How to Prepare Your College Student for the Semester

Holy moly, it’s almost August again and classes are just around the corner. Time to dust off the ‘how to’ guides for parents. Here are a few favorite tips from the last few years that parents have found helpful.

Image result for college

  1. Organization. Organization is a concept, not a tool. Identify tools they can and will use. Make sure they are using the calendar app on their phone. Have them figure out the best use of online tools the school provides. Many students need the help of a counselor they see 1-2x per month to help oversee their organization habits and tools. Get this all figured out before the car is packed.
  2. GPA. Talk about what, if any, expectations you have for overall as well as per-course GPA. It’s a bit late to tell them at Thanksgiving dinner you wanted to see a 3.75 GPA for the semester. Best to discuss this in July and August. Make it realistic but also challenging. They are not going on vacation. They are coming to school to earn a degree and have some fun (after the work is done).
  3. Appointments. What ever appointments need to happen leading up to or during the school year, have your little college kid get them setup and on the calendar now. It’s not too early to get the dentist appointment scheduled. If they take any type of medication, do not assume they can just have a walk-in appointment for a refill. Get this scheduled now (especially if they need to find and work with a psychiatrist for antidepressants or antianxiety meds).
  4. Contact. How long is too long before you start to worry? Make it clear that if you text/call them, you expect a response (even a lame one) within XX hours. Stick to it. We all know they will get busy (or sleepy or drunk or distracted) but having you worry day after day is unnecessary if they simply check in regularly.
  5. Scheduling. Kind of along the same line as appointments above, one of the most powerful sessions I have with students leading up to classes cranking is sitting down with their schedule and putting EVERY assignment, test, meeting, etc. into their calendar. Most professors post their syllabus on the school’s intranet and every student has access. Every syllabus is required to have all dates/times of classes as well as assignments and tests.
    But wait, there’s more!
    After we plug in all the items from the syllabus, we reverse-engineer. For example, if Mary has a test September 18 for Calc, we schedule back one week for studying (start September 11). For each day, we carve out 1 hour for studying (eg. Mon, Sept 11 3:00pm-4:00pm Review Calc). This makes it so each study session is a known, expected quantity with a specific day and time.For more insider tips, tricks and ways to support your college kid, contact me

Insider’s Guide: Creating and Maintaining Boundaries

The small college I graduated from had a working farm in a beautiful valley with a river flowing through the middle. Students worked on the farm 15-20 hours per week planting corn, fixing tractors, and cleaning out the pig stalls. Our farm had a herd of cows that loved to poop, eat grass, drink from the streams and get into trouble. The college hired a farm manager who decided our primary focus should be keeping the cows out of trouble by fixing existing fences and building new ones with high-tensile wire (electric fencing) with solar chargers.

After months of slow progress, the cows were fenced-in and safe from their naughty excursions. But they continued trying to bust out of the new fancy fences so the farm manager said out next job was to create a ‘salad bar’ in each pasture. We removed massive thistles, dug up weeds, and filled in mysterious holes. We planted clover, fescues and other plants cows love. After a full season of work, the cows no longer tried to bust out.

They had a) strong fences and b) healthy pasture. The perfect combination of keeping cattle happy and in a good spot.

Image result for cows

Humans can be like those cows, especially young humans (teens and young adults). If we don’t build boundaries around them, they wonder-off into the world. We don’t want the boundaries too tight or they suffocate and don’t learn how to handle freedom. If the boundaries are inconsistent and full of gaps, they don’t have structure to lean on when the world gets hostile. Boundaries, like fences, require maintenance. Talking about your limits and the consequences if they are unmet is maintenance. Telling your son or daughter you are appreciative they came home by curphew last night is maintenance. Keep the fence maintained and it will be easier than looking for cows at 2:00am (I’ve done that before).

It’s also important to create that healthy pasture for kids. Create positive experiences at home, provide healthy food and love and attention. Give opportunities for engagement, ownership and rebounding from screw-ups. This is the healthy pasture for kids. Pastures also need maintenance. Checking in with kids and revisiting what you are providing as a homebase is essential. What sort of place is your home? Safe and welcoming or something to be avoided? Talk this out, don’t make assumptions.

Healthy fencing plus healthy pasture equals healthy cows. A simple experience I had which holds true today for families I work with.

 

How to Pivot

I’ve been working on a project that just is not working. There are so many reasons, some of which are my fault, many of which are out of my control. But let’s move on. I need to pivot. It’s time to do something differently. Pivoting with this means to end that project, change the people involved, 10x my behavior with obsessive focus or something entirely different. There are probably a hundred other possibilities of ways to pivot out of the current trajectory. I am emotionally and financially in the middle of it so I can’t see all the options. I also don’t have an outside mentor or family member or consultant to provide that outsider perspective.

Everyone has stuff they get stuck in. Sometimes it’s really important to suck it up, dial-up your grit and just get through it. We are often pretty whiny and complain about how hard stuff is.
But when is it the right time to quit? When is it time to pivot? This is what I’ve been looking for since so many clients I work with (eg. parents, college kids, entrepreneurs) really struggle with this. I struggle with this.

Here are some observations. There are other times in life when pivoting is important, essential or just part of the game. People pivot playing basketball looking to pass or avoid defense. People pivot when mountain biking – an unexpected downed-tree or squirrel in the way dramatically changes things. People pivot when driving – I’m thinking of all the shredded truck tires I used to dodge when driving on I-40 around Raleigh-Durham. No time to think, just move or risk the car, bike or losing the ball.
What’s the take-home? In those instances, pivoting is reactive, requiring instinct rather than careful planning.

Pivoting in larger life issues maybe requires long-range thinking like how will this impact my family, finances, etc. I think it also requires an outside perspective (new information into the system). Pivot is moving in a different direction based off this new information (…or perspective or paradigm or assumption).

But, research is here to challenge the assumption we need to think through all big pivots.

Researchers, studying choices and life satisfaction found that people were often more satisfied and happier if they committed to making a big decision based on a coin flip.
Yes, a coin flip. A coin flip for quiting a job, ending a relationship, getting married, having kids, etc. Heads….or…..tails.

What? How the…? A coin flip takes the thinking, second-guessing, planning, sleepless nights and hands all of it over to chance. It becomes externalized, kind of like believing that God controls mudslides, getting a promotion, and whether a kid gets into Harvard. It’s no longer mine (internalized) and within my control. It’s up to something or someone else (coin or God).

So, if you need to make a hard decision, flip a coin.

If you need to pivot out of a messy situation or something complicated, get outside information from a counselor, consultant or super smart family friend.
Tomorrow – I’m finally meeting with someone to give me perspective on my pivot. Better late than never.

How to Overcome Suffering

Suffering is the gap between what we expect and what our reality is.

If I expect to have a Tesla Model 3 (sooo sweet) but instead have a first generation Prius that smells like dog, I might be pretty miserable. If, on the other hand, I’d love to have a Tesla Model 3 but change my expectation to having a reliable vehicle regardless of flashy eco-cred, I shrink the gap between what I want and what I have. Harder said than done but no less true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This also happens to be the foundation of non attachment. When we are attached to an outcome (eg. our kids will get an ‘A’ on their Calc test) we create an expectation. If our expectation is not met (eg. ‘A’) we suffer (eg. or get really pissed because we know they are totally smart and capable but probably didn’t study enough….). When we suffer we try to change our reality to fit our expectation (eg. ‘Study harder next time!’).

Peace (not happiness) comes from changing the expectation, not the reality. Having goals is super important. But goals are not the same as expectations. Goals are things we are working towards. Expectations are assumptions we make about the future.

Next time you get angry (or anxious or depressed), ask yourself what your expectation is compared to your reality and observe the gap between the two. Try changing the expectation just a bit.

Indiana University Students: Anxiety, Depression and Drug Use (and how to fix them)

Since moving to Bloomington, home of Indiana University, a few things have become clear. One – everyone here wears red clothing, drives a red car or paints a room in their house red. They don’t mess around with school pride.

Second thing I’ve noticed is the super-driven nature of IU students. They are high achievers and have big goals. Awesome. Big goals are great. Unfortunately, these same students are often not equipped for the challenges of living on their own and the intense academic load. Anxiety, depression and drug use are common here (as with most other big schools). Since there are so few counselors/psychotherapists in the area, I see a heavy load of students, especially when the pressure starts to creep in around mid-September. The partying picks up, parents are gone and classes start to dial-up intensity. It’s a toxic mix.

A great place to start is IU.

IU offers respite in the form of their counseling center (CAPS) but it’s a) triaging a problem, b) only short term and c) often doesn’t get to the underlying issues which are often years in the making. Don’t get me wrong, CAPS does a great job and the best they can considering how underfunded they are. The first two sessions for each semester are free. Each following session is $30. They generally have a waitlist so I recommend that students sign-up early.

CAPS also offers psychiatric care for those needing medical attention, like help or oversight with medication. The wait list is often even longer since there are fewer psychiatrists than counselors. Psychiatric visits are not covered under student health fees so insurance or out of pocket payment is expected.

For those struggling with more serious drug issues, IU offers OASIS/Journey. Students that sign-up for Journey get an assessment to determine the best level of care. Staff then decide between two evidence-based interventions in both group and individual settings, the Journey Program operates under 3 phases, designed to provide progressively more attention based on the student’s need.

Students referred from the Office of Student Ethics are charged $200. Alcohol and drug charges are applied separately. If a student was found responsible for both an alcohol and drug policy violation within the same incident, they get billed $400. For non-offense participants,they get charged a one-time fee of $25.00 after their first visit.

If IU doesn’t have the availability or discretion you and your family needs, reach out to me. If I can’t help, I’m happy to provide insight into other providers in the area who can.

The best thing for parents to do is start searching for professional support either through IU or the community in July and August. Getting appointments set and providers lined-up will be much easier when the semester has not started. Once the semester starts, a good counselor will work closely with parents and the school to ensure that everyone is aware of progress and prepared in case the students experiences more severe issues.

Hopefully, your son and daughter will not need any of this but if they do, act early and expect everyone to act as a team.

Pocket Points: Rewarding Students for Not Using their Phones

If you have not been in a college classroom recently, you might be surprised at just how glued to their phones students are. Phones are basically like slot machines in Vegas – students at constantly on their phone, afraid of missing out on a post, request or the next cool thing to do. When parents ask for a solution, I’m often at a loss of how they can encourage responsible phone use when kids are at school.

But some folks want to change that. Two college students looked around one day during a huge freshman year class in 2014 and noticed every face was lit by the glow of a phone. No one was paying attention. They decided to do something about it.

Pocket Points is an app that middle school, high school and college students can download onto their phone or iPad. Once students open the Pocket Points app and lock their phone, they start to accumulate points. The longer their phone stays locked, the more points they can get.
new_shot1 new_shot2 new_shot3

Points are also awarded based on how many people are on the app at a time. The app is free and only works on a campus that’s identified by Pocket Points. Students can redeem their points for free or discounted items from local vendors.

To see if your son or daughter’s school is part of the program check out Pocket Points at https://pocketpoints.com/schools. It’s not a perfect setup and there are plenty of ways to game the system but let’s give thanks that it’s not another sticky social media app.

https://pocketpoints.com

Insider’s Guide: Educational Consulting and Therapeutic Placement

It was warm, breezy day in the little cove where the treatment center was located where my client and her parents were standing. We were all on the back deck of the main building and the parents and I had just arrived. The client smiled after a few minutes of small talk and said, “Um, not to be rude or anything, but who are you?” Her parents looked mortified and embarrassed that she didn’t know who I was.

“My name is Rob Danzman and we’ve met several times before you came to treatment. I helped your parents find a healthy place for you.”

The client, after pausing for a second smiled again and said “I think I was so high I don’t even remember you. Thank you.” She started crying. Her parents started crying and they hugged.

There is a deep and broad gap between what families need and all of the treatment options available. There are a ton of variables to consider when your son or daughter need treatment, whether its outpatient therapy or residential treatment. Insurance, location, modality, diagnosis, and housing options are just a few things families need to consider when figuring out what’s best.

There is a dramatic range in expertise and costs and they are not often aligned. Some of the most expensive consultants with whom I’ve worked have minimal understanding of psychological conditions and the evidence-based approaches that best treat them. The goal of treatment is either assessment, intervention or maintenance of a behavioral health issue. If a consultant does not have a combination of academic and experiential background they may not serve clients well. In fact, my agency has worked with clients who were given terrible advice on what types of service to use. You would never have a mechanic give advice on spinal surgery because, while the mechanic may be really well-intentioned and personable, they may due considerable harm. The same is true when dealing with behavioral issues, many of which either in the short or long term may have life and death implications.

Evidence-based interventions need to be well understood and require clinical expertise. Therapeutic placements do a great job of presenting themselves as comfortable, safe and a good value yet many do not provide evidence-based treatments. Evidence based treatments are not for broad spectrum of psychological issues.

Another confusing aspect is the terminology. Decades ago, educational consultants did a few things and did them well – they focused on private school and college prep admissions. They provided deep advice on testing strategy, applications, and how to write a great essay. They coached clients through interviewing and often the whole education process. But over the years, ECs expanded their service offerings, often outside of their area of expertise. ECs without credentials or appropriate degrees started advising parents on treatment recommendations, presumably assuming that applying to a treatment center is similar if not the same as applying to college. Since those wild-west days of ECs pushing kids into cookie-cutter programs and charging a fortune, more clinicians with actual therapeutic experience have entered the EC world. Granted, there is still the old guard of older, white women who had their own children placed in a treatment center and saw an opportunity to help other families while making good money in an unregulated field. There are essentially only one entity that oversee ECs – the Independent Educational Consultants Association. The division continues to widen between those serving families

EC should not receive gifts from treatment centers though it’s not unusual for them to have travel expenses covered when they are touring programs.

There is a symbiotic relationship between treatment centers and ECs. Treatment centers count on ECs for referrals. ECs count on treatment programs to cover travel expenses and, sometimes, provide referrals back to the ECs when a client needs a different placement or the family needs advice on treatment options.  

Where to Find These Magical Beings

First thing to do is just google the terms “educational consultant” and “treatment.” You should get plenty of options that pop up. You could also just contact my agency but I’m a bit biased since I believe we do great work for a fair price.

Next way to find a placement consultant is to go to the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) website (below in the Resources section) and look for the ‘Search’ option under the Parents tab. All of the people listed in this resource are paying members of IECA and met the IECA’s criteria. If you are going this route, I encourage you to, at a minimum, look for a consultant who has a graduate degree in a behavioral health discipline like counseling, psychology or marriage and family. Pastoral counselors or ‘Qualified Mental Health Practioners’ are not nearly qualified enough. It’s even better if they are a licensed professional (eg. Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Licensed Clinical Social Worker).

Do Your Homework

A great EC can support your family through the most difficult times while a bad EC can cost your valuable time and money and have nothing to show for it or set things back even further with a terrible placement.

Consult: If you can’t meet them face to face, then schedule a call with them. Before you go into any details, dig into the business end of their service first. Do they offer therapeutic placement consulting or do they focus on prep school and college? What are ALL the costs associated with what they do. What is their degree in and what active licenses do they hold. Ask if they are a member of any associations and if they have any disciplinary actions against them. Ask when and how they got into educational consulting. Ask what the scope of their work is – Do they meet clients at treatment centers for admissions? Do they continue to work with families while the client is in treatment? Do they assist with discharge planning?

Payment: Another thing to consider is how the ED gets paid. It’s important to understand whether the EC sends you an invoice and bills as they go along or do they receive a retainer upfront. Though not a deal breaker, I don’t like asking for retainers from clients for the same reason I don’t like attorneys collecting a retainer from me. They have my money and pull from it as they do work. I’d prefer to pay for things as we go along through a project. We only accept credit cards so that a) there is protection for the client and b) we don’t need to run after clients to pay an invoice. We also itemize every time we charge a client’s card so that everything is 100% transparent. Ask about how folks get paid before you agree to work with them. If they can’t agree to provide itemized billing or seem too focused on money upfront, you may want to consider working with someone else.

Guarantee: It’s unlikely anyone is going to offer you a guarantee for their services but it doesn’t mean you can’t ask about their responsibility if a treatment option doesn’t work or a treatment option can’t be found in a reasonable amount of time.

Cost

Take a deep breath for this section. Expect to pay between $10,000 – $300. Yes, I know that’s a ridiculously large range but there are no regulations on what an EC can charge. The spectrum of fees is truly that big. Some charge as much as $10,000 for a placement. They may put in 5-10 hrs but their rate doesn’t change. Other ECs charge a lower rate but most have a basic flat fee which covers support and advice through the admissions process. In my humble opinion, a lower flat fee or hourly rate is more fare. For instance, my agency has a free consultation to determine if someone really needs an EC. If we determine the client really can’t find an appropriate treatment option on their own, we charge $179 per hour and use as few hours as possible. We’ve had client come to us after spending $25,000 on placement services only to realize the ECs they were using had no clue about severe clinical issues like substance abuse and schizophrenia. Fortunately, we quickly found them services and billed them less than $500.

FAQ

Q: I know how to do internet researching. Why can’t I just find a treatment program on my own?

A: You could totally do this own your own. There are three easy steps. First – get a graduate degree in some counseling or psychological discipline to learn the clinical aspects of behavioral health and intervention. Next – work in the behavioral health industry for about five years so you can see what makes a program great and what makes a program terrible. Finally – go and visit 50 treatment programs. Granted, that will take a few years, and by the time you’re finished visiting, staff at each program will likely have changed (so start over). Ultimately, this experience  will be very helpful in determining which programs are good and which ones you would not trust to take care of your house plants. After all these steps, you should totally do some internet searching to decide which program is most effective at serving your loved one.

Resources

Independent Educational Consultants Association – https://www.iecaonline.com/

Spring Semester Planning for Kids Returning to College

You made it! The kids made it home, the in-laws were tolerable and there weren’t a ton of gifts that needed returning. Now that everyone is headed back to campus, it’s time to either let that old anxiety creep in or spend some time on the front end helping your son or daughter develop a plan to be successful for Spring Semester.

Money

If you have not learned by now, discuss how much you are giving to your kid and when you’ll give it to them. You don’t want to find yourself in a defensive position Sunday night while your son is blowing up your phone begging for their regular spending money to be put into their account early. I recommend putting money into the account 2x/month. Put it on them to create a budget which factors in their books, fun money and any other expenses. I also recommend a limit is set for any credit cards and deciding who and when it will be paid off.

Organization

Talk about starting the semester off with everything in it’s place – clothing, car, computer. Let’s make sure everything is reviewed, updated and ready to go. While we’re at it, let’s pull up the calendar and start looking into the future to see when things will need to be re-updated. Get the oil change scheduled, even if it’s two months out. Get the printer cartridge in your Amazon Wish List so that you can move it to the cart quickly when your printer gives you a frowny face.

Scheduling

Speaking of calendars, let’s go ahead and talk scheduling more in-depth. I recommend to every college student they use the following strategy: Get all your syllabi, Put all dates for tests, papers, office hours, etc on your calendar. For tests, count back from the test date one week and put schedule study times (no longer than 90 min). Do the same for papers. Break down writing the paper into reasonable and realistic chunks of time and put them on your calendar. Theme: Put everything on your calendar, everything. If your son or daughter are in greek life, there are a ton of events that can be put on the calendar. Same with internships or study abroad – break down all the details so that you can see things from 10,000 ft.

Travel/Visiting Home

Plan out whatever travel including home visits your kid will have mor might have. If travel plans are only possible and not 100%, put a question mark after it so at least everyone knows that period of time is possibly accounted for.

GPA 

If your kid’s GPA got beatin up a bit in the Fall, it’s probably a good idea to identify a reasonable expectation for the Spring. If your son or daughter limped home with C’s and D’s, ask what is a realistic GPA for which to aim. Talk about it but make it clear there needs to be something concrete. . Along with identifying a GPA to aim for, talk about specific strategies that will be used to support them. All colleges have student support and academic support options. For instance, here in Bloomington, Indiana University has a solid Academic Support Center with a ton of resources that work well for thousands of students struggling academically.

Graduation/End of Semester

Part of that schedule should also have details that show your finals and last day of classes. Put details about studying for finals, having family in town, etc. If your son or daughter is graduating, figure out details early in the semester since 1) things get crazy busy/expensive during graduation and 2) hotel rooms get sold-out.

On Campus Help

Besides hooking up with academic support, it’s not a bad idea to find a counselor/life coach that can act as liaison between home and school. This professional should provide regular updates to parents, meet and be available as often as needed. They should be well-versed in young adult issues like anxiety, depression and ADHD. Universities often have counseling centers on campus that provide individual counseling for about six sessions and then they refer to a community professional. They might have ideas about professionals near your kid’s school that can offer support.

Final bit of advice – trust your kids and trust the process. With a bit of planning, your kid’s semester will have highs and lows but ultimately, they’ll finish the semester better than they started it.

Trump Presidency: What this Means for Your Mental Health Care

 

I’m going to touch upon a few things with some educated guessing since at this point we have no information on any strategy for changing the healthcare system, including the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka. Obamacare).

Medications

Big Pharma may be big winners in this election. There is a good chance regulation will decrease which means drugs will be pushed through the regulatory process. There is also a very good chance your medications will get more expensive Obamacare will be directly targeted for dismantling. At this point, the federal government has some impact on what drug makers charge (at least for Medicare, Tricare and Medicaid clients). There is a very real fear that whenever there is a conflict between industry and clients/customers, the Trump administration may very well choose big business.

Affordable Health Care Act – Obamacare

This was one of Trump’s big targets and will likely be a focal point as the Trump administration sharpens its agenda in 2017. One big problem with Trump’s over simplistic promise to ‘get rid of Obamacare’ is that it took years and years to recalibrate and organize healthcare at the federal, state and corporate levels. Billions of dollars went into this law. Changing the law will take years and years and more billions. Insurance rates have gone up for many people and that hurts. But, the dismantling of Obamacare will likely have a dramatic and catastrophic effect on providers, clients and hospitals. The prediction at this point is that while the current system is experiencing growing pains, the replacement will likely compromise the little leverage we have over insurance companies meaning they will go back to charging whatever they want and having pre existing conditions the hallmark of how they keep people from needed care.

Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA)

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) is a federal law that generally prevents group health plans and health insurance issuers that provide mental health or substance use disorder benefits from imposing less favorable benefit limitations on those benefits than on medical benefits. With the Trump administration taking the reigns in a few months, there is the possibility the act could be dismantled in favor of insurance companies, most of which have fought, lied and deceived policyholders from the very beginning of the law in 2009. What this means for you: Insurers may no longer be required to pay for comparable level of mental health and substance abuse treatment as you have within your medical policy.

I will continue to monitor Trump policy changes and post again soon. Till then, take a deep breath, stock up on canned goods and sweep out your bomb shelter. We’re likely in for a wild ride.

Rewards, Consequences, Punishment…What’s the Best Way to Parent Teens and College Kids?

A simpler what to think of this post is “How to Change Behavior.” That’s really the primary function of a reward or consequence.

There are more books on how to change kids’ behavior than just about any other topic. Ironically (or sadly), they all say the same thing. Punishment does not work; rewards work consequences for choices work. How can this be? Let’s kick the tires on the history and research behind this. If you hate history and research, jump ahead a few pages to the ‘how-to’ portion.

Context: Let’s Look Back First

For thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution, children were assets in an agrarian system (most humans up to that point farmed). We had lots and lots of kids since a) children were relatively cheap labor, b) most died during childbirth or as children and c) adult children became financial support systems for parents – the more children parents had, the more financial support and broader financial base.

In 1916, Congress passed the the first federal child labor law. However, pressure from big companies forced the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the law two years later. Following the Great Depression adults had become so desperate for jobs that they would work for the same wage as children.

In 1938, President Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which limited most forms of child labor (but excluded agricultural work). This was the beginning of our modern view of children needing protection, love and nurturing. A pendulum was set in motion.

In 1946, another revolution took place. Dr. Benjamin Spock published his first book titled Dr. Spock’s Baby & Child Care (also titled The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care). Though a medical doctor by education and training, Dr. Spock’s books put children at the center of parenting rather than the adults. He encouraged responding to and engaging with babies and children rather than ignoring which was the advice up to then. The pendulum’s momentum builds.

Finally, we add in money and work. In the early 80’s, adults were working more, making more money and, as a result, needing to leave their children at home (the so-called ‘latch-key’ kids). Children would get dropped off from the bus and walk into an empty home. Cartoons and snacks were gorged upon till mom and dad came home. Guilt stricken parents with extra cash (…or more accurately extra room on their new credit cards) went and bought Ataris, Nintendos and the new wave of electronics and toys for kids. We were now descending into entitlement. About this time, school districts were changing punishment in schools (no more spankings).

How can old-school grandma and grandpa who raised 15 kids have been so wrong? All the kids turned out great, right? Well, let’s break this down a bit. First of all, it was a different time. No devices, internet and certainly little to no advertising directed towards children. All marketing was targeting stay at home mothers.

I also want to point out that most of these old school versions of parenting created some pretty nasty problems which is why the fastest growing demographics for substance abuse treatment are the Baby Boomers and the elderly. Old school punishment, drinking habits, and expectations led to a generation that was not well-equipped to handle stressors.

Now for the Goods

Here are the best ways to change behavior and encourage healthy choices. I’ve taught these, studied these and continue to stand by these effective strategies:

Commit to the Path

  1. Drawn into accidentally energizing and rewarding negativity leads to a battle – Be intentional about being positive
  2. Intentionally energize and nurture success
  3. Provide a true and deep consequence when a rule is broken – something that is proportional to the infraction
  4. Reward for what you want to see.
  5. Ignore behaviors you want see less of.

Establish Expectations and Boundaries

  1. Detailed rules/expectations and no grey area – kids are MASTER negotiators and litigators
  2. Chores and Expectations – daily schedule or list
  3. Bonus behaviors – Things you wish to increase
  4. Menu of privileges – Can include anything beyond basic needs
  5. Extend Structure – At school, friends house, soccer practice, etc.

Consequences

  1. Relentless pursuit of positives: Biased towards seeing your kid’s great choices.
  2. Strictness and Clarity: Be like a videogame – if a rule is broken, a consequence is administered no matter how you are feeling.
  3. No Leaking: Accidentally rewarding behavior with negative energy but they contribute to your kid behaving badly.
  4. Finite: Consequences do not expand and are tied to a specific behavior/event.

Rewards

  1. Catch them doing things right: When I run parent groups I ask parents to list the amount of things they caught their kids doing wrong in the last month. Easy list to make. Then I ask them to list three things they caught them doing right. Much harder. We are programmed to find faults in this attempt to modify kids behaviors towards compliance – making bad choices is the loud, obvious indication they are out of line. We we fail to see are the million little choices they make each day which are well-thought out and positive. Focus on those. Highlight those. “Hey Julian, I noticed you put the dishes away without anyone asking you to do it. Great job.” …And then move on. No need to get mushy and turn it into an Oprah interview about thoughts and feelings.
  2. Types of rewards: Your eye contact and facial expression are huge rewards for younger kids. Rather than giving kids an iPhone or XBox, I encourage parents to give time on each device or toy as a reward. Have you ever kept the car you rented at the airport? No, you paid them to borrow it for a specific amount of time and then returned it. There are few instances where I encourage parents to buy something to give to their kids as a reward. Time, praise, and access to cool things is often way better for everyone.
  3. Negotiating: If you find yourself constantly reminder, encouraging, begging, etc. for you kids to do A so they get access to B, you are violating your own rules. You are now negotiating.
  4. List of Rewards: In 2007, one parent I was working with could not understand why their teenage son was not motivated by the reward of time on their Blackberry (same year iPhone introduced). If they are not doing chores, getting good grades or engaging in the behavior you want to see, your rewards may be incongruent with their desires. Ask them to tell you what they’re into. Maybe its an allowance, money for iTunes or they want to borrow the car.

And Lastly…Own Your Home

This is a hard one for parents (… and most kids) but until responsibility for the mortgage, bills and everything that makes a home function is shared among all family members – parents rule. There is no such thing as the ‘kid’s’ room. Everything, every room, every toy, every piece of clothing is the parents’. Great parents allow their kids to use those things. Remember…privilges are not rights and kids get to own their choices, not their TV.

Good Luck.