My Childs Detailed Behavior

My Childs Attention To Detail Is Borderline Obsessive

attention to detailWhen my child was 2 years old he would stack his legos and Jenga blocks in perfect uniform rows. I really didn’t think anything of it at the time, I was really impressed that his attention span allowed him to do something so redundant over and over again. This behavior continued as he grew with his shoes, balls, and Pokemon cards. His obsession with his Pokemon cards began to trouble me when he would remove them from his card collecting folder and re-organize them day after day. He would organize by color, by creature type, and in order of most liked cards. When he was 4 and we would play ball in the back yard he would line all the wiffle balls up in a single file line so that I could pitch them to him in order. After I would pitch all of the balls he would run around the yard gathering them, then return to my feet where he would spend up to 5 minutes perfectly aligning the balls so that I could pitch them to him in the order he wanted them pitched. They were all white balls, but somewhere in his imagination he created distinct differences between them that he was able to re-identify as he collected them over and over again. When he turned 5 he really began to like dancing. He would watch Youtube videos of people dancing, he would watch dancing with the stars, and would have imaginary dance offs with made up competition. The focus he would have while performing his dance offs was almost as if he were in a trance. The music would come on and he would just zone out to it and create dance performances on the fly. He is very theatrical and seems to be a natural performer, his attention to detail may help him excel in these arts beyond an interest and into a career. I have done my best to nourish these creative inspirations and hope that he feels the love and encouragement. I have a feeling when he starts school his focus may not be as detailed on the books as it is with activities. He is a hands on boy that likes to be doing something always and has no patience to sit. We were in the driveway washing the car last weekend and of course he was out there helping. I gave him the task of detailing the tires and rims since that is the easiest place for him to reach and there isn’t any paint to scratch. That boy polished those rims like they have never been polished before, every spec of break dust was cleaned out of the rims and they sparkled like new. I figured I would let him vacuum the interior of the car next, handing him a hose and letting him crawl around in the back seat and on the floors of the car seemed a lot easier than me doing it. He must have spent a half hour cleaning out every little crevice in that car, between the seats, in the glove box, arm rest, door panels, vents, floor, seats, and dashboard. We got the phone out and searched for DIY tips on interior detailing. We found some cool videos and blog threads that gave us some great ideas for window and upholstery cleaning. We both watched the videos once and I didn’t have to tell him another word, he grabbed the cleaning supplies and replicated what he had seen in the video to a T! Obsessing over the details is a good thing I guess, it could definitely be worse. I just hope that when school starts he can channel that energy into something super productive and turn into something fun rather than something that causes him stress or mental illness.

Activity of Choice: Your Presence

whirlwind2“We’re so busy with activities.”

Parents come to me with pressing child problems in busy family lives.  These problems occur alongside basketball, swimming or soccer practice, gymnastics, dance or piano lessons.  Or speech, occupational therapy, music therapy, pediatric specialists.  Life is busy!  And every activity is intended to enrich development,  release energy, or develop lagging skills.

But many parents grimace as their eyes dart across cell phones calendars … looking for even one free day to schedule the therapy they’re seeking from me.  Truly, I do understand, kids need certain appointments, even if they are piling up.  Seems they need so many things. But in all those appointments, what might they NOT be getting?

Kids are missing YOU.

Ironically, one of the most therapeutic activities is 1:1 parent-child time. Honestly, I prescribe it a lot.  Parents are surprised, expecting a fancier initial treatment. But quality parent-child time heals so much. It’s often the most productive and efficient starting point.  Recently, a devoted mother found herself in tears, realizing how hard it was to find 15 minutes a day for one of her kids. “Fifteen minutes,” she winced … “I felt like I spend lots of time with her each day … but not for any quality stretch of time.”

The old school truth, in these new school times, remains the same: Kids need your time, your attention more than anything else. Even if they don’t seem interested. Don’t let Minecraft or the latest phone game fool you.

Ten minutes a day can make a lifetime relationship change.

The most therapeutic thing I can recommend is 10-15 minutes per day talking and playing with your young child.  Not correcting her or reprimanding ~ not reviewing what “better choices” he could have made.  Save those discussions for another time. Just make time for hanging out;  noticing him, noticing her; joining your children in their worlds.

Phones? Nope, not during this time.  We may believe that if parental body is in the same room, facing one’s child, a phone in hand doesn’t matter.  But your child knows you simply aren’t “there.” Hard to put it down? Yes.  But the payoff is priceless. There’s no single breaking news story, Pinterest pin, Snapchat update, click bait or Facebook Marketplace item that’s as important as connecting with your child today.

Some years from now, your grown child will lace fingers with a sweetheart … who will ask, “So, tell me about your Mom; what was your Dad like?” All your parenting years moments will fuse and condense into a 2-to-5-word perception.  He or she was “always on the phone” or “always working,” “kinda distant,” “usually complaining…”  “not really around” … What do you want your child’s 5 words to be? Make 10 minutes a day and shape them.

Princesses & Parenting

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Got some little princesses in your life? I see a lot of them in my office, sometimes in full regalia. Adorable pixies, reveling in the allure and entitlement that girly-royalty seems to bestow. Sometimes I see boys in these costumes — in pictures shown to me furtively on iPhones by parents who think I “ought to see.”

TIME.com published a recent article based on a study published in the journal Child Development, asking “Are Disney Princesses Hurting Your Daughter’s Self Esteem?” So, I got to thinking about it … and found myself reflecting far beyond ballgowns and slippers. Boys as well as girls came to mind, including those routinely mistaken for the opposite sex in the grocery store.

Princess thought took me quickly into the realm of tolerance and acceptance of variation from gender norms — tolerance within some children toward themselves, and tolerance in other kids’ thoughts about and actions toward their peers.  So, first the princess thoughts.

As a child psychologist, I find no inherent harm in a Disney princess. It’s the thinking that young kids take away from such movies and paraphernalia that matters. And that’s where parent-child conversations really count.  I believe parent talks can mitigate the effects of media and marketing.

The study by Sarah M. Coyne and colleagues revealed that young children, average age 5 years, who have higher involvement with Disney princesses showed more female gender-stereotypical play references a year later. Studies are important attempts to get an aerial view of things ~ but they cannot capture and control for every other non-measured element in a child’s daily life.  We don’t know how much parent-child conversation occurred about princess-ness.  Which could make a difference.

Talk, talk, talk to your girls about princesses and girly things.  “What do you like about Ariel?” Keep it light but get real ~ about what really matters in life.  Elicit your child’s view of the prosocial, personal, and physical attributes of these slim-waisted princesses. “Does she show kindness and help others?” “How confident or independent does she seem?” “What about her body – do any ladies you know look like that?”  And by the way, does the marketing doll even resemble the movie character? Or is it an overly-sexualized version … like the original Merida doll from Brave, recalled after a petition launched by Twitter@AMightyGirl?

Beyond the princess issue lies one of deeper and greater significance to me as a child psychologist.  Tolerance and compassion for differentness is desperately needed in the societal and political times in which we live. Perhaps more desperately than at any time in my personal and professional memory. 

Difference is everywhere. My office is peppered with gender non-conforming kids —  those whose presentation and behavior does not follow stereotypes about how they “should” look or act based on the sex they were assigned at birth.  I meet girls who so strongly resemble boys in carriage and demeanor that a bare trace of femininity is hard to find; boys who love their My Little Ponies and sisters’ clothes so much, they plead with parents to wear a twirly-skirt and flower hairband to Target.

These children’s parents are seeking help to understand and raise their kids to be happy with themselves, in whatever gender identity or sexual orientation that turns out to be — in a world lacking adequate tolerance for departure from gender stereotypes.  My office is also visited by two-mommy and two-daddy families fighting uphill battles in the outside world, seeking the safe haven of my care to resolve everyday parenting quandaries.

So, teach tolerance.  For mental health in every child’s heart, home, school, community and the world. Even if you are parent for whom such topics leave you uneasy, you can still teach your child to be neutral or kind.  Teaching Tolerance is a magazine for educator from  Tolerance.org with activities that build understanding across all kinds of difference in the school classroom and community. It is a treasure trove. 

Any adult-child conversation that promote flexible, tolerant thinking about gender stereotypes and gender non-conformity is good for every child’s self-esteem and for compassionate social development.  

Tolerance talks support children who are discovering how they feel within themselves, despite reactions from those around them. Tolerance talks help kids of typical gender expression accept others – remain neutral, discourage hurtfulness or be supportive.  

Compassion for others is good for every child’s development, a key skill for becoming a constructive citizen of the world, a healthy participant in loving relationships, and person with inner peace.  I never suspected Walt Disney was going to inspire such thoughts — but he sure did.

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For parents wanting some support for talking about the media a tolerance, take a look at: Tolerance.org   (Twitter@tolerance_org), amightygirl.com (Twitter@AMightyGirl), CommonSenseMedia.org (Twitter@commonsense) and genderspectrum.org (Twitter@GenderSpectrum).