Pressuring Kids to Grow Up Too Soon

April 3, 2013

I have had several realizations over the past few weeks that have led me to the conclusion that as a society we are pressuring our children to grow up too fast, beginning sometimes before they are even born. During pregnancy women count down the days to their Estimated Due Date and become anxious as it approaches, and impatient as it sometimes passes by, looking for ways to induce their own labor through several different methods including one as vile as drinking castor oil. Once our children are born we can’t wait for the time when they are awake more, when they begin to sit up, crawl, and walk. We try to help them with this process by propping them up in the sitting position before their muscles have developed enough to sustain their weight, by using chairs that claim they help develop these muscles, and standing them on their feet before they have the strength to do so as well. As they become toddlers we begin thinking about how much easier it will be when they can talk, and understand more of what we are saying to them and actually listen and follow our commands. We try to get them to conform to what we want them to do, use words and concepts outside of their intellectual ability and discipline/punish them when they do not meet our exceedingly high and unrealistic expectations.

So what is the problem with giving our children a boost or head start? Isn’t it a positive thing to want them to succeed in life and do what we can to help them be successful? Well, it depends on how you do it. Although some of these behaviors mentioned above may not have a long term affect on your child, many of these behaviors are setting you up to establish a long running pattern of pressuring your child to be something they are not, creating a relationship in which your children feel that your love is conditional instead of unconditional. This type of relationship leaves children and teenagers feeling as though they do not have their parents support and that they are disconnected from them. It has been found that teenagers that experience this type of relationship with their parents have much higher levels of depression, anxiety, self-injurious behaviors, eating disorders, and other emotional disorders and symptoms associated with them. Let’s think about something as simple as potty training. Start too early before your child is physically and mentally ready and you will begin engaging in a power struggle with them, frustrated over every accident, and the process will be long enduring. As you become more frustrated you start using negative tactics such as telling them how disappointed and sad you are that they had an accident. What’s worse is your frustration with them will not only be in potty training situations but will spill over to other situations. The more frustrated and hard on your child that you become, the more the cycle endures, possibly leading to negative labels on the child and a relationship pattern that will continue.

Parents have been recently outraged due to companies such as Victoria’s Secrets launching provocative lines of clothing aimed at young girls and I fully agree with the inappropriateness of this and the irresponsibility of the companies. It is humbling to hear that parents have been making a difference in this and therefore I don’t want to say that we as individuals do not have any control over what these companies are doing but I think that we do need to start looking at our own behaviors that are causing our children to grow up earlier than they should be as well. We may not be directly putting our children in provocative clothing, handing them alcohol or cigarettes, or teaching them other behaviors we believe should be reserved for adults but our parenting style is indirectly leading them to this as they begin to feel older than they truly are. Don’t get me wrong, society in general also plays a part but if we can all look at our parenting behaviors and how they contribute, we may be able to help support our children instead of forcing them to grow up too soon.


Is It Really Optional?

January 29, 2013


I was out at a science museum the other day with my little one and some other family members. I wasn’t feel all that well so I decided to hang back a bit while my hubby and his mom kept an eye on my son. Several times as I was sitting back, I decided to engage in one of America’s favorite pastimes, people watching. I know in one of my last posts I talked about not being so harsh on parents in the limelight as it puts more pressure on parents in general to try to be perfect. I am not retracting that at all but I was amazed at how some of the parents I saw allowed their children to walk all over them and everyone else around them. It made me realize the importance of what you say to your children and how you say it, as well as brought to my attention more how parents start the friend role with their children versus a parenting/teaching role even from an early age. Therefore I wanted to spend a little time today to talk about how to phrase your requests to your young children.

Making appropriate requests

One of the situations I witnessed was a father with a son approximately 4 years old. The boy was playing with something for a good amount of time while other children were waiting for their turn. The lady in charge was asking the child to let the next child have a turn while he essentially ignored her. The father stated to his child “Are you ready to let the next kid have a turn?” Can you imagine his response? I believe the child ignored his father too but if he were to answer him, the answer would have been a resounding “NO!” I am all about giving children options when it is appropriate but in this case whether he stops playing was not an option, and the father phrased it as if it were. It would have been more effective to first get down on the boy’s level and tell him what needs to be done in this situation such as “It is time to give the next child a turn, you need to hand the controller over now.” Since options are very effective with children when used properly the father could have even added an option to get back in line to play again or to find a new exhibit to check out.

This is a very common problem with parents, I even catch my husband giving our son an option to do something that really is not optional and not getting the result that he desires. Here are some tips on how to get the response you would like.

1. When requesting behaviors from a young child or toddler you need to determine if it is optional or not. In most cases you wouldn’t be saying it if it was optional, so make sure to phrase it so they understand that there is not a lot of wiggle room for getting out of it.
2. Make sure to be reasonable with your request. It needs to be age appropriate, and think about what your child is doing and how they typically respond. You may need to give them a time limit and remind them several times. You can’t expect a two or three year old (or even a lot of older kids) to drop what they are doing and immediately do what you ask but stay on them, repeating what they need to do.
3. You can also make it sound more fun by asking them to hop over to their laundry basket and put their clothes away or give them an option of how they do the task (notice not if they do the task but how they do it).

Good luck in rephrasing how you talk to the little ones in your life in order to get better results!

Society’s Pressures of Parenting

January 8, 2013

I was recently catching up on some of my magazines and came across an article in a parenting magazine that caught my attention. It had 5 different celebrities listed and was noting their “weird” parenting habits with quotes from the celebrity. At first it only sparked my interest as a baby shower game as I am planning a baby shower for someone this weekend. At my baby shower we played a game of matching the celebrity with their kids’ names which are sometimes a bit out of the ordinary and I thought this would be a fun spin on that. Well this past weekend I was looking on the internet for more “weird” celebrity parenting habits to include since 5 just wouldn’t be enough. As I was doing this, it really started to hit me the pressure we are putting on parents to parent in a certain way. Especially since many of the parenting behaviors that some of these sites listed as “weird” I find to be completely acceptable in my natural parenting circle.

Society has put pressure on parents to be a certain type of parent. I think we all struggle with this because we have beliefs about what is best for children to help them to become productive adults. I can admit that even in my line of work, I read research that shows that certain parenting behaviors can have either negative or positive effects on children and therefore believe others should do their best to follow what the research shows. Trouble with this is that often times there is research saying the exact opposite.

I was even speaking with another mom this morning about how I cringe now when I see parents having their babies in the carrier on top of the shopping cart after seeing how easily they can collapse on videos on youtube. I guess I can justify this, however, due to it being a sincere safety issue and not just a difference in parenting style or a harmless behavior. There are certain things that we need to educate our parents about such as these safety issues and other behaviors that benefit our children such as breastfeeding and reading and paying attention to them. We should not, however, be belittling or making them feel bad for doing things differently that we do when it is not harmful to anyone.

Who cares if someone is going to make their placenta into pills and take them for energy or postpartum depression? Even though there isn’t research on the effectiveness on it there are a lot of women with anecdotal research that shows that it is helpful. Who cares if a parenting is using a nose frieda (a device with a tube that helps parents suck snot out of their children’s nose and also has a filter to prevent snot and germs being ingested by the parent), I hear of people swearing by it! Who cares if a parent follows attachment parenting behaviors of extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping (as long as it is done safely).

All this pressure is making parents, especially mothers crazy with trying to fit in and do what’s “right” and “best” for their children. Even pinterest is to blame in making moms feel like they have to constantly be doing crafts with their children and trying new recipes. I say relax, be yourself, and do what you believe is truly best for your child. Let’s focus more on the real safety issues and not that a celebrity mom kept their child’s umbilical cord in her make-up drawer! I love a saying that my natural minded friends use frequently, “the more you know, the better you do”. Let’s focus on educating ourselves and others more instead of criticizing them, especially for things that really make no difference in the long run.

Postpartum Depression

October 9, 2012

First, let me get this out of the way. There is technically no disorder called Postpartum Depression, at least in the DSM which is the manual used to diagnose mental health disorders. It is actually Major Depressive Disorde with Postpartum Onset, but since that is long and everyone knows it by Postpartum Depression, I will be using that or PPD for short.

PPD is a mental health disorder in which a woman becomes clinically depressed within one year of childbirth. It may be hard for some people to tell the difference at first between typical baby blues and PPD. PPD is characterized by feelings of sadness, loneliness, depression, helplessness, hopelessness, mood swings, changes in appetite and sleeping, loss of interests and loss of energy. You may also experience anxiety, tearfulness, feelings of vulnerability, irritability, and feel disconnected from your baby but these are also symptoms of the baby blues.  You do not have to have all symptoms but would need to be experiencing some of these symptoms and they must last for over 3 weeks.  Some of the differences are that the baby blues will start a few days to one month after childbirth instead of anytime during the first year, and will last less than 3 weeks. There is also differences in severity, the first list of symptoms are not as likely with the baby blues.

Women who have a history of depression, meaning that they have already experienced a depressive episode in the past are much more likely to experience PPD. Other factors that could increase your risk of PPD are low self-esteem, history of anxiety, lack of social support, history of eating disorders, and a family history of depression. If you have experienced any of these you may want to look into taking precautions to reduce your risk of PPD. I will provide a list in upcoming blog entries with things you can do to reduce your risk but one thing that I have already mentioned is increasing your support such as through a group as the pregnancy support group that I started.

Some of the possible effects of experiencing PPD for mom and the baby include a feeling of detachment and being disconnected as mom is not as interested in taking care of the baby and may shy away from her responsibilities or just be unable to perform them during this time. This can effect the bond of mom and baby, although it can always be recovered later. It will also increase the amount of stress and anxiety the baby feels, will increase crying, will make it more difficult for the baby to self-regulate and self-soothe themselves, and they are likely to show signs of decreased social engagement. A woman’s milk supply can also be effected negatively. As I stated already, once a person experiences depression they are more likely to have another episode in the future and this applies to when a woman experiences PPD.

If you are experiencing PPD, there are two therapies available, medication and counseling/therapy. I’m no expert on medication so you would need to weigh the pros and cons out with your doctor and decide on an individual basis about whether medication will be right for you. Whether you take medication or not, however, counseling is a good idea. A therapist can help you identify thinking patterns and behaviors that might be able to be changed in order to alleviate the symptoms of your depression and end the depressive episode.

Scaredy Cat Parents

May 7, 2012

Too often for my liking I have parents that come into my office that really do not act like parents. They are too afraid to be parents and instead choose to act like a friend to their child(ren) or even worse, they act like the child and like the kids are the parents. I’m sure they did not intend for this to happen. In fact, I think that many times it is brought on by circumstances that they never even saw coming.  Many times it is a divorce. With divorce many parents feel like they have to win their child’s affection and make up for the pain and hurt they have caused in their child’s life. Other times it is due to the parent being stressed and not being able to handle what is going on and the child ends up taking over as the authority in the house. Still, there are just some parents who are afraid of alienating their child, or are afraid their child’s threats such as never talking to them again will come true if they show their authority.

Of course you are not very likely in the moment to hear a lot of complaints from the child in these circumstances, but it never fails that I hear the complaints in my office once they feel safe enough to talk openly. Children are looking for boundaries, for their parents to be present, and to set limits. All of these things show kids and teenagers that they are cared for. Although you may be the “cool” parent if you do not give your teenager a curfew, they will begin to wonder why all their friends’ parents want to know they are home and safe and you do not. Or if you are the type of parent that makes threats of certain appropriate discipline but then backs down when your child gives you a hard time about it, what do you think you are teaching your child? The lesson they are learning is that they can do whatever they want without consequences, that the world should bend to their every whim. This is not a very productive lesson for their future and again, is not going to win you any brownie points with your kids because they will only see you as a pushover and continue to take advantage of you.

So what is a parent to do? Incorporate appropriate rules and discipline. It may be hard at first and you may need to make small changes to start with, especially as they will push back, expecting you to give up and let them do what they want. But it is important to hold your ground and be firm with them. They will thank you in the long run!


Step Parenting Relationships- When Biological Parents Interfere

March 19, 2012

Being a step parent may just be the most challenging family role a person can have.  Not only are you reminded on a regular basis by the children that you are not their mother or father, often times the biological parents interefere. This can sometimes mean just the parent that is not your partner, but can also mean your partner. I was talking to a stepmother the other day who just could not make sense of her relationship with her stepdaugthers. She began to relay fight after fight that they had had with each one having an over the top reaction from the stepdaugther for the situation. My mind started racing through the possible reasons for this, the stepdaugther sees her as a threat as she takes away attention from the father, stepdaughter is resentful of having someone tell her what to do, and finally loyalty conflicts in which she feels she can’t like stepmom because it is a betrayal to mom. As I explained some of these possibilities as well as others to her she began to tell me about some of the wonderful times they have had together and I began to believe even more that mom, who lived far away, most likely sees stepmom as a threat and may be interfering in this relationship either intentionally or unintentionally.

Of course each case will be different depending on the individuals that make up your stepfamily and their biological families, but here are some ideas and tips to help you work through this issue.

Never talk bad about the other parent. You may believe that the other parent is a deadbeat, is conniving, or is an unfit parent, and this may or may not be true. No matter what, however, you cannot say things like this about them in front of their children, especially if you want to have a relationship with your stepchildren. No matter how often the kids hear it, they will not start to believe you. They feel a sense of loyalty to their parents and even if you are able to provide a more stable and loving home for them, they will not see it as long as you are trying to point this out to them. The best thing you can do is keep your mouth shut and hope that they come to see that you are not adding to their feelings of being torn between you and their biological parent and therefore be more relaxed and happy being around you. Or even better, if you can swing it, incorporate positive statements about the parent to the children so they can see that you are not looking for them to pick you over their parent and that there is no need to rebel against you.

Show the other parent that you are not a threat to them. If you have the type of relationship that you can or do talk to the other parent, make sure to incorporate statements that show that you are not trying to replace them. You can do this by asking for their advice on how to handle certain situations, by asking about their rules so there is a sense of continuity between households, and giving compliments about some of the parenting decisions they have made. You may choose to phrase these such as “as their mom, what do you think is the best way to….” If this doesn’t work, you may even need to resort to having a sit down discussion with them and be more open about how you see your role with his/her children and make it clear that it is not as taking over for him or her but as a support person for your spouse and as a friend/mentor/coach for the children. In a perfect world, this would work, however, I understand that not all individuals are able to hear this and understand without having jealousies and feelings about you being in their role with former spouse and children pop up. Remind them that you are just trying to help make it easier of their children and hope for the best, but don’t take it personally if he/she does not make big changes.


Disney World Daddy

January 16, 2012

Well, the term is actually Disney Land Daddy but being from Central Florida I felt the need to change it to Disney World. Many of you may have never heard of this term, in fact, I had only heard it for the first time recently myself. A Disney World Daddy is a single father who does not have full custody of his children and tends to spoil them when he has visitation. Some might say, well whats the problem with this, he has to pack all the fun stuff in a short amount of time since he doesn’t seem them as often. The problem, however, is that it does not create the type of relationship the father and children really need.

A single father who does not have custody or shared custody of his children is really in a tough position. (Please note that I am going to be making assumptions here for ease of writing this article but these assumptions do not apply to all single fathers.) Historically fathers were not very involved in their children’s lives and although this is increasingly changing, it can be very difficult to keep up a high level of involvement when you are not living in the same household (although it is possible). Not being privvy to many of the children’s day to day activities can cause a loss of bonding for some fathers and children. Disney World Daddies are those that realize that this happens and try to make up for it (or are trying to mask their own uncomfortableness) by keeping the children busy with all types of fun activities such as movies, shopping trips, sporting events, and yes, theme parks. The problem is that always being engaged in these activities does not promote the chance for fathers to actually bond with their children since their is limited time for talking and the children’s view of dad changes from parent to entertainer. Now, don’t get me wrong, these activities do have a place in the parent/child relationship, but they should not be going on all day- every day during visitation.

If being a Disney World Daddy is not getting you the effects you want with your children, then what is it that they really need? Single (or even re-married) dad’s need to keep the role of dad that they fulfilled previously (which is hopefully a positive role) but also take on the role of mom as well in order to really develop or keep their meaningful bond with their children. This means that the child is treated like they are a part of the household with reasonable rules and responsibilities instead of like a visitor being waited on. Children need boundaries and respond well when they are given them (although it may be a difficult transition if they have not had any for a while). This is positive in not only teaching them about the way the world works but also in helping decrease the likelihood that they will feel like an outsider in your home and in your new family if you are remarried.

So what should you do to fill up the time you have your children? Talk to them. Ask about how school is going and any other interests they might have. Talk about their friends if they are willing and let them know you are there for them when you need them. You can play games such as board games and card games or even go to the park. Do things outdoors such as riding bikes and going for walks. Teach them new skills and how to interact with the world. And every now and then you can even treat them with the fun activities such as Disney World!

If you are a Disney World Daddy or are in a family with one, please feel free to call. I am periodically running a stepfamily group, Smart Steps, that may be of interest in helping you to get your stepfamily life back on track. If you would rather, I can also see stepfamilies/stepfamily members on an individual basis. You can call the office for more information at 631-5538.