Saturday, August 24th, 2019
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John Rosemond Recent Columns

Copyright 2019, John K. Rosemond

Loving Parents Who Set Boundaries Best for Adopted Kids

Q: A Christian (but very liberal) adoption agency recently turned down our application because they disapprove of our parenting approach, which is your parenting approach. We told them we subscribe to your philosophy and do things like sending the kids to bed early due to whining and tantrums. They said that was isolating and not good for any child, let alone adopted children. They felt it was abusive for children with reactive attachment disorder. Thoughts?

A: I’m not surprised. Nor am I the least bit insulted. The adoption industry in America has been taken over by people who adhere to the notion that nearly all adopted children – no matter the age of adoption – “have” something called reactive attachment disorder (RAD) which is characterized by difficulty establishing and maintaining healthy relationships. There are certainly children who suffer the effects of early emotional starvation, but the idea that adoption and RAD go hand-in-hand is pure, unalloyed, unmitigated balderdash.

Furthermore, researchers have found that the negative effects of emotional deprivation during early childhood are not necessarily permanent. In one study involving children adopted from horrifying institutional conditions in Romania (when it was still a communist dictatorship), the adopted children’s social behavior was indistinguishable from non-adopted children within several years (see The Myth of the First Three Years by John Bruer).

A significant body of research has confirmed that proper discipline – including punitive consequences – are as essential as proper nurturing to proper emotional and social development. I am not making a recommendation, but it is worth noting that two of the most objective researchers in the field of parenting outcomes have found that children who are occasionally spanked by loving parents are more well-adjusted than children whose parents never spank. That is not an endorsement for spanking, mind you, but it does point out the disconnect between science and practice that often characterizes professional babble concerning child mental health.

In 2012, I wrote a book titled Parent-Babble in which I exposed the lack of credible science behind many of the claims made by child mental health professionals. It included chapters on self-esteem-babble, punishment-babble, reward-babble, and yes, adoption-babble. Concerning the latter, I asserted that so-called “adoption specialists” were causing more problems than they were preventing and gave specific examples of their ubiquitous bad practice. The adoption industry does not regard me well, to say the least. (By the way, I’ve since had several adoption specialists confirm that my perception of the toxicity in their field is spot on.)

I’ve worked with a good number of adoptive parents. My general finding has been that their biggest problems have been brought on by advice they’ve received from adoption specialists. Many if not most of them came to me for help concerning behavior problems that stemmed, predictably, from a lack of proper discipline. It didn’t take fifteen minutes to figure out that these parents were afraid of their adopted children, afraid that any hint of disapproval concerning their behavior would precipitate an emotional tailspin into perpetual, irretrievable RAD. When they began following my disciplinary recommendations – the same recommendations, mind you, that I’d make concerning non-adopted children – the adopted kids quickly became much less problematic and obviously much happier, precisely what the best research predicts.

Apparently, loving parents who set and enforce proper boundaries are the best of all possible therapists for adopted kids.

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Today's Parents Afraid Kids Won't Like Them

Short questions I’ve been asked of late (mostly by journalists) and proportionately short answers:

Q: Is there a single most important thing parents should be teaching during their children’s preschool years?

A: The most important thing parents should teach is proper manners. The second and third most important things are proper manners. “Please,” “Thank you,” “You’re welcome,” “Excuse me,” “I’m sorry,” proper mealtime behavior (including eating what everyone else at the table is eating), not interrupting adult conversations, establishing and maintaining eye contact with people who are talking to you, drinking without slurping…those sorts of fundamental courtesies that form the backbone of civilized social behavior.

Q: You didn’t mention anything about academic teaching, like ABCs. Was that a purposeful omission?

A: There is no established correlation between academic learning that takes place prior to first grade and achievement in the third grade. They are certainly well-intentioned, but parents are wasting their time teaching or having some third party – a preschool, for example – teach academic material prior to first grade. Most baby boomers, including yours truly, didn’t even learn their ABCs until first grade, yet when matched demographically, we outperformed today’s kids at every grade level while sitting, mind you, in what today would be considered criminally overcrowded classrooms.

Q: To what do you attribute that?

A: We baby boomers came to school having learned to give our undivided attention to female adults and do what female adults told us to do, which included an arcane thing called daily chores.

Q: Today’s kids aren’t learning to pay attention to women?

A: Relatively speaking, absolutely not, the reason being that since the late 1960s, women have been led to believe by mental health professionals and the media that good mommies pay as much attention to their children as they possibly can. It’s a fact, the more attention a parent pays a child the less attention the child will pay the parent; at the least, the child will only pay attention when he wants something.

Q: What are your thoughts concerning children and smart devices?

A: I know successful adults who do not have smartphones. No parent has ever been able to give me a good reason why a child – by which I mean someone who is not emancipated and paying his or her own bills – should have a smartphone. Let’s face it, parents are buying their children smartphones because they’re (a) afraid of their children and (b) want their children to like them.

Q: What are they afraid of?

A: They’re afraid their children won’t like them.

Q: Why is that?

A: Since the 1960s – when nearly everything about America went topsy-turvy – parents have been led to believe that good parenting is all about having a wonderful relationship with one’s kids. As a result, parental leadership – which eventually produces a good relationship – has gone by the wayside. That’s why the emotional resilience of children has declined dramatically over the last fifty years. Children who think they’re running the show are not well off at all. They’re fundamentally insecure, which is why colleges now have “safe spaces.” If I was sending a child to college today, I would refuse to pay for any college that had a safe space. There’s something fundamentally wrong with adults who cater to children in that sort of way, causing them to remain children for who knows how long.

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Alpha Speech: Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

Q: Some friends of ours who’ve read a couple of your books and attended one of your talks told us that they solved some major discipline problems with their 4-year-old just by using what they called alpha speech. They tried to explain it to us, but we’d like to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Would you please help us better understand what they were talking about, and are there other parenting authors who say the same thing?

A: The concept of alpha speech is not original to me. In generations past, it was widely understood to be the essence of proper child discipline. I simply named it. I also refer to it as leadership speech. Regardless, it is the very traditional understanding that the successful discipline of a child is more a matter of properly conveying authority than properly using consequences (albeit the latter is also important).

As a rule, today’s parents believe in behavior modification. They believe in techniques, such as time out and star charts and approaches of that sort, approaches that involve the manipulation of reward and punishment. Somewhat derisively, I refer to them as “consequence delivery systems.”

The wrong-headed notion that correct consequences, used correctly, would solve just about any behavior problem became popularized in the 1970s. The mental health professional community claimed that rewards and praise – the operative meme was “catch ‘em being good” – would strengthen good behavior while punishment and ignoring would weaken bad behavior. It all sounded quite simple, utopian even, but we now know, or should, that what works quite reliably with rats and dogs does not work nearly as well with human beings.

In fact, researchers have found that reward and punishment, when used with children, can be and often are counterproductive, which goes a long way toward explaining why the behavior and discipline of children has become increasingly problematic since parents began relying on behavior modification.

Alpha speech rests on the simple and historically verified proposition that “a child’s natural response to the proper presentation of authority is obedience.” Before venturing any further, I need to stress that obedience on the part of a child is definitely in the child’s best interest. The more obedient the child, the more relaxed and happy the child, which is precisely the opposite of what mental health folks alleged.

Alpha speech in four parts: (1) When giving instruction to a child, speak from a fully upright position (as opposed to the silliness of “getting down to the child’s level.” (2) Use the fewest words possible. (3) Do not explain yourself, but simply tell the child what you want him to do in a matter-of-fact tone. (4) When a child wants to know “Why?” (which is what children ask in the absence of an explanation), your answer should be “Because I said so” or a variation thereof.

For example, if you want a child to put on his coat and wait by the front door, you say, “I want you to put on your coat and wait for me by the front door.” You DON’T say, “I have to go down the street and give a casserole to Miss Gloria and it would really help Mommy if you’d put on your coat because it’s chilly out and wait for me by the front door.” That approach is likely to draw resistance of one sort or another.

Alpha speech is nothing more than saying what you mean and meaning what you say. It is employed by effective leaders, thus the alternate label. It is neither threatening or promising. Oh, and when the child obeys, it is best to say simply “Thank you” without an exclamation point as opposed to “Good boy! Mommy’s going to take her little man to the ice cream store later today!”

In discipline, as in decorating, less is usually more.

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Teach Child to Gain Control of Feelings

As I crisscross the country in public speaker mode, I poll people in various demographic categories. I ask how they were raised, what their parents were like, how their parents disciplined, how they raised their own kids, their perceptions of how their kids are raising their grandkids, and so on. Most of the folks in question don’t have any idea that I’m polling them, which I think generally results in answers that are spontaneous and forthright.

One question I ask of people across the age spectrum: “Did your parents talk to you much about your feelings?” If yes, I then ask, “Did they seem to feel it was important that you got in touch with and expressed your feelings?”

Most folks in the below-45 age group answer yes to both questions. By contrast, I’ve yet to meet someone around my own age (1940s or 1950s baby boomer) who has answered yes to either question. Boomers, especially the older ones, think the questions are funny, in fact.

“Are you kidding?” is a typical response.

I have a decent memory of my childhood and I don’t remember my parents ever having a conversation with me about emotional matters. On those occasions when I was emoting about something, they’d usually tell me that crying or moping or whatever I was doing wasn’t going to help matters; that I needed to think clearly and figure out how I was going to solve the problem, whatever it was. In that regard at least, my childhood experience seems to have been the norm.

It was not even unusual for a child in the 1950s to occasionally hear, “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about,” usually said in a gruff, masculine voice. Mind you, I’m not promoting that policy, simply reporting it. A better way of saying the same thing: “You’re making a mountain out of a molehill. When you can get control of yourself, we’ll talk about it.”

Mental health professionals, as their perceived cultural significance began to wax in the late 1960s, seized upon this to make the case that kids raised prior to the advent of what I call “psychological parenting” – including yours truly – were not allowed to express feelings freely. That is correct. We were being trained in responsible, pro-social behavior, and it goes without saying that adults who feel entitled to express their feelings freely are not desirable as next-door neighbors, friends, spouses or evens seat-mates on cross-country flights. The habit of expressing one’s feelings freely is typical of people who are known to “suffer” from inflated view of self disorder.

We boomers were taught that emotions are private things, to be kept under wraps for the most part. Our parents, by and large, were able to recognize feelings that needed to be affirmed and those that did not. One of the most important of all understandings concerning feelings has to do with the FACT that the authenticity of a feeling and the power of a feeling are not one and the same. Powerful feelings can be and often are self-destructive as well as destructive to relationships.

Thinking clearly is more important than “being in touch” with and expressing one’s feelings and thinking clearly requires good emotional control. That’s why it is so vital that parents model excellent emotional control and insist, lovingly, upon the same from their kids.

Start early. In the example of a toddler who throws “fits” when things aren’t to his liking, assign them to a “tantrum place” – a benign, neutral place where tantrums can be isolated and run their course. My daughter’s tantrum place was the half-bath (aka powder room) downstairs. We began using the tantrum place when she was approaching her third birthday, the understanding being that she could let herself out when she had restored self-control. From that point on, her tantrums were far, far fewer and lasted no more than a few minutes. A fair arrangement, I’d say.

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Teen Not a Suicide Risk

My recent column pertaining to a 12-year-old who told his parents he’d thought about suicide several times over the past six months stirred a fair number of folks to respond. Feelings toward the column ranged from “many thanks” to “how interesting” to fear and loathing.

Said pre-teen was obviously well-adjusted. He enjoys several good friendships, displays no signs of depression or anxiety, and is not “problematic” in any way. A child who shares with his parents that he’s thought about suicide is likely to tell his parents if suicidal thoughts worsen. In my experienced estimation and using guidelines published online by the likes of the Mayo Clinic, the boy is not at any significant risk of taking his life. He simply thought about suicide.

Most if not all of today’s pre-teens and teens have thought about suicide. Beginning in middle school, kids attend talks on suicide; before high school graduation, most kids know the name of a peer who has taken his or her own life. In and of themselves, such thoughts are not necessarily cause for alarm. Thinking about what it would be like to commit suicide is not the same as seriously considering suicide. In other words, not all suicidal thoughts are equal. They are certainly worth assessing and addressing, which is what said youngster’s parents were asking help with.

Some respondents chided me for not recommending that the boy see a therapist. According to an article from Stanford Children’s Health, the strongest risk factors for teen suicide are depression, drug abuse, and persistent aggressive or disruptive behaviors. The child in question did not come close to exhibiting any significant risk factor, so I disagree that he should see a professional.

Besides, therapy with a young person is a dicey proposition. The first question to be asked is, “Which therapist?” Lots of parents have reported to me that their kids’ emotional and behavioral states worsened considerably after they began seeing therapists. Not all therapists are equal. Besides, many kids who commit or attempt suicide are seeing mental health professionals. It would be nice to think that therapy is a one-size-fits-all solution for kids with suicidal ideation, but it’s not. Indeed, certain forms of therapy have been found to be helpful on average, but again, mere “thoughts” of suicide in an otherwise well-adjusted youngster are not reason enough to take said child to a therapist. They are reason to keep a sharp eye open, but not to jump to apocalyptic conclusions.

Most of my respondents – the upset ones – said I should have recommended that the boy begin taking anti-depressant medication. Unfortunately, a young person who begins seeing a therapist for thoughts of suicide is likely to end up taking one or more of several psychiatric medications; the problem being that several studies have shown that the medications in question may actually increase the risk of suicide, especially in children and teens.

Some respondents were very appreciative of my advice. One heartbroken father whose teenage son committed suicide while seeing a therapist and taking medication asked me to warn my readers of the medication-therapy-suicide relationship. The mom of a pre-teen put on medication told me she is convinced that the medication caused her son’s depression and suicidal ideation. When she stopped giving him drugs, he stopped thinking about committing suicide. At this point, I’d say the medication-suicide relationship is not conclusive but nonetheless strong enough to warrant significant caution – precisely what the FDA pointed out several years ago.

Correlations don’t prove cause, but worth pondering is the FACT that as the rate of teens seeing therapists and taking psychiatric medications has increased exponentially, so has the child and teen suicide rate.

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