Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Teens and Sexuality - A Difficult Subject for Parents, but a Necessity!!!!

Teen Sexuality
            Having a teenager in the house is difficult; having a teenage girl can be an outright nightmare. As a mother who has made it through the difficult teenage years, I can definitely key in to how difficult it is to talk to a daughter about her entrance into teenage dating and the subject of sexuality and health. Sons are similar, but no less important! Just because they don't get pregnant doesn't mean they don't need sex education to protect themselves from becoming fathers before they are ready, or worse getting a disease they may have to live with for the rest of their lives.
            When you talk to your child, don't think you have to 'wait' to have a big talk when they are a certain age! Children usually start asking questions early, some at age three or four, and they need age-appropriate answers that give them information they can understand. I don't advise calling body parts by nicknames or slang terms, nor do I suggest avoiding any questions. If your child asks where babies come from, you can answer that they come from inside the mother's body. With the internet available, you can do as I did and show your child pictures of a fetus developing inside the mother's womb. My daughter found this fascinating, and marveled at the child growing from a 'tadpole' into a 'real baby'! That was enough for her at age four, and when she got older, about eight, she asked how that baby got there and our talks became a bit more detailed. The point was to give her the information she wanted without overloading her. 
          When the conversation got around to actually explaining sex, I first explained that her body is something to be proud of, and to take care of. She is an individual, and deserves respect and love from anyone she dates or decides to become involved with. I also explained that sexual activity does not necessarily have to happen in a married relationship for it to be important, she can choose to be a virgin until she is married if she wants, or until she is older and feels ready for such an important step, but that to make that decision lightly is foolish. I explained to her that her emotional well-being is as important as her physical health, and she shouldn’t do anything sexual with anyone before she feels ready, and to never be pressured into any activity.
            I then pointed out the importance of using proper contraceptives, the risks of STI’s and HIV, and stress that condoms are an absolute necessity every time. Then I would also point out that condoms do not protect you from all venereal diseases, such as herpes and vaginal warts, so there is no truly ‘safe sex’, there is only ‘safer sex’. So before she decides to make that decision to do something so personal with someone, she should think twice and make sure that this young man is someone whom she is seriously committed to and who is committed to her. Also, she should think about the company she keeps, as girls who run around with friends who are sexually active are more likely to become sexually active early as well, so the adage “Birds of a feather flock together” does apply in this case.
            I explained to her that now that she is older, she will have more temptations on the horizon, and it is my job as her mother to help her navigate through this time safely. I will be making sure she has the right guidance to hopefully keep her on the straight and narrow, and there is always an ‘open door policy’ when it comes to talking about situations that happen or questions. My main goal is to keep her safe and healthy, and make it through the tough teen years without undue stress or an unplanned pregnancy or STD. Believe it or not, continually stressing that she could talk to me about ANYTHING without judgement, and get guidance helped her not only come to me when she was upset or confused, but to this day she brings her friends to me when they have problems, telling them 'My mom is cool and she knows a lot of stuff, you can trust her to know what to do.' That tells me I did something right. Don't think I didn't do my fair share of chastising her when she did something stupid, I just didn't dwell on it forever, I made her understand that if you do it once, it was a mistake, do it twice and you're an idiot! LOL
            Maintaining good boundaries and curfews, knowing where your teen is and what activities she is participating in are important at this time. Keeping the lines of communication open as much as possible (which is often difficult) is important, although you will be the evil mother and then the shoulder to cry on, depending on the time of day or day of the week. Being present and active with your child, and letting her know that no matter how evil she is or moody she becomes, you are always there helps her get through those teen years. Somehow, as mothers we survive it too.
          Don't be naive as a parent. Whether you have a daughter or son, there comes a time that they are going to start thinking about becoming involved with someone and sex is going to be on the agenda. You need to keep the dialogue open, and it needs to be in a healthy way, not an accusatory or threatening manner. When my daughter began dating her first serious boyfriend, we had a really healthy manner of talking about her relationship with him, and she also told me about her friends and their relationships as well. I probably knew more about her friends relationships than their parents did. I also knew some of them were having sex on a regular basis and not always using protection. Now I had a dilemma, do I approach the parents of another teen and try to talk to them about their child's sexuality? If I had done so, I would have broken the trusting relationship I had with my daughter, her friendship with those kids would have been lost, and most likely nothing would have been accomplished. So I did something a bit unconventional. I set a small basket in MY bathroom with condoms in it. I never said a word about it, not to my daughter, not to anyone. My daughter heard me talk all the time about safe sex, and I always told her that it was better to be safe than sorry and she should encourage her friends, since she cared about them, to practice safe sex. So I began noticing those condoms disappearing, slowly. I never said a word, I just kept replacing them, keeping that basket filled.
         Years later, quite a few of her friends have visited our home from college, and thanked me for that basket, hidden behind the decorative towels on my sink. They told me that my daughter would slip them to them, or when they came to visit she would tell them to get one or two to put in their purse 'just in case'. They said without being able to have access to them without embarrassment, they might have gotten into trouble and ended up pregnant or sick because they were too young to know better. These were girls...not boys. Everyone thinks that the boys should be responsible for getting and keeping condoms, but it doesn't always happen. Teenage boys aren't known for thinking ahead, especially when it comes to sex, and girls are much better planners when it comes to these matters, so if you don't feel comfortable handing your daughter condoms 'just in case', then do like I did, just make them discreetly available. Remember, you aren't condoning anything, you are just not sticking your head in the sand and ending up a grandparent before you're ready or having a child with HIV or some other STI that needs treatment.  
          I don't advocate teenagers having sex. I am not telling you to either. I would much prefer that they wait until they are at least eighteen, or married. I'd like them to wait until they are in committed, loving relationships before they do anything so serious and intimate, but I know that there are teens out there everyday who make these decisions without my approval or yours. So if they decide not to listen to all our advise and go ahead and do what they please, the least we can do is give them the knowledge and protection they need to keep from harming themselves and one another! Oh, and just because your child is a straight A student, comes in before curfew, cheerleader or involved in all the right activities and dating the 'nice boy', don't think they aren't capable of doing the very same things all the other kids are! I have heard and talked to those very same stereotypes and was shocked at just how far they go in their secretive lives that no adults know about. Protect your children.

Good Mental and Physical Health to You and Yours!

Dr. Beth

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Parenting Styles: Comparing and Contrast

            Parenting styles can be categorized into four types, authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and rejecting-neglecting. Each of these styles has it’s positive and negatives, but the style that has been shown to be most productive for raising healthy, well-attached children is the authoritative. The style least likely to produce well-adjusted and emotionally healthy children is the rejecting-neglecting.
            A home that is representative of the authoritative model would be one where there are regular rules, set chores for the children to do each day, appropriate guidelines that are easily understood and age-appropriate for every child, and regular bedtimes. Meals would be together as a family, and homework would be done at set times. Exceptions would be made for special events, such as a sports activity or special program on TV. An example of this would be if 9 year-old Kathy came home from school with a special request to spend the evening with her friend Anne. It is a school night, but it is also Anne’s birthday, and Anne’s family is going out to dinner at a restaurant to celebrate. Although this change in Kathy’s schedule might delay bedtime and make getting homework or chores done difficult, it is a special occasion, and it is permissible to make exceptions for these types of events.
            At the opposite end of the spectrum, the rejecting-neglecting parenting style is the worst in which to raise a child. It minimizes both the structure as well as the love, leaving the children to fend for themselves and unsure of whether they are ever accepted by their parents or others. In this type of home, there are no rules, no regular expectations of the children, and no supervision by the parents. Without regular bedtimes and parental attention, children feel lost and unloved. Often, we see that these children are the ones who resort to joining gangs and other groups, to fill their need to ‘belong’.
            One such scenario would be Anthony, who comes home to an empty apartment, because his mother is at work until eleven at night, and his sisters are expected to make sure he eats dinner. Anthony is only eight and his sisters are fourteen and sixteen, but as soon as they fix him a sandwich, he is left to watch television alone, do his homework if he feels like it, and then go to bed whenever he pleases. He is not allowed to go outside, because the city streets are dangerous. Sometimes he waits up for his mother, but she is angry if he waits up, so he doesn’t do that often.  His sisters don’t play with him, they come and go and make sure he stays inside. He can’t wait until he is older, and is big enough to go out and play with the other children on the stoop and go down on the corner.
            Children like Anthony who have no parental figures and get little or no care from adults in their lives are at high risk for antisocial behavior and emotional problems. While there are certainly resilient children who overcome the odds and become exceptional adults, it is certainly better to be safe than sorry and give every child the best foundation for proper emotional health and growth and teach parents how to nurture and give their children the best environment to grow and learn. 
          The most important job you will have as a parent is to raise your child in a healthy manner, giving them the best start in life possible. Take an honest look at you parenting style and see what type of style you are practicing with your offspring, and if it is not healthy and nurturing, figure out what you can do to make things better and change. Look back at your own upbringing and see what type of parenting style your home had, and if your childhood did not give you a healthy start in life and give you the social skills and love and security to grow as you needed to through your teens and into adulthood, you may be able to better understand issues that come into play now and see where your problems today originate. 
Good luck to all of you, and may each of you be the best parents and people you possibly can be!
Dr. Beth

Friendships and How They Help Us Grow

A child comes into the world not as a blank canvas, but already with genetic markers that predispose them to have certain personality characteristics. Some will be ‘easy babies’ and take little care or worry from their caregivers, and others will be naturally shy and cry easily. No two babies are alike, but we can identify certain markers that allow us to see that different children will respond to certain styles of parenting and care more positively, allowing them to become more secure and not withdraw from their environment. It is always the goal of parents to raise healthy, happy children, unless there are mental issues within the family unit, and normal parents want to do best by their children. Having a securely attached child, who is well bonded with their mother, accepting of new situations, and comfortable in their environment as well as unafraid of new situations is the best scenario for a child. However, it is not always possible, due to different children being naturally shy or insecure, or parenting skills and practices being lacking due to work or simply ignorance when it comes to caring for a difficult or ‘shy’ child.
The bonding between mother and child is the first relationship a child learns, and if this is not secure, it can adversely affect the peer relationships the child forms during the rest of their life. Of course, a child who has an insecure attachment with their mother may later learn to form secure bonds with others, but it is much more difficult. Adversely, a child who begins with a secure attachment to their mother may also lose this, through tragedy or life events, and become unable to form attachments to peers or adults through their life.
I am reminded of the children’s story, “The Secret Garden”, where Mary was never securely attached to her mother. She was left to be cared for by nannies in India while her mother and father entertained and wore beautiful clothing. She felt angry and ignored, and played alone and treated adults and servants abusively. When her parents died in a fire, she was unable to cry, and when placed in her uncle’s home, she met her cousin, and befriended him slowly, and learned to form an attachment to another person as she had never known before. She also began to form friendships with a servant and a boy from the moors, and they shared the secret of the garden. By the end of the story, Mary had learned to be a friend, accept friendship, and also learned to cry and not be angry all the time.
Peer relationships are very important from the age of toddlers through adolescence. Children act and react differently during each stage, and it is of utmost importance that parents are there to guide them properly through each of these stages and help them learn how to handle conflicts and resolutions. When toddlers first begin to play in groups, there is little definition of gender, best friends can be of same or opposite sex, but they learn to share, not to hit, and parents must guide them to play together without hurting one another and to understand that what they do as individuals affects others. I remember as a young mother, the circle of children my daughter played with included two girls and a boy, and they had to be reminded on a regular basis to share, not get too rough, don’t push or hit, and be nice! There were often tears, due to one of the children being ‘mean’ to another, or someone wanting what another had, but it was up to the mothers to soothe the feelings, kiss the boo-boos and teach them to work together and play in the group. The children would look back to we mothers from time to time, as if to ask us ‘is this ok?’ This is referred to as ‘social referencing’, the checking back to see whether or not their activities are safe and acceptable within the group or family, and are important in the first stages of teaching children to become members of society.
The skills learned in those sweet sandbox days were the building blocks that helped all those children learn the skills they would need when they went off to day care, and were put into larger groups without their mothers present. Day care, which began for my daughter at about 3 ½, gave her an opportunity to be away from me and her former caregivers, and it also tested her ability to work with new children and people that came from different social situations. She had to rely on the values she had learned from me and the other mothers who had guided her and her little friends to carry her safely through a new situation. ‘Don’t hit’, ‘share’, ‘play nicely’, ‘be kind’, ‘don’t say mean things’, all translated into good rules to follow when in her new environment, and helped her not only survive, but thrive in this new and exciting place. Learning to make friends in her early, formative years taught her how to approach the other children without fear, and how to act in play as well. Her teachers were constantly commenting on how well she did with the other children, and that she took a leadership role when there were problems with other children. I had to laugh more than once when I heard that my daughter had admonished children who were arguing by saying “You can’t say mean things to one another, my Mommy says that’s ugly and pretty little girls don’t say ugly things!” Apparently, the lessons learned in the sandbox do carry through into early childhood!
Having the skills in early childhood, ages 4 through 7, to play with other children, forming bonds and seeking out one another for special events must be guided by the parents or primary caregivers. Children will slowly begin to divide into groups consisting of all boys or all girls, and will ridicule or ‘invade’ the other group from time to time. They are learning to play in very different ways during this time, and this continues on into the early teens. Boys will play rough and tumble games, chasing one another and rough-housing, while girls will play more quietly and organized types of games, often imitating roles of mothers or caregivers. Nature begins to take over and children separate and begin to show the skills that will come into play in their adult lives. I remember at about age 7, the girls began to get serious about learning cartwheels, and it was extreme competition to be able to do cartwheels all the way down the hallway of the school, (even though we were specifically told not to),and to be able to do them right-handed and left handed. We also had jump roping contests and hand games with word ‘tangles’ that went along with the movements. We would spend the entire recess doing these activities, while the boys would run around, chasing one another and wrestling. They would be sweaty and stink, while we would be nice and clean.
When my daughter was the same age, I would visit her school on a regular basis, as my office happened to be directly across the street from her school. I would observe the little girls in her class doing exactly what I and my friends had, twenty years before! The little boys were still running around, sweaty and dusty, and the girls were practicing cartwheels, jumping rope, and clapping little hands.
Something happened at age 12, with all of the children. I don’t know whether it was due to them becoming ‘tweens’, hormones kicking in, or whether the Devil himself invaded, but suddenly best friends became interchangeable, the phrase ‘if you’re friends with her, you can’t be friends with me’ became something I heard on a regular basis, and there were immense amounts of drama, hair-pulling, and crying at various times for no explainable reason. Boys would call, sometimes they would talk for hours, sometimes the phone would get slammed down. Cliques formed, and my daughter formed a circle of friends that she identified with, and they went everywhere together. Her clique had a matching clique of boys, and they would do activities together, like go to a party or movies, and at school events they all sat together or participated together. These kids were all smart, participated in school sports and student government, my daughter was editor of the school paper as well as editor of the yearbook, and they all dressed fairly normal (Thank God!).
I think the reason there was such a huge amount of tension and high emotion at the onset of the teen years was due to the fact that my daughter, as well as all her friends were becoming more ‘fixed’ in their personalities. The young girls and boys were deciding what type of person they wanted to be, how they wanted to present themselves, and who they wanted to be friends with. Former friendships had to be broken to form new ones that were more acceptable to new personas or goals, and it was hurtful to one or both. Girls who were interested now in being cheerleaders and playing sports and making good grades were separating from the girls who had no interest in scholastics or extra-curricular activities. Boys who wanted to play football and baseball were distancing themselves from the guys who were into playing in the band and writing short stories. Even though they may still have remained distant friends, they no longer had enough in common to be best of friends, except in very rare instances. It was much easier to belong to groups of kids that shared common goals, likes and dislikes.
Parents should be very vigilant at this time in their children’s lives to make sure that their teens aren’t being left out and led into the wrong direction by the ‘bad crowd’. Children who have a good sense of self-esteem, good home training, and who are competent at making and keeping friends usually will not be tempted to join anti-social groups or gangs. However, when a child feels left out or alone and needs to feel protected and like they belong, a group of mischief-makers and law-breakers who bring them into their fold and give them a sense of being part of a group is very enticing. Gangs form as substitutes for families, and real family attachments, they give the members a sense of belonging and being a part of something greater than themselves. Parents of teens should not think that a gang need have a special name or wear certain clothing. A gang can simply be a group of kids who practice antisocial behavior and promote within their ranks those who act out against the law or establishment.
Parents should be very careful regarding their advise to their children about how to handle conflicts with their friends and peers. Parents sometimes mistakenly give what they think is good advice, yet it can be exactly opposite of what is acceptable within the peer group. One example is when I was a teen, my mother always told me to walk away from a fight, never get into a physical altercation with anyone. If I had followed her advice, being a teacher’s kid, I would have been picked on mercilessly. My father, knowing the dynamics of the school, since he was a teacher there, told me ‘Never start a fight, but you better end it.’ This proved to work out much better. I think I remember having two altercations, neither of which I started, but both of which I ‘ended’ and I never had any more problems being picked on. I am not advocating violence, not in the least, but this was a long time ago, and standing up for yourself is necessary to stop bullying. In my business career, I never punched anyone, but I learned how to recognize when someone wasn’t working in my best interest and how to counteract their behaviors to make sure that my company was not affected.
I had to learn how to not only make friends, but how to deal with normal daily issues, and also those rare instances where physical violence came into play. High school, and socialization gives teens the social skills they need to go into their college years and eventually the business world. I learned to form friendships and alliances that I still have to this day. My daughter did the same, and I see her thriving at her university, making new friends there while keeping in touch with her best friends from high school.
Parents play a huge role in teaching their children how to form and keep friendships throughout their lives. We depend on our friends in every stage of development to teach us how to control our emotions, tailor our behavior to be socially acceptable, and support us when we need help or understanding. When parents have a healthy secure bond with their children, and also have stable friendships of their own that the child sees and can emulate, it is a win-win scenario. Constant guidance through each stage of the child’s growth and social development is necessary to ensure that proper social skills are developing, any problems are addressed, and there are no emotional problems holding the child back from normal growth. Good parents know that their job does not end or have breaks at any time during the child’s life, it continues from birth to death, and it is a job to be taken seriously. I fully believe that if more parents took the time and effort to guide their children through the stages of their social and emotional development, giving good and gentle advice and support, there would be much less violence, bullying and general disciplinary problems in our youth.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Parenting the Healthy Child

You may notice that the title say 'Parenting THE Healthy Child', which is much different than parenting a child with disabilities or other difficulties that make the experience much more specialized. Every child is different, much like a snowflake, and as any parent who raises a large family will tell you, even if they come from the same two parents, children raised in identical living conditions often have very different personalities, needs, emotions, interest and talents. It is important that you as a parent don't try to fit your child into a mold you create, you have to figure out what your child needs from you to grow into a healthy adult, one with good judgment, good morals and ethics, social skills, education, goals and self-esteem. That's a huge responsibility to carry for just one child, so having more makes your job even harder.

I want to stress that when you decided to become a mother or father, you basically decided to accept a job for life. You may be saying in your head that 'oh, it wasn't a decision, it just happened', but unless the Archangel came down from heaven and told you that your child was the next Christ, you had sex, or invitro, or in some way exchanged bodily fluids containing sperm that reached an egg and a child was conceived. This may not be a paying job, but it is the most important one you will EVER have. If you screw this up, you could be raising the next Jeffrey Dahmer, or if you do it right, the next Nobel Prize winner...a child's upbringing and parental guidance has everything to do with who they will be as adults. Inmates on death row ALL suffered abusive childhoods, most so horrific that they cannot attach normally to other people with love, empathy or understanding simply because they never received it during their formative years. Criminals convicted of violent crimes report abuse of physical, emotional and sexual nature in childhood and teenage years from family members, as well as lack of fathers in the home. They also state that their parents abused one another physically, and education was never a priority in the home.

So there are a few facts about how important you as a parent are to the future of your child. It is YOUR job to give them what they need to excel in this world and not end up in a jail cell, or on the pipe or the pole. You may live in a beautiful home, have a good income, but work all the time and leave the raising of your children to the television and school, because you are interested in YOUR social life and YOUR career more than the nurturing of your children and it's easier to buy toys and electronics to entertain your children than it is to sit down every night and have a family dinner, see they do their homework and check it, and talk to them face-to-face for a while before bedtime each night to see how their day went. Those are the children who sneak out at night and get high with their friends...they have plenty of cash from their allowance and are bored, and really think you don't care so why not, right? These are the kids who go to college, maybe, but while you pay the bill for their tuition they are barely passing and spending the night hopping from bed to bed trying to find someone to love them because they don't know what real love is, and have no self worth. These are also the kinds of girls who attach themselves to older men because they are looking for a 'daddy' figure, and sometimes get abused or put into the strip clubs to earn ready cash. These are the sons who become addicts to forget the pain of not having any feeling of direction or worth in this world and become lost in a haze of smoke, pills and needles.

OK, if I've given you a bit of a shock, good. I don't think anyone looks at their pregnant wife and thinks 'I'm going to be a terrible father' or rubs lotion onto their stretching stomach and thinks that their child will one day grow up to be an addict or worse. What happens is parents get lost, they lose control and forget everything they know about parenting and start REACTING to their children instead of ACTING the part of a parent.

When my daughter was born, there were several pieces of advice that were given to me by the women of my family that actually made a lot of sense. My aunt told me 'If you don't have control by the time she's two, you've lost. Start out right and stay logical and sensible and she will always love and respect you, no matter what she says.' That certainly was a wonderful piece of advice to have. I didn't really understand it at the time, but as my daughter grew, I found that if I said 'Don't touch that' in a normal tone, and she asked 'Why?' I would take the time to tell her. If it was breakable and special, I would tell her about it, that it was delicate and not a toy, and that it was something just to look at but not to touch, and where it came from. I made sure to tell her she could look at it as much as she liked, but just not to touch it because it might get broken and that would make me sad because then it would be gone forever. If something was dangerous, like the toaster on the kitchen table, I explained that fingers did not go in the openings, that it would burn her little fingers and make blisters that would hurt and she would cry and I would cry too, because I never wanted her to be hurt! I did not 'baby talk' her, when she was a year old, she understood what I was saying perfectly fine and I did not have to put away things to keep her from getting into them. By taking time to explain things to her, she was able to respect that there were things she could do and not do in our home. She was not to run in the house...why? Because if she fell, there were sharp edges to coffee tables and end tables and chairs and she could really hurt herself, so running was for outside in the yard. Why did we have 'outside voices' and 'inside voices'? Because inside we like things quieter and it's nicer for everyone if we aren't loud and noisy inside, but outside is for hollering and yelling and running! Talking logically and reasonably made things sensible to her, even at a young age, and as she got older it became much easier to discipline her by using logic and talk than some crazy punishment.

What do you do if your child just isn't listening, though? Turn OFF the television, take them into a quiet room and put them in their own chair and you sit in your chair and let them hold a stuffed animal or a pillow and say 'let's talk about this'. If their attention span is short, you may have to keep removing the distractions until they are able to focus on your words. You can put your message into a story they can understand, or use their stuffed animals to do the talking, but you have to get their attention one way or another. Let them be a part of the conversation, don't just lecture to them, that is the quickest way to lose their attention or blank out. Have a favorite animal say or do something relating to whatever they have done that needs correction, then ask your child what their toy did wrong. Ask them why they think their toy would do something like that, then ask them what the 'mommy' or 'daddy' toy should do to teach the misbehaving toy not to do that again. Ask your child if the misbehaving toy loves the parent toy. Ask if they did it because he/she was maybe mad, or sad, or just feeling grumpy. Then ask if they think the parent doll loves the naughty toy. If they answer anything but yes, you should correct that by saying 'Mommys and Daddys always love their children no matter what, but sometimes they don't like the things their children do and it makes them sad and disappointed.' A child's best motivation for good behavior is approval, not the fear of spanking, time-outs or losing toys and privileges They would much rather have you be happy with them and be totally secure in being loved and in your good graces than anything in the world. Yes, even teenagers do although they won't admit it!

So take the time, no matter how busy you may be, to talk to your child when things arise. No problem is too small to warrant a good conversation, and look at it this are getting to spend quality time shaping that little bundle of love into a better person!

The second piece of advice given to me that I found to be worth more than gold came from my grandmother. She is an amazing woman, had raised three children of her own, and was grandmother to seven of us. We all adored her and even now at age ninety has a mind as sharp as a tack! We were talking the other day about my childhood, and she was recounting memories she had of me to my fiance. She told him about my many shenanigans and how I loved to work along with everyone on the farm, unlike the other grandkids, and how I always was trying new things. Then she reiterated to him something she said to me when my daughter was born. 'You have to let children try new things, whether it's painting the fence, cooking, mowing the yard on the riding lawnmower, or climbing up high in the barn looking for eggs. If they don't try new things and take chances, they will never learn to be brave and not fear life.' That brought back memories from my long summers staying at her house with my grandfather, and I knew the times she was talking about. I was DYING to mow the yard on the new riding lawnmower, but she didn't know if I could do it alone, so she let me mow, but she walked beside me every step of the way, all over that two acre lawn. I had learned to bake biscuits from scratch from my other grandmother and was wanting to show her I knew how to do it (I was thirteen), but she didn't know if I would hurt myself on the hot stove, so she watched me like a hawk to make sure I didn't get hurt and then said I'd made the best biscuits she'd ever eaten! Then there was the time I thought there was a nest up in the tobacco barn, and wanted to climb the fifty feet up through the hanging tobacco and stacked hay to see if it indeed was there, and she didn't stop me! There she was, every bit of sixty years old, climbing up there with me to make sure I didn't fall and kill myself, and when we did indeed find that nest, she took off her shirt and we carried all those eggs down cradled in her blouse, her wearing nothing but her Playtex bra back to the farmhouse! Yes, I made messes, but we cleaned them up and I learned. I painted miles of wooden fence and came in covered in white paint looking like something out of a ghost story, but I got scrubbed off eventually. As for those eggs, we ate half of them and hatched half, and they were awesome looking Rhode Island Reds!Those were amazing times, not just because of the time I spent with my grandmother, but because I learned life lessons that are still with me to this day. I learned to never be afraid to try new things, but to be aware and careful not to get hurt in the process, and I learned beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was indeed loved!

I let my daughter follow her dreams, but I supervised just like my grandmother had me. When she wanted to dance I didn't just drop her off, I sat and watched and worked on business paperwork while she practiced. When she wanted to audition to perform with the Moscow Ballet for their performance, I got her ready for the auditions, held her hand before, then while we waited for the announcement, and celebrated when she got the role. I attended every rehearsal and performance, so proud I could burst! When she wanted to cut her hair shoulder length from the long beautiful blond style that reached halfway down her back, it nearly broke my heart, but it was her hair and I made the appointment with my hair dresser.Some things I said no to, like when she wanted to put ten holes in her ears at age ten, but when she wanted purple hair that summer, I went and got the tube of color and I must say she certainly was easy to spot in the pool that year!

These were positive things that you may be thinking 'Oh, that's no big deal, I'd let my child do that', but when you look at the fact that I had to rush home from work every day to get her quickly, make sure her dance bag was packed the night before with rehearsal clothing, snack, water bottles, proper shoes, hair ties, and all the other necessities, and then sit during the hours long practices working on business proposals while sitting on a concrete floor with a briefcase of papers on one side, laptop on my lap and notebook on the other, all while trying to look like I'm being attentive when it was time for my child to do her part, it was no easy feat. My job supported us, I was divorced at the time and managing a media company and my job did not end at five. But my job that gave me a check was only one of my responsibilities, my other job and the one I considered equally important was that of raising my child the best I could. If your child is interested in something, anything at all, you need to learn about it and encourage them in their pursuit of their goals. Children try all sorts of different things, and sometimes you may have absolutely no interest in what they find fascinating, or it may be something you doesn't matter one way or another, whether you love or hate their hobby, you better learn to love it because it is important to your child!!! You love them, so you better learn to be supportive! Too many parents want to relive their own dreams through their children, and all that does is make the kids miserable or even worse, like take a talent they may have gravitated to naturally and make it out of the question simply out of rebellion! Offer options to your child whenever possible, such as when after-school activities begin in the fall or spring, take the time to go over the list and see what might appeal to your child. Local community centers and recreational facilities regularly offer programs for youths and teens, so be sure to have an open mind to different types of programs they also have. Never discourage your child from trying anything new, no matter what stereotype you may have in your head! Remember, today's kids don't feel the same boundaries that were in place twenty years ago, boys who take dance and ballet are not labeled any more than girls who want to participate in chess or football. Gender boundaries are disappearing, and it is a wonderful thing! Don't force your child into things 'for their own good' but encourage them to give new things a shot if they seem to have a talent or interest. Go easy, though, because if you push kids, they have a tendency to push back.

OK, so you have the talking instead of yelling down, the encouraging your child to be free to express themselves in various activities, but what do you do about discipline and respect when your child refuses to do what they are told? What happens when your kid suddenly does a turnaround in front of the visiting family and his head spins and green pea soup stars spewing? Your first reaction is of course horror, then anger, then embarrassment...and if you were a parent twenty years ago you might have reached for the belt! Eh, but now that will get a call from Child Protective Services, and a lot of hullaballoo, so what do you do when your normally sweet little girl goes insane and throws her cellphone at you and tells you she hates you?

First off, as hard as it is going to be, please remember you are the adult in the situation and going ballistic is not going to get you anywhere. Your child is doing this for a reason, either to manipulate you, act out due to something else going on in her life, or anger. Unless there are mental problems (and this is not the time to go into those just yet...remember what I said earlier about this being about parenting the healthy child), your child is acting out as a symptom of a problem. The acting out and being a pain in the butt is not the actual problem, even though it certainly is annoying and can leave you wanting to wring their necks!

The first thing to do is walk him or her to their room. Take the phone, laptop, keyboard to the desktop computer and any means of communicating to others away for the time being. Turn the TV off and take the remote or in some way make it impossible to turn on. They need a 'time out' just like when they were two. Give them an hour of silence, without you yelling at them, or discussing it with the family or anyone. You stay calm and tell them that they are to stay in their room, calm down, and when that time is up, and they are rational and in a better condition to discuss things both of you parents will be in there to talk about the misbehavior.

Let me preface this by saying that the rule for time-outs that used to be in place, where you sit a child in a chair for the number of minutes equal to their age is not recommended anymore. It causes shame and humiliation, and in the end is not effective. Spanking doesn't do any good, in fact there were times when my mother would talk to my brother and me about us getting into trouble and we would actually say 'Could you just spank us and get it over with?' A spanking doesn't do anything but hurt for a while physically, leave a child hurt emotionally and distance them emotionally from you. How would you feel if someone you love hit you because you made a mistake? Well, children feel the same way, and you need to keep that in mind. Plenty of parents say 'my parents spanked me and I turned out ok', but think how much better your childhood would have been and what a better relationship you would have had then and now if you hadn't suffered physical pain at the hands of your parents? So when dealing with smaller children, say under the age of five, don't give time-outs by putting them in a chair in the corner for a specific amount of time. It is better to call it a 'cooling down period' and taking them to a room where there are no distractions, with a stuffed animal to cuddle, maybe a blanket and a soft chair or sofa where they can calm down and relax for a bit until they are ready to have a talk with you.

That time out is going to give them breathing room. You have no idea what is happening inside them at this point, they may be having problems with friends, in school, with a teacher, or any number of things, but this cool-down period will give them time to settle down and get a grip on their emotions. It will also give you the parents time to not overreact and handle this calmly and logically. When the time comes, both parents need to knock on the child's door and ask permission to enter. This goes for four-year olds as well as seventeen-year olds. You have to give them some respect so they learn how to give you respect, and knocking on their door and asking if you can enter shows respect for them. If there are two chairs in addition to the bed to sit on, then you can have the talk in the bedroom, otherwise go to a family room or the home office, wherever there is privacy from everyone else and it is comfortable. It should never be intimidating to talk to you parents. Your child should feel you are ON THEIR SIDE, not the enemy!

Start out easy, with natural voices, no shouting, and no accusations. You need to find out from your child what caused the outburst and how to work together as a family to resolve what is causing your child to act out in this manner, not go in with guns blazing. That will make them clam up and tell you nothing and probably exacerbate the problem. You want your child to trust you, but you have to earn their trust, and that means caring, really caring about what they have to say. So you need to listen, just shut up and listen. Let them get it all out, if they have to rant, cry, yell, accuse, or sometimes call one of their friends or enemies bad names, just sit there and don't judge. Then when they have vented, you need to let you kid know they aren't alone, you were their age once and even though it's been a while you understand their feelings. You should discuss how to handle emotions, positive solutions to their problems, how to work with what they have so they don't have these types of outbursts. Children don't scream and act out at their parents for no reason, they do it to get their parents to pay attention to them as a last resort. So listen to your children and be the parent they need you to be. And don't take away their things for being honest with you...if you punish them for opening up, you defeat the whole purpose and they will never tell you anything again for fear of losing privileges or phones or whatever. Reward them for being honest instead, and hug them and tell them to come to you when things get to be too much.

If you don't like the way your child is turning out, you need to look at yourself and how you are doing as a parent. Don't try to blame it on the school, don't blame it on other people...they are your kid and you are the number one person in their life. If you think their friends are bad influences, then you need to figure out a way to change who they hang out with, or better yet, keep them from running around unsupervised. If you think the school needs to do a better job educating your child, how about sitting down at night and doing homework with them and seeing exactly what they are or aren't learning? It is YOUR responsibility to be proactive in raising your child, and you can either do the job and do it right, setting a good example for them to follow and teaching them how to live in this world, or you can throw your hands up and pretend that all you need to do is see they have cool sneakers on and food on the table and pretend your job is done. It is up to you.

If you have questions about specific issues you're having with your child, I am always happy to work with parents interested in raising great kids! So send in your comments and I will answer them either privately, or if you like as the subject of a parenting post! Thank you all for your time and I hope you all found support and strength in this. Remember there are no perfect parents or children, but there certainly are some amazing ones! Make it your goal to be an amazing Mom or Dad!!! That's where those amazing kids come from!!!!

Good luck, and May God Be with Everyone Blessed with Raising Children, Their Own By Birth, or Blessed by Adoption, or Grandparents who are Parents the Second Time Around! Love to All!!!
Dr. Beth