How to Promote Healthy Self Esteem in Children

We have all heard that healthy self esteem is important for emotional well being, but why is this so? Self esteem allows children to have a realistic understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. It gives them the confidence to take on new challenges. Self esteem gives children a buffer against negative experience. For instance, a child with low self esteem is wounded much more deeply by a classmate’s teasing or criticism than a child with healthy self esteem. Self esteem enables children to feel more comfortable in social situations and make friends more easily. Children with healthy self esteem are able to resist negative peer pressure more easily. They feel more positive about themselves, smile more, and in general, view life and their future more optimistically. In contrast, children with low self esteem are more prone to depression, anxiety, feelings of helplessness and negative self criticism.

Here are some things we can do to promote self esteem in our children:

–Spend time with your children. Spending time with children gives them a sense of self worth.

–Listen to what they say.This allows children to feel their thoughts and ideas are important.

–Praise their accomplishments not their character. Instead of saying “what a good boy” say “I am proud of you for cleaning your room so well”.

–Tell children you love them often and demonstrate your love with hugs and other forms of affection.

–Set realistic goals for your children and praise them for achieving those goals.

–Validate their feelings. Sometimes we think that children’s problems are small compared to ours. Nothing could be further from the truth.When your child is feeling stressed or sad or angry give them the time to discuss their feelings and work them through

–Allow children the opportunity to take on new challenges and learn from their mistakes.

–Be fair, firm and consistent when you set limits. Inconsistency confuses children. Limits allow children to feel safe and protected (even if they don’t like the limits). Learning to abide by the rules at home enables them to abide by the rules of society.

Until next time, be well and happy!

Lawrence Ross Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

The Keys to Happiness

Researchers have begun to investigate the topic of happiness! What they have found is that 50% of the “happiness pie” is genetic. In other words 50% of how happy we are is determined by our genes. This is called our genetic “set point”. We are born within a certain range of happiness and even when very good or very bad things happen to us we return to our genetic set point relatively quickly.

Surprisingly, only 10% of our happiness is based on our circumstances i.e. our income, social status, age, our appearance, where we live etc. These are the things society tells us will make us happy, but in reality these circumstances account for only a small fraction of our happiness.

The remaining 40% that determines how happy we are is “intentional activity”. In other words the things we choose to do.

Another way to look at this is to distinguish between extrinsic and intrinsic goals. Examples of extrinsic goals are rewards, praise, money, image, status and popularity.

Intrinsic goals are personal growth, relationships, community feeling (helping out in our community), and compassion/acts of kindness.

The research now shows that people who pursue extrinsic goals tend to be less happy, less satisfied, and are more prone to depression and anxiety as compared with those who pursue intrinsic goals.

Here are the keys to increasing your happiness:

-Vary the things you do (don’t get into a rut).

-Be more active (activity produces more of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which increases happiness).

-Follow your bliss/get into the “zone”. This is also called “flow”. Runners often talk about this as “runners high”. Writers experience this when the words seem to flow onto the paper by themselves. Musicians feel this when they are “in the music”. We can lose ourselves in flow by being “in the experience” regardless of what the experience is. Sometimes it is just the experience of well being when on a beautiful day you feel yourself in tune with nature. Flow is a peak experience of connection.

-Spend quality time with friends and family

-Be helpful to others. Show compassion. Perform random acts of kindness whenever possible.

Doing these types of “intentional activities” maximizes the 40% of happiness over which you have control!

Until next time, be well and HAPPY!

Lawrence Ross Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

How Much Does Parental Arguing Affect Our Children?

Most Moms will be familiar with this. Have you ever noticed that when you are having a bad day that is the same day your infant is also having a bad day? In other words, when Mom is feeling stressed or depressed the baby is crying more, more demanding or more fussy? The reason for this is that infants are so strongly emotionally connected with you that they are actually feeling what you are feeling.

More research evidence has recently proven this to be true. In a recent article in Science Daily entitled “Arguments in the home linked with babies’ brain functioning” researchers found that infants are so sensitive to parental emotions that “they respond to an angry tone of voice even when they are asleep’! Beyond this, they discovered that “infants from high conflict homes showed greater reactivity to a very angry tone of voice in brain areas linked with stress and regulation of emotion”. Their conclusion is that even as infants we are not oblivious to parental conflict and exposure to conflict may actually impact the way a baby processes emotion and stress.

In doing marital therapy I can’t tell you how many times a parent has said to me “Yes we do argue a lot but we never do it in front of the kids so they are not affected by our arguing”. My response is always the same–they are more aware and more affected than you realize. Children do not have to witness parental arguments to be profoundly affected. Even when they are in their room or asleep they sense that something is not right. Although it is true that as children grow older they are not as attuned to a parent’s feelings and mood as a newborn baby might be, they are still attuned enough that they absorb and feel your feelings.

In addition, children model their parents. So if you deal with conflict by arguing, your children will also learn to deal with conflict by arguing. Here are some techniques to limit arguing in the home:

–When you disagree, do a role reversal. Instead of trying to convince your spouse that your point of view is correct try to find the merits in their point of view.

–Never attempt to resolve a disagreement in the heat of anger. If you are angry, table the discussion for another time when you can discuss things calmly.

–Create a pros and cons list based on the different points of view and discuss these pros and cons

–Always keep in mind that frequent arguments do harm your children and use that insight as a way to emotionally regulate yourself and stay calm.

–Also keep in mind that children repeat what they see. If you want them to learn self control you, as parents, must model self control.

So remember, healthy ways of disagreeing result in healthier, happier and more confident children!

Lawrence Ross Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

The Best Way to Discipline Your Children: The Use of Positive Reinforcement

The best way to discipline your children is to create a situation that avoids having to discipline them altogether. The best way to do this is by using a technique called Positive Reinforcement. Positive Reinforcement is a fancy term that means rewarding your children for good (positive) behaviors rather than punishing them for bad (negative) behaviors.The best way I have found to do this is by creating a Happy Face Chart (for children five through eleven) or a Reward Chart (for tweens/teens, twelve through eighteen).

This is very easy to do. First, target 5 or 6 behaviors that you want to change or modify. For instance:

  1. Joey will do what his parents say
  2. Joey will do his chores
  3. Joey will play nicely with his siblings
  4. Joey will control his temper
  5. Joey will not leave the yard without permission

On the left side of the paper are the rules.On the right side is a happy face and a sad face separated by a line between them that goes down the page. (For older children instead of a happy and sad face we use the words positive and negative).

Next comes the reward (also known as the positive reinforcer). For young children we create a grab bag filled with items from the dollar store (hopefully items that have several pieces such as a bag with 4 airplanes or cars or fake jewelry etc). With older children we ask them to specify something they would like to buy (usually in the twenty dollar range).

Each morning we have the child repeat the rules (this helps them internalize the rules). Each evening we go over the chart with them indicating whether they receive a happy face or a sad face for that behavior and why. Telling them why is very important because it allows them to repeat a positive behavior or avoid a negative behavior in the future.

For younger children, if they get 4/5 happy faces they receive one pick from the grab bag. For a perfect day, 5/5, they get two picks. With older children specify a maximum amount they can earn each day–lets say one dollar. For 4/5 they earn fifty cents, for 5/5 they earn one dollar. Now, instead of giving them the money in their hand remember we asked them what they would like to purchase in the $20.00 range. So we create a bar graph where we shade in the amount earned each day thereby providing a visual for them as to how close they are getting to their goal. When they reach the $20.00 we go with them to purchase their prize for positive behaviors.

If parents are consistent, this technique works very well with most children. In the beginning be lenient with the happy faces. When children see they are accomplishing a goal this excites them, motivates them and empowers them thereby increasing the chance of positive behaviors the next day!

Enjoy your time with your well behaved children!

Lawrence Ross Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Dinner Time

It seems that in our society we are very busy almost all the time. Beyond this, every member of the family is busy doing different things so that sometimes members of the same family don’t see each other very much! This is especially true as our children become adolescents. In many of the families I work with, different members eat dinner at different times. Sometimes the children eat dinner in front of the television (or parents are watching the news). Even when eating together, there seems to be constant distractions and interruptions. We have lost the meaning and importance of dinner time. Food is the first form of physical and emotional nurturance that we receive. As babies, feeding time relieves hunger but also provides us with a sense of wellbeing, a sense that everything is okay with the world, a sense that we are safe, secure and loved. This is why dinner time should be considered a sacred and special time of the day. Dinner time should be a time when:

  1. We all come back together as a family.
  2. We spend time talking with each other and sharing stories about out day.
  3. We recognize the importance of togetherness by making sure there are no distractions.
  4. We emotionally nurture each other by listening, providing feedback to each other and laughing together as a family.

A small change like having dinner together can have a big impact in our lives!

Lawrence Ross Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Homework Time

Doing homework feels like a difficult chore for many children and adolescents. After all, they have just spent 6 hours or more at school where they need to sit in one place most of the day and exert continuous mental effort paying attention (sometimes to material that is not inherently interesting to them). So coming home and doing more of the same is not something they are looking forward to! Here are 5 tips that will make homework easier for your children and for you.

  1. Give your children at least 30-60 minutes after school when they can have a snack, run around (to expend some pent up energy) and/or have some down time listening to music, watching a video, etc.
  2. Structure the homework so that it is done the same time every day. This makes it predictable and it becomes part of the daily routine. Children like structure and do well with structure.
  3. Be present or very nearby during homework time. Being present gives the message that homework time is important to you. Also, when children feel burnt out after the school day your presence provides children with the additional structure they need to stay motivated, attentive and productive.
  4. Go over the homework with them. This shows the children you are interested in what they are doing and willing to spend the time to help them.
  5. Be positive and give praise! So often we tend to focus on what the child did incorrectly rather than what they did correctly. Although it is important to help them correct errors, it is even more important to make them feel good about what they have done correctly! This builds self esteem and a sense of accomplishment.

After School Activities: Can We Have Too Much Of A Good Thing?

We live in a world where parents and children are constantly on the go. In addition to going to school, doing homework and doing chores, many children often have a variety of after school activities. Such activities include being on a sports team, playing an instrument, participating in martial arts training, taking dance lessons, participation in religious activities etc. We want our children to be well rounded physically,mentally and spiritually, and we want them exposed to a variety of activities, but the question is–can we have too much of a good thing?

Sometimes children are involved in after school activities three, four, or even five times a week.The truth is that children can become overwhelmed and overloaded even if they enjoy these activities. Too many activities will cause stress in children and will spread them too thin. We all need a breather, we all need down time and quiet time. In fact, there is as much value in quiet time as there is in activity time. In our on the go society we often forget the value of stillness, quiet and self reflection. So, to be truly well balanced, children need time for activities as well as quiet time. Too much or too little of one or the other will result in unbalanced development.


Lawrence Ross Ph.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Are My Children’s Mental Health Medications Addictive?

Being that I am in a Mental Health private practice children sometimes need medication in addition to behavioral therapy or counseling. A question that I am frequently asked is: Can my child become addicted to the medication? The short answer is “No”. Most frequently children needing medications fall into three categories. Children diagnosed with ADHD are often prescribed psychostimulant medications such as Concerta or Adderall. Children with depression are sometimes prescribed antidepressant medications such as Welbutrin or Prozac. Finally, children with more severe mood issues (such as Bipolar Disorder), those who have a Psychotic Disorder (auditory or visual hallucinations),and/or those who have relatively severe behavioral problems are often prescribed Atypical Antipsychotic medications such as Abilify or Risperdal.

The first category, Psychostimulants, have no addiction potential when used as prescribed. Psychostimulants are, however, “controlled substances” meaning that if used improperly, in very high doses, can be addictive. For this reason they can only be prescribed in 30 day supplies.The second and third categories mentioned above (Antidepressants and Atypical Antipsychotics) have no addiction potential at all.

The two things that characterize an addictive substance are Tolerance and Withdrawal. Tolerance means one must use greater and greater quantities in order to produce the desired effect. Withdrawal means the body reacts strongly (headache, lightheadedness, sweating, shivers etc) when taken off the substance. Tolerance and Withdrawal occur because one has developed a physical or mental dependence on the substance. The medications prescribed to children mentioned above are not addictive because children do not become physically or mentally dependent upon them and there is no tolerance or withdrawal to any of them.

Lawrence Ross Ph.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Welcome to My New Blog

Read my new Blog

Approximately twice per month I will be blogging about various issues involving Parenting, Families, Children and Adolescents. Examples of Blog topics include:

  • Are My Child’s Mental Health Medications Addictive?
  • After School Activities: Can We Have Too Much of a Good Thing?
  • How Can I Make Homework Time Easier?
  • The Importance of a Family Dinner Time.