It is the first of the year and some of us are already experiencing difficulties with our resolutions. A couple of articles I came across this week made me wonder: is willpower enough to make us change? Well, I don’t know if I can answer that question in one post but here are some thoughts.
- Most of us start with the best of intentions when we want to change.
- When faced with our everyday lives those intentions often prove difficult to overcome the day-in and day-out pressures we all face.
- Real change can happen if you expect difficulty and plan for it.
So, if you have already gotten off track on your resolutions, DON’T QUIT.
- Look at your goal. Was it realistic. Redefine what is possible. For example, I will fit exercise into my life for 20 minutes a day is much more realistic than: I will work out six days a week for one hour a day.
- Commit to a plan and schedule it. Tell a friend and enlist support.
- Track your progress. Expect setbacks and reward your success. Learn from your difficulties and learn to do it differently….BUT DON’T THROW IN THE TOWEL!
Remember that change won’t happen overnight but it will happen if you are committed to doing things differently over time.
We all make resolutions: to lose weight, stop smoking, save more money, or finally “live” our calling, and yet so many of us end up breaking our resolutions just as quickly as we make them. Here are some tips for sticking to your New Year’s resolution and making 2012 your best year ever!
1. Set specific, realistic and measurable goals.
Make a resolution that is suitable to your daily lifestyle. Make one that you can blend into your schedule quickly and easily so you can see and measure success. When you make specific goals, it is easier to track your success and keep yourself on track for reaching your goals. Don’t just say “I want to lose a lot of weight.” Say “I want to lose 4 pounds this month” and keep journals of your weekly weigh-ins, workouts and eating habits. Plan ahead for daily challenges and setbacks. Schedule each day what you will do that will help you progress toward your goal.
2. Get a friend to join you.
Friends keep us inspired and enthusiastic about accomplishing our goals. You are more likely to go for a long walk if someone is waiting for you to start. It is much harder to quit smoking if all your friends are puffing away. Find a friend and make an agreement together to engage in a plan to reach your shared goal.
3. Write down your goals and make them visible.
If you resolution is to budget yourself better, keep a little index card in your wallet with a little message like “Do I really WANT this?” that will save you from those impulse purchases. Same message for weight loss. This cuts down on impulsive moves that seem more attractive in the moment but will take you off track for the long-term.
4. Reward yourself.
Focus on what you have done and will do instead of the “giving up.” Reward yourself along the way with small prizes or time to yourself. Long walks or long baths—rewards don’t always have to involve food or money.
5. Don’t make too many resolutions.
Concentrate on one or two goals rather than taking on too many. If you do just one thing differently in the New Year it can add up (e.g., 20 sit-ups a day, write 20 minutes a day on that novel you have always wanted to complete, save $20 a week).
6. Keep track of your progress…and setbacks.
Keeping a journal or log of your accomplishments will keep you motivated. But also keep notes of when you get off track and how it happened. When you write down where you had a setback, you can learn from your mistakes and most importantly, learn to deal with challenges differently the next time they present in your life. EXPECT you will stumble—pick yourself up and move on.
Have a healthy and happy New Year!
- The Only New Year’s Resolution You Need for 2012 (socyberty.com)
- Did you keep your resolutions for 2011? (cbc.ca)
- Photos: Top new years resolutions – how much will they cost? (vancouversun.com)
Unfortunately childhood sexual abuse is in the news again this week. I wanted to post a few statistics and give parents some tips on how to prevent abuse or recognize when it has occurred.
Who are the Abusers?
- Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education.
- About 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children (some estimates are as high as 50%), continuing the horrible cycle of abuse.
- More than 90% of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator in some way.
- A child who is the victim of prolonged sexual abuse usually develops low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness and an abnormal or distorted view of sex. The child may become withdrawn and mistrustful of adults, and can become suicidal. They will also experience a sense of guilt.
- Children who experience child abuse & neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28% more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30% more likely to commit violent crime.
- As many as two-thirds of the people in treatment for drug abuse reported being abused or neglected as children.
What Parents Can Do: Vigilant parenting is the first line of defense in preventing abuse.
- Be aware of where your children are and who they’re with. Make sure they’re never alone with adults in an isolated setting and show up for their activities when you can. That doesn’t mean attend every single baseball practice, but be present enough to know what’s going on and to ensure your child is never alone with an adult.
- When choosing an organization or program for your child, make sure it has a policy against children being alone with a single adult. Make sure the atmosphere is open and transparent in the literal sense — no closed doors or private sessions, and parents should always be able to sit in on activities.
Learn to recognize risky behavior in adults
- People who want to be alone with children: If a predator has nurtured a relationship, you may be inclined to let him or her be alone with your child if the adult asks.
- People who break parents’ rules: Be wary of people who give your children candy or food against your wishes or let your child do things you don’t allow them to do. It creates a secret relationship.
Recognize warning signs in your child
- Young victims of abuse tend to adopt unusual behaviors to escape their torment as a means of coping. They may start dressing shabbily to make themselves less attractive or appealing to their abuser. Children also tend to withdraw or isolate themselves out of shame.
- Other warning signs could be new symptoms of depression and anxiety, poor performance in school or disinterest in activities they used to enjoy. Don’t be dismissive if a child no longer wants to go to soccer practice or expresses a sudden dislike for a coach or teacher. Take it seriously and find out why. (This is how one of the victim’s parents figured out something was wrong in the case back east.)
- Teenagers might also act out with substance abuse as a means of coping.
- Other signs run the gamut from mood swings and changes in eating habits to more overt clues involving adult-like sexual behaviors.
Talk to your child
- An important part of preventing abuse is letting children know they can tell you absolutely anything without worrying about getting in trouble. An open relationship fosters trust. That means children are more likely to pay attention when you tell them never to be alone with an adult, or the difference between a good touch and a bad touch.
- Listen to your children talk to other kids; listen to their car talk while you’re driving. Notice if the child has become weary of talking to you. Observe situational and behavioral changes.
- The child of five or older who knows and cares for the abuser becomes trapped between affection or loyalty for the person, and the sense that the sexual activities are terribly wrong. If the child tries to break away from the sexual relationship, the abuser may threaten the child with violence or loss of love.
- It’s hard to ask your child about what’s going on in his or her life, especially when abuse is suspected. The key is to do it in a nonconfrontational manner that doesn’t convey anger, distress or concern; you’re the adult and caregiver and you set the tone. Don’t have the discussion before school or at bedtime; pick a moment when you have time to talk freely, without time constraints.
- Parents should test different conversation openers in advance to find one they’re comfortable with. Maybe something along the lines of, “Once upon a time, something happened to me and it took me a long time to tell someone, but I felt much better once I did,” or, “What’s the best thing about coach so-and-so; what’s the worst thing?”
- Telling children that if someone tries to touch your body and do things that make you feel funny, say NO to that person and tell me right away.
- Teaching children that respect does not mean blind obedience to adults and to authority, for example, don’t tell children to, “Always do everything the teacher or baby-sitter tells you to do.”
- What Parents Can Learn From Penn State Scandal (yourmindyourbody.org)
- All adults have duty to stand up for children being abused, Theo Fleury says (thestar.com)
Robert Kennedy traveled to Jackson, Mississippi in 1967, to hold hearings on the problems the poor in the South were having with a government food program that required them to purchase food stamps they could not afford. Kennedy’s actions offer us an important lesson about the capacity of a single politician to change the way people who are poor are viewed and assisted.
As Nicolaus Mills chronicled in 2006, Kennedy’s trip was overshadowed by an attack from Mississippi Senator John Stennis on the poverty program money being spent on Head Start in Mississippi. But, Kennedy’s second day in Mississippi changed his trip and the course of poverty in America. On that day Kennedy encountered a mother and her six children. She had no money to pay for food stamps and she was feeding her family rice and biscuits made from leftovers.
Kennedy was moved, but his deepest attention, as Nick Kotz, who was covering the trip for the Des Moines Register would write, went to the youngest of the children, a two-year-old baby sitting on the dirty floor. Kennedy tried tickling the baby, but he could not make the child respond. For Kennedy it was a life-changing moment. As Kotz would write, “the poor themselves made the best witnesses.”
Kennedy left the Delta with the desire to ask the heads of the major networks to produce a two-hour documentary about what it was like to live in the ghettos in poverty, to sit in a classroom that wasn’t stimulating, and to exist in conditions that most people believed didn’t exist in America. Most importantly, Kennedy wanted the rest of America and the politicians to see what it was like to live without hope. Kennedy knew that the lack of understanding of these difficulties allowed politicians and voters to stay numb to the conditions that existed.
Upon their return to the beltway, Kennedy and Clark went immediately to Agriculture Secretary Orville Freeman to seek emergency help for the hungry of Mississippi. But the Johnson administration, was focused on the war in Vietnam and worried about inflation, and was unwilling to increase its spending on the poor.
At the next hearing in Washington, the testimony on hunger in Mississippi was given by a Harvard physician; the Johnson administration and the Senate’s Democratic leadership finally felt enough pressure from the media to change their stance on what Kennedy wanted. Kennedy pushed through a program that would provide free food stamps for the neediest, and cheaper food stamps for all the poor, coupled with an investigation into how local officials distributed federal food.
The Senate Subcommittee on Poverty eventually reported out an emergency food and medical bill, which the Senate passed in ten days. The House approved the Senate bill, and in 1968, the emergency food aid Congress had mandated got distributed.
Sound familiar? We could substitute the name of a different war, and the name of a different national tragedy, and see that in some ways the challenges we face today aren’t so different from those that have come before for this great nation. But what has changed: Our dialogue about taking care of others, our willingness to make hard choices, our fondness for short articles and news pieces, and the inability of politicians to work together to solve our toughest problems.
If our economy and the effectiveness of our systems of care for those who are suffering are going to change then we need the sort of leadership that this story of Kennedy evokes. We need to create a dialogue about how to help others, and we need to elect politicians who talk about real ideas for solving real problems—for the long term.
What are we going to do to make that happen?
Overweight kids have more social problems; Well-child visits to screen for mental health last only minutes
Two studies last week in Pediatrics gave us more knowledge about mental health and wellness in young children.
The first study in Pediatrics found that the heavy kids were up to 20 percent more likely at age eight or nine to be described by their parents as having social difficulties and by teachers as having emotional problems.
The researchers surveyed the parents and teachers of 3,363 Australian children participating in a large national health study. At ages four and five, 222 boys (13 percent) and 264 girls (16 percent) were determined to be overweight, while 77 boys (4.5 percent) and 87 girls (5.2 percent) were obese.
Those kids with a body mass index (BMI — a measure of weight relative to height) at least 1.6 points greater than their normal-weight peers at a young age were more at risk of having social problems, including isolation or teasing, later on. The researchers also found out that the heavier kids were about 20 percent more likely, by the age of eight or nine, to experience social difficulties and emotional problems, as described by their parents and teachers, respectively.
The study points to the need to comprehensively screen more children earlier for all sorts of issues during well-child visits including eating and activity habits in addition to asking about developmental and mental health issues.
Unfortunately, a second study in the same issue of Pediatrics found that most well-child visits last less than 20 minutes and pediatricians are getting even more time-crunched as health care systems look to cut extra expenses any way they can.
In 2000, the researchers conducted a phone survey of about 1,700 parents across the U.S. with a child between four months and three years old. They asked parents how much time they had spent with a doctor at their last well-child visit and whether the doctor had talked with them about issues such as breastfeeding, the child’s sleeping position and sources of family support.
About one-third of parents said their most recent appointment lasted 10 minutes or less. Only one in five had a visit lasting more than 20 minutes. Interestingly, parents also reported how satisfied they had been with the visit.
During longer visits, doctors gave a more thorough developmental assessment and discussed more health and safety issues with parents, and more parents said they’d had enough time to ask questions. Still, parents said they didn’t get any guidance about issues including child care, toilet training and emotional support at more than half of the longest visits.
Prior research has reported and practice guidelines have suggested for some time that enhanced screening efforts by pediatricians are necessary and will help us save health care costs long-term. But in spite of those calls the most recent statistics show that less than half of those pediatricians surveyed do so and this is in part at least theorized to be because of reimbursement issues; although many of those reimbursement issues appear to be solved.
I also think it is “behavior” and “habit”—it is difficult to get healthcare providers to change their practices voluntarily unless we as consumers start asking for changes or the federal government mandates those changes. It’s time for comprehensive change in our system of care for little kids. We know what works and that it will save money—what is keeping us from implementing those changes? Please visit www.projectskip.com for more information on screening.
- Obese Kids May Face Social, Emotional Woes (nlm.nih.gov)
- Well-Child Visits Suffer from Time Squeeze (nlm.nih.gov)
- Informed Patient: Making the Most of a Pediatrician Visit (blogs.wsj.com)
As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches we are bound to see many images of that day on television and to hear people speaking of the events of that time. For many of us, it feels like a not so distant memory. For many children, it can be confusing or scary to see such graphic images of something unexpected on television. Here are my tips for talking to children about 9/11:
- Children under six should be protected from TV or radio—or images of that time.
- For children, over six, don’t wait to talk with them until after they hear about it from someone else—but keep your conversation simple and age appropriate; let them ask questions.
For example, with younger kids you can talk about the planes flown by some bad people going into the buildings and that we are mourning for the people lost. For children in high school you can be more detailed and use this as an opportunity to talk about why people in another country might not like us and how destructive hate is in general. Be prepared to talk about Osama bin Laden and war in general.
- End on an upbeat note—let them know that we have taken a number of precautions and we are safe—they are safe. Don’t say it will “never” happen again but do reassure them of their safety.
- For kids (or adults) who may have seen this on the news. Be prepared to talk about their memories—possibly do something positive to create a time of reflection.
Remember that memories are chemical and that this is a personal and collective event for all of us and when emotion combines with memory we tend to remember more. Who doesn’t remember where they were on that day?
- These sorts of events tap what is called “flashbulb” memory and how these memories form and change are still hotly debated topics in memory research. For example, studies show that the more personally you were connected to the events, the more the oldest part of the brain is involved (the amygdala) and the more likely you will experience the memory more vividly. But, research has also shown that we tend to forget certain aspects of these memories and remember them wrong over time. For example, most of us inaccurately recall how we found out about the events and instead integrate much of what we saw on the television that day into our own personal account of the events.
Last week a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that “the official child poverty rate, which is a conservative measure of economic hardship, increased 18 percent between 2000 and 2009.” Similarly, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, the number of children facing food insecurity in 2009 skyrocketed to one-in-four. These facts are astounding, especially as the Children’s Defense Fund released a report that found “the U.S. spends almost two-and-half times as much per prisoner as per public school pupil.” Additionally, The Pew Charitable Trusts also released a report that found right here in California (along with other states across the country) we cannot track the effectiveness of our local First Five Commissions because we haven’t been collecting the data we need to convince tax payers that these program s are worthwhile (and to match and access federal funds). Poor nutrition in young children has been linked to lower intelligence, behavioral issues, and lower educational achievement. In turn, these childhood issues have been linked to delinquency and worse in adolescents and adults.
What are the Savings?
Several studies by the RAND Institute have found that: 1) targeted early interventions benefit children and their families, and 2) government funds invested early in the lives of some children result in compensating decreases in government expenditures. Well-designed programs for children age 4 and younger can produce economic benefits ranging from $1.26 to $17 for each $1 spent on the programs. More locally, it has been estimated to cost approximately $60 per day or $22,000 per year to house an adolescent in the juvenile detention facility.
The Hard Choices
Ten years ago, there was a renewed interest in the influence of early childhood—especially the first three years of life—on health and development. Governors and legislators directed budgetary surpluses to interventions for young children. New scientific studies revolutionized our understanding of the complex and dynamic ways in which both nature and nurture–genetics and the environment– shape the developing brain and the emotional, social, regulatory, moral, and intellectual capacities that emerge from early childhood. Last year, for the first time, recognizing the importance of delivering high quality services from trained providers to this age group, the state even created a preschool mental health endorsement process for those with specialized training in working with infants and children. But now that the budgets are tight these are the programs being cut—and it’s the basics that are disappearing—kids don’t even have enough food.
In my work both as an attorney and psychologist, I hear stories daily, of the positive effects of early interventions. There is the mother who was brought here from abroad only to find that her husband already had an entire family. With a little the help she has mastered new parenting strategies, and is now back in school and supporting her kids. There is the proud single father who has gone from being homeless to finding a new home with his son. How might life be different for so many, and the financial costs on society significantly smaller, if we just intervene early and invest in kids in their early years ?
There are difficult choices to be made with our budget in a time of soaring deficits. But short-term-thinking — profit now and pay later strategies – got us into this financial mess. As we try to fix it, we must choose solutions that focus on longer-term, lasting results for our most pressing societal problems. We cannot sacrifice the well-being of our children at any cost. Children shouldn’t have to go hungry—and in the long run it costs us much more for prisons.
Here is a great organization working to end childhood hunger. But also, get involved–and help our politicians invest in our future.
The first time I saw the video of Jessica Beagley I was shocked. But as an attorney and psychologist, I knew immediately there was a deeper story here. I watched several attorneys that morning on the talk show circuit, talking about what a “terrible” mom Beagley was and how “abusive” her behavior was towards the child. There weren’t any psychologists invited to speak. Now, don’t get me wrong, the behavior in the video is abusive. I would never recommend those sorts of tactics to parents and would have to report the sort of behavior in the video as abuse if confronted in my practice with such a tape. But to describe this simply as a “stunt” to get on Dr. Phil in a two-minute sound bite doesn’t do this story justice. It doesn’t do us justice.
Beagley was desperate. And just like the mom who put her child on a plane back to Russia last year, Beagley’s son was also adopted from Russia along with his twin brother at 5 years old, and has since been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). RAD is one of the most difficult issues to treat in children. Traditional methods of discipline typically don’t work for these children and they often have higher pain thresholds. Nearly every horror story you’ve ever heard about an adopted child is a result of poor attachment. With RAD the child doesn’t trust any adult, ever, and acts accordingly.
Since traditional therapies don’t work with these children, new and different ways of working with these kids pop up frequently all over the country promising a cure. For example, Law and Order did an episode a number of years ago on the death of a child during holding therapy—holding therapy in part, is designed to control and calm the child, and the situation. One of the tenants of most of these therapies is that the adult establish control of the situation with the child and establish rules and guidelines to be followed. What was very clear to me when I watched the video, is that Beagley was trying to break through to a kid who is resistant to nearly every form of discipline, and frequently disregards rules.
“Beagley,” according to the Associated Press, “made the video and went on the Dr. Phil show because she was desperate to find help for her son.” Imagine bringing home two 5-year-old boys because you want to shower them with love. You then find that one won’t respond to your affection, won’t follow basic rules of behavior, and lies, hits, and steals without regard for any consequences. And, your husband is a police officer who sees where these sorts of behaviors most frequently lead in adults. I have worked with families where one child with RAD has taken a knife to the throat of a younger child. I have also known couples who have chosen to abandon these children because the behavior was just beyond their capacities as parents to handle. What do you do as a parent?
The Beagleys couldn’t get help in this situation and that was the case in the several that I have described. Jessica Beagley’s son is finally getting the help he needs because he was finally properly diagnosed. It appears from reports that the Dr. Phil show facilitated the diagnosis and is paying for his treatment. Ms. Beagley has humiliated herself and put her child’s physical well-being at risk. But why are mothers often forced to go these lengths to get the help they need? And, why are we so quick to judge them?
An Anchorage jury decided Beagley’s unorthodox parenting was indeed a crime, finding the 36-year-old mother of six guilty of misdemeanor child abuse last Monday. Her sentencing will happen next week. Our justice system paints a very dichotomous picture of Ms. Beagley. Prosecutor Cynthia Franklin, who told the jury that Beagley abused the boy in an attempt to get on national TV, called the verdict a just one. “(The jury) concluded that it is child abuse to hurt your child as an audition for a television show,” she said. Defense lawyer Willam Ingaldson had argued Beagley struggled to correct the troubled boy’s bad behavior and was reaching out for help. That’s not a crime, he argued. Beagley “was trying, in the best interest of her child to do the “right” thing however misguided.
I would suggest a more compassionate story that can be told to the jury about Ms. Beagley. This mother trying to get on a reality show was merely a symptom of how our social services failed her and her son.
We need to have a larger discussion about this, outside of the limits of the courtroom and the two-minute sound bite. The real discussion we need to have includes what happened outside the video? What happened prior to the video? What happened after?’ Why was this mom, and why are so many others forced to take such drastic and misguided steps to help their children? We seem to have a new story every few months that points out the difficulties parents have in obtaining much needed mental health services for their children. That conversation is difficult and it will necessarily result in some systematic changes, but I challenge us all to have it. I don’t want to see more dramatic videos like the one Ms. Beagley made. Or worse yet, the results if all of these moms continue to go without help.
It happened the last week. I woke up and the sun was just “different” in the sky. I could feel a difference in the light and the coolness in the air as I went for my daily walk in the morning. The difference in light brought back memories of the transitions to fall: new school supplies, the first pair of shoes for the new school year, and the fun of seeing old friends. I loved school growing up but the transition from vacation to a structured school day can be difficult for many children and parents. Even children who are eager to return to the classroom must adjust to greater levels of structure and the demands associated with the school day. Getting a new school year off to a good start can influence a child’s attitude, confidence, and performance for the entire year, both socially and academically. With just a few adjustments you can make this transition easier. (You can remember these steps with the acronym: GO TEAM!)
- Get a Plan. Check out what you were supposed to have done over the summer and find out the logistics of going back to school. Schedule any needed check-ups or routine appointments now and try to make a schedule for the first few weeks that is predictable. Make copies of all your child’s emergency information for reference. For your children, designate and clear a place to do homework. (Older children should have the option of studying in their room or a quiet area of the house. Younger children usually need an area set aside in the family area to facilitate adult monitoring.)
- Organize. Help kids organize materials and study schedules. Fill backpacks early and check out needed supplies. Make a note of important dates, especially back-to-school nights. Visit the school if possible if you are in a new area or classroom. Select a spot to keep backpacks and lunch boxes at home. Designate a spot for your children to place their school belongings as well as a place to put important notices and information sent home for you to see.
- Transition to the New Schedule. If you have time, start sliding into an earlier bed time and a more structured schedule of activities, especially in the morning. Buy only the essential school clothes to start. Summer clothes are usually fine during the early fall, but be sure to have at least one pair of sturdy shoes. Check with your school to confirm dress code guidelines.
- Establish Good Communication with Your Teacher. Offer to help out in whatever way you can. Establish a means of communication for the year, and especially if you co-parent with a former spouse, talk about how to maintain a good sense of what is going on in the classroom. Volunteer or offer some sort of classroom supplies if you can, or explain if you can’t, but ask what other ways you can support the teacher.
- Activities after School Should be Selected Carefully. Don’t overschedule. Leave time for children to be creative and to play in an unstructured way. Make certain there is family time built into the new schedule.
- Model Empathy and Compassion. Have a discussion with your child about talking with other children who don’t seem to know anyone or aren’t wearing the latest styles. (If you are screaming at another parent in the parking lot that isn’t a good start!) Give your child a few strategies to manage a difficult situation with another child on his or her own, and encourage your child to tell you or another adult if a problem situation persists. Let your children know you care. If your child is anxious about school, send a personal note in the lunch box or book bag. Reinforce their ability to cope. Try to arrange get-togethers with some of your child’s classmates before school starts and during the first weeks of school to help your child re-establish positive social relationships with peers.
Most of all, have a sense of humor and remember that transitions to a new routine are tough on everyone—there are bound to be missteps, and how you handle those “problem moments” is important for your child to watch as a way for them to learn good coping skills. Make your schedule as easy as possible the first week so you can be there for extra support if necessary—transitions are tough on us too.
Have a great first few months and enjoy the Fall!