Cell Phones and the Dangers of Distracted Parenting

When it comes to children’s development, parents should worry less about kids’ screen time—and more about their own.

It is never easy for a parent to balance their own needs, and desires, with those of their child. Fortunately, children do not always need or even want their parent’s full attention. They just need it ‘reliably enough’. In fact, some degree of separateness is necessary and healthy for development. This article makes the case that our modern preoccupation with smart phones, however, has tipped the balance in an unhealthy direction. Parents these days, despite spending lots of time in the physical presence of their child, are frequently distracted by their cell phone and thus are frequently inattentive totheir child.

This is disrupting the normal healthy pattern of parent-child communication that Read More

How to Talk with Children about Mass Shootings

Sadly, this is a topic that keeps rearing its ugly head.

As parents and people who work with children many of us have the understandable instinct to shield our children from this latest national tragedy. But how can we shield our children from the atrocity when screens and media are everywhere? We can’t.

What we can do, however, is support our children’s healthy coping with a frightening news story by calmly providing them with filtered, developmentally appropriate information about the event.

First and foremost, we need to let our children know that they are loved and safe, and that such events, while very scary, are rare and unusual.  Read More

Clinical Perspectives on Reflective Parenting: Keeping the Child’s Mind in Mind

A dad says he has to remind his daughter over and over every night to feed the dog. One mom put it like this, “It’s such a chore to get my kids to do chores.” Another mother says she wishes her kids wanted to help out- since she and her husband worked so hard for them. In one way or another each of these parents asked me “Isn’t there a way to make it easier and less unpleasant to get my kids to do their chores or help me out with household tasks?”

Chores, responsibilities, tasks
Chores are daily responsibilities that a child is required to do on a regular basis, such as feeding the dog or setting the table. There are  household tasks we expect of kids.  Read More

The Meanness of pranking children

Melissa Jacobs of CRC’s Leadership team wrote her thoughts on a Washington Post article about Jimmy Kimmel’s Halloween pranks on children. See her thoughts and the original article below…

Imagine you are six-years old. It is the morning after Halloween, a day you had looked forward to for weeks. After considerable deliberation you chose your costume. Maybe you and one of your parents helped you make the costume over many nights. Perhaps you braved the super spooky Halloween decorations at your neighborhood party store. Maybe you got to wear only some of your costume to school because masks and accessories aren’t allowed. You waited a near eternity for night to fall. Finally, night falls and you are hard at work, ringing the doorbell of every neighbor whose front porch light is on, carefully picking your favorite candies from the proffered bowl. “One-per-customer” at the house on the corner; “Take what you want” next door, score!. Your bag grew heavy, your legs grew heavy. When you got home you examined your loot and ate more than your parents wanted you to. You fell asleep thinking how to make your candy last til January, or maybe you would eat it all by Friday. 
Now imagine you wander into the kitchen the next morning, looking for your stash. 
“Mommy, where’s my candy?” 
“I ate it.”
Imagine how you would feel. 
Then she says: “Only joking.”  
Now imagine how you would feel.  
A recent opinion piece in the Washington Post by child psychiatrist Meg van Achterberg invites parents to consider the meanness of this very prank, a prank late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel has encouraged his adult audience members to play on their kids the morning after Halloween for the past six years. Jimmy Kimmel has become an admirable spokesperson for the need for health-care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, something he has become sensitized to having recently had a child who has a preexisting condition. Perhaps, as his child comes to savor Halloween, Kimmel will come to imagine how his own child might experience such a prank and maybe even find it to be a little less funny. 

Being a Reflective Parent with Anxious Teens

Jessica Borelli,Ph.D. ( director of the UCI THRIVE Lab)  is a researcher whose work I admire. She studies the links between close relationships and health. As she is an expert on this subject, I asked her to comment on a recent article in the NYT about the increase in serious anxiety amongst teens.

Here is what she has to say.

“The saddest part of this article for me was how alone the teens interviewed for the story felt. This isolation is probably partly the result of the intense focus that anxiety and depression seem to command — this is a self-focus that is nothing like grandiosity or egocentricity, but rather a loathing self-focus that views all of one’s own real and imagined flaws magnified by a factor of 500. This hyper-focus on the self deprives the individual of so much, including a broader perspective on their problems and also an awareness that others also struggle and that they are not alone. In my work with anxious youth, I’ve also found that it means a lack of social connections, particularly the types of connections in which teens reveal these ‘shameful’ parts of themselves. This is truly unfortunate because the social connections have the potential to ameliorate the shame living at the core of the anxiety, which at times can resolve the problem.

Some ways to translate her wise comments into something helpful to do: It is a complex problem. There are no sure fixes. As a reflective parent here are some ideas to consider that can help to reduce the pressure, the aloneness and the shame.

  • Communicate acceptance: that no one is perfect; it is ok to not always get A’s or be the best.
  • Counteract disaster thinking:  that even if your child does not do as well as hoped, whether in school, sports or with a friend, that life is not ruined.
  • Empathize with their upset, but role model optimism: that set backs and difficulties can be managed and dealt with in a positive way.
  • Do what you can to encourage talking about it, not to keep it private. It is good for them to talk with you, so certainly always be available and to listen without judgement. Kids often want to talk at the most inopportune times, late at night, just when you are leaving to go for a run or have lunch with a friend, or even when you are about to go to work. Take the time when they offer it to you- even if it is not convenient. It pays off in the end.
  •  But also, when they are teens they need to talk with their friends. Even as you try and limit social media, you still want to encourage them to talk about their pressures and self-criticisms with their friends. Friends are usually way more accepting and supportive of them, than they are of themselves.


When Kids Misbehave, don’t blame them for your reaction!

You are at a restaurant with your closest friend and Carson your 7 year old son. Carson starts to misbehave. First, he tries to get up and leave. You bring him back. Then he starts to scream and bang his fork and spoon. It is embarrassing and it is disturbing your conversation with your friend and other diners sitting nearby. Carson asks for your phone to watch a video. At first you refuse. Carson keeps up the demand for the phone.

Fortunately you are prepared. You take out paper and crayons. That does not work. You then take out a few favorite little toys. That does not work. Now you are annoyed at him. But finally, with a sigh of resignation you hand Carson your cell phone to watch a video. That immediately quiets him.

Uh-oh, now you feel guilty and defeated. You have been told not to allow too much screen time.

Then you reflect and eventually decide it’s OK. Here is your reflective thought process…..

You recognize you can’t both talk to your friend and pay attention to your child. You must choose. You realize your child is not being difficult. It is the situation that is difficult for your child. He’s probably bored and having a hard time sitting there for so long, so he is just trying to get your attention. You also reflect on the reason for your behavior. It might be your friend really needs you today to talk about a problem she is having, so you want to give her your full attention.  Or it could be you need to just have time to relax with your friend and have a break from your child.

The scene here is a restaurant. But similar misbehavior can happen anywhere– in the car, in the supermarket, when visiting relatives or when you have an important phone call.

What should you have done? There is no right answer. Choosing to give your phone or not give your phone are both fine options. In other words, it depends.

Reflective Parenting gives you choices. Choose what is going to work best for you, for your child and for the situation.

But no matter what you choose to do, the point is to be honest with yourself. Take responsibility for your actions and your reasons for taking those actions.

Here is what I mean. Often a parent’s choices are based more on the parent’s needs and feelings than on their child’s. In such cases your role is to recognize that what you are doing is about you and not about your child.

The benefit of being honest
 is that you can turn a situation like giving in about the cell phone into a reflective learning experience for your child.

  • At the restaurant you might say, “I know it is not good for you to watch too many videos, but in this situation, I can’t pay attention to you, because I want to talk to my friend.”
  • In the car you might say, “I am having a really hard time focusing on my driving while the two of you argue in the back seat. That’s why I am going to give you my cell phone to watch a video. I don’t like to give you my phone just to have you be quiet in the car. But this time I’m doing it to keep me calm.”

Wow! What a gift to your child. This kind of reflective language with your child is critical to your child’s social and emotional development.


See the full blog post on Regina’s website: 

Children & Anxiety

CRC’s Co-Director and Founder, Regina Pally, talks about a recent article on children & anxiety from The New York Times…

If you have a child with anxiety you are not alone. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can be beneficial in some situations. For some children however, anxiety can become excessive, and interfere with daily life. And what’s tricky is that kids often don’t say they are anxious. They say things like “I hate school. I don’t want to go.” Or “I have a stomach ache” Or sometimes they are very demanding or uncooperative. This article talks about why anxiety is on the rise in teenagers. Even though this article focuses on cases of extreme anxiety in teenagers, it is worth reading for any parent who thinks their child is anxious. One of the best points is that once you realize your child is not a demanding and uncooperative child, or is not just lazy and trying to get out of going to school, you will be in a better position to respond in a helpful way. Also, it will remind you that anxiety has many sources and that there is never just one right way to treat it. 

How to Talk with Children about the Tragedy in Las Vegas

Sunday night’s mass shooting in Las Vegas was disturbing and frightening to us all.

As parents and people who work with children many of us have the understandable instinct to shield our children from this national tragedy. But how can we shield our children from the atrocity when screens and media are everywhere? We can’t.

What we can do, however, is support our children’s healthy coping with a frightening news story by calmly providing them with filtered, developmentally appropriate information about the event.

First and foremost, we need to let our children know that they are loved and safe, and that such events, while very scary, are rare and unusual.  We need to share this with our children while doing our best to remain calm and steady ourselves, focused on the child’s sense of safety and wellbeing.

This is hard.

A good place to begin a conversation with children of all ages about the shooting is to simply ask them what they have already heard about it and then listen to what they have to tell you. Explain as much of what happened as children can understand developmentally and keep details to a minimum. Avoid graphic details about the tragedy.  You want to provide children with enough information so that they know what has happened. Graphic information and images should be avoided.

Invite them to ask questions of their own. Let their questions guide the conversation and provide clarity and reassurance where needed. It is common for younger children to have fewer questions compared to older children. A good rule of thumb is to answer the question asked. Too often, well-intentioned grown-ups generate anxiety in their children by providing too much information. As you talk with the child, pay attention to how you are feeling, and what you think the child is feeling. Encourage the child to express their feelings, and validate those feelings. Listen carefully for any unstated concerns or fears and observe your children looking for any changes in behavior. Be prepared for your child to return to you with questions over a period of time, a few hours, days and even weeks. We want to be able to tell children something hard and true, that: “Sometimes, very bad things happen, but we are strong enough to deal with those things together.” This sends the powerful message to a child that life can be difficult but that difficulties can be managed and coped with. It is a message that is aimed at building resiliency.

Here are some suggestions about how to talk about the tragedy with children of different ages.

With children under the age of 3 years old, especially those whose exposure to media is minimal, we recommend that you NOT be the one to initiate the conversation about the shooting. However, we do encourage you to be prepared to have a conversation with them about it. If you get the sense that your child has heard or seen something about the shooting, you will want to talk with them about it. Always start by asking them what they have heard.

Given the likelihood that preschool age children will learn about the shooting, we encourage you to be the child’s source of information about the event, rather than learning about it in the media or from another child. Ask the child what they have heard and then provide them with a straightforward and accurate description of the event. With young children, grown-ups often err on the side of being too vague with what they share. If your description is too vague, children may not understand why so much is being made of the event. You want to convey to the child that it is okay if this news upsets them, and that you are there to support them.

Even with elementary school-age and adolescent children, begin your conversation by asking them what they have heard, and what questions they have about what happened. Your conversation can be guided by the child’s questions. Keep in mind that even though older children may seem more savvy and sophisticated they still will likely find the news of the shooting unsettling and need to be reassured that their upset is understandable and normal and that you are interested in their feelings and available to support them as they accommodate and cope with what has happened. With older children, it will be important to discuss images and content they will likely come across on their screens and to develop a plan minimize exposure to graphic imagery, and to share anything they come across that they find to be disturbing with you. You may also want to inquire if there is anything they would like to do in response to the tragedy. Older children often want to do something because taking an active stance makes them feel less helpless. At the same time, however, you don’t want to feel pressured to act. If they are not interested, that’s fine too.

Regardless of the child’s age, we encourage you to highlight the following points as you talk with the children in your life about the Las Vegas tragedy.

◦      Events such as what happened this week in Las Vegas are rare and unusual.        

   ◦      Children are loved by their families and communities.

   ◦      Their feelings are natural and normal in such a situation.

         You are interested in their feelings and thoughts about the tragedy. And it is important to share them, especially their concerns.

   ◦      The adults in their community are trained to keep them safe and will always work hard to ensure that happens.

   ◦      The vast majority of people in the world are good and these people are working to make sure events such as this do not happen again.

Talking about an upsetting event like this recent shooting poses a challenge for adults, but such conversations provide an important way to convey to children that their sense of safety and wellbeing is important to those who care for them.

For more information:

American Academy of Pediatrics 

How can we help children feel safer about their fears?

Earthquakes, hurricanes, renewed threat of nuclear war. We are living in uncertain, and even, frightening times, and children are aware of these dangers around us. This terrific opinion piece by Dr. Susan Lin, a psychologist on faculty at Harvard Medical School, provides a useful take on how we as grown-ups today can help children feel safer about their fears about nuclear war by speaking with them differently than grown-ups spoke to children in previous generations.

-Melissa Jacobs, CRC Leadership Team

“Like Open Heart Surgery” – Our Leadership Team shares their thoughts on separating from our kids

Regina Pally, CRC’s Founder and Co-Director, discusses an interesting article she found in the New York Times.

Lots of kids have difficulty separating. It can be very hard on parents, especially if they don’t understand just how normal it is for separation to be difficult. The human species is actually designed for separation to activate the pain system. It hurts at a physical level- with some hurting more than others. But it can even hurt for the most resilient of us. This article illustrates how cool and collected President Obama felt like he was having open heart surgery when separating from his daughter as she went off to college. Letting your child know it’s normal to feel upset about separating can be the first step in helping to reduce their pain. If you make a child feel badly about being upset, it can activate a shame cycle that actually exacerbates the pain. In fact ‘normalizing’ all negative emotions is a very useful tool when trying to comfort a child who is upset. The point is to help your child develop coping skills for their difficult and painful emotions. But the message should always be to accept the feelings as normal.

Read the article here: