Monday, July 27, 2009

Ten Traits of Great Parents

by Dave Verhaagen

In writing my book, Parenting the Millennial Generation, I interviewed excellent parents to find out what separated them from the rest. Some of what I found was expected, but some of it surprised me. Here’s what I found about the really great parents:

1. They Have Vision for Their Child’s Character – they think about the character traits they value—things like honesty or compassion or courage—and they work to instill these qualities in their child.

2. They Parent Each Child Uniquely — they don’t use a one size fits all approach to parenting. They realize that each child has a unique temperament with unique needs and they parent each child accordingly. They don’t follow cookie cutter steps or rigid formulas.

3. They Don’t Parent for an Audience — they don’t make parenting decisions based on what the neighbors—or their parents or other family members—will think, but on what is best for their child.

4. They Trust Their Instincts — they realize that parenting requires making good decisions based on their gut rather than always needing expert or outside opinions.

5. They Have a Warm & Firm Style — they have the great ability to be warmly involved with their children while still keeping good limits and boundaries.

6. They Co-Parent Well — they communicate, collaborate, and share the same parenting values as their spouse or parenting partner.

7. They Keep Short Accounts — they don’t hold grudges or stay resentful with their children. They do their best to deal with a situation and then let it go without holding it over their child’s head.

8. They Think Win-Win — they try to work out solutions to conflicts with their child where everybody wins, especially with older teens who need practice in making their own decisions.

9. They Have Family Rituals and Traditions — they have daily, weekly, and annual rituals and traditions that give the family a sense of stability, predictability, and safety.

10. They Enjoy Their Kids — they work hard to have fun with their children and enjoy their time with them, even when the kids are driving them crazy!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Spock Has Asperger's

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post by Dr. Frank Gaskill appeared on this blog. It was so popular we had to bring it back for an encore, especially as J.J. Abrams reboot of the Star Trek series has been one of the biggest and best films of the summer season.

by Frank Gaskill

Kirk: Well, Mr. Spock, if we can't disguise you, we'll find some way of explaining you.

Spock: That should prove interesting.

Spock is high on logic, struggles with a limited understanding of social interaction, wears the same blue shirt, and has a highly specialized job as Science Officer on the Enterprise. Many speak of Asperger’s as a disorder, but without it, we would probably not understand gravity (Sir Isaac Newton), have some of our most vivid movie experiences (Tim Burton), or even have the postal service (Benjamin Franklin), just to name a few ways these folks have enhanced our lives. Individuals with Asperger's have already made the world a better place.

While my comments are purely speculative, I think it possible that Asperger’s is our next forward leap in evolution with Spock being the end result. Many of my Aspie clients are capable of things I could never achieve. These amazing kids include a computer graphics animator (age 13), an accomplished concert pianist (age 12), and a state chess champion (age 10). My adult Aspie friends are satellite programmers, physicians, and computer programmers.

With the advent of technology and specialized sciences since the industrial revolution, these gifted and interesting individuals have advanced our society in profound ways. In the past they may have been termed nerds, geeks, or even retarded, but they are increasingly the drivers of our technological future. While highly speculative, you might consider Bill Gates’ role in our lives.

We often seek a name or label for what’s wrong with someone. With the concept of neuro-diversity in mind, I urge us to consider what’s “right” with people first and build toward their strengths rather than focusing on their defects or shortcomings. I think we ought to be elevating and praising some of our "Spocks" rather than disguising or labeling them as disordered. My guess is that it would make the world an even better place.

From Star Trek: The Voyage Home

Gillian: Are you sure you won't change your mind?

Spock: Is there something wrong with the one I have?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Parents and Your Child's Academic Success

Most parents want to help their child be successful in school. However, as a child ages and changes, the ways you help may also change.

During elementary school, a healthy parent-teacher relationship is essential to keep up with how your child is doing academically. Helping with homework and being supportive of their school work on a daily basis is also vital during this period of time.

However, this dynamic changes once a child reaches middle school. Now, kids now have multiple teachers, their interests are evolving, and most notably, they are going through puberty. Obviously, children in puberty undergo massive physical and mental changes becoming more adult-like, but not yet fully mature.

So what's a parents role in helping a middle schooler or high schooler be successful in school? A recent study conducted by Nancy E. Hill PhD, of Harvard University, assessed different styles of parental involvement with middle school children and their academic drive. According to Hill, during the middle school years, “Teens are starting to internalize goals, beliefs, and motivations and [they] use these to make decision. Although they may want to make their own decisions, they need guidance from parents to help provide the link between school and their aspirations for future work.” In other words, young teenagers need to do most of it themselves, but they still need help making the connection between hard work in school and a future payoff.

It is this emphasis on academic achievement and how it relates to potential life goals that seems to have the greatest influence on these maturing students. For many, friends become a higher priority, diminishing one’s focus on homework. From an early adolescent’s perspective, parental involvement in academics can be more or less embarrassing or annoying.

So, as a parent, you may need to be less involved in the your child's day-to-day school performance, but you still have an important role in helping him or her see the important relationship between future aspirations and academic success. If you do it the right way, without being or overbearing, your child is likely to internalize this connection and establish a drive to do well in school.

By: Emma Kate Wright and Mara Ivey

APA Press Release. May 19, 2009. “Tying Education to Future Goals May Boost Grades More Than Helping with Homework, Research Finds.”

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Finding Happiness in a Bad Economy

June 21st marked the largest meeting of positive psychologists in history; around 1,500 of these thinkers met in Philadelphia to discuss what can bring happiness into people’s lives in the midst of so many finding themselves unemployed. Often in American culture, people tend to group happiness with professional success and monetary gain. At a time when so many Americans find themselves with little to no income, many are asking themselves whether it is possible to be happy while having less.

Psychologist Ed Diener, thinks so. At a recent meeting of 1500 psychologists in Philadelphia, he stated that, “Many who try to live on less money find they are soon just as happy as they were before.” While it seems that those who struggle daily to make ends meet do report a lower level of happiness, monetary gain has a minimal effect on one’s mood in the long run.

Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, reports that involvement in various activities, finding one’s purpose in life, and maintaining strong relationships are the key ingredients to happiness. While work is an important factor, the level of one’s income does not play as big a role as people tend to assume when considering an individual’s overall wellbeing.

This theory has been dubbed the “vitamin theory of work.” It states that “work provides structure and emotional experiences such as exercising control, socializing, and helping others, that make people feel better about their lives. The amount they are paid is not a key factor.” A few key activities may help you remain happy through times the economic downturns. Put your focus on these three areas:

Prioritize relationships. Spend extra time with family and/or strengthen existing relationships. Rekindle old friendships. Visit elderly relatives. Relationships have a much higher influence on happiness than monetary income.

Pick a goal and stick to it. Taking initiative, staying focused on a goal, and reaching success after hard work all bring a feeling of accomplishment which leads to a greater sense of well-being.

Create fun. Partake in any other activities that have always been enjoyable. It can be reading a book, playing an old favorite board game, going on a run, renting a movie; there are countless fun activities that can be done while paying little to no money.

Financial struggles are a common part of the life cycle. During those times, it is perfectly natural to become unhappy and frustrated. Finding strength in friends and family, while taking time for yourself will help you endure the hard times. Lifestyle changes may be permanent, even when the gloom that comes with economic troubles passes.

(Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer – June 21, 2009 “Psychologist converge on Phila. to study happiness”)

Written by: Mara Ivey, Matthew Laxer, and Emma Kate Wright