среда, 4 июня 2008 г.

Living with children

One of the consequences of postponing toilet training until well past the second birthday (per the bad advice of most post-1960s parenting "experts") is a well-documented problem known as "stool refusal" _ children three and older who will use the toilet for urinating but stubbornly refuse to use it for a bowel movement. Fifty years ago, when most children were expected (and expected they were!) to use the toilet successfully before they turned 2, this problem was rare; today, it is almost commonplace. As one might imagine, it is one of the most frustrating of all parenting problems.

And so it recently was for the parents of a 3-{-year-old stool refusing boy. The parents had talked and rewarded and punished and talked some more, all to no avail. In the meantime, they were beginning to suffer self-induced baldness. Several Web-based experts weighed in, saying that stool refusal almost certainly indicates deep-seated psychological issues, implying that the road to solution would be long and longer still.

Over the past several years, a colleague and I have developed a program that has been very successful at persuading these kids that it is in their best interests to _ using contemporary vernacular _ "give it up" for the potty. This child was the perfect candidate. I recommended that immediately after breakfast on the morning of P-Day, the parents take this recalcitrant child to the bathroom, remove his clothes, and say, "We spoke to your doctor, and he said you have to stay in the bathroom, without any clothes on, until you have a poopy. When you have a poopy, call us to see, and then you can put on your clothes and play. Call us!" I told the parents to keep it short and simple and then cheerfully turn and walk away. If their son refused to stay in the bathroom, they were to gate him in, again explaining that such were the doctor's orders. When he produced a bowel movement, they were not to make a big fuss or reward him, but simply acknowledge his success in a low-key manner.

To the parents' amazement, their son had a bowel movement after five minutes in the bathroom on B-Day. They asked, "Now what?" to which I told them to stay the course. He took three minutes on day two. His mother wrote: "No crying, screaming, nothing. My husband and I have battled this issue for many months now, cried, and lost sleep over it. I'm sitting here absolutely astounded at how simple it has been. Unless told otherwise, we'll continue to use this method until we see him initiate the trip to the bathroom himself."

One week later, she gave me a second update: "As we bring tonight to a close, it marks a full week since we put into action your plan. We have had ZERO accidents this week. ... He is going to the potty on his own. He has been an absolute joy to be around since not having to fight the potty battle."

There was no trick to this at all. The solution involved nothing more than clearly stated expectations and a clearly defined boundary. In short, the parents stopped wishing (in the form of pleading, explaining, rewarding, and exploding) their son would poop in the potty and told him he was going to.

Conjuring the doctor's authority simply reduced any possibility of rebellion. Before closing this column, I would be remiss not to note that on occasion, stool refusal is actually constipation or the result of some other physical problem. Before coming to me for advice, the parents checked this possibility out with a physician. Any parent thinking of trying this should first do the same.

Responsible parenting key to safe campuses

The report states that at best school safety and security in America's schools in inconsistent, and they place much of the blame on " emotionally immature parenting."

These parents are detached from their children academically and developmentally, the report states.

"Early discipline failures are a primary casual factor in the development of conduct problems. Harsh discipline, low supervision, lack of parental involvement all add to the development of aggressive children," researchers stated.

Local educators agree, saying that irresponsible parenting is a common thread they find within the majority of their problem students.

"Many parents have simply stopped parenting. Their maturity level is about the same as their teens. Another problem comes from single parents who suffer from guilt," Hanson said.

By defending poor behavior and not being responsible parents, they are doing their children a disservice, Hanson said.

"Nine times out of 10 when there's a child with a major discipline issue, I have the parents coming to tell me it's the school's fault," said teacher Kelly Hanson. "They accept no responsibility and their children are the ones that give us the most problems."

She said the problems don't go away and oftentimes escalate.

Six out of 10 parents exhibit the immature behavior patterns, according to the report. And only 38 percent of parents admitted to teaching their children critical life skills and morality.

There are other factors as well.

Dr. John Buckley, superintendent of Lucerne Valley Unified School District, said he has seen first hand the behavior issues caused by students who don't read well, if at all.

He said that 99.99 percent of the children were illiterate in a Utah youth detention facility he oversaw.

Because of this they had low self-esteem. They were teased so much ... those kids get very angry. And they tend to come from homes where education is not valued," he said.

He also said kids that are different are easy marks for being teased.

"Kids that are different from other kids, they have disabilities, they're overweight and so on, they can only take so much abuse and they break," Buckley said. "That's not about the home so much as kids are just unmerciful."

About my daughter

My daughter, 10, has always had a very strong will and she can be very argumentative. I am concerned that she is not finding it easy to cope with not getting her way and that with puberty looming this might become more problematic.

So I took her to see a psychiatrist who diagnosed oppositional defiance disorder (ODD), which we then looked up on the internet. Most of the criteria seem to apply, but it sounds like a new term to describe children who are rebellious and stubborn, and to give parents a label for children who pose more than the usual parenting problems. The doctor also said that she indicated autistic traits, while not having classic autistic syndrome. My child became very upset with him, and said that she was no different from her friends, who also argue with their parents. When we left she told me that she was normal and it was the doctor who wasn't normal. I reassured her that we were only concerned to help her to find ways of accepting things that don't go according to her wishes. The doctor said that while he realised that medication would not be our first choice he felt it would be helpful to her. He talked about other options, namely CBT, play therapy and group therapy. All this upset my daughter, but I reminded her that her sister had had art therapy to help her through a difficult period and how helpful it had been. I cannot deny that my daughter's behaviour does give me cause for concern, and there are times I have been frustrated with it. But part of me thinks I am making a mountain out of a molehill. I don't want a diagnosis to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


ODD is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence. The diagnostic criteria for ODD in a young person are the following, but need to occur more often than is typically observed in individuals of comparable age and development: losing temper; arguing with adults; actively defying or refusing to comply with adult requests; deliberately annoying people; blaming others for their mistakes or misbehaviour; easily annoyed by others; angry and resentful; spiteful or vindictive. Four or more of these problems must be present with a "clinically significant impairment in social, academic or occupational functioning".

For many, having "symptoms", or behaviour, similar to ODD, is a transient state during puberty and adolescence. So, should we rush our children to a psychiatric clinic in case there are any other psychiatric diagnoses? Certainly some would also be described as having "autistic traits" -being withdrawn, finding difficulty in being close to others, wanting to be alone and so on.

Because psychiatry is underpinned by a medical model, psychiatrists use diagnostic criteria when dealing with mental ill health in the same way that a GP would for someone who is physically ill -thus leading to the notion of prescribing medication within the medical "diagnose-treat-cure" model. However, with mental health there is huge evidence that such a model can be limited and limiting: at times, neither adequately describes a person's difficulties nor treats them successfully. A psychiatric diagnosis of a condition can be dehumanising -your child now has ODD plus autistic traits, which tells us nothing about her, how she is experiencing her world and how you, as her family, experience and react to her.

These are the most essential considerations for successful assessment and treatment. In this case, a diagnosis places responsibility for the difficulties with the person experiencing them, with no idea of sharing understanding and responsibility for the problems. I agree with your disquiet at the diagnosis and your daughter's rejection of how she is hearing herself being described.

Your daughter is 10 and already could have a psychiatric evaluation. This makes me angry. It reminds me of parents who wave the latest newspaper article in my (and colleagues') faces telling us, for example, that their child has ADHD and could it please be diagnosed. When it is suggested that the child may be responding to family atmosphere, the parents behave erratically, some moving on until they get the diagnosis they want. It negates their need to take responsibility for their child's difficulties. And when I say "take responsibility" I do not mean "be blamed for". I mean enter into an honest dialogue that looks at the problems.

I am not criticising psychiatrists -many of my most valued colleagues practice within the profession. But we live in a world that is sanitised in a way that places the value of a label over the more ragged process of understanding the individual. A diagnostic label may provide a psychiatric shorthand for your child's difficulties, and may also allow a neater (though not necessarily more successful) treatment, but I agree with your concerns about it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy

A friend of mine

A friend of mine was concerned about an aspect of his little girl's behaviour, so he asked his health visitor: "Should I be worried?" To which she replied: "Do you think you should be worried?"

Hopefully, the latest NHS pilot scheme in Fife will be a bit more forthcoming with solutions to parenting problems. The Community Mums service provides trained, experienced, volunteer mums to visit shell-shocked new mothers, chat to them and give them whatever friendly advice they need on issues from breastfeeding to healthy eating and general parenting problems.

Schemes such as this are particularly valuable to people like me, who had a baby without a traditional support network or, indeed, any previous experience of the creatures. It's important to have access to someone who's been there, done that and got the stains on their T-shirt. I've always been very open to advice because I've felt I don't know much, but after nearly two and a half years of hands-on kid-wrangling, I'm wondering whether I could be a volunteer expert mother.

Well, I had no problems breastfeeding, so I could talk about that (tickle its nose with your nipple -the baby, I mean -and its mouth will open wide so you can pop the breast in and away you go). Sleep whenever you can, even if you haven't vacuumed the house since the second trimester. If you mix baby rice into yoghurt, it makes mousse. Oh, and when the going gets really tough, this mantra helps: "Less than two decades to go ... less than two decades to go."

Do we really need that?

Public service announcements admonish us to eat dinner with our families, to remember that it takes a real man to be a dad, that losing weight makes you feel better about yourself.

We do not need commercials to tell us that eating dinner with your kids and talking to them is better than parking them in front of the television with a plate of microwaved chicken nuggets while you sit in front of the computer. That kind of parenting problem won't be solved with a 30-second TV spot.

The cable channel Nickelodeon sponsors what it calls the Worldwide Day of Play. It's a day where kids are told to turn off the television and go -- shockingly -- play and use their imaginations. What a concept.

The sad thing is, if these issues weren't problems, we probably wouldn't be seeing these kind of announcements. And maybe these kind of public education campaigns reach people and help them. But they do beg the question.

So, because we've evidently lost the collective ability to function as thinking people, we are being encouraged by singing and dancing medical personnel to ask our doctors questions to help prevent medical mistakes; we're being told cyberbullying is bad, we're reminded to put kids in safe car booster seats.

What's next, public service announcements reminding us to take out the trash?

So in the spirit of what should be decisions requiring common sense instead of an ad campaign, we're offering a few of our own public service announcement suggestions.

--Wear underpants. The reason? Two words: Britney Spears.

Turn on the television and you can't avoid seeing coverage -- sorry, we mean footage -- of the sad pop princess flashing the world. It's unfortunate all the way around. And if you just can't bring yourself to don skivvies, do the rest of us a favor and wear pants. Please.

--Floss. There may be an official service announcement out there about this somewhere, but take a minute and remember that you need your teeth, just like they need you.

--Take the sun shield out of the front car windshield before you start driving.

--Hang up the phone when you're driving, biking or walking. This applies to talking, text messaging or listening to music. Take a lesson from a California man who was killed in November after stepping in front of an oncoming Amtrak train. He evidently didn't notice the train because he was so absorbed in his cell phone conversation.

--Talk to the live person in front of you. This includes dates, children, parents, friends.

We've noticed a plethora of people sitting or walking together who are all on the phone to someone else more interesting. We've also seen what looks to be two people on a date in restaurants, except one person is on the phone nattering to someone else while the other party is left fiddling with the bread basket. Good times.

--Don't eat food past the expiration date.

The list could go on.

We would like to think that we're a society of people smart enough to figure these things out. But we're waiting for the public service announcement to tell us if we're right.

вторник, 27 мая 2008 г.

for fun

Can tomatoes and cucumbers be good for the soul?

Watch "VeggieTales" long enough, and you might start to believe it.

Since 1993, the good-naturedly goofy animated vegetables of "VeggieTales" have been teaching biblical values to kids while also leading them on fun adventures.

This spiritual salad had sold more than 25 million videos as of summer 2002, and they hit the big screen today with "Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie," their first full-length film.

All this from an idea that Illinois resident Phil Vischer came up with while sitting at a computer in his spare bedroom.

"We started out to answer the question, `What would happen if Monty Python took over Sunday school?" said Vischer, one of the creators of "VeggieTales" and the voice of Bob the Tomato as well as several other characters.

Vischer came up with "VeggieTales" when he was trying to find a way to combine Christian values with fun stories.

So why vegetables? The reason is simpler than you think.

"Computer animation back then couldn't handle legs, arms, hair or clothes, so we had to come up with characters who were naked, bald and limbless," Vischer said. "Since we were going to be targeting Christian bookstores, I originally made a candy bar with big goofy eyes. But my wife said moms weren't going to like it if their kids suddenly fell in love with a bunch of candy bars."

So he changed the shape of the candy-bar character, colored it green and voila! Larry the Cucumber. Bob the Tomato came along shortly thereafter, because Larry just screamed out for a sidekick.

And then came a whole vegetable garden of other characters, ranging from Archibald the Asparagus to JeanClaude and Phillipe Pea, two peas with flamboyant French accents.

Vischer and his co-creator, Mike Nawrocki (the voice of Larry the Cucumber) have since produced 15 videos featuring the Veggie characters, all following a simple formula-wild and wacky, entertaining stories that teach values from the Bible.

Naturally, the idea of vegetables re-enacting Old Testament stories like "Daniel in the Lion's Den" didn't sit well with everyone.

"We got a letter from one elderly gentleman yelling, `How dare you portray Daniel as a cucumber!'" Vischer said. "Some people do not opt into what we're doing. Some folks want to have their biblical stories with bathrobes and sandals. And that's OK."

But the "VeggieTales" blend of humor, music and values has caught on with millions of kids, and adults have caught Veggie-mania, too.

Vischer said he's received e-mails from church singles groups that hold "VeggieTales" viewing parties for adults only, and also heard about weekly Veggie parties in dorms at Michigan State University and Texas A&M. Larry the Cucumber has also been turning up on dancers' T-shirts at Chicago-area nightclubs.

What's the key to the Veggie phenomenon?

"Parents are desperate to find tools to pass on values to kids, and we've managed to pull it off in a way that both kids and parents enjoy," Vischer said.

When coming up with new episodes, the "VeggieTales" creators operate by two basic rules:

One: Jesus will never be portrayed as a vegetable.

Two: The characters don't pray directly to God unless they're portraying someone else, like a biblical character.

"These are vegetables talking about the fact that God loves kids," Vischer said. "We never want to make theological implications that an asparagus can actually have a relationship with God."

Larry, Bob and the gang are also a fun way for Christians to remember core beliefs.

"Christianity has become so segmented, and each little subgroup has its own jargon," Vischer said. "Everybody is standing around throwing rocks at each other, and we've forgotten how much common ground everybody has. The core message of `VeggieTales' is there is a God, he made us special and he loves us. ... If you're trying to raise your kids with biblical values-thankfulness, kindness, forgiveness-and if you're OK with the basic Christian tenets of belief in God and prayer, then `VeggieTales' is for you."

понедельник, 26 мая 2008 г.

Maryland's new awards show value states place on family participation States Look for Ways to Promote, Recognize Parental Involvement

Taking on a task usually handled by PTAS and other parent groups, the Maryland Department of Education has launched an awards program to recognize parents who have made significant contributions to the schools in their community.

The unusual project — which includes cash awards of up to $1,000 and which state Superintendent Nancy Grasmick views as a complement to "teacher of the year" programs — illustrates the role state education leaders in Maryland and elsewhere are taking in encouraging parent participation.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, districts and Title I schools are required to have a parent-involvement policy, which includes having parents serving as advisers to school leaders as well as being involved in their own children's education.

"Some of their contributions are absolutely huge," Ms. Grasmick said of the part parents can play in the schools.

She hopes Parent Involvement Matters, co-sponsored by Comcast, a cable-television company, will help replace what she calls "the old perception" that parents' primary role in schools is running fundraisers with the idea of parent support for the education that schools provide.

Successful partnerships between educators and parents take place at the local school level, noted Joyce Epstein, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and an expert on family involvement. Districts can also encourage those partnerships, making it more likely that all schools will take such efforts seriously, she said.

But the role of a state education agency is more complicated, she said.

"Most states really cannot tell districts that they should use one approach," Ms. Epstein said. Instead, states can create awareness about the contributions that parents make, help districts and schools develop partnership programs, and celebrate successes — as Maryland's awards program aims to do.
Effective Strategies

The National Network of Partnership Schools, a Johns Hopkins-based organization that Ms. Epstein directs, has compiled a list of strategies specifically for state education departments. Recognizing hard-working parent volunteers is just one of them.

They also include giving small grants to school districts to help them build parent-partnership programs, holding workshops for local school officials on research-based practices, and even promoting workplace policies that allow employees the flexibility to volunteer at school or attend conferences.

The states where efforts like those have been the most visible recently, Ms. Epstein added, are ones that are working with Parental Information and Resource Centers, or PIRCs, which in most cases are private, non-profit organizations that receive federal money under the NCLB law for their work.

Currently, 60 such centers exist across the country, with at least one in every state. Their purpose is to provide information and other help on parent involvement from the early-childhood years through high school.

"We think that when PIRCs and state departments work together, they can maximize all the resources in the state," said Catherine Jordan, the program manager at the Austin, Texas-based National PIRC Coordination Center, which provides technical assistance to the centers.

Connecticut is one example of a state where the center and the state education department are drawing on each other's expertise.

"We work on different projects together all the time," said Veronica Marion, the coordinator of the Connecticut Parent Information and Resource Center, based in Middletown. For example, the department and the center recently collaborated on the production of a DVD on supplemental educational services available to children from low-income families. The DVD is being given to organizations that work with families.

In Maryland, Ms. Grasmick has also formed a parent advisory council that continues to focus on ways that parents can support student achievement. Its latest priority is the educational needs of children in foster care. Ms. Grasmick's call for parent participation in the schools has also increased in part because of the recent beating of a teacher by students at a Baltimore high school, which received wide attention.

The state superintendent said that Maryland is fortunate that it has only 24 school systems, a number that can make communication easier. "We can really galvanize ourselves around an important purpose," she said.

Maryland's program also shows that sometimes the parents who are the most upset about an issue — and the most outspoken with administrators — are the ones who end up being the most effective. "They are really activists," Ms. Grasmick said. She mentioned as an example honoree Annette Jackson-Jolly, one of five semifinalists, who, as the PTA president at the 530-student Hyattsville Elementary School in Prince George's County, Md., led a successful letter-writing campaign to spur renovations to the school gymnasium.
Addressing Diversity

In its inaugural awards earlier this month, Maryland recognized 23 parents nominated by a variety of school leaders, parent groups, and community organizations. The statewide winner received $1,000, and four semifinalists $250 each.

Susan Rattman, another semifinalist, started a parent-training program, called the Educational Partnership Initiative, for parents of children with disabilities in Harford County, Md.

As the parent of a son who was diagnosed with multiple disabilities and a progressive disease at age 3, she said she began the program to help other parents better understand the special education system.

"Parenting a child with a disability brings in way more professionals in your life than anyone should ever have to deal with," Ms. Rattman said. "I really did know him the best, but I didn't know how to communicate that."

Though her son Adam died last month at age 19, Ms. Rattman plans to stay involved in the program, which is now in its fourth year and has spread to neighboring Cecil County.

"It's quite an honor to him," she said of the parent-involvement award.

The overall state winner, Larry Walker — a minister in Columbia, Md., and the parent of a senior at the 1,450-student Mount Hebron High School — became more involved because he was unhappy with the way the school's former principal handled an accusation of rape involving three African-American boys and a white girl in 2004.

He has stayed involved, he said, because he felt there was a need to address the growth of diversity in the schools as the community's black population increased. Mount Hebron's enrollment is 14 percent African-American and 38 percent minority overall. Mr. Walker launched a mentoring program for boys, and has helped Asian and Hispanic parents form their own groups.

"(The principal] knows that I am going to be the one who is going to roll up my sleeves and be in the cafeteria and walk the hallways," said Mr. Walker. "I do what I do because there is a need. The award I get is when you see kids who make different decisions because of some of the influence that you've had."