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“Help—my two-year-old keeps BITING people!”

Dear Dr. Bill,

I can’t get my 2 year old son to stop biting other people.  What should I do?

–Britt

Dear Britt,

The best way to deal with a toddler’s negative behavior is to administer swift consequences.  One can that can be very effective with two-year-olds is an immediate time-out.

I’ve mentioned before that an ideal time-out spot is Pak N Play portable playpen.  This should be placed where your child is “away from the action” but where you can still monitor him.

Require him to stay in the playpen until he’s “served his sentence.”  I typically I suggest one minute of time-out for each year of age, so for your son, that would mean two minutes.

It’s important that he doesn’t have access to any toys during the time out, and you shouldn’t interact with him at all-don’t lecture him or scold him, just ignore him.  That’s because for a two year-old, even negative attention is better than no attention at all.

After he serves his time-out, require him to apologize to the person he chomped on.  Model this by saying something like “Tell Jamie your sorry for biting him.”  If he refuses or is disrespectful, it’s back to the time-out location for two more minutes.

If you’re consistent with your follow through and don’t give in to the whining, screaming or temper tantrums that may accompany the time-out, you should find that the biting behavior decreases fairly rapidly.  If it doesn’t, it’s possible that your son may have a more serious developmental problem, and you should consult with your pediatrician.

Thanks for writing, Britt.  If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” tab on the Family Expert page.

Listen to today’s audio here.

The Impact of “Harsh Verbal Discipline” on Teenagers

Are you experiencing conflict with your teenager?  If so, here are some things NOT to do.

USA today is reporting on a a new study that looks at “harsh verbal discipline,” which includes such things as shouting at teens, yelling, screaming, swearing, insulting or calling them names.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania say such tactics backfire, actually increasing the risk that teens will misbehave.  In fact, in some cases harsh verbal discipline may even lead teens to experience symptoms of depression.

The study’s author, Dr. Ming-Te Wang says “This may explain why so many parents say that no matter how loud they shout, their teenagers don’t listen.”

Wang and his colleagues found that thirteen-year-olds who received a lot of harsh verbal discipline from their parents were more likely to have symptoms of depression at age 14.  They were also more likely to exhibit problem behaviors such as anger, aggression, vandalism and misconduct.

Psychologists who work with teens and their families say parents should carefully consider the implications of these findings.

Neil Bernstein, an adolescent psychologist in Washington, D.C., is the author of How to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do if You Can’t.

He says “Extremes of parenting don’t work. The put-down parent is no more effective than the laissez-faire parent who is totally chill and sets no limits on their children’s behavior.”

Bernstein says, when it comes to rearing teens, the keys are good communication, love and limits.”

By the way, of my favorite books on raising teens from a Christian perspective is “Boundaries with Teens,” by Dr. John Townsend.

I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

Listen to today’s audio here.

Help—Our 4-Year-Old Keeps Wandering Off In Public Places!

Dear Dr. Bill,

Our 4-year-old son has a bad habit of wandering away from us whenever he gets a chance — giving us quite a scare.  We were in a children’s museum where I took off his shoes to enter an exhibit.  When I looked up, he was gone!  We had the entire place locked down tight in about :60 seconds, but it took us almost 5 minutes before we found him playing nearby.

In the mall, he’ll run off and hide in the clothes rack.  At the beach, he’ll disappear while I’m trying to put lotion on his sister.  My wife and I try to keep an eye on him at all times, but sometimes it only takes a second.  We’ve talked to him about this and he’s promised to not run off, but the problem persists. What should we do?

–Scott

Dear Scott,

My advice is—buy a leash.  Just kidding–although many parents with younger toddlers have found child harnesses very helpful.  A four year old child is old enough to learn not to wander away from the family.  The trick is teaching him that unauthorized expeditions will cost him.

That means that you need to take charge: implementing unpleasant consequences every time he wanders away.  This could involve making him serve a boring time-out in the back seat of the car, or taking away a valued toy or privilege.  Whatever consequence you decide to implement, it needs to be powerful enough that he will remember not to wander away again.

You can also encourage him to stay nearby by praising him and giving him an incentive not to run away.  You might reward him with one of his favorite stickers for every five minutes that he stays within a five foot radius of you or your wife.

If the problem persists or your son shows signs of hyperactivity, distractibility, or impulsiveness, I would suggest that you that you talk to your pediatrician.  It’s possible that he may be manifesting symptoms of ADHD.

However, it’s more likely that he simply needs firm guidance from you and your wife, backed up by actions, not simply words.

Thanks for writing Scott.  If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Family Expert page.

Listen to today’s audio here.

The Link Between Exercise & The Quality Of Our SLEEP

What’s the relationship between physical exercise and the quality of your sleep?  Dr. Kelly Baron is a sleep researcher at Northwestern University and she decided to find out.

She learned that the influence of daily exercise on sleep habits is somewhat complicated.  In fact, in the short term, sleep may have more of an impact on exercise than exercise has on sleep.

The New York Times reports on Dr. Baron’s research, which looked at older people with insomnia, all of whom DIDN’T exercise.  Half of the people in the study began a moderate exercise program, consisting of three or four 30-minute exercise sessions per week.  The exercise program continued for 16 weeks.

At the end of that time, the volunteers in the exercise group were sleeping much more soundly than they had been at the start of the study. But the positive effects of exercise didn’t occur right away.

After the first two months of their fitness program, the exercising volunteers weren’t sleeping any better than at the start of the study.  It took four months of regular exercise before their insomnia improved substantially.

Dr. Baron also found another interesting connection between sleep and exercise. When the people in the study had a poor night of sleep, they were much less likely to get the full amount of exercise the next day.

According to Dr. Baron, at first glance, these results might seem “a bit discouraging.”  But she points out that the volunteers in this study already had sleep problems.  She says that people with chronic insomnia and other sleep disturbances tend to be “neurologically different.”

For most of us, better exercise during the day tends to lead to better sleep at night.  But don’t exercise too closely to bedtime.  Aerobic exercise raises the temperature of your body for a few hours, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

Listen to today’s audio here.

Are Digital Devices Contributing To The Rise In ADHD?

Could ADHD be linked to smartphones?

About 6 million children in the United States—or about one out of every 10—have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.   Now, experts wonder whether the mobile devices we carry around might have something to do with that number.

According to a story on PluggedIn.com, research done by the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that ADHD numbers began to surge just as smartphones hit the market.

And because kids engage with digital screens so much differently than they do with real-life activities, some experts believe all that screen time may negatively impact their ability to focus.

By the way, the amount of time people spend engaged in all forms of media has now risen to 11 hours, 52 minutes per day.  Clark Fredricksen, vice president of eMarketer says “It’s clear that time spent with media is still increasing as a result of multitasking.”

In other youth culture news, some disturbing new stats are out on dating violence. A nationwide survey on the issue was presented at a recent American Psychological Association conference.

The survey included more than 1,000 teens, and it found that 41% of girls and 37% of boys say they’ve been physically, emotionally or sexually abused on a date.

Here’s one surprising fact that reflects how our culture has been pushing girls to be more aggressive: more girls than boys said they had abused a dating partner.  35% of girls said they’d been abusive―compared to 29% of boys.

By the way, if your son or daughter has experienced this kind of abuse,  I’d encourage you to contact my friends at Focus on the Family.  They operate a free telephone counseling service and can refer your family to a licensed Christian therapist in your area.  The number is 1-800-A-FAMILY.

I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

Listen to today’s audio here.

How To Reset Your Internal Clock & Become A “Morning Person.”

Are you a morning person?  Would you LIKE to be?  Well, go camping!

Researchers say that camping for a week can reset the biological clock that governs our sleeping patterns.

According to an article from the BBC, scientists argue that modern life disrupts our sleep through exposure to electric light and reduced access to sunlight.  But after spending time in the great outdoors, the body clocks of volunteers actually synchronized with sunrise and sunset.

Researchers have found that the widespread availability of electric lighting from the 1930s onwards has affected our internal circadian clocks, allowing us to stay up much later than nature intended.

The scientists in this study first analyzed a small group of volunteers as they went about their normal lives, and recorded their exposure to natural and artificial light.  By looking at levels of the hormone melatonin, they concluded that the lighting of our modern environment causes a two hour delay in our circadian clocks.

The researchers then took the volunteers camping for a week in Colorado. Flashlights and electronic devices were banned, the only night time light was the glow of a campfire.

The result was that the waking and sleeping patterns of all the volunteers synchronized with the rising and setting of the sun.

Since it’s not possible for us to go camping all the time, scientists suggest some small, simple changes to the way we live our lives.

First, start off your day with a walk outside.  At night reduce lights in the house, and dim computer and electronic devices. Even the light from a cell phone in the evening hours is a cue that pushes our body clocks to a later time.

I’m Bill Maier for Shine.fm.

Listen to today’s audio here.

Help My Daughter Is A Habitual Liar!

Dear Dr. Bill,

I have a 7-year-old daughter who can’t seem to stop telling lies.  For example, her friends have come up to me asking if it’s true she lived in Africa for 6 years!  My daughter complains that kids don’t believe anything she says, and I catch her in lies all the time at home.  Does she simply have a “great imagination” or should I be concerned?  I’ve repeatedly told her to stop telling “stories,” and she often says she was only kidding when she’s been caught.  What should I do?

–Michelle

Dear Michelle,

Younger kids often have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality.  They will often tell “tall tales” and not really understand that they are lying.  However at 7 years old, your daughter is old enough to know that what she is doing is wrong.

She’s likely doing this to gain attention.  She may not feel confident and secure about who is, and is trying to find a way to get the other kids to like her.  By embellishing the truth or making up fantastic stories about her life, she believes she will be more interesting or popular.

Rather than simply telling her to stop the behavior, it’s important that you emphasize how lying will negatively affect her relationships.  Explain to her that her lying makes you very sad, and that none of the other kids will want to spend time with her if they can’t trust her.

In addition, implement firm consequences when she lies.  Don’t get pulled into a debate with her over whether or not she told the truth.  Instead, immediately implement a consequence such as taking away a privilege.

You can also enlist the help of her friends.  Explain to them that you are trying to help her with her “tall tales” problem.  Tell them that the next time she lies, they should tell her that they don’t want to play with her if they can’t trust her.  Once they’ve done this a few times, she’ll get the hint that lying causes her more pain than gain.

Thanks for writing, Michelle.  If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” tab on the Family Expert page.

Listen to today’s audio here.

Important Information For Parents Who Are Smokers—or Former Smokers

Did you smoke when you were younger?  If so, your kids may be more likely to smoke themselves—even if you quit before they were born.

Lead researcher Mike Vuolo at Purdue University says the findings indicate that any amount of smoking could have an important influence on the next generation.

According to an article in HealthDay.com, the study found that in homes with a persistent heavy-smoking parent, the oldest sibling is influenced to smoke.  In turn, that increases the chances that younger siblings will smoke by six times.

Dr. Vuolo says “We should educate young people that smoking at any time in their lives could have an influence on their children. Also, preventative efforts should target heavy-smoking households, trying to break the cycle of influence on the oldest siblings.”

Dr. John Spangler, a professor of family medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, believes there may be a genetic component to these findings.

Dr. Spangler says “This study confirms what we have already sensed, that there is a family history of tobacco use among many smokers.  We know that people are more likely to uses substances like alcohol based on family history, the same holds true for tobacco use.”

He believes there may be a genetic predisposition to metabolize nicotine differently.

The researchers say that parents who were former smokers should realize their child is more likely to become a smoker. These parents may want to discuss smoking with their children with an eye toward preventing it.

If you’re a smoker who is trying to quit, you can find help through the American Lung Association.

I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

Listen to today’s audio here.

Dr. Bill Helps A Mom Deal With The Fallout Of “Generational Sin”

Dear Dr. Bill,

I have a 14-year-old daughter who hates me — and maybe I deserve it.  For many years we’ve established a pattern where I end up yelling at her whenever we get into conflict.  Although I apologize later for losing my temper — my daughter no longer receives it.  Growing up, my parents hit me, yelled at me or ignored me, and now I don’t know how to reach my own daughter.  I’ve tried to make amends, but the damage is done.  My daughter often asks what I want — what I want is for her to love me, but I feel like I’ve ruined that.  What should I do?

–Nicole

Dear Nicole,

My heart breaks for you.  What you’re experiencing is called “generational sin.”  The abuse that you suffered as a child wounded you deeply.  Unfortunately it has also negatively impacted your parenting, and you’ve done serious damage to your relationship with your daughter.

If you truly want to restore that relationship, you have some hard work to do.  Your daughter no longer trusts you, and it’s going to take time to rebuild that trust.  She will need to see real repentance on your part, expressed in your actions, not just your words.  The bible describes true repentance as “turning away” from one’s sinful actions…a deliberate, purposeful change in our heart and our behavior.

Deep-seated hurt and anger with roots in childhood can’t be overcome overnight.  It also can’t be overcome on your own.  I suggest that you find a licensed Christian counselor who can help work through how your childhood experiences have impacted you and help you to make lasting changes in your behavior.

By the way, Focus on the Family has a telephone counseling service that can help.  They offer a free crisis counseling session and can also refer you to a Christian therapist in your area.  The number is 1-800-A-FAMILY.

Thanks for writing, Nicole.  If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Family Expert page.

Listen to today’s audio here.

What Type of Child is More Likely to Become Addicted to Video Games?

Are certain kids more likely to become addicted to video games than others?  The answer is YES, according to new research.

HealthDay is reporting on a new study that found that boys with ADHD or autism are more at risk for addictive video game use.

Experts said they aren’t surprised by the findings.

Dr. Andrew Adesman, is chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York.  He says “Boys with ADHD and boys on the autism spectrum both have difficulties relating with peers.  Video games provide a diversion that doesn’t require interaction with peers or siblings.”

In the U.S., it’s estimated that between 3 to 7 percent of school-age children have ADHD.  About one in 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder.

This can range from mild, as in Asperger syndrome to full-blown autism with severely limited communication skills.  Boys are far more likely than girls to have either diagnosis.

One of the common features of autism is a repetitive interest in a restricted number of activities. This may be directly related to problematic video game use, according to the University of Missouri researchers that conducted the study.

The most common symptoms of ADHD — inattention and hyperactivity — may also relate to addictive game use.  A previous study showed that when youngsters with ADHD started medication for their condition, their video game use went down.

The study doesn’t specify how much time spent gaming qualifies as “problematic,” but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than an hour or two of total screen time daily—including television.

They also say parents should make sure the content of that screen time has some kind of educational value.

I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

Listen to today’s audio here.

Shine Family Expert