Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021
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Copyright 2021, John K. Rosemond

Micromanaging Child Always Produces Conflicts

A therapist takes a 10-year-old boy into what she calls “therapy.” The young fellow is belligerently defiant toward his parents and throws titanic tantrums when things don’t go his way. At school – virtual, going on a year – he’s distractible and doesn’t finish his work without being hovered over and harangued by his mother, a tactic that frequently precipitates more belligerence and a titanic antrum.

After nearly a year of weekly “therapy” sessions, nothing changed. If anything, the boy’s behavior worsened. At that point, the therapist waves a divining rod over him – just kidding – and discovers that he “has” ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder. In other words, she conceals her ineptitude by claiming that something is wrong with his biology – according to her, a “biochemical imbalance.” To “seal the deal,” so to speak, she recommends he begin taking stimulant medication – one, mind you, that has not reliably outperform placebos in controlled clinical trials. To the credit of their common sense, the parents refuse to accept both the diagnoses and the medication.

I hear similar stories quite often from parents. Without exception, said parents know what has caused their kids’ problems. They did! As in this fellow’s case, the parents micromanage on the one hand and threaten charging elephants with fly swatters with the other. They delay beginning to seriously discipline until the problems in question have become habit, and their “discipline” consists of one part yada-yada and one part screaming and threatening. Excuse me? This means a child’s neuro-chemicals are out of whack? Do the therapists who dispense these absurd explanations perform physical examinations? Do they draw and analyze blood samples, for example? No. Request brain biopsies? No. Then how, pray tell, do they come to the conclusion that these kids have bad biology and need drugs?

What the parents need is a strategy for recovering from the effects of yada-yada, threats that amount to nothing, fly-swatters, screaming, and micromanagement that leads, almost inevitably, to more screaming, more yada-yada, and more micromanagement.

“If I don’t check on him,” a mother tells me, “he won’t do his work.”

Wrong. As long as she checks on him, he’s not going to do his work. Micromanagement always, without exception, brings forth conflict, communication problems, and the worst in everyone involved.

“I should just leave him alone?” Mom asks.

“Yep, just leave him alone.” One-sentence therapy.

Nine out of ten underperforming kids, left alone, eventually get the message – YOU and YOU alone are responsible for YOUR school performance – and begin doing fine. Things usually get worse at first, which requires much hand holding with the micromanager, but per the adage, they eventually get much better. What about the tenth kid? Glad you asked. He needs some incentive. Not rewards, mind you. Rewards work on rats, not so well on humans. Number ten needs to learn, courtesy of very patient but determined people, that in the grown-up world, privilege is a function of personal responsibility. The tenth kids usually come around. Usually.

When one is dealing with the wild card of human nature, there are no guarantees.



Shy Child? Don’t Fret About It

Researchers have found what many personal testimonies will confirm: most shy children, even the most painfully shy of them, are not shy adults. The progression from introversion to extroversion does not require therapy, behavior modification, or any extraordinary measures. More often than not, it just happens. Most shy kids outgrow their shyness by their young adult years, and even those who do not outgrow it manage to cope with it reasonably well. They learn how to hide it, mostly, because they realize that shyness puts them at a disadvantage in certain situations.

Yours truly is a living testimony to the transformation in question. I was socially awkward until I went to college where, on a whim, I auditioned for the role of lead singer in a rock band and suddenly found myself on stage with four musicians behind me and hundreds of people in front of me. I had to cure myself of my life-long affliction, and I did. Today, as friends will attest, I am sometimes not shy to a fault.

Looking back, I do not think there is anything my parents could have done to cure my childhood shyness. Both of them were outgoing people, by the way. So much for the supposed cause-effect influence of role models. Outgoing can raise shy, and vice versa. My social awkwardness didn’t abate until I was forced to make a choice between shyness or being a campus rock star. That’s a no-brainer for an eighteen-year-old.

But this column is not really about childhood shyness. It’s about the distinction between a child’s personality and behavior. Personality can be likened to the stretched canvas surface upon which an artist begins a painting. If the artist doesn’t like the way his painting is progressing, he can paint over what he’s done, but, mind you, the canvas surface remains as it was at the beginning – a constant.

The analogy is meant to illustrate that whereas personality (the canvas surface) doesn’t change, behavior (what one puts on top of the surface) can be changed. So, returning to my personal example, I forced myself to overcome shyness, but unbeknownst to even my closest friends, I’m still the same shy person. My behavior has changed, however. Who changed it? Me!

Likewise, as research has found, a child comes into the world with a fairly set personality. He’s more or less destined to be fundamentally shy or outgoing, patient or impulsive, introspective or superficial. His behavior, however, can change. Sometimes, behavior change in a child has to be leveraged by people who comprehend its long-term ramifications. So, an impulsive child can be trained to pay attention and think before he acts, but that is never going to “come naturally.” Sometimes, however, behavior change – as in my case – can only be brought about by the child and won’t happen until he wants something badly enough.

So, going back to shyness, parents sometimes ask me what they can do to cure a child’s shyness. My answer is, “The effort is likely to lead to lots of frustration for both you and your child, so I wouldn’t recommend it.” But a parent who tells me that her child’s shyness has manifested in rude behavior? That’s different. Rudeness, being behavior, can be corrected and for the child’s sake, I definitely recommend it.



Discipline vs. Punishment

Misusing terminology is not simply a matter of semantics. A person who confuses the meaning of words is likely to behave accordingly.

That occurred to me during a conversation with a parent who was using the word discipline as if it was a synonym for punishment. When I pointed that out, he said, somewhat defensively, “What’s the difference?”

“We’re talking here about a problem you’re experiencing with one of your children. It’s a problem of discipline, not a problem of punishment.”

“Sorry, but I don’t understand,” he said, still a bit prickly.

“You seem to think that the problem in question requires punishment. I, on the other hand, believe it requires discipline. Discipline is instruction. Punishment is a disciplinary option, but it is not necessarily instructive. That depends on how it’s delivered.”

I can only hope that what I told him “stuck.” Too many parents make the mistake of thinking that discipline and punishment are one and the same. The root word of discipline is disciple. A child-disciple looks up to the parent (respect), follows the parent’s lead (obedience), and subscribes to the parent’s values (loyalty). That set of characteristics is brought about by being a proper role model and providing proper instruction. Correction is one aspect of the process, and punishment is sometimes the best corrective, but when punishment is not delivered with a correct attitude on the part of the parent, it can be counterproductive. It can make matters worse.

The right attitude is one of calm intolerance. The child should know, without doubt, that the parent is strongly disapproving of the misbehavior in question, but it is vital that the parent not be in the grip of anger. When anger dominates a parents’ attempts at correction, it is likely to be nothing more than retaliatory, as in, “I’ll show you!” That accomplishes little if anything. Furthermore, most parents have difficulty following through with consequences described in anger. They tend toward overkill. How does one enforce, “No more Christmases for you, ever!”?

The proper attitude is translated, “I don’t like punishing you, but what you have done demands it.” The sorts of things that call for punishment include belligerent disrespect, blatant disobedience, lies that are harmful to someone else, theft, and unjustifiable aggression.

Proper punishment makes an impression on a child, one that imparts a permanent memory, which is why, by the way, a few minutes in time-out is so generally worthless, especially for children who have outgrown toddlerhood. Big misbehavior demands a big response, but the way to prevent ever having to enforce a big response is to nip misbehavior in the bud. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The bottom line: The more you instruct, the less you will have to punish, and the less you punish, the better for all concerned.



Why Isn't Your Child Sleeping in Her Own Bed? 

Q: In a recent column, you described our five-year-old daughter. She is in bed at 6:30 in the evening but usually wakes up during the night and wants to talk to us about whatever is on her mind. We both work and need our sleep, so that’s a huge problem. She very energetic and emotional during the day. To get her to calm down and sleep through the night we’ve tried melatonin, chamomile tea, and a homeopathic. Sometimes, they work. Usually, not. Since she is too scared to sleep in a room of her own, both she and her one-year-old sister sleep in our bedroom, but in their own beds. Any ideas on how we can get her to sleep through the night?

A: I hope you consulted with your daughter’s pediatrician before starting to dose her with melatonin and a homeopathic substance before she goes to bed. Most studies find no downside to giving melatonin to children older than three, but Australian pediatricians recommend against it for children of any age. As for a homeopathic, you most definitely should consult with a pediatrician. Chamomile tea is fine. My wife swears by it. So did Peter Rabbit.

Having said that, I really don’t think your daughter’s night-waking has anything to do with her daytime energy or low melatonin levels in the evening. I think the problem is that you have her in your bedroom. That’s not a good idea at all. And what, pray tell, does it mean that she is “too scared to sleep in a room of her own”? Whatever explanation you give, my next question is, “So what?”

Along with thousands of children across our fruited plains, your daughter is afraid of sleeping in her own room for one reason: you have let her sleep in yours. The unknown is usually scary to a child. The fact remains: your daughter is not going to become comfortable sleeping in her own room until you insist that she do so. Do you think she’s one day going to say, as you’re putting her to bed in your room, “You know what Mom and Dad? I think I’m ready to sleep in my room!” Let me assure you, the odds of that happening anytime soon are slim to none.

She wakes up during the night and wants to engage in conversation with you because you’re right there! This is a bad habit, nothing more, and it’s likely to get much worse as time goes on. Also, getting her to go to sleep in her own space is going to get much, much more difficult as time goes on. The time to act is now!

Put her down in her own bed, in her own room. Simply tell her that “the doctor” said that five-year-old children can’t sleep in their parents’ rooms. Say, “The doctor also said that you might need to scream for a while to get used to it, and that’s just fine. Go ahead and scream all you want. We’ll be right down the hall, in the living room, making sure everything is okay.”

I won’t go into the research-based justification for invoking a third party whose authority your daughter already recognizes and giving her permission to scream, but take my word for it, it works. Well, it works when the child’s parents don’t give in and let her back into their room.

You’ll have to listen to some agonized screaming for a week or so, but in the end it will work a whole lot better than melatonin. Chamomile tea? That’s a somewhat different story. After all, Peter Rabbit recommends it.



The Correlation Between Food and Behavior

A headache does not mean one has a brain tumor, but some brain tumors do cause headaches.

Likewise, ADHD behaviors do not mean one has a food allergy, albeit some food allergies cause, in some children, behaviors that are on the official list of ADHD symptoms. (Mind you, I believe ADHD is one of many bogus psychological diagnoses, but that is subject for another column.)

I take requests, the latest of which comes from a parent who wants me to encourage everyone with a child who is impulsive, lacks concentration skills, and exhibits other ADHD symptoms to see an allergist, preferably one who specializes in allergies to foodstuffs of various sorts. I also turn down certain requests, as I will do with this one.

Several months ago, someone pointed out to me that no credible, peer-reviewed study has ever confirmed the ADHD-food allergy connection. Well, that’s not exactly true. Research reports averages. Research does not report on individual cases. So, for example, if one thousand children are included in a study that purports to determine whether or not food allergies cause ADHD behavior and ten children (one percent) are reactive but nine hundred and ninety are not, the study’s authors report that their research failed to find a connection. Not so. It found a connection in one out of one hundred cases. What is reported and what actually happened are two different things.

Are some children allergic to certain foods? Yes. Do certain food allergies manifest behaviorally? I believe so, but don’t expect to find a peer-reviewed study that confirms that. If you do, it will be an anomaly. Nonetheless, over the course of my career, I’ve heard hundreds of reports from parents who credibly claim that when they eliminated junk from their children’s diets, ADHD behaviors disappeared or abated considerably.

It is a parent’s responsibility to feed a child responsibly. That includes eliminating or minimizing refined carbohydrates, cane sugar, caffeine, and processed foods. The latter tend to contain artificial flavorings, preservatives, taste enhancers (e.g., MSG), and colorings. That’s simple commonsense.

If your child exhibits ADHD behaviors, and you suspect certain foodstuffs are a culprit, be your child’s personal allergist. Eliminate the above junk from his or her diet for two weeks and see what happens. If you see improvement, keep going.

I need to point out, however, that eliminating certain foodstuffs from a child’s diet can have a placebo effect. In other words, if your child thinks that his behavior – which he has seen causes much angst among adults, including you – is going to improve if he eats nothing but fresh veggies and grass-fed, free-range, vaccine-free animals, his behavior may well improve even though he is not medically reactive to any of the aforementioned junk. In that case both you and he will think he is allergic to the typical junk found in lots of foods and your family will eat better and everyone will be happy, which is just fine and dandy.

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