First Mondays

By The Institute for Child Development and Family Relations, Cal State San Bernardino

Disagreement Over Becoming Parents


The pathway to parenthood is different for everyone. Some people know early on that they want to become parents, others deliberate before deciding, and still others are ambivalent or even upset to learn that a baby is on the way. The purpose of this article is to outline factors that arise in the decision to become parents and provide research-based information about this important issue.

Ideally, partners have discussed their views on parenthood before committing to their relationship. Disagreement about whether to become parents has caused many breakups, some of which could have been avoided with prior discussion. For this reason, parenting views and values are thoroughly addressed in premarital counseling. However, advance discussion does not necessarily protect from disagreement down the line. People change their minds.


Drs. Carolyn and Philip Cowan, married parents and researchers, have extensively studied the transition to parenthood. They identified 4 pathways, each with varying levels of agreement about parenthood and differing levels of relationship satisfaction.

  • The planners discuss parenthood in advance and arrive at a firm decision about whether or not to have a child. This group tends to have the highest relationship satisfaction, even during the transition to parenthood. About 50% of people fall into this group.
  • The acceptance of fate couples are surprised to learn that they are expecting and with time, they calmly or enthusiastically accept it. Approximately 14% of people fall into this category. Initially, their relationship satisfaction could be adversely affected, but overall they fare as well as the planners.
  • The ambivalent couples tend to experience both positive and negative feelings about becoming parents. These mixed feelings could occur before and/or after conception. About 26% of couples fall into the ambivalent category and these partners tend to experience low satisfaction overall.
  • Yes-no couples also experience mixed emotions about becoming parents. In general, one person is enthusiastic while the other is apathetic. In heterosexual unions, it is usually (but not always) women who are interested in parenthood and men who are unenthusiastic. These partnerships are characterized by a general indecisiveness and ineffectiveness at everyday problem solving. Approximately 10% of couples fall into this category and as with the ambivalent couples, they experience low relationship satisfaction. These partners are at additional risk of breakup; many partners separate before the child turns 5 years old.

kelly-4Disagreeing about parenthood is big because it means that partners have different values and priorities. Therapy helps couple members identify and understand the underlying reasons for their feelings. Some people are fearful of becoming parents because they worry about repeating dysfunctional patterns from their families of origin. One important point is that those who can remember what it felt like to grow up in an abusive household are less likely to repeat the maladaptive behaviors. The connection to those feelings is key.

Some partners fear the loss of freedom that accompanies parenthood. Certainly many things are easier before children come along such as going out for dates, having time and energy for intimacy, traveling, and visiting with friends. But the presence of children does not mean that these activities stop. They might change, but partners who are invested in maintaining their connection can (and should) actively work to prioritize the relationship. Even couples that do not have children need to work on keeping their connection strong over time; so avoiding parenthood for this reason alone is not ideal.

Ultimately, happiness is predicted by having a choice in the outcome. Whether people become parents or not, they will feel more satisfied with their relationship and life if they make decisions that are thoughtful, deliberate, and aligned with their values.


About the Author




Dr. Kelly Campbell is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Human Development at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB). Her research interests focus on romantic relationships, friendships, health, and racism. Her research has been featured on NBC television, CBS radio, NPR, and in publications such as the Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post.


kellylogo Dr. Campbell hosts an interactive, call-in radio show called “Let’s Talk Relationships” If you have a question about this article or any relationship question, consider calling in or submitting your question online through the show’s Facebook page: @JustRelationships. The show airs from 3-4pm on Fridays in the middle of each month including Oct. 14, Nov. 18, and Dec. 16. It can be accessed through the Coyote Radio app, iTunes Radio, or by visiting and selecting “Listen Now!” Archived episodes can be accessed on Sound Cloud.




Leave a comment »

Summer’s coming!!!Managing difficult behavior: Tips for parents and caregivers

Managing behavior problems can be challenging at all times but as summer approaches and schedules change behavioral issues often arise.  We, at the Institute for Child Development and Family Relations, would like to share some ideas for dealing with difficulty behavior from Dr. Stacy Forcino. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and adjunct instructor in the Psychology Department at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB) as well running the Disruptive Behaviors Clinic of the campus’ community counseling center.


Managing behavior problems, such as noncompliance, defiance, arguing, whining, fighting, and rule-breaking, is challenging. It requires patience, persistence, and a healthy dose of positive attitude. The following tips are intended to assist parents (or other caregivers) in helping children overcome behavior problems. My approach focuses on teaching children to behave appropriately and adaptively. Fortunately, psychological science has much to offer with this process. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits all approach. Use your judgment regarding what will work best for your child and your family. If your child continues to struggle, consider obtaining more individualized consultation from a child psychologist.


The parents I work with have often been dealing with their child’s difficult behavior for a long time. Understandably, they are fed up; but in the midst of this frustration, it can be easy to forget that children with behavior problems are really struggling. Of course a day full of arguing, whining, complaining, and fighting is tough on a parent. But it’s also tough on a child. It’s no fun being in trouble all the time. We also know that behavior problems put children at risk for rejection from peers, academic problems, and even anxiety and depression. Disruptive behavior is always worth addressing, and the sooner the better.


Helping a child overcome his or her behavioral difficulties takes patience and resolve from caregivers. So plan ahead to make sure you have the psychological resources to be your best you during the process. Seek support of friends and family and, importantly, make it a priority to get the sleep you need. A well-rested caregiver is better able to act with thoughtful intention rather than emotionally-driven impulse. This may well prove critical to your success.

Make sure your child is well rested, as well. Typically, preschoolers need 11-13 hours of sleep per day, including naps, and school-aged children need 9-11 hours of sleep per day. Sleep problems, including too little sleep, sleeping at the wrong times (e.g., too late bedtimes), or too-varied sleep schedule, can cause behavior problems, even serious ones. It’s worth ruling out. A consistent early bedtime will do no harm and may do a lot of good for your child’s ability to control his or her emotions and behavior.


Encourage appropriate, adaptive behavior.th7X2208X4

This is where real progress can be made. A warm, positive relationship with your child coupled with proactive positive teaching strategies will go farther than discipline ever will. Consider trying the following.


  • Model appropriate, adaptive behavior. Children pay close attention to their parents and often copy them. Use that to your advantage! Make sure your child sees you doing the things you ask of him: talking nicely to others, taking care of your belongings, picking up after yourself, controlling your temper, sharing, taking turns, apologizing when you’ve made a mistake, reading, and eating healthy foods.
  • State your expectations clearly. Posting household rules or having regular family meetings to discuss expectations can help.
  • Remind your child when there are different expectations for different settings. For example, before you walk into the grocery stores, say “Remember, in the grocery store you are to stay by Mom, ask before touching, and use your inside voice.”
  • State instructions in a polite and direct manner. Avoid sarcasm and criticism. “Please put your plate in the sink,” is better than “Maybe you could clean up after yourself for once.”
  • Give specific “Put these books back in the bookshelf,” is better than “Clean this stuff up.”
  • When giving instructions, give a (very brief!) reason. “We’re going outside where it’s cold, so please put on your coat.” However, don’t get caught in an argument about whether your reason is valid (“It’s not cold out! … Yes it is!”). State the reason once and move on.
  • If your child struggles to complete a task, break it into smaller pieces and monitor progress closely. For example, many children struggle with “Clean your room.” Instead, you might start with, “Put all the dirty clothes in the hamper.” Monitor progress and reward success (see below) before moving to the next step.
  • Give your child attention frequently. With almost no exceptions, children have a need for regular social interaction. If they go too long without attention, they will seek it out! Any parent who has tried to write an email or talk on the phone with their toddler in the room knows this is true. Unfortunately, sometimes children get in the habit of seeking our attention in inappropriate ways. To avoid this, get to them before they get to you. Sprinkle your attention on your child many times throughout the day, any time that he or she is behaving appropriately. Increase the frequency at times that attention-seeking misbehavior is likely to happen.
  • When your child seeks your attention in an appropriate way, such as saying, “Mom” in a nice voice or showing you something, respond with attention! Make appropriate attention-seeking work for your child.
  • Frequently reward appropriate, adaptive behavior, however mundane it is, with attention. Give your attention different looks. You can make descriptive statements (“You’re putting your shoes on to go outside”, “You’re picking out a book to read”, “You’ve got your favorite teddy bear”). You can praise, if the behavior is particularly positive (“It’s so nice when you share”, “What good helping, thank you!”). You can use nonverbal displays of approval: pats, smiles, squeezes, hugs, high-fives. These bits of attention are small and deliberately placed following any appropriate, adaptive behavior. Even children with serious behavior problems engage in appropriate, adaptive behavior sometimes. Make it your mission to catch those behaviors and reward them immediately with attention.


Discourage inappropriate, maladaptive behavior.

Discipline is difficult to implement well and will only be effective if used infrequently and in combination with the tips above.

  • Be consistent with rules across caregivers. If roughhousing is not allowed with mom, don’t allow it with dad either.
  • Withhold all attention for minor attention-seeking misbehavior like whining, complaining, and arguing. That means no talking until your child stops that inappropriate behavior and resumes appropriate behavior.
  • The best negative consequences are immediate, meaning they happen right after or soon after the misbehavior, enforceable, meaning you can actually follow through, and short-lived, meaning they don’t last very long. The latter point is worth further comment. Consequences lose effectiveness if they are too long-lasting. Life has to move on quickly so we can get back to rewarding appropriate, adaptive behavior (see above) and so that the child doesn’t give up (“What’s the point, I’m grounded forever anyway!”). A consequence for a toddler (e.g., timeout) can be very short- a couple of minutes. A consequence for a grade-schooler (e.g., loss of some privilege) may be a bit longer, but almost never would need to exceed a day’s length.
  • Decide on appropriate negative consequences for common misbehaviors ahead of time. This helps to avoid giving an unreasonable or unenforceable consequence in a moment of anger (“You are not getting any birthday presents this year!”).
  • When a misbehavior occurs, calmly and briefly state the consequence and the reason the consequence was given. “Since you hit your brother, you are going to have to sit in timeout.” Do not engage in any other conversation, simply follow through with the consequence.
  • Avoid the punishment spiral (“You are grounded for a day… a week… a month… a year!”). This usually occurs when a child responds to a negative consequence with an escalation of misbehavior. For example, you take your daughter’s phone and she screams, “I hate you!” Don’t take the bait! Simply follow through with the original consequence.
  • You do not need to be upset when disciplining in order for it to be effective. In fact, discipline is more effective if it is administered in a calm, business-like manner. “I’m sorry, but since you grabbed the remote from me, the TV is off for the next 15 minutes.” Turn off the TV and ignore any arguing, whining, or complaining. Don’t reward that kind of behavior with your attention. Just follow through with the stated consequence.
  • Do not judge the effectiveness of a consequence by the level of upset your child displays. Just like you do not need to be upset when delivering a consequence in order for it to be effective, your child does not need to be upset for a consequence to work. The one and only way you know whether a consequence is working is whether it results in a decrease in the misbehavior over time.


Forcino HeadshotAbout the Author

Dr. Stacy Forcino is a licensed clinical psychologist and adjunct instructor in the Psychology Department at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB). She runs the Disruptive Behavior Clinic in CSUSB’s Community Counseling Center, where she and her students treat young children with behavior problems. She also maintains a private practice in Apple Valley, CA where she sees children and adolescents with a variety of difficulties. You can learn more about Dr. Forcino at



Home is Where the Grandchildren Are


My mother, Barbara, and me shortly before her 90th birthday

My mother, Barbara was an awesome grandmother. She had a profound devotion to her five grandchildren and they in turn adored her. By the time great-grandchildren began arriving, geographical distance and Barbara’s failing health prevented her from having an active role in their lives. When they did visit her, she doted on them and a day never passed that she failed to wonder out loud about their well-being.

My first grandchild, Sawyer Joe Dolan, was born on September 1, 2015, four days before the anniversary of Barbara’s death. Naturally it was a very bittersweet occasion for the whole family. The fact that Sawyer’s parents (his mother Denee´ and my son Corey) deliberately chose to have a baby to bring new life and joy into two families who had experienced more than enough losses during the previous few years made the event far more jubilant than melancholy. When I first held little Sawyer I could fully understand the true meaning behind the look that was always on my mother’s face when she held her own grandchildren; oh how she would have loved rocking her “baby’s grandbaby”!


Sawyer meeting Baby Cakes, a cherished stuffed dog that sat on my mother’s bed for years

The moment I learned that I was going to be a grandmother, I knew having a long-distance relationship was not going to suffice, and I put the wheels in motion for a major life transition. In a few months I will be closing the chapter on my life here in Southern California and moving to Northern California so I can be a frequent player in Sawyer’s life and more effectively nurture the type of bond with him that my mother had with my two sons.

Thinking about this move has led me to recognize that I am following a family tradition. Shortly after I was born in 1960 my maternal grandparents relocated to Southern California from Texas to be with their children and grandchildren. My paternal grandparents made the move from New York for the same reason. While I may not be making as big of a move in terms of miles, I am taking other significant risks. The most daunting is that my comfortable and dependable income will be shrinking by about 50% and won’t be so dependable for a few years. It has also crossed my mind that Corey and Denee´ might not stay in the area.


Barbara and Mary, Christmas 1969

These potential drawbacks as well as others were succinctly described by Davis (2014) in a Huffington Post article where she also listed the most common pros for families when grandparents consider a relocation. For now, I’ll focus on those pros and do my best to be a real-life case to support the Australian research Juniper Briggs relayed that suggests being responsible for the care of a grandchild once a week can offer serious cognitive benefits; who could refuse that?!

Sawyer will grow up hearing lots of stories from his father as well as his Uncle Adam about the woman they knew as Grandma Walter. I’m sure when he’s a teen, he’ll roll his eyes and mutter, “I know she would have loved me, I’ve heard that a million times!” That too is part of the family experience. When he does, I’ll simply smile, and imagine Sawyer hearing the same annoyed response from his own children someday.


Briggs, J. (2015). Time spent with grandchildren results in big brain benefits for Gramma. Wellness Warrior. Retrieved from

Burn, K., Henderson, V., Ames, D., Dennerstein, L., & Szoeke, C. (2014). Role of grand parenting in postmenopausalwomen’s cognitive health: Results from the Women’s Healthy Aging Project.Menopause, 21(10), 1069 – 1074. doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000236

Davis. D. (2014, March 12). Should you move to live near your grandchildren? Huffington Post. Retrieved from

About the Author

Mary A. Dolan has a Ph. D. in Applied Developmental Psychology. She (has – if this runs before July) taught for the Psychology Department at CSUSB for over 20 years and the University of Redlands for over 10 years.  She is looking forward to a continued teaching career at Chico State University and spending one day a week caring for Sawyer.



“Goldie” The Goldfish Teaches Children About Life Losses

A goldfish won at a fair is often a child’s first experience with having a pet. They athre excited and promise to take good care of their pet. However, in the excitement no one remembers that goldfish lives are rather short and so the day comes when “Goldie” is found swimming on top of the water. Adults who may find the goldfish first have a natural inclination to protect the child from the hurt and pain that comes with losing someone you love. They may rush out to a pet store and attempt to replace Goldie with another fish before the child notices.

While this is natural and understandable it may not be the best course of action. By shielding a child from a natural process we deny the child the opportunity to experience and feel the loss, which will support them in coping with other, and more major, life losses in their lives.

So what should we do? It is best to share the experience with the child, honestly answering their questions and allowing them to express their feelings. An open discussion about death helps children understand that all living creatures die: animals, plants, and humans, too. Allowing them to express their feelings helps them to stay connected to their emotions and teaches them that appropriate expressions of sadness, anger, and thH8ZZCF5Hacceptance are normal and healthy.

Exploring ways to celebrate “Goldie’s” life helps children appreciate that life is special and has purpose. Help the child decide how to memorialize their pet, respecting actions that are comfortable for the child. A small funeral, a special burial location, a short prayer, reading or memory sharing are all helpful activities that provides the child with a loving and supportive environment in which to grieve for their pet. Allowing the child the opportunity to decide if and when they are ready for another pet respects their healing process. thI618GLZ1

The child may need to process this experience for days or weeks afterwards through questions and discussions. Be patient and honest in the discussions allowing the child to draw their own conclusions from the experience. In time, the discussion will stop but the experience will stay with the child forever. I am quite sure that everyone reading this article can reflect on a similar experience, child readingwhether positive or not.

Reading stories of other children’s losses helps the child understand that they are not the only one with this experience. There is comfort in knowing that others understand.


About the Author

The Institute for Child Development and Family Relations would like to thank Victoria Stephan for allowing us to reprint her blog. Victoria is the Director of the Stephan Center. The Stephan Center is a service organization dedicated to those journeying through life losses. It provides education and resources to professionals and laypersons as support and understanding is given to those seeking peace and acceptance in their lives.

You can learn more about the Stephan center on their website at


Poverty Simulation




Waking up early one morning you discover that your child has a high fever. You are a single parent and the sole provider for your household. You have no sick days at your entry-level job, nor benefits, and your healthcare is provided to you by a clinic where it takes hours to be seen by a doctor. The co-payment alone for the doctor’s visit will eat up much of your food budget for the week. What do you do? What choice will you make? Food for your family…consistent employment …medicine for your child… which of these necessities would you go without? Millions of low-income people struggle daily with situations just like these. For families living in poverty, making the “right” decision in these situations is difficult if not impossible.

If these were the challenges you faced, how well would you do?  On Friday, February 19th  students, faculty, staff, and community members gathered at the Santos Manual Student Union Events Center on the campus of California State University, San Bernardino to find out for themselves. More than 80 participants  experienced a Poverty Simulation Hosted by The Institute for Child Development and Family Relations (ICDFR) and supported by volunteers from the Work-Family-Life (WFL) project and the Psychology Club.

Dr. Mark Agars, Director of the ICDFR and the WFL project, served as the facilitator for the event. “Our goal is to raise awareness, both on campus and in the community, regarding the reality of living in poverty. We hope that participants come away from the experience with a greater understanding of what life is like for individuals living, and often working, in state of need.” pov1

This event is very relevant to many who live and/or work in the San Bernardino area. One in five residents live in poverty with the rates for children reaching to one in four. The jobless rate for the area has improved since the recession, but the positions added are mostly low paying and don’t lift workers out of poverty.

It is far too easy to say that people living in poverty just need to “lift themselves up by their bootstraps.” This Poverty Simulator teaches us just how difficult that is and how easily our efforts can be undermined by misfortune.

The role-playing exercise, created by the Missouri Association for Community Action, was “designed to help participants begin to understand what it might be like to live in a typical low-income family trying to survive from month to month.” During the simulation, family groups sit in the middle of the room and community resources ring the area. Families rely on the resources in order to survive the month. Some of the services include: a bank, social services, medical care, school, employer, police, supermarket, and a pawn shop. Just like life, there are also surprise events that may occur such as plumbing issues, receiving an inheritance, or sudden illness.

As the simulation progressed, the stress in the room rose higher. Participants rushed from service agencies to government offices trying desperately to get the assistance they needed to maintain their families. As the week came to an end, you could hear exclamations of frustration as household members ran out of time to get basic necessities such as food and transportation passes due to the demands of employment, school, and attempts to keep a house running.

Some comments from participants illustrate the feelings in the room:

“When the volunteer blew her first whistle, week 1 started; once again, after a long period of time, I became poor again; once again I felt like a struggling and helpless person. This time I knew I was just pretending for couple of hours; it was not even a nightmare. I was just playing a role of a person who lives in a shelter house, his problematic life, his daily challenges, and the disgusting situations he has to face every day. This poverty simulation event was an eye opening and sensational experience for me. It brought a great deal of respect in my heart for the under privileged people of our community.”(Adil, CSUSB Student)

“This is the second time I have participated and what strikes me is how fragile your situation is when you are in poverty. Mere chance can make the difference between surviving or falling into complete despair.” (David, Community Participant)

“When I first participated in the Poverty Simulation, I went in not knowing what to expect and left with a tiny exposure as to what living in poverty entailed. As a participant my first time around and volunteering the second, I definitely noticed a difference in both experiences. When I volunteered I found myself looking at those participating, hoping they got as much out of it as I did. I definitely felt the struggles and hardships that tried to pov4keep me from rising above poverty.” (Karen, Student CSUSB)

The simulation is designed to sensitize those who frequently deal with low-income families including policymakers and community leaders. It is important for us to understand the hardships of our neighbors, co-workers, and employees. The ICDFR and WFL would like to expand this and reach current and future employers and managers. With almost half of all jobs created in the Inland Empire belonging to the low-wage category, business leaders need to understand the difficulties faced by their workforce and perhaps address some of their needs.

For more information about the Poverty Simulation or to partner with the ICDFR to host a Poverty Simulation for your organization, please contact Kim McDonald (, 909-537-3679).


Why a Rich Language Environment Matters For Infants and Toddlers

In April of last year we posted a blog regarding the importance of talking to your baby (see Talk to Me). In our latest post, Dr. Laura Kamptner reviews a new book on the important topic.  In her book, Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain, Dana Suskind  explains why the most important thing you can do for your child’s future success in life is to talk to him or her, and she reveals the recent science behind this truth, and outlines precisely how parents can best put it into practice. talkp1 Review of 30 Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain by Dr. Laura Kamptner

Twenty years ago, Hart and Risley’s (1995) groundbreaking study found dramatic socio-economic differences in the language environments experienced by young children, with children from poverty backgrounds hearing far fewer words spoken to them by parents compared to their middle class counterparts. This difference was found to have a proffound impact on children’s school readiness and academic success–children who heard the most words prior to starting school were more likely to do the best academically.

Talk4In very accessible language, Dr. Suskind’s new book outlines the neuroscience behind Hart and Risley’s findings and sends an urgent message about the importance of providing a rich language environment for infant and toddlers.  By age 3 the brain has completed 85% of its physical growth, and these early years constitute a critical window during which the foundations for thinking, learning, later academic performance, and social-emotional competencies are being formed. Research findings relate positive “parent talk” to larger vocabularies, higher I.Q.s, school readiness, better academic performance, better self-regulation and executive functioning, and better math skills in children. The importance of early book sharing is also emphasized, consistent with what Trelease (2013) discusses in his wonderful book, The Read-Aloud Handbook.  In addition, Suskind provides many helpful suggestions on how to talk with young children (i.e., tune in, talk more, take turns) and describes her team’s research-based intervention project that assists parents in creating a richer language Talk5environment for their children.

While Suskind considers a rich language environment the most important factor for brain and other areas of development, I would put it in second place– after the establishment of a secure attachment between caregivers and their very young children. Decades of research studies have demonstrated that caregivers who are warm, sensitively-attuned, and responsive to their very young children create the solid foundation for optimal brain, cognitive, language, social, and emotional development. Suskind’s terrific strategies for increasing “parent talk” are the “icing” on the cake.



Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore: Brookes.

Suskind, D. (2015), 30 Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain. New York: Dutton. 


About the Author Laura Kamptner

Dr. Laura Kamptner is a Professor of Human Development in the Psychology Department at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB). She teaches courses on child and human development, parenting, and the history of childhood. She is also involved with the Institute for Child Development and Family Relations at CSUSB, with the Parenting Center and Science of Parenting Projects.



Accepting our Differences at Holiday’s Table

Due to Holiday campus closure, we are posting January’s “First Mondays” blog early.  Please enjoy and look for our next post on Monday February 1st.



About the Author:

Patty Dobbs Gross created North Star Foundation as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to place high quality assistance dogs with children who face social and emotional challenges at an affordable price. Patty earned her BA from the University of Massachusetts in Psychology and her MA from the University of Connecticut in Educational Psychology; she is also the author of THE GOLDEN BRIDGE: A Guide to Assistance Dogs Placements for Children Challenged by Autism or Other Developmental Disabilities (Purdue University Press, 2006). Patty has been married for thirty three years to a very patient man, and is the mother of four children who are all an integral part of North Star’s work. Over a quarter century ago her son Danny, now 28, received an assistance dog named Madison from Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) to work with his challenge of autism. Dan recently graduated from USC’s prestigious School of Cinematic Arts with an MFA in filmmaking and has created North Star’s extensive video library. He is now working with as an editorial assistant in Connecticut and doing freelance work in LA & NYC.

Accepting our Differences at Holiday’s Table 


Accepting a child with a developmental difference into your heart can be an easy thing to do, as most children with special needs are quite lovable, but tensions can arise when your child is invited to someone else’s expanded dining room table over the holidays. This is a good time of year to begin preparations to give ourselves the gift of peace through gentle educating of extended family and friends, who are usually trying their level best with your child, who is likely trying his or her best as well to navigate the sometimes choppy and roiling social waters of the holiday season.

Creating proper environments in advance is a good place to start. Appropriate is a word that should come to mind when thinking of classroom environments for children with developmental differences, but at family gatherings we don’t tend to think about this ongoing need; to me, this is analogous to taking a holiday break from giving your child the insulin that his diabetic condition requires. Developmental differences don’t take holiday breaks, and all environments your child enters should first be considered as to their appropriate nature by way of sensory integration as well as social concerns.

The comfort levels of others is also important to consider on holidays, and this is what makes them so tricky. A deft preventive touch here may be in order, and if Grandma likes routine as much as your child, this doesn’t have to be a problem as much as an opportunity to work on the fine art of compromise. They might come to appreciate their shared love of routine and order, and this meta-type thinking is excellent for helping your child take other perspectives at a holiday celebration. You may be selling your child short by way of appreciating their ability to change with patient and nonjudgmental reasoning, or your Mom’s, and giving them this chance to learn and to grow with this experience would be a true gift.dreamstime_6881014

And so sometimes Grandma should get her way and other times your child; this just seems fair, but if Grandpa is convinced that more discipline is the obvious answer to the difficulties of the day, someone really ought to set him straight, preferably before the turkey comes out of the oven. Remind him gently that we cannot fix our loved one’s problems by force, or even by forceful words, and this goes double once removed. Make him gently aware that it’s usually a mistake to even try, especially in front of others who may have had a glass or two of liquid courage in their belly and a spontaneous desire to share how they really feel; this is what happened to us around the time of Dan’s diagnosis at my in-law’s home, who thought I was parenting him wrong. I wasn’t strict enough to their view, and I didn’t physically correct a child they saw as willful when young; they were right about the willful but wrong about my mothering, and we once had a terrible Christmas Day fight about this, with my mother-in-law’s words, “You’re going to be getting calls from the principal!” ringing in my ears rather than the more traditional sleigh bells. (It wasn’t ever true about the principal calling me part, but I ended up calling him plenty one cold winter when we disagreed on who was telling the truth, the three fourth grade boys accused of picking on him, or the word of a kindergartener who spoke in echolalic verse about the experience.)

You may need to remember, even if you don’t want to, that misunderstandings between loved ones can arise based on vantage point more than anything else, and time is often needed to bridge the divide. The next season we tried the holiday gathering thing once again, quite gingerly, with an extra year of early intervention under our belt, but it would take two solid decades of this careful work to unfold before Danny ended up the most frequent (and well behaved) visitor my in-laws had in their later years, and certainly the most prolific writer to them. We lost my mother-in-law several years ago to cancer, so I am grateful I had no desire to hold grudges during those early years, more because I didn’t have the energy than any kind of enlightenment on my part.

The holidays belong to us all, and we all want to put our own stamp on the day, and so Aunt Sally and Uncle Bill might have some trouble with your child’s behavior if they see it in the wrong context. Autism and related developmental differences cannot be fully understood outside of a social context, so these moments can be sharp sticking points to a day that might run more smoothly with increased awareness passed all around as confidently as the stuffing. For instance, a communal moment of silence or short prayer before the meal may be considered a graceful gesture to some, an important religious event to others, or simply a time to practice being very quiet for a few moments for the small fry. Impulse control comes to play here, and although you know it is the lack of it we see on display if the prayer is rudely interrupted, others may see your child’s behavior in a harsher light that may cause sharp words aimed toward your child and whispers in the kitchen about you.

Holiday gatherings at your grandparent’s dining room table in the 50s were a decidedly different event than the gathering at your sister’s condo in 2015, but behavior codes are still in effect, and if your child has trouble decoding them there will likely be trouble escaping snap judgments for rules innocently broken. Some rules are very hard for a child with a difference to follow; I remember a holiday season when the only places we could travel were to homes where Danny could take over their screens and electronics. This, as you may imagine, put great stress on the holidays by way of push coming to shove energy, with factions of the family in the “hand slapping” camp and others in the “let’s just have more stuffing and skate across the frozen surface” crowd. You want to avoid people taking easy sides on this, or even taking any side at all save the one of understanding for all concerned.

We stopped visiting any but the most tolerant of homes when Danny was small, but it took a while until he could be comfortable participating in a holiday celebration without the help of a working VCR, and in the meantime we worked on him to understand the concepts of ownership and etiquette enough to be able to leave other people’s electronics alone. Progress here was measured in inches, as there was really so little to fight and so much to learn, accept and explain to others as time passed.

And if your child creates a real mess when everyone is together, whether a social, emotional or physical one, I know it will be you who cleans it up, apologizes, and ultimately pays for it, but I also know it’s a small price to pay for the lessons everyone is learning along the way.

For although your own spiritual growth usually goes unmeasured after a tough day negotiating peacefully for your child’s rightful place at your family’s table as well as society’s larger banquet, trust me when I tell you that you are developing extraordinary gifts that will reveal themselves as the years pass by virtue of raising a child with a difference. You are becoming not just tolerant of your own child’s differences, but tolerant also of your extended family’s challenges for the learning curves they have yet to negotiate, and learning to forgive them for the ways they may stumble up. This way of thinking is the opposite of being mindblind, a condition that we tend to associate with autism, but one I think we all need to consciously avoid whether we are on the spectrum or not.

Developing mindsight in children is a way to move them forward in a self-reflective and nonjudgmental kind of way, to best develop social and emotional skills as well as resilience; it can also do us and our own relationships more than a bit of good to develop increased awareness of others’ perspectives, so we should let everyone have a front row understanding of the patient and loving negotiations and quiet compromises as they unfold to offer peace to the holiday gathering, for to communicate this even to the cousins is to share a measure of the spiritual growth the adults will also take home with the day, along with some wrapped up leftovers and some pictures on your phone.

It is good to learn early and often that most of us need love most when we’re at our most unlovable. Knowing how it feels to walk in another’s shoes is a good thing, especially when walking the path of a child with a developmental difference, you are not just keeping them good company on their sometimes lonely journey, but also moving toward a magnificent view.

It was at this point in my writing this blog when I heard on the news about the horrific shooting in San Bernardino at a holiday party, and so like Newtown’s sad December, this season ends up being about unimaginable loss. I have no words to express my sorrow to the people of San Bernardino, who welcomed Dan and I so warmly into both your university as well as your hearts when we gave our first presentation together in your auditorium decade ago as well as just last month. I will leave you with my hope that the unconditional love that you foster this troubled holiday season, along with your family’s conscious compromises and growing tolerance for each other, will end up making a difference in the world. Our striving for a deeper understanding of each other should begin with the children at all our tables, for they will be the ones to lead us to a more peaceful future.

Leave a comment »

Less “Stuff” Can Lead to Happier Holiday Moments



The Holidays are often filled with stressful moments.  From buying gifts to dealing with strained family relations to schedules that are over full, it can be challenging to manage the needs of the family with the demands of the season.

Many parents find themselves wondering if the commercialism surrounding the Holidays is detracting from the magic of the season. Indeed, researchers Elizabeth Dunn (University of California, Berkeley) and Michael Norton (Harvard Business School) suggest that this may be the case. In their book, Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending the authors note that we can help our children and ourselves to be happier by purchasing less “stuff.” Their research shows that material purchases are not as satisfying as vacations, events, or time spent together. In effect, experiences make us happier than  things.

Based on the evidence presented by Dunn and Norton, parents may want to consider a change in their Holiday shopping plans. In that spirit, below we present several experiences that make excellent alternatives to traditional gifts.


Most children do not need more “stuff.” Experiences, on the other hand, offer the opportunity to stimulate the mind and strengthen family bonds.

Experiences that are sure to wow!

  • Season Passes (museums, amusement parks, zoos…)
  • Tickets to a theater performance, sporting event, or concert
  • A family vacation
  • Horseback riding or other sports lessons
  • A special dinner out

Budget friendly experiences:

  • Catch a matinee at the movies
  • Buy a yearly membership to a favorite organization
  • Magazine subscriptions work well for children and adults
  • Buy camping or fishing gear that can be used repeatedly throughout the year
  • Buy tools and building supplies that can be used overtime to build a variety of items
  • Buy a cake decorating book and decorating supplies. This is a gift that can “give back” on numerous special occasions

Free experiences

  • Go on a bike ride
  • Take a long walk on which children collect treasures (e.g., pretty stones or leaves)
  • Visit an observatory or museum (these usually have at least one free day per month)
  • Visit the library (libraries often have free activities)
  • Take the children on a family-history drive past the hospital where they were born, the restaurant where mom and dad had their first date, etc.
  • Bake together
  • Play a board game or work together to create a new game
  • Organize a treasure hunt
  • Go caroling
  • Make decorating the tree an “event”

Experiences that go beyond the Holiday:

Some experiences can be enjoyed over and over. Following are a few methods for giving happiness throughout the year.

  • Make it a Treat – Limit access to favorite things in order to help children appreciate them. For instance, children usually have more toys than they actually play with. Rotate the toys to which your child has access so that the toys feel “new” when they make a reappearance.
  • Buy Time – Give your children the gift of your time by regularly engaging in one of the free experiences mentioned earlier in the blog. A vague notion that “We’ll get around to it” is typically insufficient to make it happen. Schedule these activities ahead of time and do not allow yourself to fill the time slot with any other activity. A weekly or biweekly game night, may seem challenging at first, but will soon become a happily anticipated habit.
  • Pay Now, Consume Later – These are gift ideas that can be enjoyed throughout the year, or even longer!
    • Buy a yearly membership to a favorite organization
    • Magazine subscriptions work well for children and adults
    • Buy camping or fishing gear that can be used repeatedly throughout the year
    • Buy tools and building supplies that can be used overtime to build a variety of items
    • Buy a cake decorating book and decorating supplies. This is a gift that can “give back” on numerous special occasions

Investing in Others: Teach children the value of giving

  • Spending money on others makes us happier than spending on ourselves.  Have children be involved in picking and purchasing gifts for family members and friends
  • Find volunteer opportunities in which the whole family can be involved
  • Have children make a video that you can share with family members over the holiday
  • Cook a dish together. This can be children’s contribution to the Holiday meal.
  • Buy books to give as gifts and have children make bookmarks to go with the gifts
  • Give photos as gifts. Allow children to dress, pose, and select settings for their photos. Then have them match photos to specific family members. For example ask children, which photo would grandma/grandpa like and which photo should be for your teacher?

Teaching Gratitude:

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the ability to feel gratitude.  Studies indicate that grateful people tend to be happy people (Compton & Hoffman, 2013).

  • You can help young children learn to express their gratitude by sharing with them how much you appreciate spending time with them or by listing things you are grateful for and encourage them to share as well.
  • Teach children to express gratitude by saying “thank you” and naming something specific about the gift they like (e.g., “I like this toy because it is my favorite color”
  • Teach children to express gratitude by sending premade or handmade thank you cards


With a little thought, there are lots of ways to give the gift of time special moments, and memories that last a lifetime and are far more valuable than one more “thing.”


Enjoy Your Holidays 






Dunn, Elizabeth and Norton, Michael (2013). Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. Simon & Schuster

Compton, W. C. and Hoffman, E (2013). Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness and Flourishing, 2nd Edition.




CSUSB Veterans Success Center Helps Veterans and Their Families with the Transition to Civilian Life

Veterans Day, celebrated annually on November 11th, was established to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism and willingness to serve for the good of the country. At the ICDFR we recognize the sacrifices that military service can entail. We are also aware of the fact that Veterans may face unique challenges in establishing or re-establishing family relationships and career aspirations. Because of this, we are particularly pleased to offer this Fith-3rst Mondays’ post by Reuben Perales of the Veterans Success Center at Cal State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB), in honor of this Veterans Day.

The CSUSB Veteran Success Center (VSC) is a dedicated “safe space” committed to helping student veterans develop a sense of shared community by encouraging them to develop friendships among military affiliated students and their families that have shared life experiences. The VSC facilitated 26 events in the 2014-2015 academic year to create a family friendly environment for military affiliated students to feel socially connected to each other and the campus. Student veterans/service members help plan and participate in the events by carrying out the various activities such as the sword and cake details, etc. Their family members also volunteer helping with stuffing food baskets for Thanksgiving and assembling flower bouquets for Memorial Day.

Service Members in School, a study prepared by RAND Corporation, with support from the American Council on Education, concluded from their focus groups that student military/service members have a more difficult time building relationships with students who were recently out of high school and could not relate to their military/life experiences. Building new relationships with other students is an important part of campus/university life. A significant amount of survey respondents said that finding like-minded students or staff is a moderate to major challenge (Steele, Salcedo & Coley, 2010, p. 38).

Some student veterans/service members point to the gap in age as the reason for their being disconnected from the general student body and why they don’t engage in campus/university life. The average age of student veterans/service members is 33, in comparison to non-veteran/civilian students whose average age is 22 (Kim & Cole, 2013, p. 2). With this decade separation in age, many student veterans find themselves at a different stage in their lives. Many veterans work full-time, have children, and have long commutes to campus. These extra responsibilities consume their time and, therefore, they are not able to be involved in as many co-curricular activities. The data collected by ACE has shown that engagingveteran-daughter in activities that are not considered essential for fulfilling course requirements would greatly benefit student veterans/service members who are at greater risk of dropping out (Kim & Cole, 2013, p. 9).

We are proud to say that CSUSB is nationally recognized for creating an environment where veterans, service members and their families can thrive. Recently, CSUSB was ranked No. 9 among four-year colleges by Military Times, “Best for Vets: Colleges 2015” and as the top public university in the state for services it offers to military personnel and veterans, according to Military Advanced Education’s 2015 Guide and was named by G.I. Jobs magazine as a Military Friendly School, placing CSUSB in the top 16 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools in the nation working with veterans. To find out more about the Veterans Success Center events visit their web page at or visit

CSUSB has made great strides in helping veterans meet the challenges of family life, community engagement, and preparing for the civilian work force. Notably, the University is nationally recognized for creating an environment where veterans, service members and their families can thrive. Recently, CSUSB was ranked No. 9 among four-year colleges by Military Times, “Best for Vets: Colleges 2015” and as the top public university in the state for services it offers to military personnel and veterans, according to Military Advanced Education’s 2015 Guide and was named by G.I. Jobs magazine as a Military Friendly School, placing CSUSB in the top 16 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools in the nation working with veterans. To find out more about the Veterans Success Center events visit their web page at or visit


Additional information for veterans and their families can be found at:

Bibliography: Kim, Y., & Cole, J. (2013). Student Veterans/Service Members’ Engagement in College and University Life and Education. Retrieved October 8, 2015, from Student Veterans/Service Members’ Engagement in College and University Life and Education. (2013). Retrieved October 1, 2015, from Steele, J., Salcedo, N., & Coley, J. (2010). SERVICE MEMBERS IN SCHOOL: Military Veterans’ Experiences Using the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Pursuing Postsecondary Education. RAND Corporation Monograph Series. Retrieved October 28, 2015, from

About the Author: Reuben Perales is U.S. Marine veteran and an employee at the Veterans Success Center at CSUSB. He graduated from CSUSB in 2013 and is currently working to have CSUSB recognized nationally as a university that is dedicated to helping military and veteran students achieve their higher education goals.

1 Comment »

How to Help Your Middle-School Child Succeed in School

As the new school year gets underway and some children move from elementary to middle-school, it seems like a good time to touch on some important aspects of middle-school children that you may be unaware of. There are lots of changes going on now – changes in your middle school child’s development as well as in the middle-school environment!

Some of the many changes in the middle-school child:

  • a dramatic growth spurt (boys: 13-15 yrs; girls: 11-13 yrs.)th-6
  • the onset of puberty (which impacts EVERY aspect of the tween’s development)
  • changes in brain development (leading to more sophisticated thinking abilities)
  • changes in social development (spending more time with peers, more interest in opposite sex/sexuality)
  • increased need for autonomy (and while it may seem they are pushing you away, they still depend on you, especially as an emotional and social resource)

Changes in the middle school vs. elementary school environment:

  • students are expected to be more independent and better organized
  • they have to deal, on a daily basis, with a variety of different teachers
  • the social environment is larger (as several elementary schools typically feed into each middle school)
  • there is typically more homework and homework is more difficult, challenging, and requires more analytic thinking

School Success and the Middle-School Child:

School success for your middle-schooler actually starts at home, and parent involvement and engagement in your child’s education is key! Research studies show that the more involved and engaged parents are in their child’s education, the better children do in school, the more time they spend doing and completing homework, the better their attendance and graduation rates, and the lower their risk of dropping out or engaging in at-risk behaviors. Below are specific home-related and school-based ways for parents to be involved/engaged with their child that put children on the pathway to be successful in school.


Studies show that the single most important thing that parents can do to help their middle-schooler succeed academically is provide what is called academic socialization, that is, creating a home environment that places a high value on education. There are a number of ways that parents can do this! For example:

  • have frequent conversations with your child about why it is important to do well in school
  • encourage your child to work hard and do well in school
  • teach your child strategies for being successful in school (e.g., taking notes, asking questions, reading assigned class texts, being persistent, putting forth effort, being curious)
  • talk to your children about their occupational and academic goals. Help them figure out what they would like to be when they grow up and how to get there; help them make plans for their future
  • discuss your dreams for their future academic goals
  • have meaningful discussions with children about what they are learning in school and how it may relate to current events
  • visit your local college(s) to take a tour and/or to attend free family events on campus


  •  “Authoritative” parents are warm, responsive, sensitively-attuned to their child, and accepting. They supervise and monitor their child, and they encourage autonomy and independence (including independent problem-solving and critical thinking).
    • the more sensitive and responsive parents are to children’s feelings and needs, and the more warm, affectionate, and supportive parents are, the better children do in school at every age level.
  • Authoritative parenting is associated with:
    •  high levels of parental involvement and active participation in their children’s lives
    • emotional closeness with their children
    • supporting children’s developing interests
    • discipline and limit-setting that are “inductive”, i.e., parents use explanations, reasoning, and positive child guidance strategies, not physical punishment
  • In the home authoritative parents focus on:
    • building a child-centered household
    • encouraging appropriate behavior
    • creating a positive emotional “climate”
    • providing a stable environment with regular routines
    • enriching learning experiences for their children


  • Middle-schoolers are notorious procrastinators and are generally unorganized, so parents can help by:
    • help your child break up a big project into small steps.
    • help your child figure out a timeline to complete assignments
    • talking with your child about what she is learning in her classes
    • reviewing assignments and due dates
    • buying a planner if the school doesn’t supply one.
    • making sure that the child writes down every assignment (and due date) in every class.
    • create a checklist so your child can have a sense of accomplishment when he checks off a completed assignment
    • help your child learn time management skills
    • help your child learn how to take notes in class
  • Help your child tackle homework assignments by asking them the following questions:
    • what materials and information do they need to do this assignment?
    • where can you find this information?
    • how do you think you should start?
  • Help your child as needed with homework including:
    • going to the library or finding other materials he/she needs for school assignments.
    • providing feedback and responding to educational activities.
    • creating routines in the home to support getting homework completed.
    • making sure your child has a quiet place to work
  • If your child is struggling academically you should:
    • get help early on
    • find resources in the community to support your child.
    • find tutors if your child is struggling with a subject at school (your child’s school can help here).
  • Other important things to remember:
    • know what the school rules are and discuss them with your child and expect your child to follow them
    • encourage reading. Reading improves children’s spelling, writing, comprehension, and can expand horizons.
    • praise your child’s efforts
    • ATTENDANCE MATTERS! Make sure they attend school EVERY DAY!


  • be an advocate for your child.
  • attend your child’s school activities/events
  • communicate with your child’s teachers
  • find ways to be involved in your child’s school

Selected references:

Aunola, K., Stattin, H., & Nurmi, J. (2000). Parenting styles and adolescents’ achievement strategies. J. of Adolescence, 23, 205-222.

Heckman, J. (2008). Schools, skills, and synapses. National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA.

Hill, N. & Tyson, D. (2009). Parental involvement in middle school: A meta-analytic assessment of the strategies that promote achievement. Developmental Psychology, 45, 740-763.

“Middle school parents still make the difference”. Jan. 2013, 16 (5). Radunovich, H. (2013). Parent involvement and   academic success for middle schoolers. University of Florida IFAS Extension Department of Family, Youth, and Community Science.

Trelease, J. (2014). The read-aloud handbook. NY: Penguin

About the Author: Dr. Laura Kamptner is a Professor of Human Development in the Psychology Department at California State University, San Bernardino. She teaches courses on child and human development, parenting, and the history of childhood. She is also codirector of the CUIDAR Parenting Project and the Parental Intervention Project, a program that assists incarcerated parents and their children.


%d bloggers like this: