What Dads Need to Know: Fostering Initiative in Children & Adolescents

By Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell

I have to admit, I’ve grown uncomfortable with the word happiness. Used to describe a myriad of good things in life, including love, fleeting moments of joy, and chocolate bars, we often talk about it as a destination just down the road.

But happiness is part of a journey – and helping kids navigate the journey with courage and optimism is part of raising healthy children.

Alfred D. Souza made a great point: “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”

Indeed, obstacles are a part of life. And often they seem endless. So wouldn’t our kids be happier adults if they learned how to overcome challenges and obstacles? These questions led me to discover the meaning and importance of youth initiative development.

What is Initiative?

The ability to propel life forward in purposeful directions, initiative directs our attention toward a challenging goal and helps us overcome obstacles. It encompasses both an inner energy and an outer action. Initiative is an important part of positive youth development.

Initiative is developed in late childhood and adolescence through mastery experiences and relationships that help kids believe in themselves. Since initiative can be used to accomplish good or evil, it also involves instilling positive values in childhood, like kindness, compassion, and empathy for others.

Initiative is developed through internal rewards, like creativity, dignity, autonomy, making a difference for others, and activities that help kids create their own futures. It is not developed through external rewards like grades, winning, awards, and money.

Initiative-Building Activities

Researchers have identified three important elements of initiative-building activities during childhood and

  • Kids must choose it for themselves because it gives them “internal” rewards! Examples include music
    , service-learning, and a myriad of other after-school activities.
  • The activity must take place in an environment that contains rules, challenges, and complexities inherent in the real world. They must face intellectual, interpersonal, and intrapersonal challenges that go beyond grades, winning a game, and other external rewards.
  • The activity must be sustained over a period of time. Rather than doing lots of activities, it is better to focus on a few for longer periods of time so kids learn to persevere despite challenges.

Compelling Facts

  • IQ accounts for less than 25% of life success. Emotional intelligence, including initiative, accounts for the rest.
  • Boredom is the antithesis of initiative. Both honor students and those involved in delinquent activities report the highest levels of boredom in the U.S., many more than 50% of the time.
  • Kids who lack initiative are more prone to depression.
  • Children and adolescents with high levels of initiative spend twice as much time in hobbies and sports than kids with low levels and they spend more time with their families.
  • Traditional classrooms and homework, activities that account for more than 30% of kids waking hours, have limited potential for experiencing initiative.

Communication Tips that Foster Initiative in Children and Adolescents

  • When children blame, moan, or whine, turn it into an opportunity to find out what they care about! Uncover hidden convictions that can fuel initiative and action in the world.
  • Shift from a language of “Prizes and Praising” to a language of “Ongoing Regard.” Instead of giving praise for all the things children “do,” communicate appreciation for who they are.
  • Help kids learn to solve their own problems and navigate obstacles. Allow them to fail. Be a mentor in the process!

How Parents and Educators Foster Initiative through Mentoring

  • Be on the sidelines to help facilitate children’s learning.
  • Encourage children to get back on their feet after a fall – because you believe in them.
  • Be a helpful guide as children identify challenges, reflect on their choices, arrive at decisions, adjust strategies, and plans next steps. Listen and encourage.
  • Be a role model. Show them how you get things done but don’t do things for them that they can do for themselves.

I plan to spend a lot more time discussing the topic of initiative and other character strengths in future blog posts. I’d love to hear from you about your experiences as parents, educators, and mentors of young people. How have you fostered initiative in children? What kinds of activities bring the highest internal rewards? Why? How do classrooms
foster initiative? Lots to discuss! Stay tuned!

©2012 Marilyn Price-Mitchell. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell is a developmental psychologist and researcher. A mother, stepmother, and grandmother, she is founder of Roots of Action where she brings evidence-based research on youth development to popular audiences. She writes a column for Psychology Today, The Moment of Youth. She is president of the National ParentNet Association, a nonprofit organization devoted to building parent-school-community partnerships that help kids succeed in school and life. Connect with Marilyn on Facebook, Twitter or at www.mpricemitchell.com.

Posted in Adolescence, Child Development, Featured Moms & Dads, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: Monitoring Your Child’s Online Behavior

By Mary Jo Rapini

Let’s just put it this way, “Facebooking” and “YouTubing” is no longer just a “cute” thing kids do for fun to pass the time.  Not understanding the risks associated with the many social media outlets poses a huge potential problem to the safety and well-being of our children.

To keep them safe, it is something that needs to be monitored closely.  To fully understand the potential dangers,
we, as parents/teachers/child advocates need to educate ourselves and then monitor closely.

I am a psychotherapist, with a private practice in Houston, Texas, and a media expert for several networks. I co-authored a book for moms and daughters about the importance of teaching young women about their bodies and health.  Since the start of the New Year, I have been interviewed by CNN on the topic of ‘Teens, Facebook and how it can lead to Depression’. I have also done other interviews around kids and Internet safety.

I read the headlines daily, and see sad story after sad story about a child who was not supervised by engaged parents or children whose parents were not aware of their child’s virtual world. If you lose a child due to cyber bullying or depression  due to feeling isolated and friendless it is too late to become involved and ask the questions you need to ask now. Telling yourself that your child would never be involved in dangerous activities online is denial on a parent’s part. Any parent who has parented a teen understands being proactive is wiser than trying to scramble when bad things happen.

Thus, I wanted to take some time to educate or re-educate parents about the reasons they need to be engaged in  their kids’ Internet activity.

Whether its browsing websites like YouTube, networking on social media, playing video or other Internet-connected games, or downloading files, every activity poses potential dangers that parents should be aware of.

Before the Internet was so accessible to all children, kids could come home and we as parents, could ask them how their day was, who they hung out with or had lunch with, or how their activities went after school.

Judging by their child’s response, we could get a fairly good idea of the events and interactions of the day and, by just looking at their face or judging their reactions to our questions, understand how their day actually was.

Well, our children now have a world very different from the one we have known throughout their life. They have an online world with real people, real events and real drama – that can easily be hidden from our view and protection.

So, let’s start with a quick quiz. Do you know:

– If your child has a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Tumblr account?

– How they use each social networking site they have?

– How many friends do they have? Do they know all of those friends?

– If they have more than one Facebook page?

– ALL of their friends and connections on each site? Do they?

– How much time your child spends online in general?

– What your child does on YouTube?

– If the video games they play connect to the Internet?

Each of these questions represents online activity by most kids on most days.

By using these social media and search vehicles and playing video games online, they can be whoever they want, talk to anyone they want, or research anything they want.  And until we communicate with them about the happenings in that digital world, we are missing out on what’s going on in their entire world.

I recommend two avenues:

  1. Daily communication of what happened online. Questions might include:
    1. “Where did you spend your time online today – IM, Facebook, games, surfing, etc?
    2. “Did you make any new friends?”
    3. “Have you noticed anyone having trouble – I read a lot about cyberbullying.”
    4. “Did you play any new online games today.”
    5. “Would you mind showing that (whatever it may be) to me?”
    6. I would also suggest proper etiquette rules of Facebook and texts. I would check phone for
      inappropriate photos and go over those rules and consequences prior to giving them the phone (it is a privilege after all…not a necessity).

    2. Monitor internet and computer activity using preventatives measures that work best for you:

    1. Restricting Internet use to a public space such as the kitchen or family room and allowing kids on the computer only when you are home.
    2. Managing your computer’s own settings for password control.
    3. Adding software-based controls to your computer.
    4. Ensuring that privacy settings on all Internet-based accounts are set to your standards. This includes sites like Facebook, but also YouTube and online photo sites like Snapfish or Picasso.
    5. Add a service to monitor your children’s activity on sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to send you alerts based around your child’s activities.
    6. Checking to ensure these same settings and measures are also used on cellular phones that have Internet access.

While there is no perfect solution, a combination of these measures and daily interactions will help provide your child with a safe online experience. As always, we recommend you keep the conversations around internet safety open and positive so expectations and rules are made cut and dry.

In a place where predators are present, cyber bullying is increasing, and defaming the reputations of others happens rampantly, we need to be keeping a very close eye.

As we enter 2012, I, along with my partner, TrueCare.com, will continue to help parents understand that they do need to be monitoring their kids online. There has never been a more vulnerable time in your child’s life where what you don’t know really can hurt you (and your child). We want to move the needle in raising awareness and make “monitoring kids online” the next “buckle your seatbelt.”

Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a psychotherapist who lives in Houston, Texas. She is the author of two books, Is God Pink? Dying to Heal and co-author of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom about Health, Sex or Whatever. Her Web site is www.maryjorapini.com.

Posted in Adolescence, Featured Moms & Dads, Internet Safety, Protecting Children, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: The Fatherhood Economy

By Laura Diamond

When I was pregnant with our first child, a stack of pre-natal and parenting books towered perilously high on my bedside table.

On my husband’s side of the bed was a single book for first-time fathers, bought by some well-intentioned friend (okay, maybe it was me). Giving our “friend” the benefit of the doubt, at the time there weren’t many fatherhood books to choose from. And maybe this friend didn’t read the Table of Contents. Had she, she’d have known that the book’s sole message to fathers-to-be was: You Man. You Earn Money.

I discovered this one night as we lay in bed preparing for parenthood in the way we lawyers knew how – reading, studying – and I heard him groan. I turned in time to see him holding that book, his face contorted with disappointment, the words crushing his natural excitement for his impending fatherhood.

When he explained why, I grabbed the book, checked the publication date, looking for the 1950 copyright. Nope, it was current. I tossed it aside. “That’s ridiculous.” But the genie was out.

When our first baby boy was born, we agreed I’d stay home to care for him. My husband stepped up and became the sole money-earner in our family, at least until I wanted to go back to lawyering. (Still waiting for that desire to materialize…) Over the years, he has provided for our family while staying true to his playful nature, placing time with his kids above everything. As he’s made career moves, each time he has prioritized the ability to spend time with his family. Speaking for my kids and myself, we are grateful for the law-partnership-path not taken. We like having him around.

Yet that manly-provider-thing still haunts him. A few days ago, he confessed that he had been daydreaming about returning to a law firm so that we could have more money, live in a bigger house in a fancier neighborhood, even though it would mean more hours in the office. Worse, he was indulging that waking nightmare while bouncing on the trampoline with our first-grader, usually their happy place.

Breaking into his father’s thoughts, our airborne joy boy said, “Daddy, don’t you wish I only had school and you only had work on Monday and Thursday, and we could play all day all the other days?”

Just like that, he brought him back from the brink.

Recently, a Cornell professor wrote about life lessons older Americans had for the rest of us. Chief among them, Don’t worry so much about money. Spend time with your family. Say yes to adventures.

These are modern day self-evident truths, but they are slippery, easy to lose hold of, especially with messages like the one in that loathsome book so pervasive. But being a great Dad does not mean being the best financial provider on the block. Does your family really need the latest greatest iPhone? The fanciest cars? The biggest Bar Mitzvah party? I didn’t think so.

Repeat after me: “The time I spend with my kids, present and focused and looking in their eyes is worth more than any pirate’s treasure, more than any winning lottery ticket, more than any golden parachute.” No amount of money can buy it back once it’s gone.

Try putting that on your bookshelf.

Laura Diamond is the mother of two (frequently healthy) boys. She is the editor of the best-selling anthology  Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood, and is now at work on her first novel. Read more of Laura’s essays at Laura Diamond Writes On…

Posted in Featured Moms & Dads, Marriage, Perspective, What Dads Need to Know, Work-Family Balance | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: Growing Up with a Biter

By Stefanie Wilder-Taylor

Little Sadie is a biter. Yes, it’s true. Adorable Sadie of the itty bitty butt and teeny tiny thighs still manages to assert herself by doling out quick and quite painful bites when you least expect it. Her main victim is Matilda who now has bruises up and down her arms that are simply begging someone to call CPS on me. This had been going on for months and months already but Jon and I kept making excuses for her: she’s frustrated from her lack of ability to communicate, she was bitten by Matilda when she was really little, she hates sharing, Mattie’s arm is delicious…and on and on. But last week things came to a head: Mattie was minding her own business (post tantrum) lying on the floor sucking on a taggy blanket when Sadie hopped up from across the room, sauntered over to Mattie, bent down as if to kiss her and chomped down on her arm — hard. I ran over to comfort Matilda but had a dilemma on my hands: do I punish Sadie first or comfort Mattie first?

I’d already escalated my discipline techniques from “No discipline whatsoever because, hey, she’s just a baby” to a sharp “No!” to a sharper “Stop!” and finally to a time out which involves scooping Sadie up and dumping her unceremoniously in her crib. The problem is, Sadie has no concept that she’s being punished. She doesn’t see her crib as being the crate of torture that Mattie does and is perfectly content to hang out, smoke a candy cigarette and read a little Pet the Baby Animals until I give up on waiting for her to cry and go get her.

Up until that last biting incident, most of the attacks had seemed somewhat provoked. A toy taken away, string cheese pilfered, Mattie just being in the wrong place at the wrong time etc. but this one was different. This was premeditated biting! What kind of a sociopath crosses the room, chomps their sister like she’s a leg of El Pollo Loco and then skips off whistling Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? Sadie, that’s who.

I decided to call in the big guns; my early intervention team. If there’s any bonus to having a delayed child it’s access to services you normal wouldn’t have. Yesterday, a child development specialist came over with Sadie’s case manager to work on Sadie’s play skillz. Cause Sadie’s got mad skillz y’all. This double therapist session was after a long day of PT (physical therapy), speech and OT (occupational therapy)so I wrongly assumed that Sadie would be in frustrated, tired, lashing out form. But nooooooo. Just like a pint-sized Ted Bundy, Sadie charmed the shit out of all our guests by saying hello to everyone in sight, pretending to roll calls with her Diego cell phone, giggling maniacally and repeatedly clapping her hands over her head yelling “hooray!”

Luckily, nobody can keep that up for an entire hour and eventually even Sadie broke down and pinched a few folks. It was decided that although biting, pushing and pinching are typical twin behaviors, Sadie does have the added frustration of lagging language, competition with not only her twin but an older sibling and the added cross to bear of an overly attractive and quite young looking mother. Who wouldn’t want to bite a few people? Still, we were told to continue giving time outs very consistently and to start signing with Sadie. Plus, we are going to be getting regular play therapy which thankfully will include Matilda. Poor Matilda, if we don’t correct this problem soon I fear her childhood will eventually become a Lifetime movie. Scarred for Life: One Twin’s True Tale of Growing Up with a Biter. Of course, if that happens I hope it’s sort of soon because I don’t want Tori Spelling to be aged out of playing the part of Sadie. Lifetime, you know where to find me.

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor is the author of Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay, Naptime Is the New Happy Hour, It’s Not Me, It’s You, and her more recent book, I’m Kind of a Big Deal.  She lives in Los Angeles with a husband and three young daughters. Anything else you need to know will probably be on her blog at stefaniewildertaylor.com.

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What Dads Need to Know – Improving Family Communication

By Jody Johnston Pawel

Imagine this scene: A neighbor is at your house, visiting over a cup of tea. You start feeling irritated and pressured when you realize you are running late for an appointment. What would you say to your neighbor? Imagine the same situation, except it’s your child at the breakfast table. How would it change your response? Is it possible that you might respond in a more disrespectful way?

Even when irritated or impatient, we often make the effort to listen and communicate with friends, acquaintances, and even total strangers with more respect than we give our own children. Most parents would say they value the relationships with their children yet, because of their emotional involvement, find it difficult to communicate respectfully with them at times.

Quality family relationships are becoming increasingly important in our society. With pressures and issues like drugs and sex, which children are facing today, the need for open communication and positive family relationships is vital. Today’s children also face dangers not known of in the past. Children are being taught not to blindly obey an adult’s requests if it could be a safety risk. As a result, adults are no longer perceived as infallible and children are encouraged to think/decide for themselves and be more assertive than children in previous generations.

Most parents want their children to feel free to talk to them, yet don’t always know how they can foster this type of relationship. It helps if parents can remember that communication involves proper timing and both talking and listening. When children have a problem, their parents’ efforts at “listening” often result, instead, in lecturing and offering advice. Unsolicited advice provides little opportunity for children to share their feelings and can result in children becoming reliant on others’ influence. In turn, these children may develop inadequate decision-making skills as they mature.

Contemporary child-rearing authorities agree that there is a direct connection between how children feel and how they behave. Parents can help children feel encouraged by accepting their feelings. This is not to say parents have to agree with these feelings. Acceptance means a willingness to allow children to be individuals with preferences and opinions of their own.

Most parents can be very accepting about most of the feelings their children have, unless they say something that makes the parent angry, anxious, or uncomfortable. It is common for parents to then revert to old habits and become defensive. Effective listening involves a respectful attitude, concentration, eye contact, and an effort to stop and think about when to be silent and when/how to respond. A simple nod or word of acknowledgment will let a child know you are listening. When listening, avoid probing questions like “why?” These questions shift the focus from feelings to analyzing and children may interpret it as a denial of their feelings. Instead, tune into the feelings, then put the feeling word into a sentence. This will show that you understand and accept how the child feels. Children of all ages learn how to identify their feelings and solve their own problems when parents help give their feelings a name.

Sometimes children will express their negative emotions in inappropriate ways, such as tantrums or yelling. Parents can allow children to feel angry but share specifics about how they can express their anger in acceptable ways. Help them generate ideas for constructive, physical ways to express their anger (i.e., drawing or a punching bag).

When parents have negative feelings or want more cooperation from their child, they also need to respectfully express themselves. Instead of ordering and nagging, focus on the problem without blaming and give children a chance to decide for themselves what actions they need to take. An effective and simple way to get a child’s attention is to say one word (i.e., “Milk!”). Just make sure your tone of voice is non-blameful and don’t use children’s names alone or they will associate their names with being in trouble. Another tool is to simply describe what you see (i.e., “I see dirty dishes on the kitchen table”) or give information they can use for later reference (i.e., “When milk is left out it will spoil”). Writing notes and using humor or fantasy are creative and fun ways to express both positive and negative feelings.

Finally, here are some tips to encourage your efforts at improving your family’s communication skills. Be authentic with your emotions and wording without blaming the other person. Have the courage to be imperfect — there are no perfect parents. New habits take at least twenty-one days of practice to establish and it is common for children to test parents during this time.

Positive, open communication is only one area that parents can address to improve their effectiveness as parents. Through reading and attending parenting classes, parents can learn how to foster loving, respectful family relationships.

Jody Johnston Pawel is a Licensed Social Worker, Certified Family Life Educator, second-generation parent educator, and President of Parents Toolshop Consulting. She is the author of 100+ parent education resources, including her award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop. For 25+ years, Jody has trained parents and family professionals through her dynamic workshops and interviews with the media worldwide, including Parents and Working Mother magazines, and the Ident-a-Kid television series.

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What Dads Need to Know – Raising Kids With Values

By Dr. Jenn Berman

When it comes to instilling values, parents face greater challenges than ever before. Children today are bombarded with anti-values messages all day long through television, movies, music, the Internet and billboards. Kids have fewer young role models that demonstrate valuable contributions to society than they did in years past. Instead they have people like Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, and Brody Jenner, kids who are known for, respectively, her buttocks, a sex tape, and dating other reality stars and for their parents’ money. As though that is not enough of a stumbling block, kids today also suffer from a lack of meaningful adult and peer relationships. So many of us, young and old, tend to be focused on Blackberries, laptops and television screens at the expense of meaningful connections and relationships.

According to a poll by Parents Magazine, the top five values that parents want to imbue in their children are: honesty, self esteem, kindness, self-reliance, and concern for others, qualities which are the building blocks for a moral person and a decent society. However, despite the fact that 70 percent of those polled said that they want to instill self esteem in their children, most parents don’t realize that giving kids the ability to make a difference is the greatest single inoculation against poor self esteem they can give. In addition, giving back to others and knowing that you can positively influence the lives of other people creates a sense of self efficacy while the meaningful activities themselves decrease isolation and self centeredness which in turn helps to build self esteem.

Where to Begin

When most parents think about teaching their children to give back, they tend to think about teens or even elementary school kids. But as Oprah Winfrey said recently, “You are never too young to make a big difference in somebody’s life.” By teaching this lesson to children as young as two or three years old, you help them develop at an early age the habit of giving and helping others which causes this way of thinking and behaving to become deeply ingrained.

Three great tools to start with are:

Books – Books open doors to new concepts, cultures and traditions. It is easy to start young since there are so many great values related books out there for young kids. Early on, start reading books about issues and qualities you value. Check out great toddler books like: The Story of Rosa Parks, The Peace Book, The Snail and the Whale, and Little Bear’s Little Boat.

Discussion – Look for opportunities for meaningful discussions and show your child that you value her opinion during conversations. Use books to open values based conversations. I recently had a conversation with my three year old daughters about peer pressure after reading Hey Little Ant where a little boy’s friends try to pressure the boy in the book to step on an ant.

Modeling Behavior – For many parents, this is the greatest difficulty of parenting. Our kids are always watching us and what we do is far more impactful than what we say. Not only do we have to be role models, but also leaders. Next time you are making a charitable donation, instead of doing it quietly at your computer where your kids can’t see, let your children be involved. Let them pick the charity to which you send your donation. Next time you are thinking of a family vacation, consider planning a volunteer vacation. You can build an orphanage in China, teach English, or help save an endangered species. Work together as a family to make an impact on the world and you will help your child while you help others.

Making New Traditions

Sure it is wonderful to go and feed the homeless around Thanksgiving but people are hungry all year round. Think about making a family New Year’s resolution not only to give back on a regular basis but also to have discussions about important issues and values. As children get older the conversations become increasingly complex and their ability to volunteer becomes greater. Try making one of the following a year round tradition:

  • Make a Kindness Scrapbook. Create a scrapbook to document things that family members do to help others. Since we started ours, my daughters have made cards for sick children, donated money to save an endangered species, and sent their favorite books to a child in need.
  • Start a Dinner Table Foundation. Every month save up twenty dollars or more to donate to a charity. Let each of your children “pitch” their first choice charity.
  • Collect Something for Others. Collect canned food for a food bank, DVDs for donations to a charity like KidFlicks.org, or clothing for a community homeless organization. Each month, with your kid’s help, find something new to give to others.
  • Be Generous to Public Servants. Drop off some baked goods at the local fire station. You can use this as an opportunity to talk to your kids about people who help keep us safe and giving back to the community. Just make sure you call your local fire station to make sure they are open to receiving visitors.
  • Volunteer together. There are so many opportunities to volunteer, especially for older kids. Try food banks, homeless shelters, hospitals, and old age homes. For a great selection of possibilities in your area check out VolunteerMatch.org, a free online service that matches people with appropriate volunteer opportunities.

Keeping Your Family Connected

Kids learn values best when they feel close and connected with their families. Three things you can do to make that happen are:

  1. Have family dinner together. Studies show that kids who eat with their family are less likely to try drugs or alcohol, are more physically fit, experience more academic success, have more nutritionally balanced diets, and have a reduced risk for eating disorders. According to a University of Minneapolis study, the more frequent family meals were eaten together and the more connected a family felt, the more self esteem went up while negative factors like depression, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts went down. This underscores the importance that strong connections have to creating meaningful relationships and generating real influence over your child’s values.
  2. Turn off the TV. Media has become a replacement for family interaction. Given the excessive number of hours adults spend watching television, experts report that parents now have more eye contact with television characters than they have with their own family members. Television can decrease communication with one another and stunt the development of family relationships, which are the foundation for a child’s relationships outside of the family.
  3. Have family meetings. Family meetings are a great way for children to feel heard in their family. A good family meeting serves as a microcosm of the real world, giving your child the opportunity to influence others, develop empathy, and learn cooperation, which are all important values.

Dr. Jenn Berman is a Marriage, Family and Child Therapist in private practice in Los Angeles. She has appeared as a psychological expert on hundreds of television shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show and is a regular on The Today Show, The Early Show, and CNN. She hosts a live daily call-in advice show called “The Love and Sex Show with Dr. Jenn” on Sirius/XM’s Cosmo Radio 5-7 pm PST (heard five hours a day seven days a week). She is the author of the LA Times best selling books SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years and The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy Confident Kids. In May 2011 she will be releasing her first children’s book Rockin’ Babies. Her award winning “Dr. Jenn” parenting column is printed in Los Angeles Family Magazine and five other magazines is read by half a million readers ever month. Dr. Jenn is also on the Board of Advisors for Parents Magazine. In addition, Dr. Jenn has an eco-friendly clothing line for adults and children called Retail Therapy . All the tees have positive “feel good” messages and are made of organic and recycled materials. Dr. Jenn lives in Los Angeles with her husband and twin daughters. For more information on go to www.DoctorJenn.com or follow her on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/drjennberman and www.Facebook.com/DrJennBerman.

Posted in Child Development, Ethics, Featured Moms & Dads, Morals, Values, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: The Long Ride Home

By Laura Diamond

The following is an excerpt from the journal about Laura Diamond’s cross-country experience with her husband and kids. You can read her entire travel journal at her Web site, linked below.

Moving from Stowe to Burlington, Vermont, meant moving up in population size from 5,000-ish to 40,000-ish. Like astronauts acclimating to earth’s gravitational pull after time in space, we were visiting increasingly larger places so that Los Angeles would not crack us upon re-entry.

Burlington, a bustling college town with views of Lake Champlain, was a boon to our license plate game.  Students gearing up for the start of classes at University of Vermont came from all over the country — Washington, Tennessee, Iowa, even California. Church Street Marketplace, several pedestrian blocks of stores and restaurants, was reminiscent of Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade, minus the buskers. We walked along the bluffs of Lake Champlain, and could all but convince ourselves we were on Ocean Avenue looking at the Pacific Ocean, but for the minor fact of New York’s Adirondack mountains in the distance.  Our adjustment process was progressing.

Until we visited Shelburne Farms, a 1400-acre working farm, national historic site and nonprofit environmental education center located on the shores of Lake Champlain, which welcomes guests to milk a cow, gather eggs, watch cheese being made, and enjoy food grown on its grounds. Two steps back toward small town goodness.

We left Burlington loaded with goodies from Shelburne Farms’ gift shop – wine, maple syrup and chocolate – to enjoy and share with friends and family who would be hosting us on our path. We decided to skip Boston and gratefully accepted an old friend’s invitation to visit her in Amherst. It had been nearly twenty years since we’d seen each other. Among other things, one of the highlights of this trip was the chance to renew friendships, and inaugurate new ones between our families.

The next day, racing against Hurricane Irene’s arrival, we aimed to arrive in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania in time for dinner. The route we chose was, nonetheless, along a path less taken.

Forgoing speed, we charted a course through Redding, Connecticut in order to visit the setting of My Brother Sam is Dead, a book we were reading to delve into American revolutionary history while in that neck of the woods. (Teacher extraordinaire Mr. Miguel Espinoza had pointed the way to GoogleLitTrips.com, which pointed the way to the places in the book, as did Redding’s own town website).

Despite initial griping, Aaron took the helm of the camera, and documented the places from the book, including gravestones of the real people we were reading about.

We continued on smaller roads, through New York towns like Chappaqua (of Clinton fame) and Tarrytown (of Washington Irving and Sleepy Hollow fame), crossing the Hudson at the Tappan Zee Bridge. We arrived in Washington Crossing in time for dinner with grandparents, aunt, friends and dogs, and hunkered down for Hurricane Irene. When the coast was clear, we bade farewell and set off to complete our journey.

The boys could smell home, just two days away. They’d had it with history. With sightseeing. They were done. But we had two days, and the wealth of potential activities in Washington, DC tormented me. How could we choose? Bicycle tour of the monuments; visiting the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial; tour the Bureau of Engraving & Printing to see money being made, the International Spy Museum?! These were all on our list of want-to’s. But time ran out, and they’ll be on our list again next time.

We decided to venture past Washington, D.C. (okay, we accidentally went to Virginia while looking for parking near the National Mall – my fault), to visit the home of George Washington in Mount Vernon, and historic Alexandria, Virginia.

I’m still not sure how I feel about Mount Vernon. On the one hand, I was curious to see how the first President lived, see the faded wooden floors where he stood, the chair where he sat, the bed where he died. On the other hand, I was sickened by imagining the horror of being enslaved there, as I walked on the same paths as the human beings he dominated to keep his house painted, his chamber pots cleaned, his family well-fed and pampered. I looked at the massive stately tomb of the most revered American, knowing that paces away nearly 300 slaves were buried without so much as a gravestone.

So, that was fun.

We lightened things up later that afternoon in Alexandria, eating crepes outdoors by the Town Hall, cruising the Potomac, and browsing some of the 62 artists’ studios at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. We drove our rented Chevy over cobblestone roads past charming brick buildings. I soaked up the other-ness of it, anticipating the mini-malls and wide avenues of L.A. in my future.

The following day, our last full day of this summer adventure, we spent with friends at the Newseum, a gleaming treasure trove of history and temple to the First Amendment.

Here’s a place I could visit again and again. The kids were enthralled by “the Death Tower,” one of the checkpoints the museum had imported from East Berlin along with sections of the Berlin Wall. They listened with astonishment as to its purpose — for guards to see and then shoot fellow citizens trying to escape to the other side — and noted that the West side of the wall was painted with murals and graffiti, the East side was dismally blank.

In another exhibit, I listened to a radio report of Jesse Owens winning four gold medals at the 1932 Berlin Olympics, then watched Tom Brokaw reporting the fall of the Berlin Wall. Everyone had a chance to try their hand as TV news reporters, joining their cross-country friends.

And then it was over.

We boarded an airplane headed for Los Angeles. On my right, the kids watched a Harry Potter movie for the tenth or twentieth time. On my left, Christopher read a magazine. In the middle, I typed these words. When we pulled up to the California grandparents’ home, they were waiting for us, along with the cousins and sister we’d missed more and more every day.

Everything is as it always was.

Thanks for reading.

Laura Diamond is the mother of two (frequently healthy) boys. She is the editor of the best-selling anthology  Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood, and is now at work on her first novel. Read more of Laura’s essays at Laura Diamond Writes On…

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What Dads Need to Know: Helping Kids Learn from Mistakes

By Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell

PriceMitchelldownloadAs adults, we all know that making mistakes is part of life.  What’s important is how we learn from them.  Yet, many children are growing up in a society that pressures them to be perfect – to get the highest SAT scores, to land prized scholarships, to get into the best universities.  Some parents complete or correct children’s homework to get them a better grade. So how does all this focus on testing and perfection affect kid’s learning?  And how can we help them learn from mistakes?

I recently came across an article in Scientific American, Getting it Wrong: Surprising Tips on How to Learn that supports a number of learning and developmental theories.  Historically, many educators have created conditions for learning that do not encourage errors.  And parents have followed suit.  For example, if we drill children over and over again with the same math problem, they will eventually remember the answer. And if they are lucky, they will remember the answer on a standardized test.

This approach to learning assumes that if students are allowed to make mistakes, they will not learn the correct information.  However, recent research shows this to be an incorrect assumption. In fact, studies have found that learning is enhanced when children make mistakes!

Whether it involves homework, developing friendships, or playing soccer, learning is enriched through error.  Learning from mistakes is part of how kids are challenged to learn to do things differently. It motivates them to try new approaches.

Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford, studies the importance of challenging children, even if they get things wrong.  Her research shows that praising children for their intelligence can actually make them less likely to persist in the face of challenge.  She and her colleagues followed hundreds of 5th grade children in New York City schools.  One group was praised for their intelligence while the other group was praised for their effort.

When the 5th graders were challenged with an extremely difficult test designed for 8th graders, a surprising result occurred.  The students who had been praised for their effort worked very hard, even though they made a lot of mistakes.  The kids praised for being smart became discouraged and saw their mistakes as a sign of failure.  Intelligence testing for the kids praised for their effort increased by 30% while the kids praised for their intelligence dropped by 20%. I’ve written before about the value of specific rather than general praise in relation to developing character strengths.  It’s the same concept — and an important one.

Expressing Unconditional Love

I will never forget a ParentNet Meeting I facilitated when my daughter was in 8th grade.  One father in the group, a business executive with Microsoft, asked the other parents, “How do I let my daughter know that I still love her even if she makes mistakes?” There was a brief silence. Then someone said, “Have you ever told her?”  Another silence. Then tears came to this father’s eyes.  “No,” he said, “I haven’t. But I will now.”

That moment of simple realization was profound for all of us. Do our kids really feel that our love is dependent upon being a perfect student?  I’m sure we all went home and reinforced this message of love to our kids – just in case it wasn’t already loud and clear!

Children make many kinds of mistakes – some are simple and some are more complex.  For example, some mistakes, like forgetting a homework assignment or not studying for an important test, have expected consequences. Others like lying, cheating, or actions that negatively affect friendships, have more complicated causes and are more complex to remedy. But all mistakes contain seeds of learning.

Learning from Mistakes: Ten Parenting Guidelines that Foster Positive Youth Development

  • Acknowledge that you don’t expect them to be perfect.
  • Let them know your love is unconditional, regardless of their mistakes or lapses in judgment.
  • Don’t rescue children from their mistakes. Instead, focus on the solution.
  • Provide examples of your own mistakes, the consequences, and how you learned from them.
  • Encourage them to take responsibility for their mistakes and not blame others.
  • Avoid pointing out their past mistakes. Instead, focus on the one at hand.
  • Praise them for their ability to admit their mistakes.
  • Praise them for their efforts and courage to overcome setbacks.
  • Mentor them on how to apologize when their mistakes have hurt others.
  • Help them look at the good side of getting things wrong!

©2011 Marilyn Price-Mitchell. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell is a developmental psychologist and researcher.  A mother, stepmother, and grandmother, she is founder of Roots of Action where she brings evidence-based research on youth development to popular audiences.  She writes a column for Psychology Today, The Moment of Youth. She is president of the National ParentNet Association, a nonprofit organization devoted to building parent-school-community partnerships that help kids succeed in school and life.  Connect with Marilyn on Facebook, Twitter or at www.mpricemitchell.com.

Posted in Adolescence, Child Development, Featured Moms & Dads, Values, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: The Labors of Dad

By Laura Diamond

So the Family Man asked me to offer the world of fathers some words of wisdom – what should dads know? I consider the question — I confess I come up blank. It is hard enough to know what I should know. But Family Man was asking, and I needed an answer.

I decided to go to the source. I asked my husband. I began by buttering him up. “I can’t think of anything useful, because you’re so perfect.” He saw right through me, scoffed, snorted and rolled his eyes. But then, proving my point, he gave me the perfect prompt: “Tell them Dads should know what labor pains feel like.”

No doubt. Let’s back up a week. Last Sunday, 2 a.m., I awoke to find my husband not in bed. We’d already been up many nights that week with our six-year-old son Emmett suffering from a stomach virus. Now Emmett was sleeping through the night again – but where was Christopher? I got out of bed, stepped lightly downstairs, and whispered his name. “In here,” he groaned. I found him on the living room floor, prone and writhing. “I think I need to go to the hospital.” He may have had the same old virus as Emmett, but he had a new appreciation for the kid’s mettle.

I drove him to UCLA/Santa Monica E.R. They hooked him up to an I.V. and gave him drugs. Not strong enough. “Give him morphine!” I begged, channeling Shirley Maclaine in Terms of Endearment.

I watched him reeling with the pain, unable to be still, leaning over the hospital bed, body swaying, unable to focus on anything but the pain, and an unbelievable thought occurred to me: he looks like he’s in labor.

He said something to that effect to the nurse, a young woman who probably hadn’t yet experienced the joy of childbirth. But holding the torch for the sorority of womanhood, she verbally knocked him down without a thought: “No. Nothing compares to labor.” My husband dutifully apologized for the breach. It’s like denying the Holocaust, or uttering certain unmentionable words: It’s just not done.

I wanted to come to his defense. I wanted to tell her, “You know what? I’ve had two babies, and I’d give this man an epidural if I could.” But she was the woman in charge of his I.V. I didn’t want to piss her off.

We came home, morphine in his veins and vicodin prescription in hand. He had a new appreciation for what I’d experienced 10 and 7 years ago with the birth of our sons (without the benefit – or responsibility – of a baby at the end of the experience, of course.)

And me? I have a new appreciation for what he gives us every day. He is usually the life of our party. But thanks to this punk virus, his bright light is dimmed. He’s tired. He’s uncomfortable. He’s not himself. We all feel it. The kids ask him to play baseball, go on bike rides, and he has to decline. The energy in the house is gone. We miss him. We’re waiting for him to come back.

So what should dads know? They should know they matter in every family moment. They should know the zing they add to a morning, making breakfast and riffing on the Sports page. They should know that no matter how mommy-centric their kids might be when it comes to sharing hugs or secrets, when he’s down for the count, the joyfulness fades palpably. Dads should know that they deserve some down time to get rested and revived. Dads should know that their families are rooting for them to get their groove back. Dads should know how much they mean to us.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to know about the labor pain. Just don’t tell a woman you hurt that much. It’ll get you nowhere. 

Laura Diamond is the mother of two (frequently healthy) boys. She is the editor of the best-selling anthology  Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood, and is now at work on her first novel. Read more of Laura’s essays at Laura Diamond Writes On…

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Trends and Realities of Fatherhood

By Dr. Jenn Berman

This generation of fathers is very different than previous generations. In fact, a whopping 80 percent of fathers today want to take a more active role in parenting than their own fathers did. In addition to being more involved, modern dads consider their families to be more of a priority than ever before. Studies show that three out of four fathers consider family to be the most important aspect of their lives and more than 70 percent of married men ages 21 to 39 report that they would be willing to give up a portion of their pay to be able to spend more time with their wives and children.

Why Some Dads Face Barriers

Often, men find more impediments to being an involved father than they had expected. Sometimes new moms are ambivalent about handing over their newborns, even to their own husbands. Many moms feel such a strong bond with their babies that they have a hard time sharing that crucial bonding time — even with their husbands. Other mothers worry that the new fathers won’t know what to do or will accidentally hurt the baby.

Clearly, the only way for men to learn how to be a good parent to their babies is through experience. Unfortunately, few men have good role models guiding them in what a 21st century active dad looks like. Most men don’t share their parenting struggles and joys with one another and are therefore left in the dark. Job demands are probably the most common obstacles that most men face and, whether by choice or by necessity, only one- to three-percent of men take advantage of paternity leave. It is still uncommon enough that paternity leave is frequently unpaid, employers discourage it, and there are concerns about being put on the “daddy-track.”

Despite all of these obstacles, most men today realize that there is no more significant moment in a man’s life than when he becomes a father. Frequently, the responsibility, shift in identity, and sheer power of the love involved is overwhelming. How do you make that shift? What can you do to be a better father? How can you help your child grow to be a healthy well-adjusted person?

How a Child Benefits from a Father

The greatest gift you can give as a father is to have a healthy loving relationship with your child. Because that relationship is their first relationship with a man, it becomes the template for his/her relationships with men for a long time to come. According to a report by the National Fatherhood Initiative, father love (measured by children’s perceptions of paternal acceptance/rejection and affection/indifference) was as important as mother love in predicting the social, emotional, and cognitive development and functioning of children and young adults. Having a loving and nurturing father was as important for a child’s happiness, well-being, and social and academic success as having a loving and nurturing mother. It has also been shown that children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to perform well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social tendencies, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as: drug use, truancy and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers.

How You Can Demonstrate a Grown-Up Relationship

Modeling a loving relationship with your spouse is another great way to be a super dad. The absence of familial hostility is the most consistent correlate of child adjustment, whereas marital conflict is the most consistently reliable correlate of child maladjustment. This is not to say every fight with your spouse is going to harm your child’s well being. Quite the contrary. Constructive marital disagreements may be a positive influence, teaching children valuable lessons about conflict expression and negotiation.

The problem occurs when there is consistent anger, hostility, and discord in the home. If this is something you are experiencing in your own home, I implore you to explore marital therapy. If you cannot do it for yourself or your spouse, do it for the sake of your child. A better relationship between the parents can foster a better relationship with the child. Research shows that fathers in close, confiding marriages have more positive attitudes toward their three-month-old infants and toward their roles as parents than did fathers in less successful marriages. The same studies showed that mothers in close confiding marriages were warmer and more sensitive.

Why You Should Respond to the Individual Child

Really listen to your child. It is easy to make assumptions or projections onto our kids or to zone out after a long day or to stop listening altogether. This is one of the most important skills you have in your arsenal. Feeling seen, heard, and understood by primary caregivers is one of the foundations of a child’s self esteem. In addition, sensitivity or the ability to evaluate a child’s signals or needs and respond appropriately is crucial to both involvement and closeness. Many of the studies dealing with paternal influences show that the closeness of the father-child relationship, which is itself a consequence of sufficiently extensive and sensitive interactions, is a crucial determinant of the father’s impact on child development and adjustment.

Why You Need to Be More Than a ‘Tall Friend’

In order for kids to feel a sense of safety and security, they need consistent rules and boundaries from their parents, especially their fathers. Too many parents today are overly concerned with being a friend to their child or being liked than they are about being good parents. Children do not need tall friends. They need a world where there are consequences to their actions and boundaries for their behaviors. They will always try to test you to see if you will bend. But deep down inside, children are comforted by parents who create a structured family life and maintain a consistent stance about discipline.

There is no job that is more difficult than being a parent. The pressure to do the right thing and be a good role model is immense but the rewards are out of this world.

Dr. Jenn is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Therapist in private practice. She is the author of the  bestselling books Superbaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years and The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy Confident Kids. She has been writing her monthly parenting column “Dr. Jenn” for over seven years. The column is printed in Los Angeles Family Magazine and five other parenting magazines every month. Her column the prestigious Parenting Publications of America award in Parenting and Child Development. She also writes a parenting column called “Insight” for a new national parenting magazine called PB&J. She has appeared as a psychological expert on hundreds of television shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, The Tyra Banks Show, Showbiz Tonight, and FOX News. She has been heard on various radio stations and is currently hosting a series of two hour specials on Sirius-XM’s Cosmo channel. Dr. Jenn lives in Los Angeles with her husband and twin daughters. For more information on Dr. Jenn go to www.DoctorJenn.com.

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