Sunday, April 20, 2008

Kids' Word vs. Parents' Word

Very soon after I started working in the schools, some kids started to disclose the ways in which parents had frightened them, hit them, yelled at them-- basically behaved badly.

I got a lot of advice about these very delicate parent-child issues. Adults (staff, teachers, neighbors, friends, my mom) had very strong opinions about the kids' statements. Some said that I shouldn't believe everything that the kids said. They believe that kids often make up stuff to get what they want. You know this argument; kids are prone to exaggerate if not outright lie.

Other adults passionately believe that the kids are telling the truth--after all, why would they lie?

As a teacher working within the school system I am obligated to report abusive/neglectful behavior. Obviously, the question is: what is abusive/neglectful behavior? Is spanking, a whooping (with a belt), lunging at or striking a child, hitting with a tennis raquet, cursing, threatening, withholding food? (Yes, these are all things I've heard).

Where is the line? Who decides? What are the parents' rights? What are the child's rights? These are all valid questions. Moreover, when one parent pits a child against another parent, this line gets blurrier. After all, children are impressionable and can be brain washed (oh, I mean convinced).

However, at the end of the day, one party has the power, the resources, and the Voice in this society and one party does not.

Both my personal experience and expertise tell me that children do not want to get their parent(s) in trouble. In fact, most children will go to great lengths to keep their parents' problems secret. Children want, no--need, to believe that their parents can take care of them. Their very survival depends on it.

I contend that it is very rare for a child to completely fabricate a claim against a parent. While a parent may not have done exactly what the child claims, the parent probably lost his/her temper or acted badly in the situation. No matter how "naughty" children are, a parent is still the responsible adult in the situation. Right?

I've pledged to be a voice for children but I know that these issues are not black and white, cut and dry. It is the parent's job/right to discipline a child. Just when has it crossed the line?

Now, you tell me. Please.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Not in Our Community, Not in Our Schools

Their Voices.

I have read a lot of books about kids from impoverished areas making it out of the ghetto. Kids who go to school with gun detectors, bars on the windows in gang-ridden neighborhoods. I work with kids in an affluent neighborhood in the Paradise Valley/Scottsdale, AZ area. The skies are sunny most of the year and the school sits against a beautiful mountain.

As I drive into the parking lot the image of kids playing on the playground against a mountainside is picturesque. The atmosphere is quiet, well-maintained, and orderly. There aren’t a lot of stories about the kids I work with. Most of these kids come from privileged upper-middle class families.

Even though I haven't worked at a school before, I already know that abuse and neglect are not socioeconomic.

As I enter the office during my first week, I see a boy curled in a ball on the floor by the door. I have to step over him to get through the door. He has acted out in class again and has been sent to the office, again. As I crouch down to talk to him, he pretends he is asleep. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a psychologist to see that he is very angry. He won’t look me in the eye; he keeps looking at the clock. He tells me that he wants to kill his teacher, the other kids at school. He tells me he has a lot of options—he can run away from the school, or punch a teacher. He says he likes to make bombs and play violent video games. He is angry with his teacher because she said he did something that he didn’t do. She wouldn’t listen to him so he got underneath his desk. That’s why he got sent to the office.

Unsolicited he tells me that he wrote on his arms and face with marker so he could kill himself. He heard that markers are toxic and can get in your bloodstream and kill you. He talks about playing with kids who like to make bombs and that he doesn’t like the kids at this school. He wants to go home and play with his violent video games. After a while he starts to look at me.

During lunch I play a game of pick up stix with him and he lets me go first. He tells me that he makes a growling face and hisses when he is really angry. I ask him to show me and he says that he isn’t really angry at me. I smile. After a few minutes playing the game he is subdued, compliant, and seems to be having fun.

A teacher (specialist) he has never met comes in, asks me to leave, and tells him he has to shape up and stop threatening people. He tells her she can’t tell him what to do. She says that she is going to call his mom and tell her to take away his video games if he doesn’t behave. He says he wants to call his mom. He leaves her a message. His voice shakes from anger and he is yelling into the phone that she can’t listen to this lady. That she can’t do this to him.

As a result of this heated "lecture" from a woman he has never met, he has transformed from a playful child into a wild animal. He hangs up, stands in a corner, and growls and hisses at the teacher. This is obviously the angry face he told me about. He says he wants to go out to recess and leave the room. There is a back door in the room that leads outside. He starts inching toward the door, ready to run. She threatens that if he goes out the door she will call the police. He yells that she can’t keep him here. She comes toward him and he opens the door and runs outside.

I look out the window and see the staff chasing this young boy. The police are called and apprehend him. He is expelled for 3 days and comes back to school for a while. His mother realizes that the school will keep expelling him until he is placed in a different school. She doesn’t want to move him from the school but after some more expulsions she removes him. He is gone and no one knows where he went.

I see a young, beautiful, blue-eyed girl who was exposed to meth in Utero. No one seems to know the extent of her exposure in utero or once born. The mom was known to be addicted to Meth and left the daughter with a relative. She is developmentally delayed and acts out in class when she doesn’t get her way. She likes to wear the same bright pink skirt to school and she always compliments me on my outfits and shoes. She likes to giggle and talk about her " rainbow house". She is always trying to talk and giggle with the other girls in my group.

She likes hugs and to hold my hand. Her face lights up when she sees me and she waves to me whenever I pass her. If I send her back to recess with the other girls she may wander aimlessly around the school. She has trouble concentrating and understanding questions I ask her. If I teach a simple lesson and ask her a simple question about it she can't answer.

I see a girl who has given up on herself, already. When your own parent doesn't want you around it is hard to care about yourself. She does not complete homework assignments. She says she forgets what they are and that she doesn’t have a computer to check on the school’s website. She can’t keep track of what she needs to do. Today, she told me that she likes to be "sordove" mean. When I ask why she says, "cuz my mom is so mean, so I know how to do it."

She told me that one weekend her mom came to where she was staying and told her the house was a mess. She yelled at her for leaving a jump rope on floor, picked it up and it her with the handle. The girl went to her room and cried and her mom stormed out disgusted. That day, the girl says, was her birthday. After she told me these things about her mom I called CPS. The lady manning the hotline told me that if I can’t report a physical injury (bruise or cut) they can't take action. She said I should just keep looking for an injury and then call back.

I tried to find some services myself and heard about a great family program. The Regional Director told me that they only serve families 20 blocks south of the school. The school and the neighborhood this girl lives in is evidently too close to the affluent part of the City. I also researched the McKinney Vento Act for homeless children but she is not homeless. She lives in a home and her "home" is not in the right neighborhood for services.

She is slipping through the cracks. We all know it but we don’t know what to do. When I look in her eyes and see her small smile I know that she has given up on herself. She knows what lies ahead for her. Teachers tell her what she should do, social workers tells her what she should not do, but she does not believe she can succeed in a world where she must rely on herself, to take care of herself. I think she has tried and it didn’t make her mother love her. She has lost hope and I don’t know how to give it to her.

I see an academically gifted young boy. He seems to annoy the other kids. He says inappropriate things, picks his nose, and farts. He seems to have no idea why no one likes him. One day I went to get him at lunch and he was yelling and crying. He was really angry because the other kids were trying to talk to him and he didn’t want anyone to talk to him. I think the other kids were just talking amongst themselves or were trying to include him. He wanted to be left alone. A little later he became really sad and when I asked him why he said because no one liked him and he didn’t have any friends.

I don’t know how to write grants or raise a lot of money but I do know how to write. Sometimes the only thing I think I can do is tell their story, give them a voice. I don’t know who to tell; I don’t know who will listen; I want to try and give them hope.

I think that if we can find a place where these children can come and learn social skills, character development, and express themselves through the arts we can give them hope for the future.

I am afraid that some of my neighbors will be very upset if they read this because they do not want to admit that these kids and families are in their affluent communities and schools.

These are our children. These children are like children everywhere. It is just that in our affluent community some want to pretend that these children don't exist.

I invite you to add to this and start a conversation.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Discipline/ Setting Limits

Originally written for parenting class.

Setting Limits:
Information adapted from Kathleen Berger’s The Developing Person Through the Lifespan; Faber & Mazlish, (1980), How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk; and Edward Cristophersen, Parenting That Works: Building Skills that Last a Lifetime.

Setting limits and disciplining your child is not optional. Children need boundaries-- it shows them how to act appropriately, find their way in the world, and gives them the security that someone is watching out for them, giving them choices but not too many. The best parents, as difficult as it is, strike a balance between discipline and nurturing—knowing when each is appropriate. Think of it this way, your toddler’s job is to test limits and your job is to set them. Setting limits is your job.

Toddlers repeat annoying or destructive behavior to make sure they understand the rules. Their thinking goes something along the lines of: "I threw my food and Mommy yelled. But will she always yell? Let me try again and see if she responds the same way."

The purpose and goals of limit setting includes:

  • To insure a safe, secure and comfortable environment where there are reasonable and clear-cut guidelines and expectations.
  • To help them develop self-discipline or self-control (how to regulate their emotions), so that even if we are not present they will make sound judgments and think before they act.
    Developing self-discipline is an important aspect of being optimistic, happy and successful.


  • Maintain a sense of humor. Remember that your child is a work in progress and you can't expect him to always act the way you want him to. It is your children’s developmental job to test the boundaries and your job to set and enforce them.

  • Set expectations.Toddlers are anxious when they can't predict what's coming next. Give him a five-minute warning that you have to leave; the more upset he gets the more important it is for you to stay calm. This is not easy. If you’ve given him warnings and he is screaming, calmly pick him up and carry him to the car. Don’t worry we have all had to do it.
  • In situations that are stressful for him, be proactive and firm, redirect him when you can. Even if you think he’s too young try to explain the situation in simple terms and let him know what’s coming next.

  • Be clear and consistent. If naptime is always after lunch and your child puts up a fuss, be firm and confident as you enforce his rest period. He needs consistency. If videos aren't allowed after dinner but you let him watch "just this one" tonight so you can make a phone call, he'll test you and demand one — forcefully — every night for the rest of the week. If you threaten a consequence to a behavior, do it each and every time. If not, your child will learn that you will cave and escalate his behavior in an effort to make you.

  • Provide Routine. Tantrums often happen because your child doesn’t like change—toddlers like predictable routine. They are more likely to have tantrums if they are hungry, tired, or off their schedule. Look for ways to reduce stress.

  • Know when to stay close and when to give him space. As your child wants more independence, he will vacillate between wanting to be close and demanding his independence. It can be frustrating to deal with a fickle youngster but this is part of his developmental job he isn’t trying to be difficult.
  • If you child is prone to biting or hitting (it is normal at this age) stay close and try to redirect or intervene when you see him getting frustrated. If he can’t help himself, leave! I know it’s a bummer to leave social situations but sometimes you have to (the other mothers will respect you for it).
  • If your child does bite or hit, respond to the victim first. Move your child away (no cuddling) and hug the victim. Yelling at your child may be giving him the attention he is seeking. Calmly say, "Don’t bite. Biting hurts." You made Billy sad.
  • During tantrums it is especially hard to stay neutral and affectionate. If he doesn’t want to be held leave him alone until he calms down. It may be safer to put him in his room where he can kick and yell. Whatever you do try to stay calm and reassuring. Getting angry or shutting down will only escalate his frustration.

  • Create a "yes" environment. Let your child pour his own juice out of a little pitcher, use a fork at dinner, put on his own shoes. Even if everything is a little messier and takes a little longer, his increased independence and cooperation are worth it. Also, look at how your house is organized. Is there a low cupboard in the kitchen filled with pots or Tupperware that he can play with? Are his toys and books easy to reach?
  • Soothe his senses. If your child gets over-stimulated, help him wind down by cuddling and reading a book, or taking a bath. Take note of which situations seem to over-stimulate your child and try to cut them off at the pass.

  • Acknowledge feelings. When he gets upset, let him know he's not the only one who is sometimes overcome by difficult emotions. Try saying: "You don't like to be around a lot of people and commotion. I don't either. We'll leave the mall as soon as we've paid for these shoes." Even if he doesn't seem to learn much from it at this age, always explain. Eventually he'll learn to recognize what winds him up before he goes over the edge.

  • Positive Reinforcement. Don't worry that your child will get a big head if you praise him. Reinforce his efforts with positive messages: "Good job getting out of the tub when I asked you to. Good job sharing that toy with Bobby." Use praise—when your child collects himself after a tantrum pick him up and hold him. Tell him you are proud of him for calming himself down.

  • Set realistic expectations. If your highly energetic child can't sit still at the table, don't risk taking him to a restaurant — plan a family picnic in the park instead. If he's slow to adapt to new people, don't take him to see Santa when he's 2 — wait until he's 5 or 6. And if you find yourself in an over-stimulating situation, such as a playmate's big birthday party, don't be shy about leaving early, before your toddler loses it.

  • Try not to label. Be conscious of the way you describe your child. The "wild child" who is "stubborn," "exhausting," and a "crybaby" is also a spirited child who is persistent, energetic, and sensitive — all traits that are admired in adults. Use positive labels when discussing your child with relatives and teachers, and they'll come to see his wonderful attributes too.

Escalated Punishment: Individualized Discipline
The Concept: Escalated punishment means that the parents take away whatever their child most covets. This is individualized discipline.

Some children do not mind being put in time-out; they may enjoy reading quietly in their room. For this child, escalated punishment requires the parent to take away coveted books or deny "reading time" before bed.

Other children dislike being separated from mom/dad (the group) and for this child, a time-out or separation from the group will likely deter unwanted behavior.

Although it may sound cruel, escalated punishment involves figuring out what your child most craves and taking it away (or withholding it) when he/she misbehaves.
Parents will know they are on the right track if the child protests (and sheds a few tears) to the punishment.

Discussion and Understanding
After the punishment period is over it is very important to discuss the situation with him. Ask him if he knows why he was punished and explain what he did wrong AND what you expect him to do next time.

For example, "you were sent to your room because you kept interrupting mommy while I was on the phone. I asked you to wait until I got off the phone but you didn't listen. Next time I am on the phone, if you really need something, silently tap me on the leg like this and I will get it for you when I am off the phone." If he taps you on the leg next time you are on the phone try to take a break in the conversation after a few minutes and attend to him so he knows you are still there for him. Over time he will be able to wait longer to have his needs met.

Perfectionistic Parenting

Article originally written by Dana Sherman for a parenting workshop.

We live in a society in which we are taught to strive for excellence, to be our best, at everything we do. In some domains, like professionally, this helps us achieve. I recognize this in you, in the questions you ask me, because it’s in me too. I am a perfectionist. My perfectionism has helped me achieve in ways I am very proud of and it has also been painful at times.

These expectations can get us in trouble. You are going to be a parent as long as you are alive. That’s a long time. This isn’t a race; it’s a slow marathon. You will make mistakes—you won’t be perfect. You may even be a long way from perfect at times. Expecting yourself to be perfect is setting yourself up for failure. Unrealistic, perfectionist expectations of parenting will only hurt you and your children.

I hear these words a lot from moms about parenting:
  • Goals
  • Accomplishments
  • Achieving
  • Expectations
  • Confidence
  • Setting Priorities
  • Being the best mom you can be

Part of the discussion today has to do with semantics—we are used to using this language in our adult life. At the same time, there is something disconcerting about these words for a relatively new mom in the context of raising children. These words don’t mean a thing to your child. They are expectations and definitions you have imposed on yourself. I am not suggesting you should stop striving to be a good parent—to learn more, be more empathetic, more consistent, and be a better role model. You are and you should.

I want you to think about two important concepts today.

Good Enough/Successful Parenting:
"Good-enough parenting'' is a clinical term that means parents don't have to be perfect, just "good enough.''

If a child has a parent who can allow them to have their feelings, provide empathy, love and structure, the theory goes, the child will grow up to be well adjusted despite mistakes parents make. This isn't to say that parents won't do something wrong or lose their temper. With "good-enough'' parenting, the safety, structure and love is in place, and the child will be able to weather the times when the parent is angry, sad, distracted, etc.

Definition of Perfectionism vs. Success:
Being successful is defined as adhering to high standards but not at the expense of self-esteem. You accomplish something challenging and you feel good about it. Perfectionism is defined as having extremely high standards that never seem to be met or feel satisfying. You accomplish something and you remind yourself you still haven’t achieved the ultimate goal. You may temporarily feel relieved but not great.

Good enough/successful parenting arises from the realization that you are human and you only need to try your best, not be the best. Perfectionist parenting arises from insecurity and fear of not being good enough. Separate what your child needs from your perception of what others think of you: other mothers, your husband, family members, friends, the media. What matters are what your child thinks, wants, and needs.
  • What do you think our children really need?
  • What pressures have you felt?
  • Where does the idea of Supermom come from?


  • Perfect Madness: Mothering in the age of Uncertainty—Judith Werner
  • I Don’t know how she does it?—Allison Pearson
  • Mothering Without a Map—Kathryn Black
  • The Good Enough Mother by Newsweek Columnist, Anna Quindlen, Feb. 21 issue

Divorce Article

Originally written by Dana Sherman for Arizona Parenting Magazine.

Many of us are children of divorce. As children our parents were our source of security and their breakup affected us. Were you caught in the middle of a tug of war, were your parents addicted to fighting, were you confused, angry, did you blame yourself? Or, was it basically a seamless transition, did your parents put your needs first, affirm that you are loved, and stay involved in your social and academic life? Undoubtedly, the answers to these questions have shaped your own history and have affected your adult relationships. Now we are parents ourselves and some of us are separated or divorced. We are making decisions that will shape our children’s memories and impact their future relationships.

Parents can have joint legal custody, meaning both parents have legal responsibility for decision making about the children’s welfare. Some parents with joint legal custody also have joint physical custody, wherein children spend significant amounts of time (i.e., though not necessarily equal time) with both parents.

The Custody Debate. The debate over whether joint custody works should be a parenting issue. What is in the best interest of the children? Which type of arrangement works best for reasonably cooperative parents, for high conflict parents? What have we learned about children and divorce that can guide these decisions?

Thankfully, we have learned much about parenting and divorce since we were children. Both research and practical experience suggest that, in most cases, two parents are better than one. Dr. Braver, Professor of Psychology at ASU and Co-Principal Investigator at ASU’s Prevention Research Center, agrees that children typically fare better when both parents are significantly involved in their lives. Therefore, the current trend is for courts to favor some form of joint custody over sole custody. Proponents of joint custody believe that this type of arrangement forces parents to work together over time. They argue that sole custody arrangements give the non-custodial parent "an out", often resulting in less parental involvement.

Conversely, proponents of sole custody argue that for parents who cannot communicate effectively, joint custody can lead to increased conflict. They contend that poor communication is typically an important reason for the divorce itself and it is not realistic to expect that parents can make joint decisions. Typically, one parent has provided most of the care-taking responsibilities for the child during the marriage and that parent is most able to care for the child and make decisions after the divorce.

Cheryl Wilson, a former resident of Phoenix, says that sole custody would be in her 12 year-old-daughter, Tori’s, best interest. Even though Tori’s parents have joint legal custody, her father’s involvement has decreased over the years and now they have a very strained relationship. "He doesn’t try to fit into my life, he just does what is convenient for him", says Tori. Cheryl believes that if she had sole custody the situation would be easier for Tori. Cheryl explains, "I know that it is best for Tori to have a healthy relationship with her dad but right now it is not healthy and it is not what Tori wants." Cheryl hopes that Tori and her dad will eventually agree to her suggestion to go to counseling. She believes that it is up to the parents, not the custody arrangement, to determine how involved they will be in their children’s lives.

Addicted to Fighting. Experts on both sides of the custody debate agree that joint custody should not be granted when one parent is physically or emotionally abusive, mentally ill, or physically or emotionally unable to take care of the child. What is in the child’s best interest becomes trickier in non-abusive, but high conflict situations. Dr. Sandler, Regent Professor of Psychology at ASU and Director of the Prevention Research Center, has been conducting research on children and families in high stress situations for over 20 years. He states that although most children of divorce are resilient and do not exhibit long-term problems, children whose parents engage in higher levels of conflict are at greater risk for poor school performance, low-self esteem, and less successful social relationships. In fact, as Garrity and Baris say in their book, Caught in the Middle, "Over time, parental wars take a greater toll on a child’s development than any other single factor in divorce."

That said, conflict between parents does not automatically prevent families from having successful joint custody arrangements. It does mean that these parents have a tougher road ahead of them. They need to learn how to: 1) communicate more effectively with the other parent, and 2) buffer children against getting sucked into adult issues.

Divorced parents go through a wide range of emotions when separating; they can be overwhelmed by anger, feelings of betrayal, depression, and fear. More often than not, these feelings dominate their thinking and decisions in the early stages of separation. This is when it is most important to realize that children’s sense of security and self-worth is derived from both parents.

What Children Want. Ask a child of divorce what he/she wants and most give similar answers. Children want both parents to be involved in their lives. As Tori says, "I want my dad to be more involved in my life. I want him to come to my ballet recitals and he never has." No matter whom they live with, children of divorce desperately want both parents to be there for special events, to answer their questions, allay their fears, and share their interests.

Payton Karvis is only three years old but he knows what he wants. His mother, April Lovellette, resident of Scottsdale, alternates weeks with her ex-husband. She says that by the end of the week, Payton starts saying "I miss my mommy or my daddy", depending on whose week it is. April says, " as young as he is, he is able to communicate that he misses each of us when he hasn’t seen us for a few days".

Parenting Plans. Perhaps the most important factor in fostering success in joint custody arrangements is for both parents to develop a parenting plan at the time of separation or divorce. This plan offers some structure for parents to stay focused on the children and map out how specific issues will be handled. The plan will probably change over time as children’s needs and interests change. In general, parenting agreements should describe details concerning how parents plan to meet the children’s medical, psychological, educational, spiritual, physical, and social needs.

More specifically, as the Holiday Season approaches, effective parenting plans can prevent conflict by setting clear expectations. Although the Holidays are meant to be a time of sharing with loved ones, the expectations and traditions surrounding this period can make it an especially stressful time for divorced families. Detailed planning can make transitions and events easier for everyone. Here are some tips for the Holidays.
  • Plan Ahead—Decide the arrangement long before the holidays. Decide: 1) whether to swap holidays, or 2) the number of days spent with each parent, and 3) dates, times, and locations for the visits.
  • Stay Flexible—Planning ahead doesn’t mean being rigid. For example, if you have out-of-town relatives coming to visit this year, ask in advance for the kids on those days.
  • Accept Differences—In terms of parenting styles and discipline, make a commitment to agree on basic values (i.e., not buying violent video games or letting the children go to R-rated movies) and accept inconsequential differences (i.e., what time the kids go to bed when their cousins are visiting). Remember to choose your battles; while overall consistency in parenting is a must, absolute consistency, especially over the Holidays, is impossible.
  • Be Fair—Creating a fair plan does not necessarily mean splitting equal time between parents but rather that both parents are involved, their needs are considered, and final decisions are made in the children’s best interest.

What works. Michelle, of Scottsdale, has an eight-year-old daughter who spends equal time with her and her ex-husband. Michelle and her ex-husband have worked hard to establish consistent bedtimes and homework schedules for both households. As Michelle puts it, "we have had numerous discussions concerning schedules, and have had to get past some resistance and defensiveness on both sides, to come to an arrangement that is in our daughter’s best interest. I really believe that maintaining a consistent schedule is crucial for children who spend considerable time with both parents."

Patrick Karvis, Payton’s father, agrees that consistency is essential for children who live in two households. He adds, " having patience and staying focused on Payton are keys to being a good co-parent". Patrick says the hardest thing about being a single father is finding a support system because he does not have family in Arizona. Since none of his friends are single fathers, when Payton is with him they are on their own.

Tips. Here are some other important tips for making joint custody arrangements work.

  • Healing with Time. Dr. Braver suggests that time is an essential element for divorced parent. He says that one to two years after separation parents have often dealt with their own issues and are able to re-focus on parenting issues.
  • Focusing on Children’s Needs. Placing importance on the children’s needs helps parents focus on commonalties (i.e., parenting) versus differences. Learn to separate adult issues from parenting issues.
  • Learning to Negotiate. As co-parents, it is helpful to learn negotiation and communication techniques to use in stressful interactions. As suggested by Drs. Thayer and Zimmerman in their book, The Co-Parenting Survival Guide, when emotions run high, keep the interactions short and simple, focus on your goals, seek to understand the other’s perspective, and listen to what the other parent is really saying.
  • Dealing with Problems Before They Escalate. Think of creative ways to solve problems. Dr. Joy, a Scottsdale Therapist, says that many legal conflicts could be avoided if parents would think creatively. Based on her experience working with the Arizona Court System, she helps families use "out of the box" thinking to find solutions to visitation and other custody issues.
  • Supporting your Child’s Relationship with the Other Parent. Children need both parents. Even if your child would rather go to a sleepover, parenting time with the other parent is important and should be mandatory (e.g., except in cases of suspected emotional or physical abuse)


  • Coordinating Busy Schedules. It is often challenging to keep parents’ and children’s schedules straight. To prevent children from feeling "shuffled" between households set clear schedules and stick to them. If changes need to be made, parents and children should discuss the changes.
  • Parenting Disagreements. As Dr. Joy says," parents should create the illusion that they get along with the other parent in front of the children". Experts emphasize that parents should never degrade one another. Be careful of subtle body language and voice tone; your children will pick up on it.
  • Taking Advantage. Smart as they are, children can quickly learn to take advantage of parents by exploiting inconsistencies to get what they want. For example, "Mom lets me go to the mall with my friends why won’t you?" Consistent schedules and rules set clear expectations and reduce potential conflict.
  • Trusting the Other Parent. What happens when one parent is often late or doesn’t keep promises? Trust erodes and resentment builds. Trusting the other parent to be dependable and reliable can be very difficult. Use your communication and negotiation skills to discuss these problems.
  • Creating Loyalty Conflicts. Well meaning parents can place children in the middle of their conflicts. Children should not be asked to speak on parents’ behalf. Even in times of conflict, parents should support parenting time with the other parent.

Local Resources:

  • Parenting Classes. Research, by Dr. Sandler and Colleagues at the Prevention Research Center, indicates that children of parents who took parenting classes showed significant reductions in a wide range of problems six years after the classes including, drug, marijuana and alcohol use; behavioral problems; and the number of sexual partners.
    Families can take parenting classes privately or through the court system. Although Arizona Courts now mandate that divorced parents take a parenting class, one class may not be enough. As family situations and dynamics change, parents may need more help guiding their children. To meet these needs, Dr. Sandler and Dr. Braver of ASU’s Prevention Research Center, are working on a innovative collaboration with the Arizona Court System to implement state-wide services for divorced families such as parenting classes and children’s education classes. For more information, call the Prevention Research Center at (480) 965-7420.

  • Private Counseling. Therapist Marlene Joy, of Scottsdale, says that parenting counselors are an undervalued resource for divorced families. Therapists can help parents’ sort out tricky situations that could escalate if not handled effectively.

  • Family Court Advisors. The Arizona Court System has a wide range of free services that are offered to divorcing families. Family Court Advisors are assigned to families dealing with ongoing custody conflicts. Other services range from parent conflict resolution classes to mediation services. For more information about services offered by the Arizona Supreme Court, contact Megan Hunter, Court Specialist, at (602) 542-9253 or visit

As parents, we try to do the best we can. Children’s needs—to feel loved, safe, and capable—are universal. The hard part is for parents to stay focused on these needs during their own crisis. Awareness and knowledge help. Once we know better, we can do better--for our children and ourselves.

Good Manners Q & A

Originally written by me for Arizona Parenting Magazine.

QUESTION: Sherri from Chandler says her 4-year-old boy interrupts her whenever she uses the phone, which is about once a day. "If he can’t get my attention by talking over my conversation, he will resort to bad behavior." Sherri says she gives her son lots of undivided attention, so how can she stop the interruptions?

Why do children frequently interrupt adult conversations?
Since Sherri typically gives her son her undivided attention, he doesn't understand why that does not apply when she is on the phone or talking to another adult. It is natural for her son to TRY to interrupt these conversations. He is still learning when it is ok to demand attention and when it is not. It will take consistent reminders and possible disciplinary action to teach him good manners.

What are some methods Sherri can try to stop the interruptions?
When he interrupts, Sherri should tell her son that she will help him in a few minutes when she is off the phone. If he continues to talk over her or starts to misbehave she should clearly warn him that if he does not stop he will be sent to his room/given a time-out etc. Once she has given him this warning she must immediately follow through with it if he does not stop. Without discussion or yelling, she should put him in time-out or in his room (for about 5 minutes). If she tries to discuss the situation with him she will inadvertently be giving him the attention he is seeking, thus reinforcing the behavior. She will also be reinforcing the behavior if she gives multiple warnings without immediate consequences. Although Sherri's phone conversations may temporarily be cut short, if she responds consistently to this situation he will learn good manners.

If they don’t work then what?
If he does not stop misbehaving when she is on the phone she will have to escalate the punishment. Escalated punishment means that Sherri takes away whatever her son most covets. This is an example of when individualized discipline is critical. Some children do not mind being put in time-out; they may enjoy reading quietly in their room. For this child, escalated punishment requires the parent to take away coveted books or deny "reading time" before bed. Other children dislike being separated from mom/dad (the group) and for this child, a time-out or separation from the group will likely deter unwanted behavior. Although it may sound cruel, escalated punishment involves figuring out what your child most craves and taking it away (or withholding it) when he/she misbehaves. Parents will know they are on the right track if the child protests (and sheds a few tears) to the punishment.

Should she discipline him for the bad behavior he exhibits when he doesn’t get her attention? If so what form of discipline would be appropriate?
As indicated above, Sherri can start with traditional time-outs and if that doesn't work figure out what her son craves and take it away for short periods of time. After the punishment period is over it is very important to discuss the situation with him. Ask him if he knows why he was punished and explain what he did wrong AND what you expect him to do next time you are on the phone. For example, "you were sent to your room because you kept interrupting mommy while I was on the phone. I asked you to wait until I got off the phone but you didn't listen. Next time I am on the phone, if you really need something, silently tap me on the leg like this and I will get it for you when I am off the phone." If he taps you on the leg next time you are on the phone try to take a break in the conversation after a few minutes and attend to him so he knows you are still there for him. Over time he will be able to wait longer to have his needs met.

What should Sherry NOT do in this situation?
Sherri should not give in to her son's demands while she is on the phone. She should not give multiple warnings without immediate consequences. She should not just ignore his behavior and stay on the phone. She should not try to negotiate over and over with him or yell at him while she continues talking. This is frustrating for the person on the other end of the line as well.

Some parents might be tempted to lock themselves in a room and ignore the child. Would that help? Or would that just make the child angrier and cause him to break something or hurt himself for attention?
I think this would increase the child's anger and confusion. He will likely pound on the door and escalate his aggression to get Sherri's attention. However, it is understandable to do this once in a while if the call is urgent and short.

What other advice/resources can you share with Sherri?
Be patient and consistent and it will pay off.

Is the child likely to grow out of this on his own? Or is this a battle that must be fought?
Teaching good manners is an important part of discipline and boundary setting. It is your job as a parent to teach your child appropriate behavior. It is a parent’s job to set boundaries and your child's job to test them.

The Feelings Doctor

Yesterday, a third grader came up to me at school and said, "are you the feelings doctor?" After chuckling, I said, "I guess so". Oh, Ok, she responded, "I heard about you. I have a friendship problem I might need you to fix."

I can't fix feelings, friendships, or much else for that matter. What I can do is create a safe place for kids to express their feelings. They love to tell me stories about themselves and their friends. Sometimes they cry.

When I introduce myself as the feelings teacher (or doctor) they get it. With me, whether in groups or individually, they talk about their life and feelings.

I am not the only feelings teacher. We have many wonderful specialists in almost every school in our school district. In the elementary schools, we are the only regular, specified resource for kids to discuss these issues. Our elementary schools don't have "counselors". Most of us are only at our schools once a week for 6 hours. Those hours are jam packed with kids-- in groups, individually, and in classrooms.

If we are lucky, our PTO's give us extra funds to come twice a week. I see about 40 kids a week in roughly 8 hours.

Our school district provides very limited funding for each school. Our kids needs are great and varied.

I wish there was a way to "fix" more things-- raise more money from our affluent neighbors, provide more services, spend more time with each child.

For now, all we can do is be there and offer as much support as we can. At least word is spreading amongst the kids that someone is there.

The Feelings Doctor

Monday, April 14, 2008

Social Skills Tips

I thought I would post some helpful tips from a wonderful SPI Specialist, Yasaman Parsi!

Anger/Conflict Management

There are many different reasons why children get angry and/or have conflict with others. Anger is not a bad emotion, it's just how it is managed that can create problems. One way to deal with the emotion of anger is to talk about it with your children before it comes up so that when it does come up, they know what to do with it and how to manage it.

One way to do this is to have your child remember a time when he/she became angry. Talk about how they felt, what their emotions were.

Then discuss ways they could have managed that anger such as:
  • Walking away
  • Counting to 10 slowly
  • Talking to someone who is not involved in the problem
  • Taking a walk/Climbing a tree
  • Listening to music
  • Breathing slowly
  • Giving yourself a "time out" to think things over

Have them try to list some other ways they could have managed the situation at the time they were angry or having the conflict. Then discuss with your child why it is important that we learn how to manage our anger. What are some negative consequences of actions that come out of anger? What are some positive consequences that come out of thinking things through?


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Arizona Center for Character Education and Scottsdale Prevention Institute

I currently work for Scottsdale Prevention Institute (SPI) a wonderful non-profit in Scottsdale, AZ. SPI has provided school-based prevention programs to Scottsdale residents for the past 21 years. I want to partner with SPI to open our Arizona Center for Character Education. This Center would work in conjunction with the schools to deliver our programs.

SPI Serves Children Who:
  • Have experienced a trauma or are having family difficulties
  • Have difficulty fitting in, socializing, or are being bullied/bullying at school
  • Are shy or withdrawn and feel isolated at school
  • Are experimenting with alcohol and drugs
  • Have families that don't know how to address school or family difficulties
  • Have families that want to help their children achieve greater success at school

So far this year, our Prevention Specialists have provided over 8,000 hours for school-based programs.

A sample of services we provide include:

  • New Student Orientation
  • Peer Relationship Programs
  • Mean Girl Interventions
  • Social Skill Training
  • Divorce/Grief Issues
  • Peer Mentoring/Mediation Programs
  • Encouraging Empathy Programs
  • Character Counts!
  • Chemical Awareness Program

To find out more about SPI's services go to:

To read some helpful social skills tips go to:

Recycled Art Projects-- Take 1

PHASE 1: Wrapper Purses

The other day my seven year old daughter, Kara, and I decided to pilot test one of our recycled art project ideas. We are trying to make wrapper purses. We are off to a slow but steady start. Here is a picture of my cutie hard at work.

This is what we hope our finished product will look like.

Wish us luck. We will let you know how it is going.