Monday, July 30, 2012

Obedience to Authority Isn't Always Good

How many of you remember Stanley Milgram's famous experiments on obedience to authority? Surely everyone that sat through a Psychology 101 class has heard about it.  Stanley Milgram was a psychologist in the 1960's, who was inspired after the trial of the World War II criminal Adolph Eichmann to study how and why people obey authority figures, even when the authority asks them to do something immoral or criminal.  Adolph Eichmann, if you recall, claimed that he was merely following instructions when he ordered the deaths of millions of Jews.  Milgram wondered if it could be true that millions of people were murdered just because otherwise good people were "following orders."

In short, Milgram asked participants to be "teachers" who delivered electric shocks to "students" when they incorrectly answered questions they were given by the researchers.  The participant "teachers" did not know that the "students" were confederates who merely pretended to be shocked.  Milgram found that most participants would continue to deliver shocks even when the student begged to be released, banged their head on the wall, complained of a heart condition, or even when they eventually fell completely silent.  When participants asked whether they should continue, the experimenter would tell the participant to "please continue," "it is absolutely essential that you go on," or something similar.  Astonishingly, 65% of participants delivered the maximum level of shock.

I've thought a lot about this study recently as I've read the memoir of Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life, where Jaycee shares that her kidnapper's wife was present for the kidnapping and interacted with Jaycee throughout her captivity.  She knew it was wrong, verbalized her remorse to Jaycee, yet did nothing to help free her due to her obedience to her nutty-buddy husband. 

Photo from Fox Sports.  The Joe Paterno statue removed from Penn State's campus. 
Can you believe some people are upset that this was taken down! 
Strange priorities when football is deemed more important than children.

And then there is Jerry Sandusky - an influential and respected football coach who sexually abused young boys for years.  It is now reported that high ranking Penn State officials, low-level janitorial staff, and many others in between knew of this abuse and did nothing.  Many kept mum because of their allegiance to the football program and out of fear of bringing shame to the beloved team.  It seems as if many were scared of defying an authority (Joe Paterno or just "Penn State football") that hadn't even delivered a verbal command.

These types of injustices and evils make me cringe.  They seem so preventable!  And, these are just two examples in the media.  There are millions of other examples from bullied and abused children around the world.  If one bystander, one witness, one brave soul would dare to defy authority, so much hurt and evil could be avoided. 

Jr. obediently picking up toys.  Very appropriate obedience to authority.
We want our children to be obedient.  In fact, obedience and compliance are major goals in child-rearing.  We want them to obey for their own good, so they don't burn their hand on the stove, so they don't get hit by a car, so they learn to make friends. . . .   And, there really are too many disrespectful and disobedient children in our schools these days.  It is important to teach obedience.

But, it seems that we also should be teaching our children to stand up for what is right and to defy authority when someone's safety is at-risk.  Milgram's later experiments found that the presence of rebellious peers dramatically reduced obedience levels. When other people refused to go along with the experimenters orders, 36 out of 40 participants refused to deliver the maximum shocks.  Research has also shown that the best way to end bullying is to have bystanders stand up to the bully. We should talk to our children, when they are old enough to understand (around 8 to 10 years old), about standing up for what is right even when being pressured by a crowd or authority figure to do otherwise.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Mission Impossible: Showering with a Toddler in the House

I'd like to share with you one of my biggest parenting struggles right now.  Showering in peace. 
Looking into the shower after my attempt at showering.  Those aren't my hand prints on the inside.

There is nothing better than a nice hot shower to wake you up in the morning.  Or, just to help you feel fresh and relaxed.  Before this glorious summer began, I would shower before Jr. woke in the morning or have my hubby keep him entertained.  While I've been home the past couple months (yes, it's been a couple months already) I have showered during Jr.'s morning nap (around 9:00 or 10:00 a.m.).  That seemed to work pretty well.   But, Jr. is starting to outgrow his morning nap.  He either doesn't fall asleep and I hear him making bird noises and other playful sounds for half an hour before he starts crying, or he falls asleep but doesn't wake up for three hours, making the afternoon and evening way too loooong.  Plus, I've been warned that in the "toddler room" at his daycare they only have one nap.

So, I've been trying to transition Jr. to an early lunch and a 11:30ish nap time.  It's been working pretty awesome, in that he will sleep two to three hours and there isn't too long a stretch between the time he wakes up and bedtime.  But, when and how am I supposed to shower?  I often need a shower before noon! 

I asked some of my awesome momsie friends for their advice.  I learned that some people have children that will nicely play in their crib.  Although I haven't tried it, I'm guessing Jr. would really raise a ruckus if I tried that strategy.  Shoot, we have to go through a whole drawn-out ritual before I can put him down for a nap without tears and tantrums.  I also learned that some people have children who will nicely play in their rooms and entertain themselves.  Well, mine doesn't do that well.  He follows me all around the house and always wants to be into whatever I'm doing.

One lovely friend suggested I make Jr. a bathroom prisoner, bringing in a bunch of toys and books for him to play with while I shower.  "Now, that might work," I thought.  So, today, after a nice morning run in the Texas heat, I decided I definitely needed a shower before Jr.'s noontime nap.  I brought in a big basket of toys and books, rigged the toiled shut (or I knew all the toys would end up in there), shut the door to our tiny master bathroom, and began to get in the shower.  Jr. was distracted by the Grover remote control, so I quickly jumped in and started the water.  Within a half second, Jr. was throwing himself on the shower door, screaming. 

"No problem," I thought, "he'll get bored of that soon."  And I was right.  He did get bored of throwing a fit, and quickly moved on to opening the shower door.  I thought that was ok, as long as he wasn't screaming.  I could close my eyes and pretend I had privacy.  I hurried with the shampoo.  I noticed out of the corner of my eye that he was shutting the shower door.  "Perfect," I thought, "he's tired of that and will move on to his toys."  "Bye-bye!" I said.  Whatever possessed me to say that?  Jr. waved both his hands, grinned ear to ear, and said, "Bye-bye!"and proceeded to close the shower door.  And, then, he opened it again, waved both his hands, grinned ear to ear, and said, "Bye-bye!" closing the shower door.  Thus, the open-"bye-bye"-shut game began.

I did the only thing I could think of, I tried to ignore him and hurried with the conditioner.  He tired of his new game.  He began reaching for things in the shower, I hurried to shave my arm-pits.  He began whining and begging "mama, mama, mama" (which he never says, by the way, so he's really pulling on my heartstrings).  "I'm hurrying, sweetheart."  Now, I'm begging too.  I was getting closer to completing my shower, when Jr. crossed the line. As long as he was in the door, I could pretend he wasn't there.  But, now he was attempting to step into the shower.  I turned off the shower and gave up.

I'm guessing I'm going to have to set some boundaries and create some no-no's around mommy's shower time, such as no entering the shower, no opening the door.  But, I'd really like to do this without creating a battle.  So, momsies of the world, especially you stay-at-home momsies, who are experts in this type of thing, what am I to do?

Another Darlingist Sponsor Spotlight!

Chelsea, from Sunny with a Chance of Sprinkles, is one of my darlingist July sponsors.  Chelsea is a really gifted writer and shares adorable stories and pictures of her cutie-patootie on her blog. And, I love her ideas for toddler activities!   Let me allow her to introduce herself!

"Sunny with a Chance of Sprinkles is my little place to ooh and ahh over my crazy toddler, Alea, write about the struggles and triumphs of being a nursing student and mother, as well as share my favorite DIYs and recipes. I hope you'll stop by and say hello! By the way, I'm Chelsea! It's so very nice to meet you!"

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Trip to Kansas

Clockwise from top left:  Hubby, Jr. and nephew at the zoo (nephew is BIG fan of my blog), our dog on the long hot drive, Jr. facing forward for the first time (eek, don't let the pediatrician know!), and my other cutie nephew at the zoo.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


As a psychologist, I can't resist commenting on the Aurora movie theater shooting.  My initial reaction was probably much like everyone else, horror, shock, and sadness.  Now, like many others, I have become curious.  Mostly, I am curious about this wack-job that was responsible for such evil, 24 year old James Holmes.  We all want to know why such a horrible act of evil could happen and what kind of person could have done such a thing.

I was telling my hubby shortly after the shooting my prediction that soon the media would start discussing why James Holmes wasn't receiving psychiatric care, or questioning whether people knew he was a nut (very professional language, I know).  And, if people knew he was a nutty-buddy, why didn't they seek help for him, turn him into authorities, etc.  It seems like the discussion following many of these mass shootings quickly turns to how our mental health system is a huge failure.  Of course, that makes me defensive, even though I know it's sadly true.

But, this time, it seems no one knew that James Holmes had mental health issues (or no one that is talking about it at least).  He seemed brilliant, but not violent.  No erratic behavior.  No disturbing writings in elementary school.  No torturing of animals or fire-starting. 

This lack of early evidence of mental illness probably indicates that James Holmes is not a sociopath.  Meaning, technically, he does not have a psychopathic personality that is characterized by a lack of a sense of morality.  Sociopaths are those truly evil people who from an early age show no value in life.  They kill for pleasure and have no remorse.   They kill animals as toddlers, set fires as school-aged children, run away as teens, and act completely anti-social as adults, often hurting others without remorse.

Even if he isn't technically a sociopath, there is no doubt, that James Holmes is suffering some type of mental illness.  From the looks at the pictures from his first court appearance, where he appears dazed, dozes off, and otherwise looks "strange," one might easily suggest that he has been given psychotropic meds to help treat a mental illness.  But, wouldn't that be a horrible move on the part of the defense, who might want to claim insanity?  If he truly was mentally ill enough to be medicated, then the defense would be smartest to let the court see this right away.

Instead, here are my explanations for James Holmes's behavior (killing and courtroom).  First, he may have had a psychotic break brought on by a life stressor (that we don't know about yet).  Twenties are the prime years for psychotic breaks.  I remember when I turned 30 years old, I was quite happy because I knew I was probably out of the woods for psychosis.

When someone has a psychotic break, they are likely to become delusional - believing things that aren't true.  Delusions are often paranoid or narcissistic, like, maybe, "I am The Joker."  Psychosis can also involve hallucinations, hearing or seeing things that are not really there.  Sometimes "command hallucinations" tell a person to do something they would not normally do, such as kill themselves or others. 

Psychosis can be a symptom of schizophrenia or many other mental health disorders.  I think a likely explanation for his seemingly delusional thinking combined with what appears to be a very intense level of activity the days before the shooting, could easily be explained by Bipolar Disorder with Psychotic Features.   People in a manic phase of
Bipolar often stay up for days with levels of activity, have narcissistic-type beliefs, and feel invincible.  Sounds like what we know so far about Mr. Holmes, right?

His odd courtroom behavior could  be from experiencing active psychosis, leaving a manic phase (exhaustion), or it could be a brilliant neuroscience student trying to fool us all into believing he's insane.

Does my hypothesizing help us understand what happened with James Holmes?  Probably not.  Do we even know what is really going on with James Holmes?  Surely a thousand journalists and psychologists will voice their opinions.  But, here is the truth.  Evil exists.  It is difficult to explain why evil exists without recognizing the father of all evil that my beloved Bible talks clearly about, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8).

Jesus described the source of evil well when he said, "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44).

Ephesians 6:12 says, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."

How do we live in this world where such evil exists?  Where is our hope?  Where there is light, my frends, darkness flees.  "The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light." (Romans 13:12).  And, who is our source of light? "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:17). 

This is what I cling to in times like these, when evil is so apparent and so hard to explain, even with psychological terms.  I know the source of all goodness and draw hope from the promise that in the end, it is He that overcomes evil! 

Monday, July 23, 2012

What My Hubby Does Better Than a Woman

One of the small joys of this lazy summer is occasionally watching The View.  Last week, they had Sigourney Weaver on the show.  I'm not going to talk about the accidental panty-flash - that's really not too interesting to me.  Instead, I want to talk about something that she said, something that many women believe, a point of view that really irritates me.  As the ladies were talking about a cause that Sigourney is supporting (which I don't remember the details of, but works to promote women in some way), Joy shared that for the first time, more women then men will be participating this year in the Olympics.  Sigourney then said quite seriously (though she's always quite serious, and it could really have been said in jest), that women are better than men in every way.

Really?  I know that many women believe this, it's a popular feminist notion.  Many women really believe that women are not only superior to men, but there seems to be an unspoken belief that men are useless, idiotic, and the world would be better without them.  Just look at our television sitcoms.  Many portray men as bumbling idiots, and women as the sensible leaders (Homer Simpson for example). 

I think this type of male-bashing has gone far enough.  It is time for us to think how this type of thinking might be impacting our young boys.  Sure, it may be empowering for our little girls, but how is a boy supposed to grow confidently into a man when the world is delivering him such negative messages?  And, don't we want our boys to grow up to be strong leaders, good decision-makers, and confident, successful, husbands and fathers? 

I know that throughout history and still in many parts of the world, women's rights have been suppressed. Now, in the United States, females are more likely to graduate high school and college.  They are flourishing in math and science.  They are gaining leadership positions and running our homes.  Women really can "have it all."  And, this is awesome.  I have reaped the benefits of the feminist movement, and I can't complain. 

But, wouldn't it be a shame if the situation reversed itself, and our males became underserved and even discriminated against?  I think this is starting to happen.  Young males are underachieving in every way.  Today's educational situation has been reformed to favor female learning styles.  Little boys are criticized and punished for being overactive and aggressive, when many times they are just being male.

I want my son to know that HE can be successful and accomplished in this world.  I want him to be a strong, moral, masculine leader of his home.  I want him to be literate and love to read.  I want him to know that men are awesome!  They are our heroes and our role-models.  Men have done awesome things for our country, have led the world in discovery and exploration, and are strong, fast and brave.

Although many women, including Sigourney Weaver, would claim that women are better than men, I'd like to share some ways my hubby is better than most women:
  1. Physically stronger - even without working out, he has some fine muscles.
  2. Heavy lifting - see above.  Those fine muscles can lift things with ease that I can't move with all my strength.
  3. Finances - he really is better with numbers than I am.  And, I'm so glad to give him that responsibility!
  4. Automobile maintenance - oil and grease = yuck.
  5. Taking out garbage - stinking trash=yuck.
  6. Killing bugs - when he's not around, I resort to throwing shoes.  He's fearless in the face of a giant cockroach.
  7. Faster- I may have him in a marathon, but he could blow all you females away in the 100 yard dash.
  8. Household repair - I don't even want to know what all those tools are for.
  9. Rough and tumble play with Jr. - Jr. loves it but when I try, my moves don't compare to daddy's.
  10. Decision-making - he makes non-emotional decisions that are really more sound than my emotion-laden decisions.
  11. Risk-taking - what's the fun in life without a little risk?  If it were up to me, we'd be in safety bubbles and never try anything new.
My hubby is an awesome, loving, leader in our home.  He loves me, and I respect him.  He follows the Bible's directive in Ephesians 5:25 "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."  And, because he does, I try my best to follow Ephesians 5:24 "Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."  I think that's a pretty fair arrangement!

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Darlingist Sponsor Spotlight

Paige from The Eloping Stethoscope is one of my darlingist sponsors for July.  She writes a really cute blog about being a newlywed and being a nursing student.  What I really like most about Paige's blog is her beautiful handmade jewelry!

Let me allow her to introduce herself:
Hey everyone, I’m Paige and I’m the blogger on Eloping Stethoscope where I blog about my life as a nursing student and as a new wife to my army man turned business student.

On my blog you’ll find stuff about newlywed life, nursing school stress, DIY projects, and new recipes we try with some book and movie reviews and general silliness thrown in. Later this month, I'll be posting an entire recap of our elopement trip as well as my makeup for the ceremony, my wedding dress experience, and my top elopement tips.

When I’m not blogging, I like to make my own jewelry, spend time with my husband and family and read. We love to watch TV and our absolute favorites are Sons of Anarchy and Game of Thrones, although we love How I Met Your Mother and Weeds as well. We are total foodies and try to make a new recipe at least once a week or tweak an old favorite. Like any other girl, I love to shop but I’m completely cheap and never buy anything at full price.

I love to meet new people and find new blogs to follow so I hope ya’ll stop by!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Watch Out For That TV!

I've been meaning to write about this for awhile.  I once reposted an article on Facebook on this topic and received tons of interesting responses.  I hope this post can stir up the same type of discussion!

So, you all know about The American Academy of Pediatrics most recent recommendations about television watching in toddlers/babies?  If not, check it out here.  Let me give you a summary.  The AAP suggests that toddlers under the age of 2 should not be watching television.  Period.  No Sesame Street, Barney, or Yo Gabba Gabba.  They even suggest that adults turn off the background television.  You know, the news that's on during dinner? Your favorite sitcom that plays in the background while the baby's getting some tummy time? Just keep the tv off, they recommend.

This recommendation is not unfounded.  Research has shown that there is no educational benefit to television for babies.  Even programming that claims to teach babies to talk or some other basic skill is basically worthless.  In fact, it actually may hinder language development because babies need live models (i.e. mommy and daddy talking to them) in order to learn to talk.  The AAP report estimates that for every hour a child under 2 spends in front of a screen, he or she spends about 50 minutes less interacting with a parent, and about 10 percent less time in creative play.  And, you probably know how much I think play is important.  For babies in daycare, who aren't able to interact much with their parents during the week anyway, it seems all the more important to forgo tv time.

Even before hearing this most recent recommendation, my hubby and I decided to limit Jr.'s television intake until the age of three.  My professional experience has convinced me that the fast-moving images associated with many television programs contribute to attention problems.  The constant bombardment of stimuli can create difficulty to sustain attention to less stimulating activities (such as learning to read, write, etc.).  Plus, we knew Jr. would be in daycare and we wanted to be sure to make our time as a family the best "quality time" possible.  When my hubby and I shared our stance during my pregnancy, we received many of those strange "wait and see" looks.  

I totally understand the parents who need to have the tv entertain their toddler while they shower or make an important phone call.   It can be a life-saver, especially for single parents and stay-at-home moms.  And, it probably will have little impact on their child's development when used minimally.  I've even heard from friends that there really are some cute, appropriate, and entertaining shows for young children.  Unfortunately, the children that are probably most negatively impacted by tv watching at such a young age are the economically disadvantaged and families with few resources.  Many of my clients, for instance, in low-income urban schools, report watching hours of television each night, and programming I would never recommend for children (thrillers and highly inappropriate comedies).  I don't want to seem judgmental toward these families.  But, I do worry about the difficulties high amounts of screen time can create.

How are we doing on limiting Jr.'s screen time?  I would say fairly well.  We don't ever sit him in front of children's programming, but we do often have on background television.  I NEED my Good Morning America on during breakfast!   But, honestly, I've been pretty proud of our success in sticking to our goal in this area. 

One confession.  I did let Jr. watch this video today.  He gave Cookie Monster one little giggle and then ran off.  I think it's wonderful!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Baby Experiment! Toddlers Love to Give. Really.

I recently read this fascinating study that suggests that even egotistical little toddlers love to give.  No way, you may think, my toddler is a selfish little Napolean, throwing fits when she can't have her way and losing her mind when I take away something she wants.  Well, maybe this study might change your mind.

Psychologists at the University of British Columbia created an experiment to test the notion that giving is better than receiving, even in toddlers.  They found that toddlers were happier when giving away one of their own treats then when giving away another person's treat, or even when recieving a treat.  The satisfaction one receives by giving, the researchers suggest, explains why people engage in prosocial behaviors. And, this can begin as early as toddlerhood.

Maybe you've seen this in your child.  The great big smiles and joy when they hand you over a soggy goldfish cracker that's been in their mouth, for example.  But, maybe you've also seen stubborn refusal when asked to share.  I think this is because we have to overcome our selfish nature when we give.  Although our first impulse as humans is to think of one's self first, we can override that impulse and learn the joys of giving. 

I tried a watered-down version of this experiment with Jr.   First, I shared a delicious cookie with him. He looks pretty darn happy.

Then, I asked him to share his yummy grapes. Does he look any more happy? Not really sure that the results are conculsive here :)

I think most people would like to see their children grow up to be unselfish, giving, and humble.  A Barna study showed that people who have parents that give to charity are the most likely to be giving themselves.  Yet another example of how important it is for us as parents to model the behaviors we want to see in our children.  And, not only should we model giving, but we should model giving cheerfully.  We can do this when we give gifts to others at special occasions, when we give some of our old belongings to charity, when we help a family in need, when we help strangers we cross paths with, and when we give our tithe.  Look for opportunities to model cheerful giving, and you will find them!

Again, it may be said best in the Bible -"Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to." (Deuteronomy 15:10).  There sure is a lot of wisdom in that book!

Friday, July 13, 2012

When You Think They Aren't Watching

When I thought Jr. wasn't paying attention, he's really been watching me.  Over and over recently, I've been surprised by some new behavior he engages in that mimics a behavior of mine.  For example, we never had to explicitly teach Jr. how to use a spoon, a brush, or a broom.  He just picked them up one day and used them appropriately.  I never thought that he was attending to my bed-making in the morning, until one day he came in and started handing me pillows.  I always thought he was totally engrossed in bath time and wasn't paying attention to how I cleaned up, until one day he started peeling off the no-slip pads on the bottom of the tub and reached to put them in the net, just as I always do.  The most amazing example, though, is when he reached over to me with both hands, grabbed my face between them, and gave me a kiss on my mouth - just like Daddy does!

It is really amazing that children are like little "sponges," taking in new information each day to add to their developing schemas of the world.  Even when they aren't giving rapt attention, they are noticing and they are learning.  Just as I forget this, Jr. reminds me by doing something new that he has picked up just from observing his environment. 

It is awesome that he can learn so many things with so little effort!  If only he could learn reading, writing, and algebra with such mental ease!  On the other hand, what ELSE is Jr. learning from the behaviors and interactions in our home?  I'm sure he's observed some disrespectful interactions, some really foul language, some inappropriate conversations, and even some lying, stealing, and anger.  With every interaction he witnesses between my hubby and myself, Jr. learns how to be in relationships, how to handle conflict, and how to deal with emotions.  Isn't that a sobering thought! 

No one runs a perfect home.  No one has perfect communication with their husband all of the time.  We are all imperfect this side of heaven.  Research has shown that high levels of conflict are not so good for a child's behavioral and emotional adjustment.  But, when parents do argue in front of their children, they can counteract any negative impact by resolving the conflict so the children can see.  So, if we argue in front of Jr., which we inevitably do, we make sure to also model good conflict resolution.  Jr. will definitely see us make many mistakes, but if we acknowledge they are mistakes and model appropriate repentance and restitution, we can also help teach Jr. how to respond when he makes a mistake.  Just as anger, hostility, and pridefulness can be learned, so can humility and forgiveness.

Jesus gave us a good reminder in Luke 17: 1-4 when he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Scheduling in Some Sanity

When Jr was born, he was ready to eat.  Within ten minutes of entering the world, he was latching on to my breast and sucking away.  The delivery nurse made a remark about how quickly he took to nursing and then advised with a smile, "Now, don't become his pacifier.  Feed him again in two hours."  That sounded like good advice. 

But, Jr. wanted to suck constantly.  When he wasn't sucking, he was crying.  While trying to stick to the delivery nurse's advice, I did everything else I could think of to soothe Jr.  Soon, one of the baby nurse's came into my room and suggested that Jr. might be hungry.  "He just ate," I said.  "Well, he's hungry again.  Feed him whenever he's hungry," she sternly advised.  Thus I became aware of one of the oh-too-familiar controversies in new parenting, feeding on schedule or on demand.  I was horribly impressionable, and utterly confused.  So, I started feeding him on demand.  Which was constantly.  My milk came in fast and hard from all that sucking.  And, that was painful.  I went several days with no sleep and ice packs on my breasts due to the constant nursing.

At Jr.'s one week check-up, as I was nursing him for the second time in the pediatrician's office, the doctor suggested I visit with the lactation specialist. "I really love her philosophy," she said with encouragement and a knowing look.  She undoubtedly could see I was exhausted and stressed.  The lactation specialist, who was an older pudgy woman who reminded me of a hedgehog (in a cute way) listened to me ramble about the conflicting messages I'd heard and the difficulty I was having with the constant nursing.  She kindly prescribed a 2 1/2 hour feeding schedule, feeding 15 minutes on each breast.  And, she gave me the permission I needed to introduce the pacifiers I had been so tempted to shove in my little vacuum's mouth, if it wasn't for the dreaded "nipple confusion."

We went home and immediately began our new schedule.  I do not exaggerate when I say there was NO adjustment period.  Jr. and I both took to the schedule right away.  And, since then, I have comfortably fell into sleep scheduling, meal scheduling, cleaning scheduling, shopping scheduling, and just about any other scheduling you can think of.  For me, scheduling is a huge anxiety-reduction strategy.  When I feel out of control, I schedule.  Thus, I gain control, and my anxiety decreases. 

Researchers have found, much to my discomfort, that babies who are fed on demand "do better at school."  Really, the research found that these children scored an average of five IQ points higher than their scheduled peers. The authors share what many suppporters of feeding-on-demand suggest - that a baby learns through on demand feeding that mom responds to his/her needs.  This promotes brain development and attachment.  This is good, responsive parenting.

I totally get that.  Good parents that are responsive and attentive to a baby's needs will probably raise children with good attachment and optimal adjustment.  But, here's the second finding in the study:  Parents who fed their babies on a schedule were more confident and less tearful.  This is totally true for me.  I am a frazzled mess without a schedule, as are many people.  So, what is worse for a baby?  A stressed, anxious, momsie or having to wait for needs to be met? 

In thinking about this, my first thought is, "What is the significance of five IQ points?"  Not much, really.  It may be the difference between your IQ and the person at the neighboring desk at your office.  It may be noticable and "statistically significant," but not critical.  For instance, there is likely a five point difference between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.  One wouldn't even notice and either could rule the country.  And, there is SO much more to academic achievement and even life success than IQ.  I'm willing to give up five IQ points for my sanity.

My second thought on this controversy is, scheduling is not bad for everyone.  For certain personality types, schedules and predictability are more comfortable and even necessary for optimal mental health.  It would be more healthy for these types of people to have schedules in their life then to deal with the anxiety that comes with not having predictability.  In children with certain types of behavioral, emotional, and cognitive concerns, I often suggest schedules as a way to decrease tantrums and acting out.  Predictability is really not a bad thing.

So, what's Dr. Momsie's suggestion?  Be an expert on yourself and your baby.  There are few hard-and-fast rules that apply to all people when it comes to these types of controversies.  What is best is to examine your personality and temperament and that of your baby and develop a plan that is responsive to your own unique bend.  Do you suffer emotionally without a schedule and truly feel like you would be a less effective momsie?  Then schedule.  Are you a more care-free type that can flourish with spontaneity?  Then feed on demand.  Does your baby suck the life out of your boobs and your psyche?  Then, maybe a schedule would give them a good boundary. 

One word of caution for those who schedule. I highly recommend "flexible scheduling."  If you set a schedule, and then life happens and the schedule is broken, a person who is too highly tied to their schedule might be in danger of suffering the same type of anxiety they were seeking to avoid.  I always practice a loose schedule, with allowances for out-of-the-ordinary circumstances.  Sometimes, Jr. really was hungry again in an hour.  I would feed him if he was crying and couldn't be consoled with other methods.  This is the type of responsiveness that leads to good attachment and mental health outcomes. 

So, darlingist readers, schedule in some sanity today.  It may be worth five IQ points!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Our Future Depends on Play: Healing

Last week I shared an old post about the importance of play.  Here is the second part, about the healing powers of play. 

Check it out.

Play can also be healing for children who have been traumatized or for parent-child relationships that are stressed. Early in my training as a psychologist, I became interested in play therapy. I read many of the works of Dr. Landreth from the Center for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas (UNT) and attended a couple of his workshops. I was intrigued by his claims that by engaging in “child-centered” or “nondirective” play therapy, young children could spontaneously reenact their trauma and subsequently work through it. In nondirective play therapy, the therapist does not guide the play, but provides a non-judgmental environment with the appropriate tools for a child to play freely. In the textbook Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship (2nd ed.), Landreth (2002) defined child-centered play therapy:
A dynamic interpersonal relationship between a child (or person of any age) and a therapist trained in play therapy procedures who provides selected play materials and facilitates the development of a safe relationship for the child (or person of any age) to fully express and explore self (feelings, thoughts, experiences, and behaviors) through play, the child’s natural medium of communication, for optimal growth and development. (p. 16).
I love the part about play being a child’s natural medium of communication. That is so very true, and traditional “talk therapy” will just not work with children who don’t have the verbal skills, insight, or cognitive ability to engage in it. Isn’t it cool to think that our first form of communication was through play?

Anyway, as I engage in play therapy, I am often amazed by the amount of therapeutic work that can take place while a child plays. I have seen children that have never been able to talk about abuse spontaneously act it out. I have even seen behavior change occur simply by letting a child express themselves in play. Parents can be taught to engage in “filial therapy,” which is basically child-centered play therapy led by a parent. This type of play therapy can help establish positive parent-child interaction, promote healing, and increase attachment.

Another healing option that utilizes play is Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT). PCIT is a research-based treatment for children experiencing extreme behavior problems. In PCIT parents are taught specific skills to establish a nurturing and secure relationship with their child during their playtime. The therapist helps the parent and child establish new interaction patterns through play, which ultimately leads to less negative behavior and increased prosocial behavior.

The bottom-line is this: Parents engaging in play with their children can encourage a multitude of benefits. PCIT therapists and filial therapists would probably agree that playtime should include the following aspects:
  • Enthusiasm! This goes back to the point in my previous post about attending to your child in play and being interested and positive.
  • Reflect and describe what your child is doing. Avoid asking too many questions or giving commands. Simply reflect what your child is doing, i.e. “you’re putting the red cup on the blue cup.”
  • Praise your child during play! Criticism can shut down the learning/healing process. Allow freedom in play and give kuddos to your child for the new things they try.
These suggestions, of course, are for parents working with children exhibiting problems. But, I think they are useful suggestions for all parents. If you weren’t encouraged before, now is the time to start playing with your kids!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Public Humiliation - Not the Best Parenting Strategy

Why is it that public humiliation has become a popular parenting strategy?  Again this week I read about a parent who had their child carry around a sign, pronouncing to the world their delinquent behavior.   This time, the twelve-year-old child was thirty minutes late in checking in with his father.  So, dad had him walk around with his scarlet letter signage from 9:15 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., with breaks every two hours.  Dad followed him around, I guess to snicker in his car about what a genius parent he was. 

I first saw this type of punishment a couple of years ago on a local news story.  A young man who had engaged in some type of disobedience was made to carry a sandwich board around with his crime in huge letters.  At first, I thought, "Hmm, that might be clever."  I'm a big fan of punishment "fitting" the crime and of logical consequences.  A good example of this is if a child checks in thirty minutes late, then when he wants to go out next weekend, he will have to be thirty minutes late to the movie, party, etc.  He can clearly make the cognitive connection that keeping people waiting and being late aren't cool.  Checking in behavior will probably increase. 

So, when I first heard about this creative punishment, I considered it for a minute as possibly credible.  It didn't take me long, though, to realize that this is nothing more than humiliation.  Humiliation may be motivating, but it is not healthy for a parent-child relationship.  And, for some sensitive children, it could be devastating.   It seems like the media covers anytime a child is punished this way, making the humiliation even greater. 

I'm starting to think, as I see this more and more that it is fad popular with parents who 1)are at the end of their rope and don't know what else to do  2)want to be on tv.  I don't think it's cute, funny, or even creative anymore.  It is humiliating, it will destroy your relationship with your child.

Colossians 3:21 says, "Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged."  Discouraged children are not obedient and they are not successful.  Ephesians 6:4 says, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."  How does God punish us?  He's always handled me with great tenderness and grace, which makes consequences so much easier to accept.  And, it motivates me to do better.  Maybe if we all used our heavenly Father as an example, we would make more competent parenting decisions.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Our Future Depends on Play: Learning

Day two of the photo-a-day challenge from was "Busy."  I found my inspiration early yesterday morning:

I am often captivated by Jr.'s rapt attention in his play when he is figuring out something new.  Jr. was so busy playing and learning about these metal strainers, it reminded me of a post from my old blog about the importance of play.  I thought I'd share it with you today!  I wrote it when Jr. was about nine months old.  I was totally obsessed during that time with rushing home from work so that I could have time to play with him and watch him learn new things. 

Check it out!

I was so excited to see this video about the importance of play! As a momsie and a psychologist working with children, I am constantly reminded of the teaching and healing power of play. And, though I’m writing mostly of children’s need for play, it’s also important for adults! In a world full of deadlines and full schedules, we just don’t take enough time for play.

Watching my son play, I can see how much he learns about the world through play activity. He isn’t just dropping his blocks repeatedly to see if I’ll continue to pick them up, he’s learning about cause and effect - when he drops a block, it bangs on the ground (and mommy picks it up and says “uh-oh”). When he seeks out a toy that is hidden inside another, he is learning about object permanence - it is there even when he can’t see it. When he bites down on a toy or tries to “rip” his washcloth, he’s learning about texture and material.

Knowing that play is the main avenue for learning at his age, I struggle with finding the time to spend engaging him in play time. I know many working moms can relate to the feeling. You rush to the daycare to pick up the baby, rush home, rush to put on dinner, rush to feed and bathe the baby, and then rush to bedtime. Where’s the time for play?

I’m always tempted to put the baby in one of his stationary play centers (exersaucer, jumperoo), but he probably spends more than the recommended 20 minutes per day in one of those at daycare. Many babies play just fine on their own, and some autonomy in play should definitely be encouraged. But, play can be a great opportunity for bonding, modeling, and memory making! Here are my best suggestions:
  • Creatively take advantage of your time. When I’m cooking, I give my baby pots, pans, and spoons to bang and explore. When I’m folding laundry, I give him some items and the laundry basket (he loves the laundry basket!). When I’m getting dressed, we play peek-a-boo. Even if I’m only halfway attending, there is a sense of togetherness.
  • Carve out stay-at-home time just to engage in play. For me, weekends are important for catching up on playtime. I choose to only schedule one major activity (other than church) each weekend that takes us away from the house. That way we can dedicate some chunks of time to playing together.
  • Extend bathtime. Our baby absolutely loves bathtime. And, we can easily extend it a few minutes past the lathering and rinsing to play with squirty toys, cups, and even the shampoo bottle.
  • Say “no” less. This one is tricky. Sometimes, babies want to play with things that just don’t seem like appropriate toys (the remote!). But, parents can get into a constant cycle of redirecting and saying “no-no” when a baby shows a natrural curiosity for interesting objects. The balance is remaining consistent about what the baby should not play with (safety concerns such as outlets, sharp objects, etc.) and what may be good learning experiences. For instance, our baby always wants to play in the pantry. I’ve moved all his snacks and other safe items to the bottom shelf so he can explore without my constant redirection. Decide what is a definite “no-no” and be consistent about it. Allow some supervised exploration of other items in the house.
  • Encourage daddies to get involved. Rough and tumble play is important for development. I rarely see our baby as elated as when daddy is throwing him in the air. Plus, he’s learning about movement and trust.
  • Be engaged as much as possible. When I am trying to spend some quality playtime with my baby, I often find my mind drifting to all the other things I need to do. Recent research has shown that babies as young as six months old can tell when their parent is engaged or distracted. For me, active engagement takes some effort, but I get much more out of our time when I allow myself to enjoy the play.
So, everyone get out there and play with your kids! You need it as much as they do!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Ask Dr. Momsie - Too Afraid to Try

It's time for another very timely Ask Dr. Momsie question!  It's summertime, which means all things water - swimming, swim lessons, boating, water skiing, water balloons . . .   And, as long as there are water sports, there will be children who are afraid of the water.  If your child is experiencing water-related fears, you might relate to one of my favorite readers, who asks,

"My son will not ride his bike or go to anything but the baby pool at the pool. He clings to my side wherever we go and will not talk to anyone he has not met over 10 times. Help! He is so shy and scared of everything! I have tried helping him, riding on the bike with him, prizes and nothing works :("

Well, it sounds like your little guy is definitely experiencing a lot of fear and anxiety related to new experiences and social situations.  Fear is a very adaptive feeling for helping us cope with new experiences and for protecting us from dangerous situations. Your son feels secure with you around, and that is good!   This is not uncommon for toddlers, and he's very likely to grow out of many of his fears. Until then, though, there are some things you can do to help him face his fears and become more independent.  Before I share some suggestions, I want to emphasize that overcoming fear is a process.  Don't expect fears to disappear overnight or after a strategy is tried just a couple of times.  Consistency and patience is key.  

First, parents, whenever we are experiencing a behavioral concern with our children, we must first do the hard work of examining ourselves.  Many times a parent is doing something that is reinforcing and encouraging the behavior.  Often this comes from the best intentions.  For instance, "helicopter parents" that hover around their children in order to protect them, actually may cause their children to become dependent and/or anxious.  You may be very anxious yourself and therefore model avoidant and anxious responses to unfamiliar situations.  Or, maybe, when your child becomes clingy you inadvertantly reinforce the behavior by soothing, caressing, and cuddling.  On the other hand, if your personality is not the type that experiences these type of fears, it may be easy to become frustrated and resort to belittling, humiliation, or threats ("See all the other kids swimming?"" Why can't you be a big boy?" "I'm just gonna throw you in the water!").  If you see that you may be engaging in any of these types of responses to your child's anxiety, try to respond a different way this week.  Make a measurable goal of hovering less, using less threatening language, or speaking less of your own anxieties around your child.  Now, parents, don't hear me as blaming you for your child's behavior.  This is not about blame, this is about seeing how we as parents contribute to and influence our children's behavior.

Next, educate your child about his fear.  If he's afraid of drowning, google "water safety" and read all you can about how to stay safe in the water and actual statistics regarding drowning.  If he's scared of falling off his bike, first read a lot of books and watch a lot of videos about how to ride a bike.  Talk to him about the safety precautions you've taken (helmet, floatation devices etc.).  Education is especially helpful if a child has developed a fear based on an inaccurate or unrealistic belief (if I swallow water, I will drown).  I have worked with children who have exaggerated fears of weather (storms, tornados, etc.), and usually this education piece is very helpful in allowing them to recognize their unrealistic fears.

Also, encourage your child in a patient, non-pushy, empathetic way.  Try to understand why your child is experiencing the fear and reflect back these feelings.  For example, if your child is scared of swimming because he doesn't know how and is embarrassed, you might say, "It really is scary to try something new when you know everyone is watching you.  It sounds like you're feeling embarrassed that you might mess up."  Don't discredit his feelings by saying they are silly or wrong.  Instead, first be understanding and then encourage.  Encouragement should be based on effort not accomplishment or ability.  Start with small steps.  Say, "How about today your goal is to just stay in the pool for ten minutes with mommy by your side?" or "Let's just try to put our feet in the water today."  If your child feels like that is managable, then give him a reward for accomplishing the day's goal.  The reward should be something he wouldn't obtain otherwise and is super motivating (ice cream cone, cookie, extra tv time).  Pair that reward with verbal encouragement that praises his effort, not his ability.  For instance, instead of saying, "You're a really great swimmer!" say "I noticed how you were very brave and took a deep breathe and got in that pool even though it was scary! That was awesome!"  Keep your first baby-step goal until he has accomplished it, and then move on to the next baby-step (remember, it may take quite awhile until he's actually swimming!)

Enlist a model.  According to social learning theory, the best models are those that are similar to the child.  So, seeing other children or siblings riding bikes and swimming may be encouraging.  This should happen without the humiliation piece I talked about above.  Instead, try some encouraging talk like, "Look how Sally almost lost her balance and then she straightened her back and kept pedaling.  Nice move, huh?"  Avoid being pushy.  Instead, make it look fun and carefree.  Show books and watch videos with children doing the activity your child fears.

Practice through pretend play.  Have your GI Joes or dollies swim in the bathtub.  Have your teddy bear ride the bike.  Have your action figures talk to strangers.  By role-playing together, your child may become more at ease with trying in a real-life situation.

I hope some of these ideas are helpful!  Just remember, you can't overcome a fear you haven't faced.  Your job as a parent is to companion and support your child in facing those fears!

UPDATE:  Since I started writing this last week, my reader has let me know that her little man has started swimming!  Just some loving support and gentle encouragement, and here he is!  What an awesome momsie :)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Photo a Day Challenge!

For Christmas last year, my hubby bought me an awesomely fancy camera.  At one public outing shortly after Christmas, where I was trying to get used to all the camera's buttons and settings, someone suggested I try a photo-a-day challenge, just to encourage me to keep practicing using the camera.  With a little extra time on my hands this summer, I thought it would be a perfect chance to do just that. 

I found this challenge on  Doesn't it look fun?  A lot of people will be using Instagram for the challenge, but I need to get comfortable with the fancy-shmancy camera, so no Instagram for me.  If you want to keep up with my progress each day, I will be posting on Twitter (@drmomsie).  And, I'm sure I'll try to showcase a few of my masterpieces on here too.

First photo, a self portrait.  Yuck, not the best way to start.  I really cringe at all the self-portraits I take.  Here's the best I could do.

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