Does it really matter how much television you let your kids watch?

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A child watching TV.

A child watching TV. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to psychological research it does matter how much TV your children watch. One study found that the number of hours of TV watched between 1 and 3 years old was linked with attentional problems at aged 7. Psychologists suggest that this is because real life does not move as quickly as the animated cartoons on television and that if young children are allowed to watch these animations, they find real life slower and more boring. TV watching is not only linked with attentional problems but also increased aggression. This is not surprising when so many cartoons contain violence, just think of all those superheroes using violence to get rid of the bad guys. Children are very impressionable and are easily influenced by the characters they see on TV. However, this is the kind of research that I wish I could ignore as it makes life much more difficult for me. I would much rather put on the TV than spend time pushing trains round a train track with my 3-year-old. Unfortunately, this is where knowing too much psychology is a bad thing as I can’t help but feel guilty about allowing my son to watch too much TV. I promised myself I wouldn’t buy a DVD player for the car before my son was born but it was the only way to get me through long journeys with him and still have my sanity. I bought the DVD player when he was 9 months old after two journeys with him screaming on the motorway to get out of his car seat. However, I have tried to reduce TV watching time a home. This is not easy especially when I am trying to get dressed in the morning or cook dinner at night. With no TV to babysit my son, I have had to get quite inventive when cooking. I have ended up getting my son to measure out the spices or herbs into a bowl, which takes twice as long and makes a huge mess. I have also given my son play dough so that he can pretend he is cutting vegetables when I am doing it. I accept I might be slightly overdoing it and making life hard for myself but that is the cost of being a mum who knows too much psychology.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.

How do you deal with a child who is upset?

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Managing emotions - Identifying feelings

Managing emotions – Identifying feelings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My son fell down in the park the other day and started crying and I went straight to him, picked him up and cuddled him until he stopped crying. But am I mollycoddling my son too much and turning him into a wimp? I know that other mothers might see it this way and want their children to ‘toughen’ up.

As usual, when I have questions about my parenting style, I turn to psychological research for the answers. ‘Tuning into kids’ is a new parenting programme being run in Australia and it suggests that we should not dismiss or play down our children’s feelings. Parents are taught to accept and explore their children’s emotions rather than dismiss them. For example, when parents dismiss their children’s emotions they say to themselves that they want to change their child’s worried moods into cheerful ones. However, according to research, it is better for parents to try to understand why their children are worried and to find out what their children are thinking. According to Gottman and colleagues (1997), parents should be aware of their children’s emotions and help their children to understand and label their emotions. It may be hard for parents to accept their children’s strong emotions such as anger and jealousy but it is important to try to empathise with them. If parents can learn to deal with their children’s strong emotions, children feel validated. Parents can also use it as a time for getting closer to their children and to teach their children how to solve problems. Gottman and colleagues found that when parents coach their children in emotions, the children have fewer behaviour problems and better social skills.

Havighurst et al. (2010) compared 4 and 5-year-old children, whose parents had been taught emotion coaching (the ‘Tuning into kids’ parenting programme) with children whose parents had not been taught how to tune into their children’s emotions. The children whose parents had been taught emotions coaching had a much better understanding of different types of emotions and they also had fewer parent- and teacher-reported behaviour problems six months later.

This research suggests that I should continue to comfort my son when he is upset and not worry about making him independent. I do find it hard sometimes to deal with my son when he is angry but I have to remind myself to accept his strong feelings. Having read this research, when my son said he didn’t want to go to his new preschool a couple of weeks ago, I said to him that I understood that he was worried. I also resisted the temptation to say that he would be fine and instead told him that I had felt worried on my first day at school too. Acknowledging his worries seemed to make him much more willing to go into the new preschool and as I said in a previous post, he told me afterwards that he had enjoyed himself.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.

Using marbles to reward good behaviour

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English: Picture of marbles from my collection

Image via Wikipedia

Recently, I had been taking away toys for my 3-year old son’s bad behaviour but then returning them for good behaviour. My friend, a child psychologist questioned this method. She suggested that I separate negative consequences from rewards as giving toys back for good behaviour might undo the lessons I was trying to teach him when I removed the toys in the first place. Her recommendation was that I continue to remove toys for bad behaviours, perhaps returning them after a day/week but that I should reward good behaviour in a different way. One idea that she suggested that seemed easy to implement was putting a marble in a jar for good behaviour and then when the marbles reach the top of the jar, giving a reward. I have told my son he can choose a reward such as going to Thomasland when the marbles reach the top of the jar and he seems really enthusiastic about the whole idea. One thing I really wanted to change was how quickly my son gets ready in the mornings so I have told him that he needs to brush his teeth without a fuss and get his own pants and trousers on and he will get a marble. We have been rewarding my son with marbles for almost a month now, and my son consistently gets his own pants and trousers on, brushes his teeth, washes his hands after the toilet and gets ready for bed quickly, all things I was struggling with before. I do have to remind him that he needs to do these things to receive a marble but ultimately, the marbles seem to be working. What surprises me is that he is still persevering at getting the marbles even though he is only halfway to receiving  his reward.

My book  ‘Psychology for Parents: Birth to teens’ is on sale as an e-book on Amazon and Smashwords.com.

Should aggressive make believe play be discouraged?

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English: Palestinian boy with toy gun in Nazar...

Recently my son has been playing lots of aggressive games. The characters in his games get shot, covered in volcano lava, eaten by sharks and killed by pirates. This has led me to ask myself whether I should play along with this aggressive make-believe play or discourage it. So what does psychological research say? Landy and Menna (2001) compared how mothers of non-aggressive children and aggressive children played with their children. The mothers and children were observed playing with a variety of toys through a one-way mirror. Dinosaurs and a crocodile were included amongst the toys to encourage aggressive play themes. Landy and Menna found that mothers of aggressive children were more likely to stop aggressive make-believe play. They were also more likely to say things like ‘That’s not nice’ or ‘That’s unkind’. In contrast, mothers of non-aggressive children would play along with the aggressive play, taking on the voice of certain characters and pretending to be scared, killed or eaten by crocodiles and dinosaurs. The mothers of non-aggressive children were also more likely to talk about the character’s feelings during the play, saying things like ‘I think she must be upset’. In addition, these mothers were more tuned into their children’s feelings during the play, so if their children started to show that they were uncomfortable with the aggression in the make-believe play, the mothers would suggest things like ‘the crocodile wanted to be friends now’. This study lends support to the idea that play enables children to work through their anxieties. Landy and Menna suggest that children become more aggressive if they cannot act out their aggression during play. If aggression is not released during play, then it ends up being acted out physically through hitting, biting and pushing. Cohen (2001) in his book ‘Playful Parenting’ argues that children use play to come to terms with their own and other people’s aggression. He believes that if aggressive play is forbidden it leads children to become more aggressive in real life. However, Gordon (1993) found that some children’s play can entirely revolve around killing and destruction.  This seems very much like some of my son’s play recently. Landy and Menna (2001) suggest that playing with children as much as possible and getting them to extend the themes in their play so that having a nice dinner or going on holiday are incorporated into the aggressive play can help children move away from repetitive aggression. Having read these studies I have allowed my son to engage in aggressive make-believe play as much as he wants to and I have also tried to reflect the feelings of the characters my son wants me to pretend to be. I know that he has learnt many of these games from the older boys at his preschool including words such as ‘Shoot, kill and die’ so I am allowing him to understand what these words mean at home in a pretend situation. He has also been quite upset recently by some boys saying ‘I hate you’ to him (I have spoken to his preschool about this) and I think allowing him to engage in aggressive make-believe play at home has helped him deal with his emotions. I am pleased to say that his play has become a little bit less aggressive this week but this seems to have happened naturally as things have calmed down at his preschool. However, I know that I shouldn’t be worried either way.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.

How to discipline your child with 1,2,3 Magic

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Reading

Reading (Photo credit: surlygirl)

When my son was 3-years-old, I had problems managing his behaviour as he was quite a strong-willed child. So after discussion with a psychologist friend, I started using a method called ‘1,2,3 Magic’. This is a method where you give your child three warnings for bad behaviour and if they continue, you give them a consequence such a timeout or taking away a toy. So how does it work exactly? Well the first time your child does something you don’t want them to do, you say ‘That’s 1’, the second time you say ‘That’s 2’ giving them time to stop their bad behaviour but if they continue you say ‘That’s 3’ and follow it with a consequence. By having a three-step system, it allows the child time to try to change their behaviour. When I first started using the 1,2,3 Magic method, I did use  far to many words. For example, I would say ‘Stop throwing your food on the floor’ to my son, then if he continued, I would say ‘If you don’t stop throwing your food, you will go into timeout’ and then if he still didn’t stop throwing his food I would say ‘Now you are going into 3 minutes of timeout for throwing your food’. I then realised that I was using too many words and started just saying ‘That’s 1, 2 or 3’, so that my authority carried more weight. It also gave my son less room for argument. I have been using this method over a year now and I have really noticed a difference in my son’s behaviour. He is a now a mostly charming 4-year-old. Sometimes but not always he will stop what he is doing on the first or second warning. I hope the 1,2,3 Magic method will keep working its magic in my house.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.