Saturday, April 28, 2007

Organization to address the needs of at risk kids

I have been fortunate to receive many letters from parents discussing the issues involved in raising children with genetic risk for antisocial behavior, addiction and ADHD. I especially enjoy all the adorable pictures!

The most disturbing letters I get are about the emotional, physical and sexual abuse of at risk children at the hands of a sociopathic parent. Tragically, the healthy parent tries to implement the prevention techniques outlined in my book Just Like His Father? only to have the efforts completely undermined by the other parent.

One women wrote into with a story of the sociopathic parent's sexual harassment of a teen aged daughter. This mother went to court to try to restrict visitation and was denied. All to often sociopaths also share custody and continue their abuse of the other parent, using the children to do so.

If we want to reduce antisocial behavior and addiction in our society, we have to start with children at risk. A child's genes are set at conception. We can however, take control of environmental risk. The courts need to do more to protect at risk children. We need an organization to explore court reform and to collect these stories of visitation gone bad. If you are interested in participating or hearing about this organization visit and sign up.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Exercise and behavior including ADHD

Exercise as a treatment for ADHD

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder the name seems to suggest that an increased activity level is part of the disorder. Tell me why then, there are so few scientific studies on the benefits of exercise in ADHD? This can only represent gross negligence on the part of the medical-scientific establishment. This had to be said, now what do we know?

Two studies indicate that children with ADD/ADHD may be resistant to exercise. Their stress hormones do not increase during exercise as much as normal children. It is also likely that in order to be beneficial, the exercise has to be intense.

Intense exercise means getting out of breath and/or breaking a sweat. The heart rate increases more during this kind of exercise. Parents should know that some medications may increase risk for heart rhythm problems, so check with your doctor.

Some specific recommendations

Based on my best guess and government recommendations for all children, I recommend the following. All children require one hour of exercise each day. Children with ADHD may require more. The exercise has to be vigorous, like running around the field playing soccer or court playing basketball. Walking, biking and swimming are also good provided the child maintains a fast pace. Karate and other martial arts may be good for strength and focus but generally the workout isn’t vigorous enough.

Just like children with ADHD do not like to sit and focus and are often shifting from one new pleasure to the other, they may refuse to focus on exercise for a long period of time. I once took a group of kids to the beach. There was an 11 y/o boy with ADHD with us. Although he was hyperactive, and fidgeted a lot, he had the least ability/desire to sustain physical effort. But you know that when we got home he ran around the house like a mad man.

Getting kids to exercise requires time and effort. Your child’s one hour a day requirement can be met in smaller chunks like 20 minutes three times a day. I strongly recommend you at least take walks with your child. In exercising with your child you show him that you think exercise is important.

If you start an exercise program and see improvements in your child’s behavior, please write me and share your story. For more on exercise see

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A difficult 4 year old: The boy who peed on his baby sister

I received a letter this week from the mother of an at risk child, it was very long, This is part one:

“I have a son who's 4 years old and he's very active, sometimes aggressive but at the same time he's loving and caring. Sometimes I really don't know what to do with him (he drives me crazy, to the point that I feel like not seeing him again), but don't get me wrong, I do LOVE him with all my heart and I can't live without him.

Yesterday he did something that was unthinkable and that's why I'm writing to you. Out of all of his pranks, this was the one that open my eyes that there may be something wrong with him. He brought my daughter (his sister) to the kitchen and told me that she spit on herself (she was all wet. her hair, clothes) I took him to his room and asked him to tell me what happened. Then he changed the story. This time he said that she spilled her milk on top of her. I knew it wasn't milk, because it didn't smelled like it. I told him that I had a camera in his room and that I was going to check the video to find out what happened. Then he's like: "ok! I'll tell you the truth... I peed on her... Ok!!, Im going on time out... I was like WHAT!!! You peed on her?!!!”

Parent’s feelings about at risk children

This note beautifully illustrates the dynamics of a relationship with an at risk child. Many but not all are loving during the preschool years. However, they have poor impulse control. The poor impulse control sets up a series of very negative interactions. Parents end up feeling a combination of love and hate for these children. These feelings on the part of parents are normal and understandable.

How to dig yourself out of this pit

First of all, 75% of kids more or less raise themselves because they have reasonable levels of impulse control; 25% require intensive parenting. Step 1 to a better life is acknowledging you have a child WHO REQUIRES CONSTANT SUPERVISION! Every time he gets in trouble when left alone and you feel the need to punish him, he is in a sense rejected by you. This constant rejection impairs his ability to love.

Step 2 is to use supervision wisely to set your at risk child up for success. Keep your at risk child constantly with you and help him find things to do. You will have to specifically train him to occupy himself while you are busy. Step by step instructions for how to do this are found in The Child Well-Being Workbook.

If your at-risk child is very active, managing him requires an exercise plan. Children need 1 hour of exercise a day. Make your life easier. Take him out to exercise before you try to get anything done.

About the boy who peed on his baby sister

At risk children respond to their impulses, if given the opportunity to do so. Little boys like to pee! It gives them a feeling of power, and may be somewhat sexual. Every time a child has the opportunity to act on an impulse like this he will take it. When he enjoys the act, no amount of punishment after the fact will undo that enjoyment. At risk kids respond to pleasure more than they respond to pain.

This is what the mother did in response to the incident, “I took the baby out of the room and spank him on his butt... How could you do that? Why you did that? He said that the baby was teasing him (the baby is 1 yr) and that she's always hitting him. I asked him if that was the right way to act, he said no. I explained to him that she didn't know and to let me know when she hits him or does something to him that he doesnt like... I asked him how would he feel if I or somebody else peed on him... he said that he wouldn’t like that...”

The spanking part likely did nothing here. Spanking after the fact does not undo the earlier pleasure he got from the act. Think about yourself, if you eat a delicious peice of chocolate cake does the punishment of weight gain stop you from eating it again?

Verbal reprimands serve a purpose

Talking to the at risk child about managing impulses is very important. He can build the verbal part of his brain and use these verbal lessons to control himself next time. The explanation was good. Verbal lessons should be short, so that the child can remember them. I would say, “The only place we pee is in the toilet.” Then have the child answer the question, “Where do we pee?” Then say, “Do not pee on anyone else, that is not nice!” To ask, “How would you like it if someone peed on you?” is good. That trains the child to be empathetic.

When the verbal lesson is over, LET IT GO! At risk children have many impulses, you will likely face another tomorrow.