Alternatives to University or College Education

Traditional college education is not necessarily appropriate for every single young person. In fact, many students and their parents are looking for other options besides the traditional universities and community colleges. Fortunately, many are finding newer and better opportunities outside the traditional school system.

If your child isn’t interested in or well-suited to a full-time, full-length post-high school academic program, consider the following tips:

Independent Learners
Distance learning education can be an excellent option for teens who can work independently. Independent learning programs often allow for greater flexibility, allowing students to work at their own pace. Your teen does not need to attend a campus, but can work wherever there is an internet connection. Some courses don’t even require that. There are special educational consultants who have already done all the research for you and who can find the right program for your child. Programs based in other countries may be accredited in your own town – just be sure to find out if that is the case before taking any move. It would be a shame to invest a lot of time and money in getting a certificate or degree, just to discover that it is not recognized in your own locality.

On-Job Experiences
Your teen may be able to get academic credit for his or her job experience in an organization. Discuss this option with certifying educational programs. In addition, keep in mind that working experience is actually vitally important when it comes to finding a full-time job – even if it doesn’t count as part of the academic credits, it is likely to have a significant positive impact on your child’s future. Today, many students “intern” – meaning, do unpaid work in order to learn skills and acquire experience. Whether it’s called interning, volunteering, apprenticing or something else, unpaid work experience can certainly set a child on the right course toward a productive career. Similarly, entrance-level positions where the youngster can learn on the job can be great stepping stones to a proper career.

Working and Studying
Some young people can start working in a field of interest or in a related field, and then beginning taking courses in order to qualify for higher level work within that  field. Mature students are often more motivated and even more competent at their studies. After a few years in the workforce, people have a better idea of what they really want and they can aim their efforts more directly at their goals. It happens occasionally that young people decide they want to go to university or college full time in order to complete a particular degree, or it may happen that their place of work will pay for them to take certain courses, certificates or even degrees.

Gaining Credit for Current Skill Set
Another consideration is the possibility of obtaining university or college credits based on current skills. For instance, your child might be fluent in a foreign language or possess excellent skills in Math and Physics. Some universities offer the privilege of skipping certain courses as long as the student gets the required grade on a standardized examination. It is sometimes possible to get credited and accelerated this way, saving time and money toward a degree.

Understanding Your Teen

Teenagers can be challenging to raise. However, knowing what “makes them tick,” can make the job far easier. Let’s look at the typical characteristics of teenagers in order to better understand this period of life.

The following are some of the hallmarks of the teenage years, and some tips on how parents can help navigate them:

Rapid Physical Changes
Adolescence is a time of many physical changes as children gradually transform into young adults. For boys, there is a “growth spurt” — a rapid increase in height and weight, sometimes followed by changes in bone structure. Hair starts to grow in different places: the face, the armpits, the legs and the pubic areas. The adolescent’s voice deepens, and sounds more “grown up.” There are increases in muscle mass and strength as well.

Girls are also have sudden increases in height and weight. Breasts develop, hips become more defined, and body hair grows in the pubic and armpit areas. This is also the time when menstruation begins, often bringing along hormonally induced mood swings.

In both genders, the skin becomes more sensitive and sweaty, making adolescents more prone to pimples or acne. Kids develop at different paces – some making early changes and others making later ones. Often, kids are self-conscious about where they are in the normal distribution. Everyone wants to be “average” but of course, that isn’t possible. As a result, teens can feel embarrassed, inadequate or otherwise troubled by their physical changes: boys with squeaky voices and girls with flat chests can feel temporarily inadequate or self-conscious. Sometimes, the lingering consequences of insecurity can last for decades. Parents can help by being sensitive to their teens, never making rude jokes or unkind remarks. After all, every human being must go through adolescence on his or her way to adulthood. The gentle support and guidance of a parent can make the transition easier.

From Parent Approval to Peer Approval
At this stage of development, your child’s main focus of attention will shift from you to their same-aged classmates and friends. They may now prefer to spend more time with friends than with family members. Some kids don’t even want to be seen with parents in public! It’s all part of the push toward independence. Their “cutting of the apron strings” is a temporary phase: as your child journeys to adulthood, a healthy balance between family life and social life will emerge — and you’ll regain your place in their heart.

Testing Limits
As mentioned, kids at this time are exploring their identity and independence. Testing of rules and limits is all about pushing the borders now, bursting out of the protective shell. Teens might violate curfew, disobey house rules, experiment with various risk-taking behaviors, and constantly negotiate their “rights.” You might bring books home from the local library on subjects like smoking, alcohol, sex, drug use and so on. There are many books for this age group designed to be appealing to teens – with pictures and simple explanations this literature can provide the warnings and education your child needs in a teen-friendly way. Books can be a better method than dire warnings from an anxious parent.

At this point, parents should strike that balance between being understanding of their child’s need to be autonomous, and setting reasonable and consistent rules for their child’s safety and well-being.. As a rule, try to accommodate the new freedoms they ask for, for as long as safeguards are in place. Take the opportunity to teach about responsibility and accountability. It’s important NOT to establish rules that none of their friends have. Instead, allow your child to be a normal teen within his or her community and try to put your own fears to rest. It can be helpful to access the help of a parenting professional or mental health professional to get normal parameters such as age-appropriate curfews on weeknights and weekends, dress codes, use of alcohol and drugs and so on. If you have an accurate frame of reference, your rules will be more appropriate – and your child will probably have a greater respect for your decisions, which might lead to greater compliance with your rules.

An Increased Interest in Sexuality
Your child will now be showing an interest in all things sexual including advertisements, internet porn, and real people. Don’t be surprised if you see your normally “plain and simple” son or daughter dolling up a bit, and taking an interest in grooming, fashion and flirting. This is all a normal part of the growing up process. Modern teenagers may be more open about sexuality than older generations and may want to be sexually active and more sexually active at earlier ages. Many kids in today’s society are confused about their sexual orientation and some may benefit from professional guidance. Your job is to share your values, provide information and establish clear expectations. You probably don’t want your child to be making babies just quite yet but teenagers don’t automatically know how to prevent that from happening. Teach responsibility and safety in sexuality – don’t assume that your child has learned this at school or on the street. Your child needs to know about sexual diseases as well and how to both prevent them and identify early symptoms. Some parents arrange for the child’s doctor to explain the details of contraception and sexual protection from pregnancy and disease.

Teaching Kids How to Budget

When you teach your child how to manage money, you give him or her a priceless gift. While some kids are “intuitive” money managers, there are many who completely lack natural talent in this area. For instance, some kids just spend every cent they get their hands on, never setting anything aside for future purchases, savings or charity. In this way, they are exactly like many adults in our culture! Of course, lack of money-know-how can cause lots of pain in adulthood. Running out of funds, falling into debt, gambling away hard-earned dollars and so on, lead not only to personal distress but also to marital stress and family problems. For this reason, it is the job of every parent to prepare children for the economic side of life.

If you want to impart basic budgeting skills to your child, consider the following tips:

Necessity vs. Luxury
Kids learn by example and by direct instruction. You can teach them to prioritize necessities and budget for luxuries by letting them see how you yourself do this. For instance, if your child needs a new pair of proper-fitting shoes (a necessity), you won’t want to have to say to her, “I’m sorry we can’t afford shoes for you right now. We just spent all our money buying that boat you kids wanted.” In fact, poor budgeting is something that children can see for themselves, without you pointing anything out. If, for instance, the child finds out that there is no money for shoes but sees that your spouse – the child’s other parent – just bought you a pure gold bracelet for your anniversary present, the youngster will learn that people buy what they like and don’t worry too much about what they NEED! It will be necessary for you to model the principle: “necessities before luxuries” before you can ask your child to live by it.

Assuming that you are modeling the correct attitude, you can help your child learn about it through explicit instruction. Tell your child something like this: “You’ll want to have money for the things you NEED as well as the things you WANT. Make sure you have what you need first, but always set aside a little of your earnings to buy things that you just want. You can set aside 10% of your income for charity, 10% for savings for big and special things you want to buy (like cell phones, computers and/or cars for older kids and special toys for younger kids), 10% for weekly treats (drinks, food, magazines or whatever) and 70% for your necessities.” Give your child lots of examples that are relevant for his or her age. If draw it out on paper – use a pie chart with different colored sections for clarity. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words! The older your child is, the more information you can give, including a detailed breakdown of living expenses (rent, transportation, clothes, toiletries, etc). Younger kids and any child who is still living at home and not paying you room and board don’t necessarily have real “necessities.” However, as they get older, you can help them have experience of managing a budget for necessities by making them responsible for paying for car expenses (their own license, gas, lease or whatever applies to their situation) or their own phone bill and so on. It doesn’t matter whether the money they are paying with is money that they earned themselves or received as an allowance from you – what you are teaching them at this point is how to MANAGE income. You can teach them how to earn it another time!

Planning and Saving
It’s important that your child has some real money to learn with. It’s safer for kids and teens to make mistakes on small budgets than to start the learning process in adulthood. Even a very young child can begin learning basic budgetting concepts using his or her small allowance. For instance, take the child shopping and let him or her pick out a treat either with allowance money or even “treat” money that you provide. The child must figure out what purchase is affordable. The chocolate bar may be over budget, the potato chips may work, perhaps a soda and a pack of gum might be affordable, the fancy candy is definitely out of reach. Instead of YOU doing all the calculations, allow the child to do it if the arithmetic is within the child’s easy grasp. Teens can use a combination of allowance and earnings to manage their budget. Make them responsible for paying their cell phone bill or some other regular financial responsibility and help them to figure out how to set aside savings to purchase big ticket items they are longing for. You can provide incentive programs if you like: offer to match them dollar for dollar in order to help them purchase some important product.

Once your child has a source of income – whether that is an allowance or a part-time job, another source of income or some mixture of things – help him or her to open a bank account. This is all part of the money-learning experience. Especially if signicant funds are involved, you might encourage more than one bank account: a savings account for big purchases down the road, a checking account for readily accessible cash and an accountfor charity funds. Later on, if the child is ever self-employed or running a small business, make sure that there is a savings account specifically for required tax payments. This way of organizing money can help the budget work smoothly and automatically.

In teaching kids to manage a budget, it is essential that you do not bail them out when they make errors. O.K. – maybe just once. But you want them to learn through experience that when you run out of money, you run out of money. There is no more. Discourage borrowing from you or friends – this is really just a debt mentality. You want your kids to thrive within their budget. If there isn’t enough money for what they want, they should be encouraged to earn more money, instead of going into debt.

For instance, suppose your 15 year-old daughter bought herself a sweater with her savings. At the end of the purchase, she has only twenty dollars left in her account. However, she sees some boots she just MUST have right away and begs you to loan her the ninety dollars she’ll need, promising to pay you back over a three month period. DO NOT COOPERATE! She should have been looking ahead when she bought the overpriced sweater! If you don’t bail her out now, she’ll become a better money-manager for life. On the other hand, if you do allow her to go into debt because of her own bad planning, you are helping her to have a life of credit-card angst and suffering.

Curfew

Teenagers are getting ready for independent adult living. They have a strong drive to explore the world and gain greater control over their time and actions; they yearn for greater freedom. Although parents may feel insulted or hurt, cialis their kids are not so much trying to escape from home as they are trying to run toward their own futures.

A much sought-after freedom at this point in a young person’s life is the freedom to stay out late with friends. Parents, however, remain loving and protective – they are concerned about their child’s safety and well-being. For this reason, they still want to set curfews – times that their child must be home by. Parents also tend to want to know where their teens are going and who they’re with. Adolescents, on the other hand, are often loathe to provide this information, feeling that it is an intrusion on their precious privacy. It’s important to find the middle ground between the child’s developmental needs and the need that parents have to be responsible guardians. The curfew issue must be negotiated in some sort of win-win way.

If curfews are an issue in your house, consider the following tips:

A Good Negotiator Listens Well
Invite your teen to express his or her needs and wishes around a curfew. Let the child talk openly. Repeat and summarize what you hear. Go slow – don’t rush to correct, advise or reply. It’s more important to listen well, naming the feelings that are being expressed (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for tips on Emotional Coaching – the best way to listen). Your goal is to understand your child’s needs and respond to them as best you can. It’s important to be flexible and to give your child a chance to prove that he or she can be responsible. Your flexibility and the child’s responsibility are a great team when it comes to curfews!

Respect the Normal Need for Increasing Independence
Except in unusual circumstances, it’s best to allow the curfew itself to do the work. Don’t call your child when he or she is out – that behavior directly contradicts the child’s need for increasing independence. Don’t ask the child to check in with you either. Assume that a teenager can take care of him or herself when out for the evening, just like you don’t have to report to anyone every half hour just to show that you’re still alive! Unusual circumstances that might justify breaking this rule might be that your child is taking a long road trip and you want to know if he arrived safely at his destination, or your child is going to a place where there is likely to be some unsavory people and you have legitimate safety concerns. Obviously the need to hear from your child during his or her time away from your home should be an exception to the usual rule of “See you later!”

Experiment and Adjust
Try making tentative curfews. “We can try this curfew for this month and see how it goes.” If the child is responsible – coming home on time without trying to renegotiate the curfew each time – then that curfew can become more permanent or it might be extended by 15 minutes to see how that works. As the child proves him or herself again and again, you can continue to move the curfew to the maximum point that you feel is safe and healthy for that youngster.

Stick with Your Agreements
Although your child can have an “emergency” once in awhile, regular weekly adjustments to a curfew should not be occurring. If the curfew is midnight, for example, last minute calls home to “please extend it till 12:30” need to be discouraged by your negative response. A curfew that turns out to be impractical can be renegotiated once the child is home. Sit down and talk about the challenges of the current curfew and readjust as necessary. Do not readjust it every time the child is out! However, do try to be flexible when there are special occasions – graduation parties, New Year’s Eve and other special occasions may require a temporary extension of an otherwise static curfew.

If Necessary, Use Discipline
Once you and your child have agreed upon a reasonable curfew, expect it to be honored. The first time there is a problem (arriving any time later than 10 minutes past the curfew), apply Step 1 of the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for more details about this form of discipline). Tell the child that curfew must be honored. The second time lateness occurs, issue a warning that further breaches of curfew will always result in a punishment (name the specific punishment you have in mind – i.e. losing driving privileges for the week, losing cell phone for the day and so on). Apply consequences for every further breach, but also sit down with your teen and discuss the problem – why is curfew hard to follow? What would work better? Work together as a team – don’t make it a game or worse, a battle. In a positive relationship, it should be easy and pleasant to establish an appropriate curfew. If it is simply too difficult, then consider some professional help – a family counselor or psychologist can often help you solve the problem quickly.

Teens and Credit Cards

One way of helping a teen become financially responsible is to allow him or her to have a credit card. The trick is to make the teen fully responsible for its management. The child must have a bank account with money in it and must be responsible for keeping track of bills and payments.

By giving young adults limited financial control, parents are providing them with the opportunity to learn to make good decisions and to develop financial discipline.

Often, teens who are not earning their own money are unable to fully appreciate the real value of a dollar. For that reason, it’s best to allow your teen to have a personal credit card only after getting a part-time job or summer job that provides a financial base for its use. If this isn’t possible, however, you can provide a “salary” for “hired services”  the teen provides for you in the home (i.e. tasks that go beyond normal family responsibilities like helping in the kitchen and keeping one’s room clean). Alternatively, you can simply give your teen a steady allowance that is meant to cover not only entertainment and snacks, but also clothing, toiletries, transportation and other necessities of life. The reason for this is to help the teen learn to work within a budget to handle a large range of expenditures.

Having said all this, there are clear risks in offering a teen credit. A parent may find him or herself in the position of needing to bail a child out of unmanageable debt. Teens are, after all, inexperienced, impulsive and naive (some more than others) – characteristics that can get them into serious trouble of all kinds.

Given this is the case, how can you know if your teen can manage a credit card?

Consider Your Teen’s Personality
Is your teen a natural spender or someone who is able to save for a rainy day? Does your child tend to be impulsive, buying things that he or she never ends up using or do you see evidence of well-considered purchases?

Conduct a Test Drive
Before handing over a credit card, try simply providing a larger allowance and realm of financial responsibility to your teen. See how the youngster handles that extra responsibility. Can he or she function within the budget without coming to you for shortfalls? Is the youngster content within that budget? Is he or she making appropriate choices (i.e. buying lunch as well as t-shirts, instead of just t-shirts?). Can he or she set aside savings for large expenses and needs? “Yes” on all fronts earns a credit card. Even one “No” indicates a need for more experience and maturity before involving the bank!

Communication Skills
If you and your teen aren’t on good speaking terms, be careful about handing over credit. Your teen can get a credit card independently when he or she can present himself responsibly to a bank. Communication needs to be open so that your child can ask you questions when they arise, ask for help when it is needed and keep you informed about personal finances. Although you should not abuse the privilege, it should be possible for you to inquire about the balance on a card that you have co-signed for and you should be able to access the account. If there is no reason for you to do so, however, then DON’T. If you didn’t trust your child in the first place, you should not have provided a credit card. If you feel the need to check the monthly statement on your child’s card, the child should not have a card. Hopefully, you waited until the child showed appropriate signs of financial maturity and credit readiness. If so, everything should go smoothly. As  your teen becomes a young adult, you’ll be able to complete respect his or her financial privacy.

Another aspect of good communication involves YOUR OWN communication with your child. Be very clear – in fact, put it in writing – what the child’s credit card is for. For instance, do you want your child to use the card to buy all of his clothing, outerwear, digital devices, restaurant food and so on and so forth? Let him know what YOU are paying for and what you want HIM or HER to pay for – be as clear as possible in order to avoid misunderstandings and conflict.

Finally, enjoy watching your child become a responsible adult!

Marijuana Use

According to recent reports, erectile one in fifteen teenagers is using marijuana on a daily basis. More 10th graders smoke marijuana than cigarettes. On the other hand, order other forms of substance abuse are declining among this group – including alcohol use and other drugs.

What are the Immediate Effects of Marijuana?
Short term cannabis use (marijuana/weed/hemp/pot/grass and other slang names) often stimulates feelings of relaxation and elevated mood.  Appreciation for art and music may be enhanced or at least artistic appreciation might feel enhanced! Ideas can flow rapidly and the user may become quite talkative as well. In fact, pilule cannabis users may experience a variety of effects upon intoxication, including becoming hungry, having the giggles, experiencing hallucinations, experiencing increased  anxiety, suffering impaired motor coordination, experiencing increased fatigue and lowered motivation. However, a user will usually appear more or less normal to outside observers, even when he or she is highly intoxicated.

What are the Effects of Cannabis Intoxication?
Intoxication (getting “high”) is a disturbed state that often begins with symptoms of mild anxiety that can later progress to feelings of panic and might also include distortions in time perception, impaired judgment, impaired learning and problem-solving, euphoria, social withdrawal and motor impairment. Marijuana can also increase feelings of depression. Marijuana’s negative impact on memory and learning can last for days or even weeks after intoxication. Regular users may therefore be in a state of continuous lowered intellectual functioning. Those driving cars while intoxicated on marijuana have slower reaction times, impaired judgment, and impaired response to signals and sounds. Impulsivity increases, as does risk taking behavior. Physical symptoms can include dry mouth, rapid heart rate, red eyes and increased appetite.

The most common untoward reaction to cannabis is the development of an anxiety disorder, but use of the drug can also lead to serious psychotic disorders in those who are vulnerable. Vulnerability is associated with early use of marijuana (prior to age 18)  – in which case users have 2 to 4 times the frequency of psychotic illness occurring by young adulthood.  Also, those who start taking marijuana before age 18 have a much higher incidence of becoming addicted to the drug. Lastly, it appears that adolescent users are susceptible to drug induced permanent brain changes that affect memory and cognitive functioning.

What are the Effects of Cannabis Withdrawal?
When addicted users go off marijuana, they experience unpleasant symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, cravings for the drug, sleeplessness and decreased appetite. The symptoms are unpleasant enough to make abstinence challenging. They peak at 2-3 days off the drug and then subside within a couple of weeks. The most likely people to become addicted to marijuana are those who have started its use while in their teens and those who use the drug daily. Addiction is characterized in part by continued use of the substance despite negative effects on relationships, work or school performance or  other aspects of functioning.

Treatment for Cannabis Intoxication
Treatment can range from in-patient hospitalization, drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities, to various outpatient programs and individual drug therapy counselling. Narcotics Anonymous (twelve-step programs) and other such group support programs are also helpful treatment options.

The Role of Parents
There’s much that parents can do to help their children avoid experimenting with or seriously using marijuana. Here are some ideas:

  • Bring home education books from your public library and leave them lying around with other books. Alternatively, leave them in the bathroom for “reading material.” Books written for young people on this subject are appealing to the age group with lots of simple information, pictures and user-friendly guidance.
  • Talk about drugs and alcohol at your dinner table. Give your opinions and share your knowledge.
  • LISTEN to what your kids are saying – without criticism, negative feedback or judgment. You don’t want them to shut down and keep their thoughts (and actions) to themselves. Instead, show thoughtful interest and curiosity and try to relate what they are saying to your own adolescent and current life experience.
  • Teach your kids healthy ways of managing stress – don’t assume they know how to process hurt, anger or fear. Bring home books on stress management and emotional awareness and talk about these things at your table.
  • Offer your kids professional counseling when they seem to have too much stress or when they are withdrawing, very anxious, suffering from insomnia, seem to be in low mood or otherwise seem emotionally off balance. You don’t want them to discover the pleasure of “self-medicating” through drugs!
  • Strengthen the emotional stability of your family, the health of your marriage and the happiness of your home through education and counseling as necessary – a happier home environment is preventative as far as heavy drug use goes.
  • Use an authoritative style of parenting – have some rules and boundaries but emphasize warmth (see “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice” for a balanced parenting strategy). Refrain from using too many rules, too much criticism or too much anger.

Self-Care

One important parenting goal is to raise children who are independent. Hopefully, by the end of two decades of effort, parents have been able to teach their child to take care of him or herself in every way. When the young person leaves home, he or she should be able to cook, clean up, pay bills, manage money, do laundry, maintain healthy, hygienic personal standards and take care of him or herself in every other way. Training starts early in life: as soon as a little one can pull on his or her own socks, parents must stand back and give room for trial and error. While it seems easy in principle, in daily life teaching a child habits of self-care can be quite challenging.

In teaching your child to take care of him or herself, consider the following tips:

Baby Steps to Independence
At first, parents do EVERYTHING for a new human being – dressing the infant, grooming the infant, changing the infant’s diapers, washing the infant, carrying the infant, feeding the infant. As the child develops, we hope that he will be able to take over all of these functions. By toddlerhood we are hoping that the child can dress himself, brush his hair with a little parental assistance, toilet himself with minimal assistance, cooperate with the cleaning process (starting to learn to brush his teeth and use soap in the bathtub), walk about and feed himself using cutlery. By the time the child is in school, we expect that he can completely dress himself (perhaps with a little assistance for difficult snaps or buttons), brush his own hair, take care of his bathroom needs independently, brush his teeth, wash his face and bathe himself (with supervision), walk, run, cycle and perhaps skate and swim as well, and eat properly with a knife and fork.

Small Children Enjoy Being Helped by Their Parents
Very young children, and even kids up to 6 or 7 years old, enjoy parental attention and contact. Although they may be able to take their own clothing off or put new clothing on, they thrive on the feeling of being assisted. It reminds them of the “old days” when Mommy and Daddy nurtured them in every way possible, taking care of every tiny need. Now that they’re “big,” parents often abandon them to attend to the new baby in the family or just to do their own things. The young child misses the affectionate and gentle touch of the parent. An adult woman may be very skilled at putting her own coat on, but this doesn’t stop her from feeling oh so special if her special man holds it up for her to slip her sleeves into! In a similar vein, it is fine to assist young children in their dressing and grooming activities even though the child is capable of doing everything on his own. This sort of assistance is just one way of showing love and affection. Don’t do EVERYTHING for the child, however, as this may actually stunt his development. Rather, it’s fine to hand him his second sock as he is putting on his first one or help zipper up his pants after he pulled them on himself. Make sure that the child can, in fact, perform all the tasks adequately by giving him plenty of opportunity to demonstrate competence. Offer assistance in different ways rather than just the same way every time. This helps ensure that the child gets to practice his skills. Unless your child is severely disabled, you have every reason to expect that he’ll be able to perform all acts of self-care during the period of childhood; you needn’t worry that assisting him will somehow prevent his normal development.

Teach Your Child
Actually sit down and show small children how to get dressed, comb hair, brush teeth and so on. It’s fine to repeat aspects of the basic lessons with older kids as well. Some children need verbal instructions and demonstration – with everything broken down into small chunks. Don’t assume your child already knows what she is supposed to do. If the child needs practice, try to make it short and pleasant – even a form of “quality time.” Older kids can learn more indirectly. Bring home library books along with books on all sorts of other interesting subjects. Leave them in the bathroom and around the table. There are books on fashion, style, image and all aspects of personal appearance. If you feel your child needs a gentle hint, leaving such books around can be useful. An uninvolved party is delivering the important information. Similarly, local libraries may carry DVD’s on the subject. For teens who cannot get themselves together nicely, consider a consultation with a personal style consultant. Such a person can show your child how to pick out fashionable clothing, make-up and hair styles. A consultation such as this can give the child necessary confidence as well as skills.

Allow Time and Permit Failure
Whether you are encouraging your toddler to put on his own snow pants or encouraging your teen to get a driver’s licence, you need patience and a tolerance for the learning process. Everyone learns by trial and error. You can get your 5 year-old dressed faster so it’s very tempting to just grab those clothes and dress the child yourself when you’re in a rush to get to work. However, your child really needs the practice in order to become independent. Doing everything for your child not only delays skill-building, but may actually interfere with the child’s normal development.

The solution? Start the morning routine earlier to allow for time for the child to develop skills. Once your child knows how to dress herself, brush her teeth, do her hair, make her bed, get herself some breakfast and make her own lunch – you’ll have a much easier morning! It’s worth the investment of your time up front to help your child learn each skill.

Self-care for older children involves more complex tasks like thoroughly cleaning their own rooms, knowing how to cook healthy meals, knowing how to clean up afterward, knowing how to use the washing machine and dryer and wash clothing by hand, knowing how to get into bed at a decent hour and how to get up independently in the morning. It can also involve knowing how to apply for a job, take public transportation or learn to drive, go to work, purchase personal items, use a credit card and manage money. Of course, teens also need to be responsible for taking regular showers, brushing their teeth and arranging for regular medical and dental check-ups. Children grow into these skills over the second decade of life – but only if their parents encourage them to do so and give them opportunities to spread their wings.

Emphasize the Positive
Look for the “right” part of whatever the child is trying to do. If she is learning to wash her own hair, praise as much as possible before correcting her. For instance, tell her she is using the right amount of shampoo and you like the way she is scrubbing hard. Then, if correction is necessary, keep it short and emphasize what needs to be done, rather than what she is doing wrong. For instance, instead of saying, “you didn’t rinse all the shampoo out of your hair,” try saying, “you need to rinse a little longer to get all the shampoo out of your hair.” Obviously children need lots of guidance before they can become competent at any aspect of self-care. In order not to discourage them, ensure that your positive feedback far outweighs your negative feedback. If a small child has gotten dressed all by himself, it is more important to applaud his independence than to point out that his pants don’t match his shirt. All people go from strength to strength. Letting the child know that he is on the right track helps him to continuously improve.

Use Positive Reinforcement and/or the CleaR Method
Use simple praise to reinforce attention and competency in self-care routines. Trying telling a young child, “I like the way you got dressed all by yourself and so quickly!” To an older child you can offer, “You look really nice today. I really like the way you color-coordinated that outfit.” To a teen, you might quietly utter “Hmmm… someone smells nice!” When a child allows you to help him with a task the he needs help with (i.e. a 5 year-old who can’t tie up his shoe laces), you can praise his cooperative attitude: “Thanks for letting Mommy show you how to do this.” When a youngster struggles and struggles with some difficult article of clothing, finally succeeding at getting it on (or off), you can say, “I like the way you persevered with that! You worked hard and it paid off!”

The CLeaR Method takes praise a step further through commenting and labeling positive behavior and then providing a reward for such behavior. This can be especially important when a child has been having a very hard time learning some aspect of dressing or self-care and especially when the child’s attitude toward the task has been very negative. For instance, if your 5 year-old has been refusing to button his own clothing and finally relents, doing the whole job himself, you can Comment: “You did up all the buttons yourself today!” Then you can offer a Label such as “You’re a good dresser.” Finally, you can offer a reward for the effort he put forth, “You know, since you worked so hard at that today, I think I’ll make your favorite pancakes for breakfast this morning!.” You can say to a child brushing her hair properly, “You did a very nice job brushing your hair this morning (Comment). You’re getting to be very competent at that (Label). Do you need any new hair accessories? I’ll be in the store today (Reward).”

Some Kids Have Problems that Interfere with Self-Care
Ask your pediatrician about normal developmental milestones. If your child is not able to put his shirt on or use a fork properly or perform some other physical act as skillfully as you expect him to by his age, you might consider the possibility of some sort of perceptual deficit , muscle weakness or other problem. Alternatively, problems with following directions may make it difficult for the youngster to perform a complex task that has many steps. Short-attention span can lead to similar difficulties. Similarly, auditory processing difficulties, gross motor skills, immaturity, a mental health diagnosis and a host of other issues can impact on self-care performance. If your child is lagging behind his or her peer group in self-care activities, seek professional assessment. The sooner you intervene to give corrective treatment, the sooner your child can make progress. Young children can learn rapidly. However, if you don’t identify a lag in development, you are not giving your child the chance to receive the help he or she needs.

Extreme Misbehavior – Conduct Disorder

Even before stepping into high school, John had already accumulated a laundry list of offenses. He had been involved in bullying, vandalism, fire setting, stealing, and fighting, among other aggressive or illegal activities. As if these antisocial behaviors weren’t enough, John also had other issues like abusing alcohol and prescription drugs, and threatening his parents with violence.  At 14, he was arrested for assault, and placed in a juvenile correction facility.

John has Conduct Disorder, a mental health condition believed to affect 3-10% of American children and adolescents. Conduct Disorder or CD is characterized by persistent patterns of antisocial behavior, behavior that violates the rights of others and breaks rules and laws. While most kids have natural tendencies towards episodes of lying, belligerence and aggression, children and teenagers with Conduct Disorder exhibit chronic and inflexible patterns of gross misbehavior and violence. Conduct Disorder is a serious disorder of behavior and not simply an overdose of the sort of ordinary mischief or misbehavior that all children get into. It is characterized by repetitive, consistent antisocial behavior that is not responsive to normal parenting interventions.

Conduct Disorder manifests in aggression to people and animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness or theft, and serious violations of rule such as running away, using dangerous weapons, skipping school and classes, ignoring curfews and so on. Symptoms cause severe impairment in the child’s personal, academic or social life. Conduct Disorder occurs more often among males than among females and usually coexists with other mental health conditions such as substance abuse, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, learning disorders, and depression.

What it’s Like for Parents
Conduct Disorder poses one of the greatest sources of grief and stress among parents. Symptoms can start out looking relatively normal, involving “misbehavior” such as chronic arguments with parents, disobedience and even hyperactivity. But as time goes by the gravity of the symptoms tend to escalate, alongside with their frequency. Temper tantrums can become actual episodes of violence and assault; lying to parents can become stealing from friends and classmates; and lack of respect for privacy at home can become breaking and entering somebody else’s home. Conduct Disorders can lead to cases of rape and sexual abuse, even homicide. If left untreated, Conduct Disorders can evolve into the adult disorder known as Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Receiving calls from teachers, principals and even the local police station, are common occurrences for parents of conduct disordered children and teens. Usually, there are many fruitless attempts to discipline or moderate a child’s behavior. Even counseling is insufficient because the biological nature of the disorder necessitates medical treatment as well. Because kids and teens with Conduct Disorder  suffer from a lack of empathy and emotional responsiveness, parents rarely get through to their child on their own.

What can Parents Do?
The good news is that there is hope for treating Conduct Disorders, and many programs have been found effective in both managing symptoms and restoring functionality. However, treatment is usually slow and complex. Indeed, Conduct Disorder is one of the most difficult behavioral disorders to treat. Recovery generally requires time and a combination of many different treatment approaches including different types of therapy, education, behavioral interventions and medications.

What can Help?
Early intervention helps increase the likelihood of successful treatment, which is why parents should act promptly when they notice antisocial behavior in their children. CD often begins as ODD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, a condition characterized by lack of respect for authority. Lack of empathy is also a risk factor, alongside a family history of antisocial and/or criminal behavior.

As part of a comprehensive treatment program, traditional counseling and therapy interventions can go a long way, particularly those that aims to teach positive social skills such as communication, empathy and conflict management. Emotional management techniques, such as anger management interventions can also help. Sensitivity training, especially those at residential camps where kids and teens can interact with peers (and sometimes animals like horses), have also been known to be effective.

Parents are also encouraged to join family therapy sessions and Parent Management Training or PMT. Family therapy can surface systemic factors that cause and reinforce antisocial behavior in children. Family therapy can also help parents establish more effective forms of guidance and discipline, and teach parents how to respond to disruptive and defiant behaviors.

Because of the biological factor in Conduct Disorders, getting pharmacological help is important as well. A psychiatrist can help plan the appropriate drug therapy for a child or teenager with Conduct Disorder. In addition, a psychiatrist can help manage the child’s overall program of therapy and specific interventions. Sometimes the best source of help for children with Conduct Disorder is a specialized children’s mental health treatment center where many different types of professionals offer services under one roof and the child’s program can be coordinated through one department. Ask your doctor for a referral to such a center for diagnosis and treatment of your child.

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating is a way to get nourishment and sustenance; it is, for the most part, a pleasant and fulfilling act. Sometimes, however, eating becomes part of a disabling or even life-threatening disorder.

What is an Eating Disorder? 
As the term implies, an eating disorder is a mental health condition that is characterized by dysfunctional eating patterns such as overeating, deliberate starvation, binging and purging. Eating disorders are associated with extreme concern or anxiety related to one’s body shape, size or weight. Some family therapists have conceptualized eating disorders as illnesses related to issues of control, like addictions or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Whatever the cause, an eating disorder is conceded as both a physiological and a psychological problem.

Who are at Risk? 
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, eating disorders occur frequently among adolescents and young adults, although there have been reported cases of childhood eating disorders and eating disorders that occur during late adulthood. The disorders are more prevalent among women than men, although in recent years, men are suffering in greater numbers.

What are the Types of Eating Disorders?
Types of eating disorders may include:

Anorexia NervosaAnorexia Nervosa is characterized by the relentless pursuit of thinness despite severe negative consequences. People with Anorexia Nervosa are convinced that they are too fat or too heavy, even if objectively they are already underweight. They may therefore engage in excessive dieting, self-induced vomiting, overexercising, the use of diuretics and laxatives, and abuse of weight management pills. Alarmingly, people with Anorexia Nervosa are ten times more likely to die from the condition than those without the disease.

Bulimia Nervosa. Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by repeated patterns of binging and purging. Binging refers to the consumption of large amounts of food in a short time, e.g. eating several plates of pasta in one sitting. Purging refers to the compensatory action to get rid of the food or calories consumed during the binge episode. Purging techniques include the ones people with Anorexia use to lose weight, e.g. self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics and overexercising. Unlike sufferers of Anorexia, people with Bulimia may have normal body weight.

Obesity. Obesity is a condition of excess weight – essentially the result of consuming more calories than are needed for energy. It can affect a teenager’s self-image and self-confidence and it can also affect his or her health. For instance, obesity is sometimes associated with the development of insulin resistance – a sensitivity to sugars in the blood. This condition can be a precursor to a more serious condition such as diabetes.

How are Eating Disorders Treated?
There are three steps to treating eating disorders.

The first step is the physiological or medical intervention. Eating disorders may be classified under mental health issues, but they carry with them serious medical effects. People with Anorexia Nervosa, for example, can suffer from severe malnutrition that serious and irreversible damage to vital organs occur. Eating disorders may even be fatal if not arrested in time. Therefore the first order of business is to restore the patient to an ideal weight, address nutrient deficiency, and treat the medical side effects of the condition.

The second step to treating eating disorders is psychological assistance. Counseling and therapy must be employed to address the psychological reasons behind the dysfunctional eating patterns. Eating disorders are related to dysfunctions in perception of one’s weight or shape. Often, patients suffer from low self-esteem, obsession about body weight, and a sense of helplessness about their situation. It is also not unusual for other mental health issues to develop because of the eating disorder, such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

The last step is maintenance to prevent relapse. Like people with addictions, those with eating disorders must consistently monitor their behavior even after treatment to prevent symptoms from recurring. Joining support groups, on-going family therapy, and education about proper nutrition and weight management are ways to maintain progress in recovery from eating disorders.

How Can You Tell if Your Child is Suffering from an Eating Disorder?
You will not be ablet o diagnose an eating disorder on your own. However, what you CAN do is take your child to a doctor or psychologist for assessment if you suspect that something isn’t right. Most parents are able and willing to do this when they see that their child is overweight. However, kids suffering from bulimia may be a totally normal weight. Kids suffering from anorexia may gradually lose weight and cover it up with clothing (and excuses). However, there are some red flags that can alert a parent to the need to have the child assessed. For instance: consuming large amounts of food without gaining weight is a red flag for bulimia. Playing with food on the plate, cutting it into small bits and moving it around, becoming increasingly picky as to what is fit to eat and clearly not eating much, may be red flags for anorexia. Other symptomatic behaviors include being very cold, growing a thin layer of hair on the skin, engaging in excessive amounts of exercise, buying laxatives and vomiting without being ill. Don’t get into a conversation with your child about whether or not he or she has an eating disorder. Instead, tell your child that diagnosis will be left up to a professional.

Anorexia

The eating disorder known as “Anorexia” has become so common, that almost everyone now knows what it is. When we think of anorexia, we think of excessively skinny people – sometimes with a skeletal appearance of skin and bones – whose lives are at risk due to malnutrition. And this is exactly what the disorder leads to. Anorexia is a condition that causes people to starve themselves.

Anorexia Nervosa used to be a condition that was most commonly found in individuals whose professions demand subscription to particular “body image.” Models, actors and physical trainer, for instance, have long suffered from eating disorders because their jobs require them to look a certain way.

Unfortunately however, the incidence of Anorexia Nervosa is climbing among the general public, with highest rate found in adolescent girls. Furthermore, onset age of the disease get lower and lower each year, with girls now as young as 7 years old succumbing to the illness. It may be that the way the media portrays attractiveness, the decreased focus on healthy eating habits, and the decrease in parental guidance as dual-income families and divorcing couples increase, all contribute to the rise in adolescent anorexia.

What are the Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an irrational obsession with having a thin body.  A person with Anorexia controls his or her body weight by limiting food intake and also by attempting to “un-do” eating by inducing vomiting, using laxatives or exercising excessively. When kids start restricting their diet to very low calorie foods, start obsessing about and avoiding “bad” foods like fats and carbs, cut up their food in small pieces and shuffle it around their plates, wear baggy clothing to hide protruding bones, claim they’ve eaten when they haven’t, exercise way too much, and so on, it’s time for parents to be concerned.

People with Anorexia suffer from a distorted body image. Regardless of their actual weight and height, or of their objective appearance in the mirror, they still feel that they are “too fat” and need to lose some weight.

Types of Anorexia Nervosa

There are two more common types of Anorexia Nervosa: a “restricting type” and a “binge-and-purge” type. Those who belong to the first type obsessively lose weight by fasting or eating extremely small portions. Those who belong to the second type alternate between binging (eating large quantities of food), and then later finding ways to remove the eaten food before the food is digested.

A Serious, Even Fatal Disorder 

Anorexia, like all eating disorders, must be taken seriously. It is not a “teenage fad,” but rather a serious health risk.  Aside from the psychological impact of the disease, Anorexia Nervosa can result to many serious physical conditions — even death. Starvation alone may result into cardiac arrhythmia, hypotension, gastric issues and low blood pressure — not to mention various complications resulting from many nutritional deficiencies. Anorexics may require hospitalization, and a full physiological therapy, before they can even start dealing with the emotional issues associated with the disease.

What Can Parents Do? 
Given the seriousness of this disease, what can parents do to protect their children?

Preventing Anorexia Nervosa in one’s home begins by promoting a healthy body image for the family. Contrary to what the media promotes, there is no one measure of attractiveness and beauty. Similarly, body size and shape doesn’t necessarily equate to health — ethnicity, bone/muscle mass and body structure must all be taken into account before one can be considered as underweight or overweight. While parents are recommended to be health and diet conscious in the home, they must also be affirming of their child’s natural beauty so as not to encourage a pre-occupation with body image. Neither parent should praise a child for being skinny. A thin body type is simply an inherited characteristic – as is a softer, bigger look. As long as your child is not eating poorly (i.e. living on a diet of coke and cookies, munching chips and ice cream instead of eating dinner), then just help him or her to learn the basics of dressing well. For instance, a “square” shaped child will look better in a certain type of sweater/pant or skirt combination than in a different kind of outfit – teach your adolescents about dressing to highlight their own good looks. Much can be accomplished with a few library books on the subject. If your child is actually eating poorly, encourage good eating habits without becoming so intense about it that the child swings the other way; many anorexics were once overweight and compensated by going too far in the other direction. When parents are too invested in the child’s “look” they may accidentally nurture the seeds of disease.

Even more important, however, is the emotional climate of the home. Kids act out their stress with eating disorders, so try to create and maintain a fairly low-stress environment. This means, work on your marriage (or even your divorce) so that there isn’t a lot of hostility being displayed, refrain from raising your voice or using very stringent punishments, keep demands light and reasonable considering the age of the child, bring laughter and love into everyday interactions EVERY day, and don’t get too stressed yourself. Although nothing a parent does can guarantee that a child won’t succumb to eating disorders, taking these steps can reduce the chances.

If you suspect that your child is developing symptoms of anorexia, then go with the child to a medical appointment to obtain a formal assessment. You can tell your child, “I’m not an expert. I don’t know if the way you are eating and the way you look is fine or not. I am, however, feeling concerned. So I’ve made an appointment for us to see Dr. So and So, who can tell me where things stand. If there’s no problem – great! I’ll leave you alone. But if there is any problem, then we can help you with it.” Such an appointment should never be optional. If you thought that your child’s lump on her skin was suspicious, you wouldn’t ask her to please come for a biopsy. You would TELL her that she needs to be seen by a medical professional. You would not allow your child to refuse to go, knowing that untreated cancer can be life-threatening. In the same way, you need to use all of your parenting power to get your child to a doctor when you suspect the life-threatening disorder of anorexia.