John Rosemond Recent Columns
Copyright 2019, John K. Rosemond
"The Doctor" Is the Tool Every Parent Needs
I have good news for parents: You do not need more than a few tools in your disciplinary tool-bag. One especially valuable tool, one that belongs in every modern home, is the “Doctor.” The Doctor is akin to a genie – an invisible parenting sprite, so to speak – whom you invite to take up residence in your home. But it’s not like inviting your cousin to come live with you because the Doctor takes up no room, consumes nothing, makes no mess, and moves on within a few weeks.
You can invoke the Doctor’s paranormal powers concerning a broad range of parenting problems including tantrums, disobedience, compulsive nose-picking, even refusing to eat. So, for example, you can tell a, say, five-year-old who is throwing frequent tantrums because you will not customize her life precisely to her liking, “I spoke to the Doctor today about your tantrums; you know, your screaming fits. He tells me that children your age who throw lots of screaming fits aren’t getting enough sleep and told me that if you throw a screaming or even a yelling or crying fit, you have to go to bed immediately after we eat supper so you can catch up on your sleep. He also said that if you have a fit after supper, you have to go to bed right away.”
The five-year-old female child in question is a real person. She lives with her parents in a small midwestern town where she was, until recently, developing quite the reputation for explosive tantrums that were even occurring in restaurants, stores, and other public places. She went to bed right after supper every night for six nights. Then she went to bed early five nights out of the next ten. Then she stopped throwing tantrums. Several weeks later, she told her mother that she felt a lot better now that she wasn’t having screaming fits all the time.
Or, take the case of the six-year-old boy whose parents had spent tens of thousands of dollars on various forms of “feeding therapy” – which consists, as best I can tell, of cajoling, bribing, and exclaiming “Good job!” whenever said child touches his lips with a new food morsel – including a stint in-residence at a well-known feeding therapy institute in the Midwest. Yes, the parents picked up and moved 1500 miles so their food-averse child could have nothing but the best. After eight weeks of intensive midwestern feeding therapy, the child’s food repertoire had gone from three to five.
After a 90-minute discussion with me, the parents told their son about the Doctor – a new Doctor, mind you, one they’d never seen before – and his revolutionary finding that children who refuse to eat what is put in front of them (from that point on, said defiant boy’s plate featured the same foods everyone else in the family had on their plates)…yes, you guessed it…aren’t getting enough sleep! Within a week, the child was eating what his parents and siblings were eating. He continued to complain about not liking what his parents fixed, but when he did, they simply said, “You must be feeling tired” and he ate.
The Doctor’s ground-breaking therapy cured a nine-year-old who enjoyed calling his single mother names and completely ignored her when she gave an instruction. The Doctor was able to determine that – all together now: THE BOY WASN’T GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP! Only two weeks of treatment was required to cure what a psychologist had said was a case of oppositional-defiant and attention-deficit disorders.
Turns out, the boy was just a sleepy little brat.
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It's Okay to Let Babies Cry
“What do you do when your baby cries?” I asked the 20-something new mom who was already feeling overwhelmed and beginning to slip into post-partum depression. Her mother-in-law had suggested she talk to someone and recommended yours truly.
“I pick him up,” she said.
“You always, when he cries, pick him up?” I asked.
“And when you pick him up, then what?”
“Well,” she said, “I try to get him to stop…you know, I walk with him, bouncing up and down, and I sing to him, and I talk to him, trying to comfort him.”
“So,” I said, “he cries, and you walk him and sing to him and bounce him up and down.”
“And he seems to be crying more and more.”
“Do you like ice cream?”
“I love ice cream…chocolate chip mint mostly.”
“If you discovered that the only way you could get chocolate chip mint ice cream was to scream at the top of your lungs and jump up and down like a lunatic, what would you do?”
She looked at me for a few moments as the wheels turned. Then, “Oh.”
“Yes,” I said. “Oh. With the very best of intentions, you’re creating an ice cream monster who can’t get enough of your ice cream. The more you give, the more he wants. You use drugs?”
“Do I use drugs? No! I’ve never even smoked pot!”
“Good, but here’s the deal: You’re already setting precedents that may well cause you to become a legal drug user. If you don’t stop thinking that it’s your job to keep your son from crying, then I predict – mind you, I flunked fortune telling in graduate school, so this is nothing but a very experienced speculation – I predict you’ll be on at least two psychiatric drugs before he’s three, one for depression and one for anxiety. You don’t want that.”
“No, I don’t want that.”
“Then you have to let him cry, not always, constantly, of course, but sometimes you are just going to have to walk away from him when he’s crying.”
“Walk away? I’ve started carrying him around in one of those front pouches.”
“I bet he loves that.”
“Seems to, yes.”
“That’s fine if you’re going out somewhere, but it’s not fine for you to carry him around in a pouch all day long so that he won’t cry. That’s like putting him on an ice cream drip. Use the pouch only when you’re going somewhere. Furthermore, as soon as he can hold his head up reasonably well, switch to a baby backpack so he can look around at the world while you’re doing your thing.”
“I read an article about high-need babies and he fits the description. It said I should…it said ‘wear him.’”
“That’s attachment parenting bunk-ola. It’s bunk-ola that’s going to make it very difficult for him to accept anything less than being worn by you. Wearing him like you’re still pregnant with him is another bad precedent. Sweetie, babies cry. They cry because that’s what they do. Some do it more than others, but they all need to learn that their mommies are not at the beck and call, and the sooner, the better…for both baby and mommy.”
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Teenage Girls and Boys Respond to Technology Differently
Q: We held off giving our oldest daughter a smartphone until she was fifteen, the age at which we allowed her older brother to have one. We read your column weekly in our hometown newspaper and know you disapprove but we had no issues with our son and thought, wrongly, that things would go equally well if not better with our daughter. Four months into this and she has become moody and often sullen and we discovered last week that she has started cutting herself. She says she often feels unhappy with herself and feels that “all” the other kids her age have more friends than she does. We know you’re going to say that we should take the smartphone away, but we’re concerned that may make matters worse. Your thoughts?
A: Recent research has found that teenage girls and boys relate and respond to technology in vastly different ways, meaning that your experience with your son was by no means predictive concerning your daughter. For teenage girls, social media is likely to become a platform upon which they act out emotionally charged personal dramas. In these soap operas the teen world is simplistically bifurcated into villains and victims, winners and losers, lucky and unlucky, popular and unpopular, and so on. Girls who perceive themselves as belonging to the less advantaged group are vulnerable to feelings of social isolation and worthlessness, episodes of depression and self-harming, and suicidal thoughts. Sound familiar?
Boys, on the other hand, are more likely to use smartphones to go on Internet adventures. Unfortunately, these voyages of discovery often lead them into pornography and contact with pedophiles. Given that boys tend to be more covert than girls, I would not be at all certain that your son is suffering no untoward effects from being the possessor of a smartphone. The fact is, teens quickly learn how to conceal from adults where they’re going and what they’re doing on the Internet. I’m just sayin’.
As I’ve often said, there is no good reason – NOT ONE! – for a teen to have a smartphone. Self-employed business people like myself can justify having one. People who do a lot of business-related traveling (again, me) can justify having one. Likewise, folks who have to be constantly in some information “loop” or another. But teenagers? Nope. Not one good reason. You want your teen to be able to communicate with you at a moment’s notice? Fine. Give him a cell phone (will talk and text only) and a phone card. Virtually no supervision required!
You might guess I have no sympathy for the “all the kids his age have one” pretext. Let’s get real! In plain English, that translates to “I’m a parent who wants my child to like me and I’m afraid, therefore, of denying him anything he wants.” Unfortunately for us all, most parents these days seem to suffer from Weak and Ineffectual Misdirected Parenting. Have you figured out the acronym yet?
Putting myself in your place, I would have no problem at all confiscating both smart phones and substituting inexpensive cell phones. Simply tell your daughter you don’t think it’s a coincidence that her problems began when she got a smart phone in her hands. Tell your son you’re tired of worrying what he might be getting into. Don’t explain yourselves any further than that. Don’t be drawn into negotiations. Don’t be afraid to be disliked for a time. They’ll come back around eventually.
Besides, what adult in his or her right mind cares whether a teenager likes them or not?
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Replace Psychological With Old Fashioned Parenting
As my regular readers know, I am a certified heretic in my field: child and family psychology. To the point, I am convinced that psychological parenting theory, which began to inform American child-rearing in the late 1960s, has caused more problems than psychologists know how to solve.
I came to this conclusion in the early 1980s. I was in private practice at the time and grappling with the realization that few of my clients were getting good results from the psychologically-correct manner in which I was approaching the child-rearing problems they brought to my attention. Without going into the relatively long story, which involved major problems my wife and I were having with the older of our two kids, suffice to say I pretty much trashed nearly everything I had learned in graduate school and post-graduate seminars and embraced the pre-psychological parenting approach my parents’ generation (and previous generations stretching back thousands of years) had employed.
Almost everyone in my profession was telling parents to avoid punishment. I not only began recommending punitive consequences but punitive consequences that were HUGE (but never, contrary to the myth surrounding my name, spanking). My colleagues were stressing the importance of talking to children about their feelings. They called it “affirming” and “validating” child feelings. I became convinced that these parent-child or therapist-child conversations usually made matters worse. I stopped meeting with children for that reason. Child psychologists were making a living diagnosing children with ADHD, which looked a lot to me like old-fashioned disobedience and irresponsibility. I was the first psychologist in America to blow the whistle on the lack of science and logic behind the diagnosis and the specious explanations being offered for it.
Because I was spreading my heresies through this column, my speaking engagements, and my books, they caused many people in my field to develop full-blown hysteria. I became a target for all manner of attempts to silence me, but here I am, still spreading heresy and intending to do so until I’m no longer capable of much of anything.
Going back to my feelings about child therapy, it is a fact that the reliable efficacy of not one form of psychological therapy with children has ever been verified. Furthermore, I have collected an ever-growing trove of stories from parents attesting to the damage done by therapy to their kids.
I was recently reminded of this by an online article in which a psychologist listed signs that “Your Child Needs Therapy.” One of said signs was “If talking to your child about his feelings doesn’t seem to be working.” I had to laugh to keep from screaming. With rare exception, talking to a child about his feelings accomplishes nothing. As does a child’s behavior, a child’s feelings need to be disciplined. Children don’t need to be encouraged to vent their emotions. They need to be taught to control them.
Along that line, the parents of a 7-year-old girl came to me asking what to do about their daughter’s fear of riding the bus to school. She was convinced that the bus was in imminent danger of crashing and exploding into a ball of flame. The parents talked and explained and listened and talked and listened and explained with nothing to show for all this yada-yada-yada.
I told them to tell the child that they’d read an article written by an expert saying that children with fears of that sort were not getting enough sleep. As such, if the little girl resisted getting on the bus in the morning, she had to go to bed immediately after supper that evening in order to catch up on her sleep. Stop talking, I told them. Don’t even talk with her about her fears if she asks to talk. A child’s feelings, I said, are like a hurricane. The more energy they suck up, the more destructive they become.
Within three days, the little girl was riding the bus without incident and continues to do so to this day, proving once again that the best therapy usually consists of lying in the beds one makes, no pun intended.
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What's in a Name?
Q: I want to legally change our daughter’s name. No one pronounces it correctly and I think it’s going to cause her more problems as she gets older. My husband doesn’t want to, however. He says that changing it will confuse her. She’s nineteen months old, for crying out loud! If she’s confused for a week or two, so what? She’ll get over it. What do you think?
A: I think she’s nineteen months old, for crying out loud! I think if she’s confused for a week or two, so what? She’ll get over it. That’s what I think, and I am an expert concerning this topic.
Before I was born, my parents called me “the Bobo.” Talk about a trauma! When I was born, and they saw that I was male, they began calling me Mister Bobo. I was Mister Bobo or just Bobo until I went to school. I will forever remember Day One. My mother and I were sitting in the principal’s office.
The principal asked, “What shall we call him?”
My mother looked at me. She was sad, I could tell. She looked back at the principal, put her hand on my arm, and said, “I’d like you to call him John.”
John? Adding to my trauma, my mother referred to the toilet as the “Johnny.” I don’t need to explain why I went into psychology, now do I? Isn’t it enough that I don’t know my name is John until the first day of first grade? Oh, no! Now, after five halcyon years being Bobo, my mother re-names me after something virtually unmentionable! Oh, the ignominy!
If I can survive that with my sanity intact, your daughter will do just fine with her new name. Just remember, however, Bobo’s already taken.
Q: My first marriage dissolved when our son – who’s very sweet and happy – was just shy of three. He hasn’t seen his father since and never asks about him. The child support checks abruptly stopped a couple of months ago and I subsequently learned he committed suicide. I suppose I should tell my son, who is now seven, that his father is dead, but should I tell him he took his own life?
When it comes to giving a child information of a “sensitive” nature, the operative rule is “Tell a child ONLY what he NEEDS to know and ONLY when he NEEDS to know it.”
Applying that rule to the situation at hand, an argument can be made that your son doesn’t even need to know his father is dead. Given the fact that he never asks about him, I think you could wait until he’s older, even a teenager. Even then, there is no point in telling your son the specifics of his father’s demise. You risk nothing by leaving that out. You risk something by adding it in.
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