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Oct
30

Expert advice on no-spank discipline that really works

Contributor The Children's Center

Deseret News, October 22, 2014

Two kids are wrestling over the toy clown their aunt made, voices rising as each demands the right to sleep with it.

Stephanie Mihalas, a licensed child and family psychologist in Los Angeles, believes some parents would swat the toddlers on the backside and send them to bed. She prefers putting the toy in time out until things settle down.

“Remove the toy for 15 minutes. Make a simple statement as you do it,” said Mihalas, a clinical instructor at UCLA. “‘You were fighting over the toy. I removed the toy. The toy will come back when you calm down.’ ”

In Utah, Salt Lake psychologist Douglas F. Goldsmith, executive director of the Children’s Center, explains to a couple why taking away a teenager’s iPad, along with a cascade of privileges, probably won’t spark the behavioral change they want. Talking to the youth — and really listening — is more apt to yield results.

Arguments, disobedience, back-talking, laziness and not sharing are just a few things kids do that test parental patience. The question for parents is what to do when vexed — a longstanding discussion that got jumpstarted last month after Minnesota Vikings professional football player Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse for spanking his son with a switch. He says he was disciplined that way as a child.

Discipline is tricky terrain, but experts say there are effective nonphysical ways to promote wanted behaviors. Using techniques that teach proper behavior while treating both parent and child with respect frees parents from worry about how physical is too physical when it comes to discipline.

“It’s far more effective and less risky to use nonphysical discipline,” said Janet Lansbury, a Los Angeles parent educator. “Discipline means ‘to teach,’ not ‘punishment.’ ”

Hear yourself

Goldsmith has a simple starting point for dealing with children, whether he’s happy with them or not: “How do we as adults expect to be treated? If we listen to our own behavior, we realize that even at the dinner table we tend to bark at kids: ‘Pass the rolls. I said, “Pass the rolls.” Did you listen?’ We would not have that conversation with a spouse or partner. And if (adults) didn’t comply fast enough, we’d assume they needed more time or didn’t hear us. We don’t give kids that benefit. We want them to do what we said, right now.”

Listening is gold when it comes to crafting discipline, he said. Ask a child what’s making her mad, and you may get a really good explanation. Then listen to yourself.

“If you were to track every time you said your child’s name and write down what you said next, it’s a flurry of wash your hands, go brush your teeth, it’s time to go do this chore, you should be in bed,” Goldsmith said. “We’re making constant demands, and it should not surprise us that the children really work to tune us out, because as soon as we say, ‘Charlie,’ what’s coming next is not something he wants. Parents need to be more balanced about it. Say his name and tell him what a great kid he’s being.”

Parents who are “grounded in calm, simple strategies” can effectively change behavior, Mihalas said, but too often they turn discipline into a drawn-out ordeal.

Children learn when they are comfortable and feel safe and connected to their leaders — parents or teachers, Lansbury said. That creates a connection where a child wants to please. How parents choose to correct behaviors may undermine that connection.

Parents who are irrational or erratic in discipline or who become overly emotional or angry get in their own way when it comes to teaching children, according to Goldsmith and Mihalas.

Couples should discuss discipline before they marry if they intend to have children, Mihalas said. Those who hold different ideas about how to punish kids will likely fight about it in front of them instead of being united. “I’ve seen marriages go completely downhill just on the topic of spanking,” she said.

Age appropriate

As in the example of the clown-loving wranglers, when young kids fight over an object, the easiest path to peace may be to take it away until everyone’s calmer, Mihalas said.

On the other hand, taking things away as a punishment with older kids has a different effect, Goldsmith said. Too often, parents aren’t sure what to do, especially with an older child they view as defiant. So they take something away, then something else and something else as their own frustration mounts.

That’s more about a parent’s frustration than about teaching children appropriate behavior, which is the goal of discipline, Goldsmith said. And it doesn’t work, either. Kids tend to dig in, further maddening their folks. “’Well, my bike tire was flat anyway; I don’t care.’ ‘I was done playing Minecraft anyway,’ ” he cited as examples of how children can react to escalate the situation.

At any age, requests should be clear, but a parent who wants a child to do something should not keep asking. Twice is the limit, Goldsmith said. A child who hasn’t complied then is not going to and action is needed.

He recommends putting a child as young as 3 in a chair “until you’re ready to listen to mommy,” and rewarding children for listening with a treat, more time playing a favorite game or a pizza night. “If it’s something important to the child, working toward that goal suddenly turns compliance into something that’s fun and productive, and it really only takes about three or four weeks and we see a huge change in the defiant behavior,” he said.

Eye on the prize

Addressing behavior problems from an early stage removes much of the stress as kids get older — for everyone.

Lansbury said parents must recognize that bad behavior is neither totally unconscious nor really deliberate. So they must keep their eye on the goal of parenting: to raise successful, happy children and have a wonderful, lasting relationship with them.

Parents also must remember that children are not tiny adults. They have developmental realities that impact and even skew behaviors. How they express strong emotions like fear and grief may seem unreasonable — and certainly inconvenient — to adults. Children need help staying safe as they express emotions they don’t understand and impulse is often stronger than their ability to control it, Lansbury said. That’s often a complaint with older kids, too.

If a child slaps — all little kids do at least once — don’t overreact or slap back, she said. “Stop the behavior matter-of-factly, in a non-threatening way. ‘I’m not going to let you do that.’ They are testing, and we are going to stop it, but we’re not worried about it,” she said.

When talking to kids, Lansbury said to use periods, not question marks. “ ‘You have to get in the car seat now.’ Not, ‘You have to get in the car seat now, OK?’ And remember that modeling is the teacher that trumps everything. If you want your kids to be gentle, are you? Forgiving? Are you?”

Tell me why

Parents sometimes mishandle praise, but getting it right is an important part of teaching children how to behave, Goldsmith said. Praising effort, action and character are all part of discipline. “There’s great research that saying ‘you are really smart’ doesn’t help them,” he said. “But ‘I love the effort you put into your homework’ does help.”

Best-practice discipline includes helping children learn from mistakes. By around fourth grade, kids can be told to write down what happened, what they were thinking, what they could change to prevent repeating an unacceptable behavior, he said. It’s a chance to think through problematic choices and do better.

Mihalas uses a “mindful jar” where children place tokens. “When they do that,” she said, “they say what they did wrong. It sets children thinking about what they could have done better. They put it away, getting rid of what they did, and start over.”

Kim Roman adopted two special-needs children, now 8, who both have behavioral issues. They can earn virtual bucks by making their beds, doing other chores and following house rules. They can also lose a virtual buck, Roman, of New York City, said.

“These bucks add up to a small prize when they reach their goal. For our family, this works much better than anything else we have tried,” Roman said. “Our children feel like they have accomplished something and are proud of themselves when they earn their small prize.”

Kids of all ages can go into a “cool-down chair.” It’s not a time out, but a place to draw or write about what happened or simply reflect. There’s no harangue. When calm is restored, what happened can be discussed, Mihalas said.

“It alters communication within the family. Rather than embarrassment — which happens after spanking and anger — it leads to conversation,” said Mihalas, who believes children held to a mistake-free standard just learn to hide errors. That amps up anxiety and makes it impossible to correct anything.

Parents should be firm but not upset, because when parents lose their cool, the situation spirals, Mihalas said.

Kids with behavior issues are raising flags. If an older child picks on the baby, it probably means the child is worried about losing his place in the family. Punishing him doesn’t relieve that. Lansbury said to create a safe environment for the baby and let the older child know you won’t allow that behavior. But in a calm moment, convey that you understand his distress. “ ‘Sometimes older kids feel scared when they have a little brother or sister,’ ” she said. ” ‘If that happens to you, let me know.’ ”

Flexibility and discussion are two valuable tools for dealing with teens. If a teenager wants to change plans, for example, let her make a case. Lansbury said, “It’s important that parents not hold the line strictly; that encourages a child to act out and go behind one’s back anyway,” she said. “Be flexible within your boundary.”

As for penalties, she likes using social justice. Instead of taking your teen’s phone or grounding her, have her help out at a shelter. “It makes punishment be about meaning, rather than about parent anger,” she said.

Providing choices can ease tension. Goldsmith recommends listing what needs to be done after school and then creating a timeline within which the child can choose when things happen. “ ‘Yes, you can do your homework after dinner.’ Only now, it’s kind of a contract,” he said.

 

Oct
1

Spanking your children is not healthy for them

Contributor The Children's Center

Salt Lake Tribune, September 27, 2014

To the Editor: As a child psychologist I find it remarkable that we continue to debate the merits of spanking as a form of discipline (Spankers aren’t monsters, 9/27/14) The American Psychological Association asserts that “spanking, hitting, and other means of causing pain – can lead to aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury, and mental health problems for children.”  It is even more shocking that, despite clear evidence against spanking, two-thirds of Americans continue to approve of parents spanking their children.

A study published in 2011 (Child Abuse and Neglect) revealed that children exposed to physical punishment were more likely to endorse hitting as a means of resolving their conflicts with peers and siblings.  Alan Kazdin, a Yale University Psychology professor has stated, “You cannot punish out these behaviors you do not want.  There is no need for corporal punishment based on the research.”   In an era where we are alarmed by the increasing rates of violence in our communities it is time for us to have real discussion about the difference between discipline and traumatizing our children.  When parents spank they are communicating to the child, “I am angry with you and so I am going to hit you.”   Even spanking that does not leave external bruising may create lasting emotional trauma to a child.  When we ask adults who remember being spanked as children they not only recall the incident; but primarily remember the shock of being hit by their caregiver.

In short, spanking is indeed harmful to children.  Although it may momentarily stop bad behavior, because children are afraid of being hit; it does not have positive long-term effects and can make children more aggressive.  As parents it is critical that we utilize the attachment credo to always be “bigger, wiser, and kind” when teaching our children how to behave.

Douglas Goldsmith, Ph.D.

Executive Director

The Children’s Center Salt Lake City

Feb
26

Young Children Suffering from Tragic Events Get Help in Utah

Contributor The Children's Center

Cambia

Cambia Health Foundation Awards Children’s Center $309,000 for Trauma Care Program

Salt Lake City, Utah — Daily reminders of community violence make the news headlines, as incidents of abuse and neglect and other crimes against children capture the public’s attention. These tragic examples of violence clearly demonstrate the need for early childhood trauma services in our communities.

Traumatic events have a profound effect on children’s social, academic and emotional development. According to the 2012 census, the population of children under the age of 5 in Utah makes up 9% of the population, which exceeds the national average of 6.4%. Current research has found that more than half of children ages 2-5 (52.5%) have been exposed to a severe stressor. As a result, it is estimated more than 100,000 preschool aged children in Utah may qualify for trauma treatment.

The most common traumas for this age group include accidents, physical trauma, abuse, neglect, and exposure to domestic and community violence. The negative effect on their ability to learn may result in developmental delays and other learning problems. The social-emotional impact of trauma is severe and impacts the child’s ability to function at home and at school. Studies have also shown that the long-term ramifications of untreated childhood trauma extend far into adulthood with serious lifelong consequences, including chronic disease.

Unfortunately, access to treatment for childhood trauma is limited because Utah does not have enough clinicians trained to provide this highly specialized care to very young children. With the support of a $309,213 grant from the Cambia Health Foundation, The Children’s Center will create a statewide system of care for underserved children using cost-effective, evidence-based trauma treatments.

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Jul
20

Psychologist gives advice talking to children about Colorado shooting

Contributor The Children's Center

NORTH SALT LAKE, Utah – Kimberly Thompson of North Salt Lake woke up Friday morning to her children watching images of the tragedy unfolding in Colorado.

She says it prompted her to immediately ease their concerns and to help them understand what happened.

“I did notice this morning my daughter asked me about it then got on the internet and started looking it up,” said Thompson. “I’m just going to tell them that there have always been bad people in the world and there always will be, but the vast majority of people are very good and we need to focus on that.”

That kind of explanation is exactly what Dr. Douglas Goldsmith, a local child psychologist, says parents should be telling their kids. He advises an explanation that is specific, yet does not frighten them any more.

“Talk to their kids about being hyper-aware of their environment,” said Goldsmith. “If you see something off, don’t assess what’s going on, just get out and get help.”

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Feb
18

ABC 4 Special Assignment: Should kids have guns?

Contributor The Children's Center
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) – Embedded in the hot debate over guns is the question whether children should be taught to shoot.All too often, there are tragic results when kids and guns are combined.From Columbine to Sandy Hook, we have seen the horrible images of what guns do when in the wrong hands. No less tragic are the occasional accidents where a child finds a gun and thinks it is a plaything.But there are also other images of kids and guns. These images are different. They come from gun ranges where parents and even grandparents are teaching kids how to properly handle and shoot a weapon.Other images are of families taking a Hunter Safety Course offered by the state of Utah. Successful completion of such a course is required before a young hunter can get a license or hunt small game.

On one evening, we found Kirk Barton and two of his granddaughters, Cienna and Chambrae, at a class at the Lee Kay Public Shooting Range. “I’ve been practicing shooting up at my grandparents cabin,” said Chambrae. “And he wants to get us more gun safe.” 12 year old Cienna added, “More kids need to learn about safety so there are less accidents.”

Coursework takes 12 hours and emphasizes safety. It also includes shooting on the range. In fact, to receive a certificate, the young hunter must pass a both written and shooting tests.

Utah has no minimum age requirement for hunters. It is left to parents to decide when and if a child should be introduced to shooting sports.

But is it right for every child? Douglas Goldsmith, Ph.D. and Executive Director of the Salt Lake Children’s Center, warns a gun should not be put in the hands of every child. “We don’t have a way to predict those 5,6 or 10 kids in that group who are going to struggle with that in a different way — who are already struggling with aggression,” Goldsmith said.

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Dec
14

How to talk to your children about the Newtown shooting

Contributor The Children's Center
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) – As a parent, trying to explain a tragic shooting like what happened in Newtown may be difficult. ABC 4 wants to give you some advice on how you can talk to them if questions come up.Stephanie Jacobsen from West Jordan thought it was important she teach her five boys what happened.”They were pretty upset. They first said – What if that happened at our school, what would we do? So we talked about it for a minute. We talked about some safety issues and some things that they could do,” said Stephanie Jacobsen, West Jordan mother.

It’s exactly what Psychologist Douglas Goldsmith recommends other parents should do too.

“We got to keep clear with our kids that this happened in another city and it’s horrible but out of hundreds of thousands of schools across the U.S. this was one school, you’ve got to really keep the perspective,” said Dr. Douglas Goldsmith, Psychologist.

Goldsmith recommends parents should teach their children what happened without becoming too emotional, listen to concerns they might have and reassure them it won’t happen to them.

“I would say to the child – Dad and I are here, the Principal is taking of this, your teachers are aware of how to keep your school safe, everything is going to be okay, on Monday morning and we can go with you to show you that,” said Goldsmith.

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Mar
3

McEntee: Deprived of grant, Children’s Center will keep healing kids

Contributor The Children's Center

The old, elegantly restored Oquirrh School is calm in the early morning, right up to the moment when a gaggle of tiny children arrive, some of them boisterous, others quiet.

This is the Children’s Center in downtown Salt Lake City, where kids come to receive counseling and treatment for autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, trauma or sexual or physical abuse. It’s a family affair, with parents joining their children in the months-long process that in most cases leads to a restoration of health and trust.

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Feb
6

THE CHILDREN’S CENTER

Contributor The Children's Center

This is Chris Redgrave for Zions Bank Speaking on Business.

Where can a single mom with an aggressive, non-compliant 3-year-old who gets kicked out of preschool turn for help, especially without insurance support? Because of charitable care she will now be able to receive services, thanks to Agi (ah-gie) Plenk, founder and visionary of The Children’s Center.

Fifty years ago Agi pioneered programs dedicated to early intervention, working with preschool children up to 5 years of age who have behavioral problems. She started The Children’s Center in a church in Holladay with a few kids in need and the center now has two locations, the newest in Salt Lake City at 350 S. 400 East. They help up to 2,000 children each year.

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Nov
15

Psychologists say technology may affect childhood development

Contributor The Children's Center
SALT LAKE (ABC 4 News) – Recent research shows technology may be changing the way children interact and think.Children as young as two are using iPads and cell phones to play games or learn.“These guys seem to pick up pretty quickly how to use the new gadgets,” Erin Searles said of her 2-year-old son, Boston.

Utah parents said they expose their children to technology, but monitor the use. Many feel technology can be used as an educational tool.

“It’s amazing how kids are so smart and how they learn so quickly,” Pete Sefakis, a father of two boys, said.

Sefakis believes computers are beneficial to a child’s development if used correctly.

ABC 4 News spoke with children under the age of 4. Each child recognized and identified a cell phone when it was shown to them. Parents said their toddlers used cell phones to play games and take pictures.

Child Psychologist Douglas Goldsmith said digital devices are intuitive, making them easy for children to understand.

Software manufacturers have studied the brain and how children work effectively so it becomes seamless,” Goldsmith said. “What we are concerned about is screen time.”

Goldsmith said too much screen time can limit a child’s concentration. Children under the age of seven are still developing the ability to pay attention to one activity.

“The pressure from the digital age is to multi-task and our brains were not made to do this,” Goldsmith said.

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Feb
23

Some teens stretched too thin

Contributor The Children's Center

SALT LAKE CITY — USA Today reports that researchers from the University of Washington, the University of Virginia and Temple University have discovered teens who work 20 hours or more at their part-time job have more behavior problems and they are not as engaged in school.

Inside Utah’s The Children’s Center, Executive Director Douglas Goldsmith says he’s not surprised at these findings. He says parents have been overloading their kids for many years and the constant activity is having ill effects.

“There is a lot of talk for adults about [how] you need a good night’s sleep. We don’t do that very well with our kids,” he said.

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