Friday, March 30, 2007

Daycare for an at-risk child?

This week the results of an important study of children in daycare were reported in the scientific journal Child Development. To read an account of the study see Daycare linked to child disruption. The study of 1364 children is yet another that has demonstrated that the daycare lifestyle leads to increased aggression in at-risk children.

As a mother of an at-risk child, I am not surprised by the findings of this research. My at- risk son requires 1:1 attention to encourage him to be loving as opposed to focusing on dominance. He also needs daily training in the skill of impulse control. He does very well in his small half-day preschool class, where his teachers tell me, “We can tell he has benefited from your teaching. He is very loving and very emotionally intelligent. The karate dance has almost disappeared!” I am convinced that if I was working full-time, I would not have had the time and energy this at-risk child has required.

In contrast, I also have two daughters, who were in daycare, and cared for by a nanny while I worked full-time. Neither of the two girls were ever aggressive or difficult to parent. One of my colleagues used to say that he couldn’t believe how well I was able to balance single motherhood with my professional life. Of course, I never told him the truth. That was that I had very easy kids!

In my opinion we should take the results of this research for what they reveal. That is, some kids do not do well in daycare, even quality daycare. We have to stop thinking that our at-risk kids need anything other than exceptional parenting. When we say that a child is at-risk we mean that he/she may carry the genes that predispose to antisocial behavior, addiction and/or ADHD. Furthermore, children who are truly at-risk show us through their temperaments.

A very good friend of mine runs a community daycare center. Recently, he has had to contend with an aggressive child. The parents of the child act surprised every time the aggression is reported to them. Sadly, they also seem unwilling to amend their fast-paced lifestyle for the sake of their child.

In summary, we should not make a blanket statement that daycare is bad for children or society. Instead, we should acknowledge that some children are not suited for the daycare lifestyle. We should encourage parents to have expectations that suit their particular child. The sacrifices that may have to be made for our at-risk children will be for a finite period of time. The time invested in parenting our at-risk children properly will pay off a thousand fold when they are in grade school.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

What can we learn from the Dog Whisperer?

One of the most watched shows in our house is Cesar Millan's The Dog Whisperer. I believe that parents can learn a great deal about parenting from this show. There are certain similarities between getting along with a child and getting along with a dog.

The first principle of getting along with a dog that Cesar so beautifully illustrates in all of his shows is, "To get along well with a dog you have to be the leader!" If you do not lead the dog, he/she will try to lead you. Life with a dog who tries to tell you what to do is most unpleasant.

Good parenting also boils down to leadership. If a parent fails to lead, often a child will attempt to fill the leadership void. Life with a child as your leader is also most unpleasant. However, the consequences of failed parental leadership for a child are even more grave. Children require an understanding of parental authority in order to develop moral reasoning ability and impulse control.

Last night one of my Child Development students discussed her boyfriend's childhood. Father left the home when her boyfriend was 6 and his younger brother was 4. Mother was devastated and never recovered. When father left, he told his eldest son, "Now you are man of the house." Since mother abrogated her leadership role, the family is still lead by my student's boyfriend.

Hearing this story, I said to my student. The outcome of this situation depends on the amount of inborn impulse control a child has. A child with a lot of natural impulse control, will become a leader and a care-taker in this situation. However, this situation will rob the child of his childhood. For children with average to poor impulse control, parental abrogation of authority has dire consequences. These children develop antisocial behavior and/or addiction. My student said, "Wow! That is my boyfriend's younger brother." Even though the eldest son tried to provide leadership and love to his younger brother, being parented by another child was inadequate. The younger brother failed to develop impulse control and moral reasoning. He has been arrested multiple times and is addicted to drugs.

Single mothers can have difficulty in the area of leadership. Many women have not had training in leadership. Many women also believe that their role is to nurture and love as opposed to lead.
Single mothers need to develop leadership skills and deal with any barriers to leadership they might be experiencing. Anxiety and depression interfere with a mother's ability to lead. Since these disorders are very common in women, these disorders pose a threat to child well-being. Recent studies reveal high rates of antisocial personality disorder in the sons of depressed mothers.

If you are a single mother consider this information carefully. If you suffer from depression, get help. There are now very good treatments for depression. You can also learn leadership skills and better lead your family.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Why are America's college students abusing drugs and alcohol?

This week, USA Today reported that nearly half of the nation’s 5.4 million college students abuse drugs or drink alcohol to excess at least twice a month. 22.9% of students meet the medical definition for alcohol or drug abuse or dependence — a compulsive use of a substance despite negative consequences — compared with 8.5% of all people 12 and older.

What is responsible for the increase in substance abuse among college students in America? I believe the increase is due to lack of development of the Inner Triangle, which is a common problem in young people today. Remember that the Inner Triangle is our Ability to Love, Impulse Control and Moral Reasoning. These develop in a mutually dependent manner in concert during childhood and adolescence.

Why would a problem with Ability to Love, Impulse Control and/or Moral Reasoning lead to substance abuse and ultimately to addiction? First consider Ability to Love. The enjoyment of loving relationships has to be a person’s number one joy in life. When love of friends/family is not number one, a person seeks to fill the void. Often the void is filled with substances of abuse, food or even sex.

Poor Impulse Control is associated with excessive thrill seeking or sensation seeking. This sensation seeking correlates highly with substance abuse and unsafe sexual behavior during adolescence and young adulthood.

Moral Reasoning is the way we think about moral values, and the way these values guide our behavior. College students who are not trying to do their best are lacking in moral values.

Why would a problem with the Inner Triangle be so prevalent today? The reason is parenting. Parents today are too busy and too burdened to model, influence and teach Ability to Love, Impulse Control and Moral Reasoning. To give your child the gift of a well-developed triangle takes time and effort. Children and Teens need lots of quality time with the right adults or they will not fully develop the Inner Triangle.

The models and influences of our popular culture that surround or children and teens impart poor Ability to Love, poor Impulse Control and bankrupt moral values. The proof of this is in the fact that these models (like B. Spears), themselves suffer with defective Ability to Love, Impulse Control and Moral Reasoning!

To counteract these influences, parents must keep themselves in the center of their children’s lives for as long as possible. Do not abandon your child/teen to his peer group. Peers should not raise your child, you should. If you need to take corrective action, start by spending time with your child/teen. Gradually shift his/her time away from unsupervised peer activities toward supervised activities. The more time your child/teen spends growing as a person, the better developed his/her Inner Triangle will be.