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A parent wrote me recently to say that her 13-year-old son’s impulsive behavior was frustrating his teachers and driving away potential friends. Here is the advice I shared with her:
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the part of the brain behind the forehead that governs the inhibitory response in human beings. It creates a pause between having an impulse and acting on it.
In the ADD-ish children and teens I’ve worked with, I almost always see up to a 30-percent developmental lag between a child’s actual age and their PFC developmental function. In other words, while a child may officially be 13 years old (and might be even more mature in some respects), they may be more like an 8- or 9-year-old when it comes to controlling their impulsive behavior.
“I have a very difficult time getting my 5-year-old and 9-year-old to eat healthy snacks. All they want are things like potato chips and sugary cereals, which their former babysitter gave them whenever they asked. Any advice?”
What can you say when there are no words?
We are all still reeling in the aftermath of the school shootings in Connecticut last Friday. I, for one, feel leveled and heartbroken. It is impossible to imagine the impact on the families who lost children, those whose children were spared but so profoundly traumatized, and the rest of us who bear witness from afar to the unthinkable.
Here, in the interest of offering at least a few words of comfort, is some guidance on how to talk to your children in the wake of this tragedy.
A reader recently wrote me to ask for advice about a common parenting problem:
My 6-year-old lies to me on a daily basis. He hides food in his room and lies about it, among other things. How can I get him to tell the truth?
I consider a child’s misbehavior to be a flashing neon sign announcing that something else is going on that needs to be addressed. In other words, the lying and deceptive behavior is a symptom of something else.
Childhood is full of frustrating moments. Nature has designed life in such a way as to guarantee that children will have their wishes denied many times a day. Kids are small, physically disadvantaged, in need of support that isn’t always available, and desirous of all sorts of things that their caretakers determine aren’t good for them.
As loving parents, we hate it when our children cry, and we’ll jump through hoops to keep their tears at bay. We buy them the toys they can’t live without, force their big sisters to play Barbies with them, or let them stay up late even though we know they’ll be tired the next day.
But when we intervene every time our children become frustrated — believing we’re doing so out of love and care — we prevent them from learning the lesson of adaptation.
The first title I imagined for the parenting book I would someday write was Please Don’t Let the Light in Your Child’s Eyes Grow Dim. I had run into a 12-year-old girl whom I’d known at the age of four, when she was one of the brightest, most vibrant kids I had ever met. When I saw her at 12, I hardly recognized her. She was slumped into herself, subdued, and her light was … dim.
As I began writing, I was determined to articulate what I had come to understand about how to help children manifest their gifts and head into adulthood with joy and passion.
Gaiam parenting blogger Susan Stiffelman appeared on The Today Show yesterday to chat with hosts Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford about her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles. Watch the video of Susan explaining how to defuse a temper tantrum on the Today show website (or by clicking the image above) and learn more about the book (and sign up for Susan’s free parenting e-newsletter) on her website, ParentingWithoutPowerStuggles.com.
It’s often said that we’re living with our best teacher, and nowhere is that more true than with our children. No one has the ability to push our buttons the way our kids do. And no one offers us the opportunity to practice the things we preach — about love, forgiveness and staying centered — like our kids do.
Every parent wants to stay cool, calm and collected. We don’t want to threaten to send them to bed without their supper when they’ve sassed back, or tell them they’re grounded for a month when — yet again — they refuse to honor their curfew. But taking a deep breath or counting to ten can seem almost impossible in the presence of kids who seem to know exactly how to push our biggest buttons.