Archive for January, 2012
In the wake of the recent video showing a Texas judge repeatedly belt-whipping his teen daughter and the recent deaths of young adoptees in Tennessee beaten with flexible tubing as prescribed by a best-selling parenting book, it’s worth reviewing how mainstream Americans discipline children. The most recent national data from the National Institutes of Mental Health, obtained by a Gallup telephone poll, was encouraging in some respects. Almost every parent regularly tries to reason with a wayward child, and nearly three-quarters redirect misbehaving kids into another activity or use time-outs.
Still, many also hit children regularly. Over the phone to a stranger, roughly half of all respondents admitted to “spanking on the bottom with a bare hand;” one in five hit children “with a belt, a hairbrush, a stick, or some other hard object;” and 5 percent slapped children in the face—on average, about once per month. About 1 percent of parents said they “beat up” their child, “threw or knocked down” a child, and “hit with a fist or kicked hard,” repeating this treatment about once every three months. (Though toddlers got the most spankings, one-fifth of teenagers continued to be hit.) In a separate 2009 study, 14 percent of mothers admitted they spanked infants under 1 year of age.
Primary care physicians tacitly approve of corporal punishment. According to well-designed surveys, 70 percent of family physicians and 60 percent of pediatricians think “striking of the child’s buttocks or hand with an open hand … leaving no mark except transient redness” is fine. In a hypothetical scenario of an 8-year-old who refuses to go to bed at the usual time, for example, one in five family physicians think the child should be spanked. Interestingly, even 40 percent of academic child abuse specialists think “spanking is appropriate sometimes.” A key committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics debated spanking for more than 10 years before they decided not to condemn it categorically. (Daniel Armstrong, the director of the Mailman Center for Child Development in Miami and the AAP policy’s main writer, told me “there was a clash of beliefs” and in the end, the committee condemned hitting kids with objects and in the face, but felt whacks on the buttocks were OK.)
Remarkably, however, a powerful trend toward abandoning corporal punishment is already under way. There has been a dramatic reduction in its use over the past two generations—an unprecedented change in a pattern that likely had been fixed for millennia. In the United States, for example, 94 percent of parents endorsed hitting kids in 1968, but only one-half approved by 1999. Similar decreases occurred in countries as diverse as Austria, Sweden, Kuwait, Germany, and New Zealand. (In Sweden, the drop preceded the law against hitting kids.)
Murray Straus, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire who has devoted his career to studying corporal punishment, believes the decrease is “part of the long term civilizing process of society,” in which societal violence in all forms has dropped over the last centuries. When I push him to explain why the reduction in corporal punishment is so recent, he points to increasing levels of education. (With some exceptions, studies show that educated and wealthier families hit kids less.) But what does that mean? In other words, just what changed in these households to lead parents to raise children without corporal punishment?
Theories abound. Several experts with whom I spoke pointed to tougher laws on child abuse (that is, fear of prosecution), greater use of no-spanking day-care centers and nannies by two profession couples, or beliefs that spanking causes long-term psychological harm. But these don’t necessarily support the personal experience of many parents. At my medical center, for example, I recently interviewed dozens of pediatricians and subspecialists about their own experience, and many recalled being whipped with belts, slapped in the face, or hit in other ways as children. (I once went to preschool with a bruised cheek from being hit.) Yet not a single one hit his or her own children today as a routine method of discipline. None of the above explanations seemed on target to them. Instead, they chose not to spank for an entirely practical reason: They had, they said, learned more effective ways of disciplining children.
Without really realizing it, we zeroed in on a style of parenting that sociologist Annette Lareau calls “concerted cultivation.” This is, I think, what separates those who hit kids from those who don’t, and divides largely along socioeconomic fault lines. As popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Lareau tried to document how these differences emerged. The issue wasn’t that one group was more or less lenient with bad behavior. Instead, middle- and upper-class parents tended to treat children as peers, with the pint-sized ability to make choices, respond to reason, and have valid emotions. It’s not a huge leap then to see children as having nascent civil rights that conflict with regular corporal punishment.
Such a view underlies the approach of Supernanny or How To Talk, where parents make behavior charts or create token economies for rewards, answer questions with explanations, and encourage kids to accept and express their feelings. According to Lareau, such discipline tends to be self-reinforcing, and part of a broader ecology of parenting. As a result, these children who experience it develop an “emerging sense of entitlement”—a trait that may carry some negative connotations but generally correlates with better verbal skills, school performance, and a sense that they can actively shape the world around them.
On the other side, kids seen as subordinate to adults were issued directives, and not encouraged to negotiate with adults. (Lareau watched, for example, as one mother whipped her son twice on the leg with a belt to make him go to bed.) “Implicitly and explicitly,” writes Lareau, these children learned to be “distrustful of authorities” and “absorb their adults’ feelings of powerlessness” in dealing with institutions, like schools. Plenty of spanked children may grow into well-adjusted adults, but this is one reason why, for example, corporal punishment on average correlates with lower measures of cognitive ability, such as IQ In these households, parents saw their role as providing shelter and basic support, but children’s development was encouraged to “spontaneously unfold” without sustained parental effort.
To be sure, measures like IQ are confounded by many variables, but the advantages of higher socioeconomic status are more likely related to the style of child-rearing than some inborn genetic change caused by close proximity to money. Lareau herself doesn’t endorse any style, but all of her data points to the superiority of the concerted cultivation approach. Converted cultivation requires “enormous effort,” she tells me, and there may be hidden costs of a parenting style that relies purely on non-physical modes of discipline. It can occasionally result in obsessive “helicopter parenting.” Or, some parents deprived of physical outlets may inflict equally hurtful emotional pain. (According to the Gallup poll, one-quarter of parents swear at their kids and 16 percent call kids “dumb” or something similar.) But that strikes me as an argument for far more intensive education and support for parents, so they all can be better. That is the strategy of innovators like Geoffrey Canada who created “Baby College” in the Harlem Children’s Zone and David Olds and his Nurse Home Visiting Program. Like driving a car or using language, parenting a child well is a complex skill that requires intensive education. In short, parents also might benefit from concerted cultivation, instead of the benign neglect many now get from health providers.
Recently my mother called me on an Indian holiday, when people request forgiveness, and she wept as she recounted how she’d hit my sister and me as children. “Back then,” she said, “we just didn’t know better.” Thankfully these days, more parents do.
As many couples can attest — and lots of research backs this up — marital happiness plummets with the arrival of a baby. Sleepless nights, seemingly endless diaper changes and the avalanche of new chores that come with a newborn leave little time for the intimacies of marriage. It’s a situation ripe for mental stress and marital discord.
In fact, the strain is so well documented that, as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year, a growing number of mental-health professionals now advise pre-emptive relationship counseling for expectant parents.
But in a survey of 2,870 married couples, the National Marriage Project of the University of Virginia found that more than a third of them buck the trend, managing to stay happy through the emotional, physical and financial strains of new parenthood. So, how do they do it?
Not surprisingly, the report finds sexual satisfaction and a sense of commitment top the list of traits that lead husbands and wives to say they are “very happy” in marriage. No. 3 is “generosity,” defined as:
“the virtue of giving good things to [one's spouse] freely and abundantly,” and encompasses small acts of service (e.g., making coffee for one’s spouse in the morning), the expression of affection, displays of respect, and a willingness to “forgive him/her for mistakes and failings.”
Further down the list: shared housework. That’s right, both mothers and fathers are more likely to report they are “very happy” when housework is “shared equally.” So presumably, asking your husband to do the laundry (or your wife to change the light bulb) can be good for your marriage. Though harking back to generosity, perhaps it’s better if each volunteers to take on the task.
The survey is a joint project of the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values, conservative groups that promote marriage. Their report also finds — as many surveys have shown — that more devoutly religious people often rank themselves happier. Another recent study attributes this effect to the social networks that religion can foster.
Strikingly, the National Marriage Project finds a big jump in marital happiness among couples with four or more children (which, as the researchers note, is likely a pretty self-selecting group.)
Or, there’s a simpler strategy: patience. Contrary to popular perception, evidence suggests marital bliss rebounds with the empty nest.
( Marriage in America 2011: http://www.virginia.edu/marriageproject/pdfs/Union_2011.pdf)Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
The empty nest may not be such an unhappy place after all.
Since the 1970s, relationship experts have popularized the notion of “empty nest syndrome,” a time of depression and loss of purpose that plagues parents, especially mothers, when their children leave home. Dozens of Web sites and books have been created to help parents weather the transition. Simon & Schuster has even introduced a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” dedicated to empty nesters.
But a growing body of research suggests that the phenomenon has been misunderstood. While most parents clearly miss children who have left home for college, jobs or marriage, they also enjoy the greater freedom and relaxed responsibility.
And despite the common worry that long-married couples will find themselves with nothing in common, the new research, published in November in the journal Psychological Science, shows that marital satisfaction actually improves when the children finally take their exits.
“It’s not like their lives were miserable,” said Sara Melissa Gorchoff, a specialist in adult relationships at the University of California, Berkeley. “Parents were happy with their kids. It’s just that their marriages got better when they left home.”
While that may not be surprising to many parents, understanding why empty nesters have better relationships can offer important lessons on marital happiness for parents who are still years away from having a child-free house.
Indeed, one of the more uncomfortable findings of the scientific study of marriage is the negative effect children can have on previously happy relationships. Despite the popular notion that children bring couples closer, several studies have shown that marital satisfaction and happiness typically plummet with the arrival of the first baby.
In June, The Journal of Advanced Nursing reported on a study from the University of Nebraska College of Nursing that looked at marital happiness in 185 men and women. Scores declined starting in pregnancy, and remained lower as the children reached 5 months and 24 months. Other studies show that couples with two children score even lower than couples with one child.
While having a child clearly makes parents happy, the financial and time constraints can add stress to a relationship. After the birth of a child, couples have only about one-third the time alone together as they had when they were childless, according to researchers from Ohio State.
The arrival of children also puts a disproportionate burden of household duties on women, a common source of marital conflict. After children, housework increases three times as much for women as for men, according to studies from the Center on Population, Gender and Social Equality at the University of Maryland.
But much of the research on children and marital happiness focuses on the early years. To understand the effects over time, researchers at Berkeley tracked marital happiness among 72 women in the Mills Longitudinal Study, which has followed a group of Mills College alumnae for 50 years.
The study is important because it tracks the first generation of women to juggle traditional family responsibilities with jobs in the work force. In the empty-nest study, researchers compared the women’s marital happiness in their 40s, when many still had children at home; in their early 50s, when some had older children who had left home; and in their 60s, when virtually all had empty nests. At every point, the empty nesters scored higher on marital happiness than women with children still at home. The finding mirrors that of a report presented last year at the American Psychological Association, tracking a dozen parents who were interviewed at the time of a child’s high school graduation and 10 years later. That small study also showed that a majority of parents scored higher on marital satisfaction after children had left home.
While the Berkeley researchers had hypothesized that the improvement in marital happiness came from couples’ spending more time together, the women in the same study reported spending just as much time with their partners whether the children were living at home or had moved out. But they said the quality of that time was better.
“There are fewer interruptions and less stress when kids are out of the house,” said Dr. Gorchoff, at Berkeley. “It wasn’t that they spent more time with each other after the children moved out. It’s the quality of time they spent with each other that improved.”
She notes that the lesson from the empty nest may be that parents need to work to carve out more stress-free time together. In the sample studied, it was only relationship satisfaction that improved when children left home. Over all, parents were just as happy with children at home as in the empty nest. (What happens when adult children move back home, their job prospects having evaporated in a brutal economy, has not been extensively studied.)
“Kids aren’t ruining parents’ lives,” Dr. Gorchoff said. “It’s just that they’re making it more difficult to have enjoyable interactions together.”
Feelings play a crucial role in determining human behavior. Our behavior toward other persons is determined by our feelings toward them. Obviously, we behave differently toward those we like than toward those we dislike.
Assuming that we have no reason to hide or disguise our feelings, if we like certain people, we are more likely to spend time with them, talk with them, confide in them, do nice things for them, and in general we strive to make them happy. On the other hand, if we dislike or are angry with certain other people, we are likely to avoid spending time with them, avoid talking with them, avoid doing nice things for them, and in general we do not strive to make them happy. If sufficiently angered, we may even do things to hurt the other person.
Consider for a moment the case of a young man who wants a certain young woman to marry him. His problem is to determine how he should act so as to produce a specific feeling in her. If he chooses his behavior carefully (i.e., taking the girl to nice places, flattering her, being considerate and attentive, etc.), at some point during the relationship the woman will say to herself: “Oh, I really love that man. I think I’ll marry him.” In response to the feeling the man induced in her, the woman behaved as he wished. There is an important principle revealed in this couple’s interaction: Loving feelings produce loving behavior.
This principle acts also in the production of negative feelings. Suppose, for example, that after this couple marries, the husband becomes less sensitive to his wife’s needs. He no longer says complimentary things to her. He ignores her birthday, Valentine’s Day, and their anniversary, and he begins spending his evenings away from home in the company of his boyhood friends. Gradually, the feelings of love in the wife will be converted to anger. Reflecting this anger, her behavior toward the husband will change. She may begin to scold a great deal, to become less affectionate and less sexually responsive. If sufficiently angered, she may sever the relationship entirely by divorce. The behavior of this young couple from courtship through divorce illustrates the operation of a significant law that governs interpersonal relationships: Loving feelings produce loving behavior. Angry feelings produce angry behavior. This is a law of human nature as predictable and inevitable as any of the laws that govern the physical universe.
This law is highly significant for parents, because it operates in parent-child relationships as forcefully as in all others. If we want our children to spend time with us, to like us, to confide in us, to value some of the things we value, and to try to make us happy (for example, by refraining from the use of dangerous drugs), we must behave toward them in ways that create feelings of love toward us rather than feelings of dislike or anger. We cannot reasonably expect to receive “good” behavior from our children unless we create “good” feelings in them. Parents cannot create angry feelings in a child over a period of many years and then expect that the child will show loving behavior in return.
The key to understanding human behavior lies in understanding the feelings that underlie and produce the behavior. The key to guiding children’s behavior into socially desirable channels consists in knowing how to create in the child those positive, loving feelings which will produce positive, loving, and, therefore, non-delinquent behavior. Or, conversely, the key lies in the parents’ avoiding the production, cumulatively, of those angry feelings in the child which will produce angry, negativistic, delinquent behavior. Unfortunately nature has introduced several factors into the parent-child relationship that make it extremely difficult for even the most sincere, well-meaning parent to convey to the child his/her true, loving feelings. The first of these is the complex nature of love itself.
Love is experienced in two different ways: (1) as an inner feeling or sensation and (2) as a series of overt actions. The person who is “in love” is aware of certain feelings or sensations taking place entirely within his own body. These feelings as such cannot be communicated to another person, except through some form of overt action. The person who is loved can know it or feel it only as he is the recipient of certain loving actions toward him on the part of the individual who is “in love.” Unfortunately, in the human species there is no instinctive or otherwise inevitable connection or relationship between the inner feeling of love and the kinds of overt actions that demonstrate the love. This means that it is entirely possible for a parent to love a child totally, inwardly, and yet to act toward that child in ways that do not reveal his love.
It happens often that parents who are genuinely loving in their inner feelings for a child, have by a misguided selection of actions, conveyed to the child the message that he was not loved. Informing the child verbally of the parents’ inner feelings and hugging and kissing him are usually insufficient to overcome the child’s response to other long-term parental actions. Those parents with whom I have worked over the years have always been able to state honestly that they loved their children. Their children, however, had not experienced them as loving parents, because the children were responding to the parental actions and not to the inner feelings or intent.
Many parents, when they first come in for counseling regarding their children, are somewhat angry with psychologists and clergymen. They say things such as: “You have always told us that if we just loved them, they would be all right. Well, we do love them – and they’re not all right. They even say they hate us. Why?” Their problem, of course, was not that they had failed to love their children, but that they had failed to choose correctly those forms of behavior by which their inner feelings of love could have been revealed to the child. Very often I have said to such parents, “You know that you love your child and I know it, but he doesn’t know it.” Counseling with such parents does not consist in urging the parents to love their own children. Rather, it consists in helping the parents to discover which forms of behavior may best reveal to the child what the parents have felt toward him from the beginning.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Dahlia was running around the house screaming and crying. “I hate her! I hate her! I will never play with her again!” Finally, her steps slowed, and she told her father what had happened. He listened attentively. When she stopped, he asked, “Is there anything else?” Dahlia added more details and resumed crying bitterly. Father listened. When Dahlia stopped talking, he acknowledged, “It must hurt to be teased like this by your best friend Tina.” Dahlia accepted her father’s embrace and support as she sobbed some more in his arms. Then as suddenly as the storm of tears began, she was finished. She got up and cheerfully announced, “Daddy, did you know that tomorrow Tina and I are going together to the beach? We are building a log house there with Adam and Tom. I will tell Tina before we go that I won’t ruin her work again, and I am sure she will be nice to me.”
Why was this encounter so successful? How did Dahlia get over her upset so completely and become aware of her responsibility in the matter on her own?
There were three main ingredients in her father’s reaction that worked: 1) Attention 2) Respect 3) Trust. He gave his daughter full attention and took her seriously as she poured out her feelings. He respected her by not intervening with words of wisdom, advice or help. He validated the feelings she expressed. And he trusted her to do and say what she needed in order to lead herself toward resolution of her emotions.
In other words, he followed her lead and supported her as she resolved her own upset until her cup of anguish was “empty” and she was ready to get back into life. Some may be surprised that not only did she recover her spirit, but also admitted her own cause in the matter and made a commitment to “clean up her act.” It would have been so tempting for her father to inquire, “What did you do to cause this?” or to make a suggestion such as, “Maybe you can get together and talk about it.” But his trust and support gave Dahlia the power to generate her own insight.
We are often tempted to share our wisdom and give advice to our children instead of listening to them. Consider this – when we do give advice or feedback like: “Maybe you hurt her too?” or: “You should have called me” or any other comment representing our own perception of the situation, the result is almost always an escalation of the upset into a bigger tantrum. Why? Because now, in addition to whatever other hurt the child is dealing with, she is furious at us for not listening and for judging and undermining who she is. It is never useful to give advice to the wise. And our children are very wise – indeed masterful – at healing themselves from emotional upsets and distress when given supportive nonjudgmental attention.
Although our society is generally known to be uncomfortable with silence, saying nothing is often the best thing we can do for our child’s emotional well-being. Silent, attentive listening is a vote of confidence, trust, respect and love. Listening gives the child a clear message that we care, that we accept her – even when her actions are not approved – and that her safe way of unloading the pain is trusted and respected. Even knowing this, I sometimes find myself advising my children in spite of my better intentions. When I catch myself, I apologize and resume listening.
If words of validation bring on a wave of fury in your child, remember silence. The child needs to be listened to, and giving the gift of silence is often the best way to show love. True validation with no hidden judgment or advice helps the child to express her feelings through crying, which leads to emotional recovery. Sometimes it may generate rage, which when freely expressed will unleash the pain as well. Even though a dramatic expression of emotions may feel uncomfortable to us, to the child it is a healthy way to release the pent-up emotion. I have more than once listened to vows of hate and anguish between siblings who screamed, “I will never play with him!” I said nothing but “Oh” at the very end, and was always rewarded with the sound of laughter ringing from the playroom within minutes. When hateful feelings are expressed in the validation of silent listening, the child can move through the emotion and experience love and happiness.
Parents often pose this question about their child’s chosen form of expression. “Yes,” they say, “but what if the child is being destructive or hurting someone in his anger and anguish?”
First of all, we need to consider what destructiveness is. The opportunities for children to heal themselves from emotional hurt are many and abound in everyday life for every child. If the action is safe for everyone – let the child do it! In fact, a parent can increase the value of a safe aggressive act by supporting the child in feeling powerful. Most children’s agonies come from feeling helpless, controlled and powerless.
One day when one of my sons was 4, he emptied his chest of clothes onto the floor with glee. I responded with a dramatic, “Oh No!” which gave him the sense of power he was looking for. I reorganized it only so that he could repeat the “therapy.” I trusted in his need to do so and in the usefulness of the process. After two months of this game and other safe “power games,” the behavior disappeared and with it a lot of jealousy-related stress and disruptive behavior.
The same is true in regard to children’s aggressive games with each other. Often what shows up as a fight with a victim is really a very effective therapy for all involved. When no one is really hurt, staying out of the way is best. Again, trust is the rule. If things aren’t safe, someone will come seeking assistance. When a baby is involved or we are otherwise concerned, we can follow our instincts to glance and check on them to make sure they are safe, but we should stay unseen when possible.
There are many other examples of safe aggression as well as activities that can easily be redirected to safe ones. Tearing books can be directed to a pile of old magazines, painting walls to art work on paper. A simple need to break things can be redirected to making kindling from the wood pile outside or breaking some useless material we intend to throw away. When it is safe it is not really destructive. Contrary to the concerns of many parents, children distinguish well between the support of an emotional need and blanket permission to destroy. They will not become destructive or disrespectful of valued property. The opposite will result. Letting their need pour out freely and safely will allow them to be peaceful and respectful of possessions we care about, and yet remain clear about the distinction between what can be broken and what should not. Our fears are not only unfounded, but also get in the way of helping our children.
A real destructiveness is one that is unsafe or too difficult to repair. In these cases, guidance and special attention should be given to the source of the problem. A destructive behavior signifies a great pain and need. It is when they behave the worst that children need our love the most. A child needs to know that expressing anger through words, tears, screams, or safe aggressive actions is fine, but hurting others or destroying things is absolutely not acceptable and needs to be stopped. The destructive child needs our help in dealing with his source of pain. He needs our compassion, love, and lots of time. But first, the aggressive unsafe act needs to be stopped immediately, without hurting or insulting the child.
This may be very difficult at times since our own pain drives us to anger despite ourselves. We need to treat ourselves with the same compassion we do our child. Like the child, we cannot allow our anger to hurt another, and at the same time we need an outlet to our self-expression. In my work with parents I have found that yelling actually does not help us deal with our pain – it’s a cover-up. When we do control our impulse to yell or punish, and respond compassionately, we sometimes are fortunate to feel the pain and even cry.
Another factor is the modeling to our child. Children lose control just like adults, but more easily and have less experience in handling themselves when upset. When we respond to their out-of-control behavior in a gentle and loving way, we are showing them by example a model of self-control and compassion they can emulate. Children look to us for reassurance that when they grow up they will be more able to control their own impulses. Seeing us out of control toward them is therefore very discouraging and disabling – especially on top of the personal hurt this causes them. If we cannot control our pain-based impulses how can they?
When we stop an unsafe, out-of-control act in a gentle manner, we send our child a triple reassurance: 1) “I can count on my parents to help me when I lose control.” 2) “When I grow up I will be able to control myself and act with compassion like my parents do.” 3) “My parent sees my need. I am not bad; it is my action that is wrong. I am loved and lovable – and, like them, I will learn to express myself freely but safely.”
It is therefore best to stop an unsafe act gently and clearly. A child needs a reminder that feelings can be expressed but not acted on. An aggressor can be lovingly removed from the act, hugged (when receptive), and told: “I see you are very upset, (angry, scared). I’ll help you vent your feelings safely and resolve your needs”. When there is a victim, we should tend to him first, without scolding the aggressor. The aggressor will benefit from watching our compassion toward the hurt child and is likely to feel remorse. Scolding or punishing the aggressor, on the other hand, takes the opportunity for developing remorse away from him. Instead, he may feel rage and self-hatred.
When Lennon was 4 1/2, he became very annoying and sometimes aggressive toward his I 1/2-year-old brother, Oliver. Since this was a new behavior in our house, we didn’t think much about it initially and just brushed him off with orders to stop it – in a stern voice. Two weeks later, when alone with Lennon, I expressed my love for him and told him what a wonderful person he was. I was shaken by his response: “You don’t love me. I am terrible.”
“Why?” I asked anxiously, and he answered: “Because I hurt Oliver.” A child who was never punished and had always been a cheerful delight was wilting in front of my eyes with jealousy and was developing a low self-image.
That day I started hugging him every time he disturbed or hurt Oliver. I know this sounds like a reward – but only to us grown-ups. A child who hurts is not experiencing himself as being bad. He is experiencing a deep pain, loneliness, lovelessness and loss of control. I responded to his cry for help and love by giving him what he needed. My initial reaction was based on fear and was therefore counter-productive, When I ordered Lennon to stop disturbing his brother – then and only then were his feelings of being “bad” internalized and reinforced. If I had continued scolding him, he may have turned into a bitter bully. Instead, I changed my behavior and responded to his plea for love.
Discovering the source of the problem – jealousy – led me to devote a lot of one-on-one time with Lennon, boosting his self-image. “I am so lucky to share life with you,” “You are so important to me,” “I love you,” “What an awesome person you are” are all words I shared in our times together. When he hurt his brother, I would stop him gently, give love, and say “You are a wonderful person. I see that you want to hurt your brother. It is normal to feel that way. I love you just the same when you are hurting him, but we cannot hurt him. When you grow up you’ll be able to control yourself. For now I’ll help you.” And I helped him until he recovered his exuberance and love of life, of himself, and of his brother.
There are many such stories from my family and families I work with. The common thread in all of them is trusting the child. If she “misbehaves,” she is hurting inside. If our compassionate response isn’t helping, it does not mean we should stop trusting and accepting. Rather, it means that there is more to the cause than meets the eye. We need to search, or seek the help of someone who can help us do the detective work into our child’s soul. Our love and compassion are our greatest assets in these emotional adventures.
We may find it difficult to put our own emotional reactions aside – our anger, our upset and our unresolved problems from our own childhood. These are real obstacles to helping our children. When reaction seems unavoidable, I remove myself from the scene (not necessarily physically), take a breath and “time out” for myself. I try to get in touch with the trigger of my emotions and cry, or just calm down enough to be able to attend to my child, keeping my ego out of the way.
When validated and listened to, children unload emotional upsets in their own creative ways. It is important to allow crying to take its full course (while giving the child our full attention) and to develop attentiveness to tantrums and rage expressions. Being noisy, giggly and screechy are also emotionally beneficial. Other than moving ourselves to a different room, or asking the children to keep their play in another room (or outside) – these have no “cure”. Rather, these behaviors are the cure and the child’s way of healing many of life’s upsets. Children are simply magical at directing their own dramatic moments. We can trust them and learn from them.
When we face behavior in our children that is upsetting to us, we have two choices. We can respond from our own fear (which may lead to words and acts that invalidate) or we can empathize with the child (which is a response of love). Although sometimes parents may need a counselor’s assistance with children, developing trust and the ability to listen and validate can go a long way toward a harmonious family life and emotionally healthy, self-reliant children.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Three of the greatest gifts you can give your children are also the least often mentioned in books on parenting skills: optimism, humor, and faith in your child. Optimism motivates you to never give up, which helps you turn failures and setbacks into comebacks and successes. Optimistic people succeed more often than more pessimistic people because they learn from their mistakes and failures and refuse to give up until they succeed, a self-fulfilling prophecy. In one study of 500 incoming freshmen at a university, a test of optimism predicted their grades the first year better than did either their SAT scores or high-school grades. Optimistic people tend to stay motivated despite frustrations and failures. Pessimistic people often give up and make their poor expectations come true, another self-fulfilling prophecy.
Optimism or positive thinking also helps avoid depression, anxiety, and anger and can give you the confidence to reach out, develop conversation skills, and improve your social life. Practicing being optimistic contributes to happiness and mental health and sets a good example for your children, who can then learn this skill and reap the benefits.
One great way to show and teach optimism is humor. Children love laughter and silliness and humor creates fun in your life, relieves frustrations, and brings peace to conflicts. Even ancient cultures recognized the importance of humor and expressed this by creating gods and goddesses of laughter and mischief, fools, and court jesters. This tradition continues today with clowns and comedians. Set aside time with your children each day to practice seeing the humor in the day’s events. This is a fun activity that helps your children take their frustrations less seriously.
Think of funny things you could have said. Poke fun at yourself, other people, and the situations you find yourself in. Your own flaws, mistakes, and conflicts with other people make very good material. Look for the absurdities in life, the labor in vain, and the times of much ado about nothing. Experiment with using either gross exaggeration or great understatement to find the humor in a situation. Exaggerate or understate facts, feelings, situations, action, number, size, or comparison. Use the element of surprise. Develop unique associations connecting mismatched feelings, facts, situations, or objects. Experiment with plays on words such as puns and double meanings. Memorize jokes, funny lines, and amusing stories you hear and practice telling them. Sources of humor include your own experiences, friends, humorous books, television, comedians, bumper stickers, T-shirts, and buttons.
Having faith in your children helps build a good self-concept and prevent problems. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to ignore good behavior and to notice mostly the bad things your child does. Try not to make the mistake of often or constantly scolding and insutling your children with negative labels such as bad, brats, stupid, mean, shy, etc. Using these labels shows that you don’t have faith in your children. It frustrates them and can cause them to have low self-esteem, to feel unable to change, to believe the label fits, and to act accordingly. During childhood, despite an angry refusal to accept such labels, being bad (or stupid, mean, a brat, etc.) can seem like a fact of life the child cannot change without superhuman effort. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, these children may give up trying to improve themselves and may live up to the social role implied by the negative label.
That’s why it is so important to notice and praise good behaviors much more often than you scold or discipline your child, especially in young children. Praise repeatedly teaches young children what behaviors you want and appreciate. Notice and praise good behavior in very young children many, many times a day, at least five or ten times as often as you scold them. This only takes a few seconds each time but it can do wonders. Praise or thank your child for the simplest things, such as playing quietly, kindness toward the cat, using a book carefully, waiting patiently while you talk on the phone, taking turns, or sharing. As children grow older and develop a positive self-image, they won’t need praise so often, but you should never stop praising. Even teenagers need regular thanks and praise for their talents, virtues, routine chores, and helpful acts. Occasionally give praise in front of other people or to your spouse when the child can hear you.
Be careful to avoid praising your child for not doing something bad, however. For example, never say “Good! You’re not being mean!” or “I’m so glad you’re not bothering the cat! That’s wonderful!” Thanking your child for not doing something bad ruins the positive emphasis of praise, implying that the child’s normal behavior is much worse. By mentioning bad behavior, it can also suggest the idea of misbehaving. Instead, say “Good! You’re being so friendly!” or “You’re treating the cat so carefully and nicely! That’s wonderful!” Always describe praiseworthy actions in a positive way by describing the good behavior, rather than the avoidance of bad behavior.
Show confidence and faith in your child’s abilities by noticing small improvements and pointing out developing skills. Be realistic. Don’t demand perfection. Understand that toddlers need a great deal of training to play nicely with other children, share toys, take turns, show kindness, help around the house, etc. Always praise progress, even if the child still needs to do much more. Praise work and effort even after failure. Always try to give hope, but emphasize that many things come only with long, persistent effort.
Avoid constantly using words like no, don’t, stop, quit, and can’t. And don’t overgeneralize by using words like always, anything, nobody, everyone, and never. Using these negative words builds poor self-esteem by emphasizing that something is wrong and the child is at fault. Children who hear these words too much tend to ignore them.
Be patient. Scolding, yelling, and hostility show a lack of faith, make training your children unpleasant, and may provoke rebellion. Show faith by making your reminders, requests, and commands politely, using the word please. State your reminders, requests, and commands positively rather than negatively. Talk about what you want, rather than what you don’t like or won’t tolerate. Use “Please pick up your clothes now, honey,” rather than saying, “Stop leaving your clothes everywhere!” Instead of saying, “Quit fussing!” to your child, you could say “There’s no reason to become upset. Do you remember what patience is?”
Once your child understands things better, learns the skills, or knows the rules, train with friendly reminders or gentle questions about what should be done in this situation, how another person probably feels, the effects of the child’s behavior on friendships, or what would happen if everyone acted that way. You can often state a rule or even set consequences in an optimistic positive way that shows faith in your child. For example, instead of saying, “If you don’t pick up all of your toys, you can’t go to Billy’s,” you could say “If you pick up all of your toys, you can go over to Billy’s for the rest of the afternoon.”
Eliminate the need for scolding or consequences that build poor self-esteem in all these ways and by using clear commands or rules that tell your child exactly what you expect in troublesome situations. For example, when entering a grocery store with a young child, calmly say “Stay with me. And remember, if you beg or touch anything without asking, you can’t have it.”
Losing faith in your child after a series of disappointments can help cause further problems. Family therapists see many parents who are overwhelmed by their children’s problem behaviors. Very often, the parents’ negative and pessimistic attitude toward their children helped to escalate the problems, both by alienating and building poor self-esteem in the children.
Our thoughts are surprisingly important in raising children. Parents’ thoughts can affect their children even if they never express the thoughts in words. Many people don’t realize thoughts can have great power in our lives. Dramatic evidence for this comes from hypnosis, the placebo effect for pain, faith cures, and voodoo deaths. In the placebo effect, simply believing someone gave you a potent medicine often improves pain. Faith cures at religious sites or by charismatic healers may combine the placebo effect with a newly acquired serenity, acceptance, confidence, and vigor that reduces the helpless, needy sick role and allows one to pay less attention to symptoms or problems. Voodoo deaths come from the great anxiety and loss of hope in the cursed person caused by the belief that death is inevitable.
Research repeatedly shows that adults’ unexpressed expectations of young children may become self-fulfilling prophecies. When researchers misled teachers about the intelligence and ability of their students, children who received fake superior labels more often improved on later IQ tests than did those who received fake average labels. Several studies observed teachers to find out how their expectations affected children and noted differences in the way teachers behaved. When interacting with supposedly superior students, teachers tend to ask them more questions, lean forward more, use more eye contact, nod their heads more, smile more, and attempt to teach more information to them than supposedly slower students. With slower students, teachers tend to explain more and repeat themselves more often, which may slow down the learning process.
Parents who lose faith in their children will show it in subtle, nonverbal ways. If you don’t have faith in your child, your child will probably sense it through subtle things you say and do and your body language. This compounds the child’s problems, increases frustration, and damages the child’s self-esteem. Sometimes it leads to a deteriorating relationship between parent and child and to more severe behavioral problems in a self-fulfilling prophecy. If your child has done wrong, express your disappointment and anger, set an appropriate punishment, forgive, and then show faith in the child’s basic goodness and expect improvement. Even after a serious mistake or two, try to trust that your child will eventually mature and make wise decisions. Forgiveness bathes the child in love, and faith in your child’s basic goodness encourages improvement.
In most situations, this is the best response. However, when teenagers continue to do wrong despite the consequences their parents set and communication between them and their parents is poor, it is important the parents get help early, before the teen becomes deeply involved in drugs or crime. For example, get help early if communication is poor and your teenager gets suspended from school more than once, regularly stays out overnight without permission and gets into trouble, steals more than once, has more than one alcohol blackout, uses drugs chronically, or commits assault. Of course, many teenagers with problems refuse to go to counseling. If this happens, hold a loving group confrontation with all the concerned family members and friends to persuade the teen to go. Even afterwards, the more concerned people who become involved in monitoring the teenager’s progress, the better.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
At six years old, Suzie lies to her parents about where she has been playing. At ten, Timmy lied about breaking a neighbor’s computer game player. Many teenagers lie about drug or alcohol use when their parents confront them. But there are simple ways to reduce the chance of your children lying to you, and parents often make mistakes that encourage their children to lie to them. Obviously, parents telling fibs set a bad example and teach their children that lying is sometimes useful and acceptable. Never lie to avoid trouble or for any other reason. For example, don’t lie about your child’s age to save money when going to the movies or buying a bus ticket.
Parents make many other very subtle mistakes that, without the parents knowing it, encourage their children to tell lies. One way of provoking a lie is to ask whether your children did something wrong when you know they did. Asking angrily, in particular, puts pressure on them, and they naturally react by wanting to lie. If you know your child has done something wrong, it is much better to confront the child with your knowledge directly and punish the child. Trapping your child in a lie when you already know the truth unnecessarily helps build the self-image of a liar in the child.
Don’t angrily interrogate your children about a possible misdeed and then harshly punish them after they admit the wrongdoing. When faced with this sequence repeatedly, the child naturally wants to lie to avoid harsh punishment. Instead, make it clear you will punish misdeeds more severely if your child lies about them. For example, if your child admits insulting someone, you might require the child to apologize and do something nice for the person. If the child insulted someone and then lied to you about it, you could require the apology, the kind act, and impose the loss of a privilege. Lying about a misdeed should either double the punishment or result in two punishments, one for the misdeed and another for lying.
Be sure to question children calmly. You may be suspicious or skeptical and ask probing questions, but avoid extreme anger. If your child admits having done wrong, show appreciation for the child’s honesty and courage in doing so. You may even show a little affection to a young child for telling the truth, but punish the child accordingly.
Teach that lying damages friendships and relationships and can result in losing friends and respect from other people, lowering one’s self-esteem. Emphasize life is sad and empty when people can’t trust their loved ones, and that once other people begin to think of you as a liar, it takes a long time to gain their respect and trust again. When your child first lies to you or if your child rarely lies to you, consider the lie a crisis in your relationship. Express your deep disappointment and explain that you don’t want them to hurt themselves with this kind of behavior. After punishing children for this mistake, forgive them and don’t bring it up again.
If your child lies to you regularly, eliminate the common mistakes described above encouraging lies. Avoid anger, arguments, and threats because a battle of wills only contributes to the problem. If your disappointment over the lies hasn’t helped, stop letting them ruin your mood. Your disappointment or anger may act as a reward for the child, a victory in hurting you.
Never call your child a liar. You don’t want this label to become a part of the child’s self-image. Teach the importance of trust in relationships and the damaging consequences of lies, but once you have made your position very clear, keep your statements short and to the point. Don’t reward your child with too much attention for lies. Explain you must punish each lie to help the child learn from these mistakes. Show confidence that your child will eventually learn. Your child needs this support and faith.
Increase your vigilance and occasionally check on the truth of statements. Children need to know you won’t tolerate lies and you will try to find out whether they are lying to you. Explain you regret needing to do this and you look forward to the time when their continued honesty allows you to stop checking. Don’t go to extremes and constantly check on your child or act like a detective, however. Continually raking up evidence for lies shows you don’t trust them to improve. Also, children, adolescents in particular, need some privacy. Parents can sometimes push their children to start lying by prying too much, so avoid severe interrogations about their private lives.
Pay attention to what your children lie about. This may give clues as to what might help. Children who lie to other people about money or possessions may need part-time jobs, so they can get some of the things they want. Some lies relate to overly strict rules. If your rules about where your children may play result in lies, for example, perhaps you should change these rules.
Remaining calm also reduces the likelihood of lies when you suspect children or teenagers of alcohol or drug use. Reassure them you won’t overreact and calmly ask for the truth. This gives you the best chance of uncovering a problem and helping them with it. Try your best to show understanding, and find out how your teenager feels about it. Don’t try to find out how much your teenager uses until after you show you will remain calm. Don’t make or discuss any plans to deal with the problem until after you learn what your teenager uses, how often, how your teenager feels, and what led to the behavior.
Many lies really come from situations that put unnecessary pressure on children to lie and that teach the child to become comfortable with being a liar. Lies may also provide angry children the revenge of hurting you. By following all of these simple tips, you eliminate many reasons for children to lie and you greatly increase your chances of discovering the truth and helping when problems occur.
Children’s temper tantrums are widely seen as many things: the cause of profound helplessness among parents; a source of dread for airline passengers stuck next to a young family; a nightmare for teachers. But until recently, they had not been considered a legitimate subject for science.
Now research suggests that, beneath all the screams and kicking and shouting, lies a phenomenon that is entirely amenable to scientific dissection. Tantrums turn out to have a pattern and rhythm to them. Once understood, researchers say, this pattern can help parents, teachers and even hapless bystanders respond more effectively to temper tantrums — and help clinicians tell the difference between ordinary tantrums and those that may be warning signals of an underlying disorder.
The key to a new theory of tantrums lies in a detailed analysis of the sounds that toddlers make during tantrums. In a new paper published in the journal Emotion, scientists found that different toddler sounds – or “vocalizations” – emerge and fade in a definite rhythm in the course of a tantrum.
“We have the most quantitative theory of tantrums that has ever been developed in the history of humankind,” said study co-author Michael Potegal of the University of Minnesota, half in jest and half seriously.
The first challenge was to collect tantrum sounds, says co-author James A. Green of the University of Connecticut.
“We developed a onesie that toddlers can wear that has a high-quality wireless microphone sewn into it,” Green said. “Parents put this onesie on the child and press a go button.”
The wireless microphone fed into a recorder that ran for several hours. If the toddler had a meltdown during that period, the researchers obtained a high-quality audio recording. Over time, Green and Potegal said they collected more than a hundred tantrums in high-fidelity audio.
The scientists then analyzed the audio. They found that different tantrum sounds had very distinct audio signatures. When the sounds were laid down on a graph, the researchers found that different sounds emerged and faded in a definite pattern. Unsurprisingly, sounds like yelling and screaming usually came together.
“Screaming and yelling and kicking often go together,” Potegal said. “Throwing things and pulling and pushing things tend to go together. Combinations of crying, whining, falling to the floor and seeking comfort — and these also hang together.”
But where one age-old theory of tantrums might suggest that meltdowns begin in anger (yells and screams) and end in sadness (cries and whimpers), Potegal found that the two emotions were more deeply intertwined.
“The impression that tantrums have two stages is incorrect,” Potegal said. “In fact, the anger and the sadness are more or less simultaneous.”
Green and Potegal found that sad sounds tended to occur throughout tantrums. Superimposed on them were sharp peaks of yelling and screaming: anger.
The trick in getting a tantrum to end as soon as possible, Potegal said, was to get the child past the peaks of anger. Once the child was past being angry, what was left was sadness, and sad children reach out for comfort. The quickest way past the anger, the scientists said, was to do nothing. Of course, that isn’t easy for parents or caregivers to do.
“When I’m advising people about anger, I say, ‘There’s an anger trap,”‘ Potegal said.
Even asking questions can prolong the anger — and the tantrum.
That’s what parents Noemi and David Doudna of Sunnyvale, Calif., found. Their daughter Katrina once had a meltdown at dinnertime because she wanted to sit at one corner of the dining table. Problem was, the table didn’t have any corners – it was round. When David Doudna asked Katrina where she wanted to sit, the tantrum only intensified.
“You know, when children are at the peak of anger and they’re screaming and they’re kicking, probably asking questions might prolong that period of anger,” said Green. “It’s difficult for them to process information. And to respond to a question that the parent is asking them may be just adding more information into the system than they can really cope with.”
In a video of the tantrum that Noemi Doudna posted on YouTube, Katrina’s tantrum intensified to screaming, followed by the child throwing herself to the floor and pushing a chair against a wall.
“Tantrums tend to often have this flow where the buildup is often quite quick to a peak of anger,” Green said.
Understanding that tantrums have a rhythm can not only help parents know when to intervene, but also give them a sense of control, Green said.
That’s because, when looked at scientifically, tantrums are no different than thunderstorms or other natural phenomena. Studying them as scientific subjects rather than experiencing them like parents can cause the tantrums to stop feeling traumatic and even become interesting.
“When we’re walking down the street or see a child having a tantrum, I comment on the child’s technique,” Potegal said. “[I] mutter to my family, ‘Good data,’ and they all laugh.”
Noemi Doudna said she now looks back on Katrina’s tantrums and sees the humor in them.
Katrina often demanded things that made no sense in the course of tantrums, Noemi Doudna said. She once said, “‘I don’t want my feet. Take my feet off. I don’t want my feet. I don’t want my feet!’”
When nothing calmed the child down, Noemi Doudna added, “I once teased her — which turned out to be a big mistake — I once said, ‘Well, OK, let’s go get some scissors and take care of your feet.’”
Her daughter’s response, Noemi Doudna recalled, was a shriek: “Nooooo!!”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
If you didn’t know that sex is good for your health, you haven’t been paying attention. Depending on which headline you believe, sex has six or eight or 10 or 16 or 17 different health benefits. According to the scientific research touted in stories like these, sex can burn calories, cut stress, ease depression, relieve pain, reduce the risk of cancer and heart attacks, lessen your risk of dying, and even reduce the frequency of hot flashes in menopausal women.
Assuming that these studies are correct (more on that in a minute), and that sex is good for your health, then the obvious next question would be, how should you arrange your sex life so as to maximize the health benefits? Is a series of one-night stands as salubrious as a long-term coupling? Could a few bouts of masturbation be as nourishing and wholesome as a single night of conventional intercourse? Stuart Brody, a psychologist at the University of the West of Scotland, has made a career of studying such matters, and his 2010 review paper, “The Relative Health Benefits of Different Sexual Activities” concluded that penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI) gives the greatest physiological boost. He backs up this assertion with data from a 2009 survey of nearly 3,000 Swedes, in which people who reported the highest frequencies of PVI also reported high levels of sexual satisfaction, health, and well-being.
Not that masturbation is so bad. A 1988 study found that genital self-stimulation increases pain thresholds and produces an analgesic effect in women, and a 2003 study linked masturbation to a reduction in prostate-cancer risk, which the researchers attributed to ejaculation frequency. But a subsequent study failed to confirm the relationship and, no doubt to the chagrin of many men, concluded that prostate cancer risk was unrelated to a man’s ejaculation count. (Some studies suggest a link between sex and breast cancer, too: One found a reduced risk of breast cancer among women who’d had multiple sexual partners, though another found that women who’d had children fathered by different partners did not have a lessened risk of the disease.)
If you’re tempted to go it alone, know this. Masturbating might get you off, but it probably won’t help you out of a funk. Brody’s Swedish study found that people who reported frequent masturbation scored lower on measures of health and well-being than those who engaged in frequent PVI. A 2004 study of middle-aged women found that those who suffered from depression masturbated more and reported less satisfaction in their partnered sexual experiences than women without depression.
The sexual cure for depression, apparently, involves semen. A survey of just under 300 female college students in Albany, N.Y. found that depression (as measured on a depression scale) increased the longer it had been since a woman had experienced PVI. The happiest women in the study were those who had the most PVI, but this antidepressant effect evaporated if they’d used condoms. Students who hadn’t engaged in PVI, or said they used condoms, reported more suicide attempts than those who said they never used condoms during sex. While the study isn’t rigorous enough to provide any solid conclusions, it’s theoretically possible that semen really does have antidepressant properties, since it’s loaded with hormones, neurotransmitters and other chemicals, including testosterone, prostaglandins, and hormones that stimulate ovulation.
OK, so let’s say you have a partner. What’s the best—and by best I mean healthiest, of course—sexual position? Research shows that if you’re getting busy to burn calories, the missionary position would be your best bet. But don’t skip your workout just yet: A 2008 study found that the physical demands of sexual activity are both moderate and short-lived.
Sex with a spouse may be healthier for men than sex with an illicit lover, especially if they’re doing the latter in a secret place. A paper published in September found that the majority of penile fractures seen in one Maryland hospital happened during extramarital sex in “out-of-the-ordinary” locations like cars, elevators, and public restrooms.
Here’s the summary so far: If you want to maximize your sexual health, or your sexually-induced health, then engage in as much penile-vaginal intercourse as possible, using the missionary position in your bedroom at home without a condom. There’s only one problem, though. None of the studies described above would qualify as top-shelf medical research. Even Irwin Goldstein, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, admits the evidence is flimsy: “This is sort of, you find what you want to find. The papers are controversial. It’s a lot of anecdotal work.”
Some have criticized Stuart Brody’s work in particular as showing a bias toward specific heterosexual acts. (“He’s obsessed with PVI,” one expert told me.) But almost all the studies in this area suffer from a suspect methodology. First, they tend to rely on self-reported figures for sex and orgasm frequency. If you want to believe the results, you’ll also have to believe that the people surveyed gave completely honest information about their sex lives to total strangers. For the studies examining links between prostate cancer and ejaculation frequency, you must also trust the participants to tabulate and report their average numbers of ejaculations per month over a span of several decades.
Even if the self-reported numbers were accurate, most of these studies would still be too small to produce anything more than suggestive correlations. Vascular disease is a common cause of impotence. Does sex make men’s hearts healthier, or do healthy hearts and blood vessels simply enable men to have more sex? Standard sex-and-health research can’t answer basic questions like this.
For more solid answers to questions of sex and health, researchers would need to randomly assign people to engage in various sex acts, then see how their health fares. Such studies might compare PVI to oral sex, masturbation, or stimulation with a vibrator to find out once and for all if standard heterosexual intercourse is really as superior as Brody asserts. Randomized trials, especially ones that included gay men, could help clarify semen’s potential as an antidepressant, but such trials might be difficult. How would you ensure that participants are complying with your instructions? What if a couple breaks up before the study is over? Could a participant who’s getting sex on the side skew the results?
Existing work involves people who’ve chosen to have sex on their own accord, and (for the most part) at a frequency of their choosing. It’s not clear that participants would get the same benefits if they were having sex because it was prescribed to them by a doctor. It’s hard to imagine that having sex you don’t desire (or with a less-than-eager partner) would enhance your health—or your relationship.
But I have a bigger complaint about these studies. I normally find sex an alluring topic, but a few pages into Brody’s 26-page tome, I found myself losing interest—not just in his tedious explanations or his obsessive devotion to PVI, but in whatever health benefits sex might really offer.
Turning sex into medicine takes all the fun out of it. I don’t have sex because it’s good for me. I have sex because it’s awesome. My husband and I have sex as frequently as we do because we’re attracted to one another and crave the intimacy and intense pleasure that comes from rubbing our naked bodies together, not because we’re on some healthy sex prescription plan. It’s the desire itself and the pleasure of giving in to it that make sex wonderful. I don’t doubt that frisky urges are a sign of good health (unless you’ve been bitten by a rabid animal), but those of us who want to get laid shouldn’t need a doctor’s permission to do so.
A new survey finds a big disconnect when it comes to fertility. The age women think they can conceive a baby is far different from what their bodies are actually capable of. This poses an increasing problem, as more women wait longer than ever to have children.
Kate Donnellon Nail never imagined she’d have trouble conceiving. For one thing, people always tell the San Francisco musician she looks much younger than her 43 years.
“I work out regularly, I have a personal trainer,” she says. “I’ve been doing yoga for 15 years.”
Nail’s grandmother gave birth at 42, so she figured she was predisposed to “fabulous fertility.” Doctors says there’s no such evidence. But Nail is healthy and makes a point to eat well.
“Unfortunately,” she says, “that doesn’t always translate to those little eggs in your ovaries. They’re not getting the message!”
When she was nearly 41, Nail and her husband went to a fertility doctor, who laid out the stark stats for someone her age.
“They put them out on a piece of paper on the desk right in front of me and I was like, whoa. It just seemed so fashionable to have kids in your 40s, these days,” she says.
It is. The fastest-growing rates of childbearing are for those 40 and older. But Nail says she didn’t realize until she started trying to conceive herself that many older moms struggled, enduring costly fertility treatments.
According to a recent poll, Nail is far from alone. The survey, funded by the bio-pharmaceutical company EMD Serono, finds women do realize fertility declines with age, but they dramatically underestimate by how much.
What’s the chance a 30-year-old can get pregnant in one try? Many thought up to 80 percent, while in reality it’s less than 30 percent. For a 40-year-old, many assumed up to a 40 percent success rate. It’s actually less than 10 percent. And when you keep trying? The survey finds many think you can get pregnant more quickly than it actually happens. It also shows many women underestimate how successful fertility treatments are. Nail has now had six unsuccessful rounds of in vitro fertilization.
Celeb Moms Give False Sense Of Comfort
“The first thing they say is, ‘Why didn’t anybody tell me this?’” says Barbara Collura, who co-authored the survey and heads Resolve, the National Infertility Association. She laments that no federal agency pushes this issue, and neither women nor their OB-GYNs tend to bring it up. Though, Collura admits that fading fertility is a hard message to deliver.
“Let’s be honest, women don’t want to hear that they can’t have it all,” she says. “We can have a great job, we can have a master’s degree, we don’t need to worry about child-bearing because that’s something that will come. And when it doesn’t happen, women are really angry.”
After all, everywhere you look these days the message seems to be that women can have it all. Take the wave of 40-something celebrity moms, some of whom do not admit to having had fertility treatments. Then there was this summer’s Real Housewives of New York where 53-year-old glamour mom Ramona Singer confided to a friend that she’d missed a period.
“Are you pregnant?” the friend gasped. “I might be,” said Singer, speculating about how much her teenage daughter would love a younger sibling. Singer ended up taking a pregnancy test, and needless to say — or is it? — she was not pregnant, but more likely experiencing the onset of menopause.
So, you might conclude we need a public awareness campaign on age and fertility, right? Well, it’s tricky.
“I just feel like it’s something else they lump onto women that we have no control over,” says filmmaker Monica Mingo, who’s blogged about her decade-long effort to conceive. She says the real issue is society at large, which is pushing back the age people are expected to settle down and have kids. Mingo didn’t even meet her husband until she was 32.
“You tell us your fertile years rapidly decline in your mid-20s,” she says. “Well, if I’m not dating anyone, and I want to have a family, what’s that information going to do for me?”
A decade ago, a campaign by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine sparked a vicious backlash. Ads on public buses in several big cities featured a baby bottle shaped like an hourglass, to warn women their time was running out. But women’s rights groups called it a scare tactic that left women feeling pressured and guilty.
Another ad campaign? Sure, says Mingo.
“And it needs to come on when men are paying attention,” she says. “Heck, put it on in the middle of a football game or something!”
The ticking biological clock, she says, is not a burden women should bear alone.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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