Friday, January 14, 2011

Second Marriage Child Rearing

First in a series of three about family adjustments when families change.

When a parent with children marries a second time, family circumstances can be complex. The stepparent in most states is a “legal stranger.” That means the stepfather (if Mom brings the children into the marriage) has no legal right to the minor child’s discipline no matter how involved in the child’s life he may be. If Dad brings the children to the marriage, Mom is the “legal stranger.”

The rights and privileges remain with the biological parents. The legal stranger, though married to one biological parent, has no rights concerning the child unless he is assigned them by an adoption agreement with the biological parents. And, of course, the package includes responsibilities such as child support and educational necessities. Even if one biological parent is a “non-custodial parent,” that is, no longer in the picture, he or she retains specified rights as well as responsibilities.

Married or not, partners in a long-term relationship must cooperate in parenting. This requires talk and negotiation with and without smaller ears listening in. Both parents have to back up each other when one steps in to do his part.
When I was counseling Jason’s mother through some tough times, 13-year-old Jason asked her for money to buy a video game. She said, “Ask your father.”

Going-on-14 said, “You mean Franklin? He’s not my father.”

Mom said, “He is in this house, go ask him if he will help you.” Franklin said no to the violent video game but offered to buy Jason his second choice, a GPS “app” for Jason’s phone. Jason was learning something about the good side of Mom’s effort to rebuild her social life and about his place in the family.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Census, over 50 percent of the 60 million children under 13 are living with one biological parent and that parent’s current partner. Whatever these children do is likely to get some parental or current partner reaction. It will be negative or positive or the parenting powers will react with indifference.

Since both “old” parents and new ones know the bad behaviors when they see them, they may be less clear about the good behaviors and react to them less often. Newcomers in this parenting situation can easily overlook their responsibility to admire good things of their new “offspring.” They may presume that parent number 1 should do that. The relationship with kids will change fast when the positive reactions are left out. To correct the situation, let’s start with two good family rules the new couple should talk over frequently.

Rule 1: Find the good behaviors. New Dads seem to have the most trouble finding good behaviors and reacting to them. Dads XE father: attitudes of may hold back on compliments and praise when trying to keep their newly acquired teen or preteen on the right path.
It may be that we Dads set our standards too high or we may think that compliments will indicate weakness. Afraid we will lose our thunder, we leave the positive stuff, too often, to Mom. Dad needs to make the effort.

Rule 2: Careful with conversation. When it comes to serious conversation, many parents find their teen or preteen to be elusive prey not easily cornered or impressed.

Issues and new ideas are part of the "brain exercise" all children and teens need. When a sensitive topic comes up, parents and stepparents need to resist “telling” their child and begin a discussion on neutral ground instead.

Check your physical message. Do you still have the remote in hand, finger poised over the mute button? Put it away, face your son or daughter and look at them often.

Avoid criticisms that are likely to be taken personally and internalized by your teen or child. "What (inside condition) makes you so inconsiderate, so negative? Why don't you pay more attention to what you're saying? What were you thinking of?"
Such inside blame is a dangerous parental habit because the child-teen is viewed as "having" (inside) a nearly unchangeable character. Better to keep the “you” out of it: “That's a different point of view.” “What would your teacher think of that?”

We parents usually think the topic of conversation is the most important part while teens are likely to focus on what the conversation implies about them personally. Keep the subject on a third-person basis as much as possible as you would with an adult. Say, “Then what happened?” instead of, “Then what did you do?” “It's hard to get along with everyone,” instead of, “You should be more friendly.”

Even a solution with the best intentions may be viewed by a teen as a turn-off that says, “You don't know, be quiet and let me tell you.” Good relationships are not about competing and conversation doesn’t make a good competitive sport. Constant maneuvering to be a winner requires making a loser and turns the attention to the score instead of the topic.

So mind your body language; conversation is more than what is said and heard. Avoid instant criticism, blame or accusations, and try the “it” instead of the “you” method.

Next time: Bad habits and rules about punishment.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New blog!

Dr. McIntire's ParentSuccess blog has moved!
Check out our new-and-improved site for columns, tips, and book recommendations at:

Thanks, and have a great New Year!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

As the third in a series on my column in the Martinsburg Journal, I am recviewing going off to college for parents. I thought this one was particularly relvent here at the beginning of summer for parents facing this problem

Raising Good Kids in Tough Times
By Dr. Roger McIntire

Parent Help Before College
Just a week or so ago, our budding college students graduated from high school and in only a few more weeks they will face college on their own. How can parents help their student stay the course through four years?
Few students will leave college because of low grades. Colleges don’t send many termination letters. Usually the student does the leaving, because of loneliness, possible money problems, or as the result of bad habits.
Bad habits start when offers of credit cards come to their new mailbox. Cars and credit cards keep the pressure on to work more hours at a part-time job. Students need to keep shopping, credit cards and car expenses low.
Student surveys show that the most likely dropouts are students who live far from campus and work long hours at a job away from school. The best predictor of impending failure is cutting classes because of a long commute or long work hours. These students start by complaining of no time left after school and work. They end by dropping the only part of college they signed up for—the classes. Students need to join campus clubs and activities to keep morale up.
When it comes to staying healthy, you would think 18-year-olds would be at the peak of health. Yet bad habits and an inclination to feel invulnerable have led to campus infirmary statistics that tell a different story. Late-night studying, bad diet and only erratic exercise make college students the greatest sufferers of colds, headaches, and the latest flu bug.
Parents should consider giving an “Off-to-College Shower.” Invite all the relatives and friends. Ask each person to write a little advice in a front-door guest book, “The best thing I did in school was... have a good breakfast…join the local church young adults group...take up dancing... run every day...join the computer club or the ski club.”
If your college-bound student still has time to go before college, start the practice now on choosing a good diet, holding to an exercise routine, and learning the domestic basics of cooking, using the laundry, and managing a budget. Trying to teach the basics of living on the dormitory steps is too late. Practice at home will get them off to a good start when they are on their own.
Trouble selecting a major is a common factor in the dropout statistics. Most universities have 100 or more majors, but first-time students can barely name 20! No wonder over 90 percent of freshmen change their major somewhere along the way.
Parents can help here also by talking over the majors represented in the early required courses and keeping the pressure to make an early decision low. One primary advantage of college is in educating about the variety of life's opportunities.
If college is viewed as a source of information about choices, then staying in makes sense. Little is lost by taking courses to explore the wide range of majors and careers before making this important decision.
When graduates of five years ago are asked what courses they wish they had taken, they seldom mention courses in their major. Instead, engineers mention business courses, teachers mention additional psychology or language courses and others mention history, science or hobby-developing courses. It's a long way from graduation to retirement.
Campus career counselors can be a great help if they are part of schedule planning from the start. With their help in the first year or two, both the student's interests and the practical side of career training can usually be accommodated.
Next time: the big mistakes to avoid in college.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A letter last week to "Raising Good Kids in Tough Times" asked about a 5-year-old's problem with dealing her parents' conflict. I replied with the following note and added a recent column.

Thank you for wirting CCBS. Of course, an exchange of e-mails is not sufficient to solve any problem and you'll want to consider my remarks in view of your own experience with your 5-year-old daughter.
That said, I am following this note with a recent newspaper column that might help with her reactions to her Mom and Dad's struggle with their divorce.
I am sure I am only speaking to a part of the problem but I think examples of how to act toward her parents are being put before her in the discussions of the parents' problems. Kids copy. Much more than we think.
She knows about the problem so let's keep the reminders of the details out of it. Make discussions of ex's mistakes, meaness and attitudes off limits.

The column is more about the style she copies but she also takes in details and mimicks the emotions.

Please read the column when you have time. And please write again and tell me your reactions.

Rog McIntire

Thursday, May 7, 2009


A mother wrote to me this week and said:
My son, who will be four next month, is frequently defiant and has temper tantrums that last at least 20 minutes where he is inconsolablr and destructive. I've use all the methods. Help! This is the most common complaint I hear. I usually answer with three ideas...

I am following this note with three recent newspaper columns that might help with the tantrum problem, probably more answer than you wanted.
Since you have tried many suggestions, in addition to your reactions discussed in the first column, I have added two additional columns about allergies and other diet problems that can be part of the tantruming problem.

Please read these when you have time. And please write again and tell me your reactions.

Rog McIntire

Raising Good Kids in Tough Times
By Dr. Roger McIntire

Dealing with Kids' Tantrums

Parents are often surprised by tantrums just when they think the children should be most satisfied and happy. But the disruption of routine can be a trigger just because it's confusing or because regular sleep and meal schedules are changed. Also childish expectations are often unrealistic and disappointment is inevitable. Keeping these reasons in mind can help a parent be patient when tantrums occur at odd times.
When a child who regularly throws tantrums has a request, parents need to make a careful decision. As every parent knows, the decision to deny the request should not be altered by a tantrum, but often a less clear reaction gets parents into hotter water.
The request from an explosive child may tempt the parents to put off a confrontation with, "I'll think about it," or "We'll have to wait until your mother (or father) comes home." This sets up a long and risky period when a tantrum is likely. For the moment the request is denied, but it was done in a weak way that tempts the child to fight for what he or she wants - plenty of time to try out a tantrum along with other obnoxious behavior.
Also, putting off the child leaves him with nothing to do. It takes experience and creativity to put aside one line of activity and take up another while waiting for an answer to come down from the parental powers. Instead of switching to a new activity, the childish thing to do is cling to the present direction and push for an answer. Nagging is followed by complaining, then frustration and attack, and then the whole tantrum.
Another argument for prompt decisions is that they allow less time for a tantrum to develop and for parents to give in. With delayed decisions, parents are tempted to hold out until bad behavior gets worse. Giving in then is certainly a move in the wrong direction. Delays in decisions and giving in to expanding tantrums develop the childish willingness to try to manipulate others by making them miserable.
Many parents I know have used the "all stop" method with success. The term comes from the Navy when the ship captain commands, "All stop!" and all engines, whether in reverse, slow, or full speed, are shut down and the ship is dead in the water. For tantrums it means no progress is possible until the tantrum stops - no discussion, no alternatives, no argument. Mom merely says, "We're in "all stop" until you stop this tantrum."
The pitfall to this approach is that most of us will not really stop. We are tempted to continue to talk, cajole, plead and threaten - especially if the tantrum gets longer and louder. If this attention is part of the child's reason for tantruming, then we're going in the wrong direction again by providing attention only for escalation.
Keep your reactions plain and unentertaining. No sense in providing a new challenge – plain vanilla will do.
And speaking of escalation, parents need to guard against escalating their own volume and anger, thus providing additional bad behavior to be imitated.
Many parents have told me that tantrums occur at regular times - often when routine is disrupted by holidays or company, or when the competition from a sibling is the focus. Here's a good place to keep a behavior record. You may find that food shopping with your child right before dinner is likely to be a tantrum situation. Or that homework arguments right before bed produce the most tantrums.
The best solution will come from patience with a child not experienced with the unusual stress of the holidays or not mature enough to handle frustration, hunger, or fatigue without emotion. And parents can help with a thoughtful and consistent reaction when tantrums do erupt.

Dr. Roger McIntire is retired associate dean from the University of Maryland and author of Raising Good Kids in Tough Times, Teenagers and Parents, and College Keys: Getting In, Doing Well, and Avoiding the 4 Big Mistakes.

Raising Good Kids in Tough Times
By Dr. Roger McIntire

Allergy Symptoms
More than 3 million children under age 18 had allergic reactions to foods in the last year. That is an increase of 18 percent in the last 10 years, says the National Center for Health Statistics.
Nine percent of children in the United States are diagnosed with hay fever. An estimated 20 to 40 percent (15 million) children have undiagnosed hay fever allergies. The most common symptoms of all of these allergies are nasal congestion, itchy nose, runny nose, sneezing and red, itchy, watery eyes.
Can allergies cause behavioral symptoms? Yes, but the cause may not be direct. Of course a child, irritated by his allergies, is likely to show hyperactivity, aggression, irritability, depression and social anxieties more easily than a non-allergic child. The link often comes from trouble sleeping due to congestion. Tantrums, whining, crying, and even headaches and depression may come from the previous night’s troubled sleep or digestive upset (belching, constipation, gagging, nausea, gas).
Dr. Doris Rapp’s book, Is This Your Child? Discovering and Treating Unrecognized Allergies in Children and Adults, describes ways to identify allergens. Her list of most likely causes includes artificial colorings, preservatives, sugar, milk, corn, cocoa, wheat, grains, eggs and many more.
How can you discover these? Dr. Rapp described Robert, a four-year-old disturbed by hyperactivity and aggression. His day usually started well but then deteriorated into kicking, spitting and refusing to wear clothes. He had a “spacey look” with dark circles under his eyes (often called “allergy eyes”). As the day wore on he became progressively more and more difficult.
His mother wondered if the foods he ate early in the day could be part of his problem. Under a doctor’s care, she began the Multiple Food Elimination Diet, which is very bland and eliminates a long list of possible culprits. Within a few days Robert was unusually calm and consistent all day. When foods were added back to his diet one at a time, Mom found specific answers. Within minutes after eating wheat bread he was attacking his dog, babbling and spitting. Milk produced similar reactions.
The allowed and forbidden foods are identified at the beginning of the Multiple Food Elimination Diet. If you already suspect a particular food, it might be best to try removing that item for a week or two. If more effort is needed, Dr. Rapp’s book gives details on how to proceed.
The Feingold Diet is presented in Jane Hersey’s book, Why Can’t My Child Behave? The Feingold Diet Updated for Today’s Busy Families.” This diet does not test for allergies but eliminates food colorings, specific preservatives and foods that contain salicylates which are found naturally as well as in aspirin. When Dr. Benjamin Feingold treated a woman with a severe case of hives, he removed salicylates from her diet and her hives cleared up. Her behavior also changed from belligerent to normal and Dr. Feingold created his popular diet.
Allergens are often in the foods that the child craves and eats most often. Check with your doctor before beginning any diet that might improve your child’s behavior.

Dr. McIntire is the author of Teenagers and Parents: 10 Steps to a Better Relationship and Raising Good Kids in Tough Times. Write him through CCBS or

Raising Good Kids in Tough Times
By Dr. Roger McIntire

What’s Got Into You?
Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of three about emotional outbursts.
Not all emotional problems are the fault of the perpetrator. Many adults have come to recognize occasional emotional irritations from coffee or the lack of it, certain foods, medications, delay of meals, alcohol abuse, or even missing water for too long.
Children hardly ever get the connection between these sources and their blues, grumps or irritableness. Even parents may need records of moods and diet to see that some mood swings are related to certain foods.
Allergies don’t always show up as dramatic events such as hives or stomach aches. Allergies and food intolerances can come out as behavioral irritations. Even serious problems such as bipolar disorders or ADHD can be aggravated by allergies and sensitivities to foods.
Since the behavioral problems are usually a part of family interactions, what causes what is difficult to sort out. Keeping a record of your child’s behavior and the foods he eats can be an inconvenient task for parents who already have a full schedule.
Most doctors won’t ask you to keep records, but the information can be very useful whether or not a medication is required.
A good way to start is with the most likely culprits: caffeine, sugar, chocolate, eggs, and milk products. Draw up a chart with the days marked down the side and hours across the top. Tape it on the refrigerator.
Record each occasion of the possible culprits and record your rating of your child’s behavior in the hours that follow—1 for no difficulties, 2 for just a slight problem, 3 for getting mad about something trivial, 4 for a big confrontation, 5 for a full, losing-it tantrum. Record everything he eats at all snacks and meals. Often you may find an allergy with no physical symptom. No hives, no itchy eyes or stomach aches, just irritation, prickliness and an occasional tantrum.
Most of the disturbing foods can also disrupt sleep and poor sleeping habits will cause additional behavioral problems. Even timing and quantity of food can disturb sleep and create bad behavior the next day. Overweight children and children who snack too late in the evening can have trouble sleeping.
Since most behavior is partly controlled by what happens before and after, I also ask parents to include a column on the record for what happens just before and then just after the problem. Two hours of TV right before the melt-down or an entertaining argument with Mom every time our little terror delays his homework can indicate an answer that can help as much as any pill.
Medications can be life savers for parents suffering with a severely disturbed child. Drug companies have a right to be proud of the help they provide. But it is not right to belittle environmental effects just because medication can reduce the symptom. Even in severe cases, there are multiple causes and a long-term answer will require that parents discover and deal with these social and environmental causes.

Dr. McIntire is the author of Teenagers and Parents: 10 Steps to a Better Relationship and Raising Good Kids in Tough Times. Write him through CCBS or go to

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Parent Games"

One grandparent wrote that her 6-year-old granddaughter was throwing tantrums and using "funny strategies" to get what she wanted.

I answered: "I am following this note with a recent newspaper column of mine that might help (probably more answer than you wanted). You might think these are off the mark because it concerns games she has not yet learned, "Parent Games." These family moments are likely to produce tantrums in the future if your granddaughter still believes she must win. So for now I would pick games carefully where there are no winners. Of course, it is the losing that bothers her which makes me think she needs a lot of winning compliments outside of games. "It is easier to love kids than to like them," one client of mine said."
The column "Raising Good Kids in Tough Times" was...

The Games of Youth
As children grow, their priorities change. A shy three-year-old's concern for being near Mommy becomes less later on as independence develops. A six-year-old's concern with pleasing his teacher is complicated later on by a concern to be properly "cool" with friends.
Game 1: "Testing, testing, are you still my friend?"
"Those teachers are so out of it. They said we can't wear our earrings in school."
"No earrings?" Mom doesn't immediately join the opposition with, "They're right," and she doesn't say they are wrong until the whole story is told. Often teen announcements are long on impact but short on details.
"Well, no dangling ones. Can they do that?"
Mom is once again put to the test. Is she for her daughter or against her? Her ex-three-year-old wants to be near Mom but also wants independence. The trick here is to accommodate old basic companionship needs without embarrassing a growing would-be independent teenager.
"I guess they're worried the dangling ones will get caught on something or somebody."
"That could happen anywhere. You're just taking their side." Testing Mom is not always the first intention of these complaints but it often creeps into the conversation later on.
Now Mom could say that's why earrings are bad and that's why she didn't want her to get her ears pierced in the first place, and the school has a responsibility. All good points; all heard before; and all feeding into the accusation: "You always take their side (you're not my friend)."
So to avoid the sticky problems of being both parent and friend and to answer the "Can they do that?" question, Mom just says, "I guess so" and stops without feeding the argument.
The earrings at school problem is one of many games where parents will be tempted to play the opposition. Sometimes that will be necessary. But when you know the outcome will be on target, why spend your social points by rubbing it in?
Game 2: "Referees are Fun" is a common game among siblings:
"Mom! Mark won't let me watch my program!"
"Mark, let your brother alone, Steven gets to watch his program now."
"It's a dumb program, and we can see the last of it later, I'm turning it to my show!"
"Mom, Mark changed the channel."
"Mark, you come out here and help me and leave Steven alone!"
"Mark pushed me!"
"You two cut that out! Mark get out here right now! If I have to come in there..."
In this game, Mom is referee - the third party the kids go to for judgment calls, penalties, and control of the game. It provides attention and some entertainment.
Most referees are also tempted to coach: "Mark, why don't you let Steven watch his program and then you can watch yours, and tomorrow at this time you will get to choose."
Coaching is usually a more comfortable role for a parent. The resolution here can't be perfect, but the goal is to get Mom out of the referee role. The brothers can stop the game, become independent and fix the problem whenever they want to.
Game 3: "My problem is your problem" is a common children's game that will develop later in teenage years into "It's your fault because you're my parent(s)." As with many of these games, frankly stating the fair truth may stop the game and allow some real progress.
"This homework is due tomorrow!"
"Well, you'd better get at it."
"Where's some paper?"
"In the desk."
"I already looked there."
"Why don't you try upstairs?"
"Mom! It's supposed to be down here! Could you go look?"
"Hold it, Andy, your homework is your responsibility, don't make it my problem."
Many readers have told me of other games: "Yes, but..," "I gotcha!" "If you really loved me, you would...," and "I'll bet you can't make me happy" - all played partly for parental attention and partly to gradually cross over from parental protection to later independence.
Good parental listening skills are important in handling these games. When the conversation starts, look at your son or daughter rather than a TV screen or newspaper. Don't give the impression that you will miss what's really going on. This will let your child know that you're not likely to be fooled by any game.
Feeding back what your child just said is a good habit during these conversations. Let him know that you heard what he said by repeating it. Avoid suggesting solutions. They only lead to "make-me-happy" or "my-problem-is-yours." Also, suggesting solutions makes you sound superior and tempts your child to counter with another complaint just to stay even.
Independence is not only gradual, it is also scary. Kids like to test the waters and yet be able to retreat to the security of early childhood. Sometimes assertive, sometimes childish sons and daughters are the norm. The games are a normal way to learn and practice how far they have come and how far they have to go.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Many parent letters to (where I am editor of the parenting branch) complain that the older teenagers are unhappy and unprepared for life problems. I have forwarded the following column in answer to those letters. Over the years parents have sent over 600
e-mails to

Raising Good Kids in Tough Times
By Dr. Roger McIntire

Can You Give a Happy Easter?
Can you make a child happy with chocolate eggs, bunnies or a spring outing? Sometimes it seems like a thankless job. Teaching and coaching about time, money and happiness is a childhood-long parenting style.
This parenting skill is needed much earlier than many believe. Attitudes about handling money and budgeting time develop early and are followed quickly by the problems of love, sex and the happiness game.
Time. Seven hours a day they cruise the computer and TV channels. That’s how our eight to 18-year-olds spend their day.
The choices change as they grow—eight-year-olds watch more TV while 17-year olds listen to more music and text, Twitter and Facebook through their day. It doesn’t make much difference which technology they choose since they remember next to nothing of their “techno-chatter” because there’s no practice, just staring, added to a little thumb and finger exercise.
Little time is left for family and recreation activities, which leaves no doubt as to why today’s kids are more depressed and 15 pounds heavier than the kids of the 70s.
What can parents do? Mom and Dad should know what programs, TV or computer, their children are watching. Parents should set time limits on these non-activities. Only 20 percent of seventh to 12th graders report that their parents enforce time and content rules.
Hobbies, crafts, and sports give children and teens a chance to learn new skills and develop pride in their abilities instead of envying the bad habits of TV characters. Invest in good age-appropriate reading materials and, of course, insist on schoolwork before entertainment.
Money. Our teens follow the latest news about celebrities and their millions. They can easily conclude that success and money will surely lead to lifelong happiness. But the latest celebrity biographies tell us that success and money just didn't do it.
The great and near-great often dabble in drugs or alcohol, and then get stuck in these very sticky habits that they can't give up.
What are your teens learning about mortgages, leases and car insurance that they will need in just a few years? If they have no experience with these expenses why would they care about money? Maybe they would drive more reasonably if they faced the bills every month.
I asked one teen, “Did your insurance go up when you had that fender bender?”
His answer, “Uh, I don’t know.”
Happiness. Every teenager has a view of what would make him or her happy. The majority of us feel we are not quite there yet. We need something else.
First it's toys and things, then quickly it's the money that would bring us the things. I suppose none of us ever completely leaves this stage, but by the time we reach our teens, our experience with celebrity stories has added a new stage: "If I Could Just Meet Mr. (or Ms.) Right, I Would Be Happy." Mr. or Ms. Right usually can’t complete the happiness job either.
So we discover stage three: Happiness is a do-it-yourself job. It’s what we do, what we learn and how we use what we learn that makes a good day.
I suppose we all dwell in each of the three stages occasionally. Children start in stage one and most teens are infatuated with an idol from stage two but remain well attached to the toys-and-money stage. They will begin to see a glimmer of the do-it-yourself stage three if you set an example before them.
Adults know that mowing, washing the car or just complimenting a friend can make a person feel better all day. Teenagers need to realize that too, but are often too occupied with their ipod or with shopping at the mall to learn that washing the car or helping a friend can feel good.
So when your child-teen says, “I bet you can’t make me happy,” tell him, “No, I can’t, but I bet you can.”
Dr. McIntire is the author of Teenagers and Parents: 10 Steps to a Better Relationship and Raising Good Kids in Tough Times. Write him through the Journal or go to