positive and more effective. Many parents who are concerned about their children go on a "quest for help" that takes them through a myriad of care professionals. Sometimes this journey helps, but other times parents become even more confused. If you are one of these parents, I want to help you. If you have not, please purchase a copy of the book and let me know what you think. You may purchase the book at your local bookstore, http://www.amazon.com/, or at http://www.lifespanpress.com/. Try your best to follow the step-by-step procedures. If you get stuck, email me at: scurtis@lifespanps.com. I am happy to help you brainstorm a bit. In the coming days, weeks, and months, I will be posting additional information, advice, and links that are not included in the book. I hope you find this valuable. I am so excited to offer my help in this manner. As a disclaimer, by participating in this blog, there is not an official patient-doctor relationship. This is purely informal. If you would like to make an appointment with me, please call our administrative assistant at: 206-780-7782. If you wish to know more about our practice, please visit: http://www.lifespanps.com/. I do both in town and out of town assessments. If you are from a long distance, let us know and we will complete an evaluation in one day if at all possible. Ok let's get started..