Archives for March, 2011
What do New Mexico, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi have in common? Their public schools all routinely rank among the worst in the US. These states also allow corporal punishment of children. In contrast, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut usually appear close to the top of the list in US education and do not allow corporal punishment in schools. These are correlations and don’t prove anything about cause and effect. At the same time, this data suggests something that’s obvious for most people--that paddling kids in school doesn’t improve educational achievement, nor does it do much to improve classroom behavior.
If you have school aged children, it’s pretty likely that they have been exposed to some of the disturbing news of these past few weeks. We often get questions from worried parents on how to handle the realities of danger with their kids. If you’re a regular reader of our blogs or books, you already know how reassurance can backfire and make kids (or adults) more fearful. For example, if your seven year-old daughter continuously asks if an earthquake could ever happen where you live, it’s not a good idea to bombard her with messages that “nothing like that could ever happen.” Not only is the reassurance not true, it also fails to teach her to cope with her own anxiety. And it even fuels the very insecurity that led to the question in the first place.
Most parents agree that they want their kids to be “normal” and happy. They hope their kids will live reasonably stress free lives and succeed at whatever they choose as their life goals. Who could argue such desires? But in spite of everyone’s best efforts, the trends aren’t particularly reassuring. Across the board, kids in today’s world appear to have more trouble than either their parents or grandparents did. You may be aware of the fact that the diagnosis of autism has risen dramatically in the past few decades. But the same kind of surge has been occurring for anxiety disorders, depression, attention deficit disorders, behavior problems, learning problems, and about any other malady you can think of. Incredibly, the diagnosis of bipolar disorder in kids has actually increased almost 40-fold in the past ten or twenty years (see our recent book Child Psychology and Development For Dummies for more information about all of these challenges).
The events unfolding in Japan are frightening. Many of us remember drills in elementary school when we sat under our desks hiding from potential air strikes during the cold war. We read about radiation poisoning and knew that our wooden desks were no protection from those horrors. People with OCD often have exaggerated fears of becoming contaiminated and radiation is a common concern. We know that for those with this particular fear, the possible melt-down of nuclear power plants can increase their symptoms. We have a few suggestions for those with OCD and those who care about them.
It’s spring in New Mexico. We’ll have some days of high winds, but for the most part, cold weather is gone for the season. People are starting to wear shorts and flip-flops, the costume of the summer trudger. I have a cold. It started last week and lingered as spring colds usually do. I’m better, down to sporadic coughing fits, nose blowing, dragging, and the spacey feeling that colds often leave you with. Somehow I think that more than anything colds consume creativity and cognitive attention. They leave me with little ability to plan ahead, organize, resist temptations, set goals, make decisions, or even write for that matter. Just ask my husband; he had to come in and save the first draft of this rambling missive. I don’t care. Colds do that to you--they make you a hopeless, inefficient, hesitant, straggler. And everyone here in the Albuquerque area seems to have one.
Laura and I have worked with lots of children in our clinical psychology practice over the years. Parents worry not only about the problems their kids are having when they come to see us, but also about their children’s long term emotional and physical health. They want to know how they can insure that their kids will be happy, secure, and successful as adults. Unfortunately, there are no strategies that guarantee such idyllic outcomes. However, there is good news. Numerous studies have demonstrated that kids who learn self-control have far better odds of navigating life successfully than kids without this ability. Self-control consists of the ability to tolerate frustration, delay gratification, persist, and think ahead about longer term consequences of their behavior. Studies have looked at kids during preschool years and followed them for the ensuing two or three decades. Children with the ability to control their impulses ultimately do better in school, have more friends, demonstrate less anxiety and other emotional problems, get better jobs, report greater happiness, and even have better health than those who struggle with self-control in their early years.