Month: July 2018

The Tail is Not Wagging the Dog: Part III Parenting Misc.

In this, the third of three blog posts on parenting, we highlight a mindset that can help you with challenging, “emphatic children.”

As you will recall from the last two posts Parenting Post I- “Hey Bud”,  Parenting Post Part II – “Hey, Bud,” continued) we do not emphasize sticker charts or elaborate behavioral strategies or approaches.

Lead and they will follow.  The tail follows the dog.

With this model, “parenting” as a verb is largely strategic, objective – not reactive, not emotional.

Recognizing that each child and family is different, there are some commonalities that apply to most situations.

Take, Liam, a 6 year old child who has been extremely difficult for his parents to manage.  Birthday parties, trips to the mall, dinners in restaurants dinners have largely been a chaotic, roller coaster ride of unpleasantness..

Liam’s mom, Tracy, decided it was time to  put an end to it.  She was tired of being the tail to Liam’s dog.

Deciding to lead rather than follow, Tracy sat her son down before they were to go shopping in Target.

Before sitting Liam down, Tracy thought about how she wanted the shopping experience to go and what would be the cost if Liam chose to disregard (ignore) her.

Once she was clear in her mind, it was time to implement.

(Tracy got Liam’s attention and directed him away from his playing on Xbox and sat him down in the boring part of the house  – the living room.)

“The last time we went to Target,” she continued, “you ran ahead and started to grab things off the shelf.  I was very upset. (pause, pause, pause) Well, it’s not going to happen like that this time.”   (Pause, pause, pause, letting it sink in a little.)

“If you start to run ahead, I will give you one warning  (pause). If you choose to ignore me.  We will stop and I will give our cart back with everything we were getting and we will go straight home.  There will be no TV, no screens, no iPad – nothing.  It will be a totally boring no fun day.  You will also be going to bed early.”

Keep in mind that when I review this type of thing with parents, they will say things like , “We do that…we took away his iPad and it didn’t do anything.”

It’s not the taking away of the iPad that matters.  It’s how you talk to your child – It’s tone and body language and showing that you are will to sacrifice and to not be held hostage to his chaotic behavior.

I understand that these things don’t change immediately, but  I would encourage you to look at the way you are talking to your child and the way you sound.

You’re in charge.  The tail is not wagging the dog.


Copyright, 2018

Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

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“Come On, Bud” – Parenting Reflections Part II

Last week we talked about a style of parenting that I dubbed, “Come 0n, Bud,” after this style was ridiculed by Bill Mahre in a recent stand-up special. (“Come On, Buddy…”)

We emphasized that kids are driven by one primary motivation (i.e., pleasure) and that they were happy to “have their bread buttered on both sides.”

Parents will bend themselves into knots trying to impact behavior.  Elaborate sticker charts and behavioral point systems are set up mixed in with a healthy dose of positive affirmations (“Way to go, Bud.  I can see you’re trying so hard.”) and punishments (“Sorry, Bud, but you have to go into time-out.”)

Mostly it’s a futile exercise.  In some ways the content of the consequence (positive or negative)is irrelevant.

“Time out” as a parenting tool has been so much a part of our culture for at least four decades that we forget that there was a time where “time out” did not exist and was not part of the parenting lexicon and toolbox. (I don’t remember my parents ever sending me to “time out.”)

John Rosemond, the parenting expert, reduces much of effective parenting down to a simple statement – “Lead and they will follow.”

That’s exactly right.

Somewhere along line (mostly due to psychology’s input) a notion developed that more democratic households would be the best way to “parent.”  (I’m not talking political here, folks, just referring to households where children have much greater input and decision making.)

If you’re a “Hedonistic Pirate” who wants pleasure at all costs, then these type of households energize you.  You sense the weakness.   Any chink in the armor represents an opportunity for more pleasure.  Whining, crying, tantrumming, avoiding, distracting, refusing, complaining (“I hate this homework”),  become weapons to make sure you keep the pleasure coming and not have to deal with the parental request or demand.

Mind you, I’m not advocating for rigid, inflexible or harsh parenting.  In fact, with that style kids will get very angry (rightfully so) and push back in all kinds of ways to overthrow the rigid power structure.

In line with the Rosemond theory, when my kid was very little,  we would talk about the dog and the tail.  “Where is the tail,” I would ask? “Is it in front of the dog?”  He would laugh about the silly image of the tail in front of the dog.   I  would remind him, if the dog followed the tail you would have a crazy dog.

The dog does not ask the tail where he would like to go.  The tail follows the dog.

Don’t get hung up on sticker charts, time-outs or whatever else you may be concocting to get your kid to listen.

Consequences come out of clear leadership.   With leadership consequences (positive and negative ones)  are decided on the spot, not reactively, but decisively.

To illustrate what I am talking about, next week we will conclude this series with a script and a manner of leading to change the odds better so that the tail follows the dog.


Copyright, 2018

Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

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Hey, Bud. How About We Get Ready For Bed

You shouldn't have to beg your child to do something- that's bad parenting.

On a recent HBO special featuring Bill Maher, he spent part of his routine focusing on modern children and their parents.

Maher said something like, “First of all, where did parents get the idea that they have to negotiate with their kids about everything?  I see this in the way they talk to their kids – ‘Hey, Buddy.  Are you ready to go?” (Mocked by Maher, said in pleading and imploring tones about parents trying to get their kids to do something.)

Maher continued, “When we were kids it wasn’t like that.  It was, ‘Get in the (expletive) car.’”

I know what Maher means.

Probably as a fallout from psychology’s over-emphasis many years ago on children’s self-esteem, kids are frequently coddled by their parents to the point where we are worried that if we put undue “stress” or demand on them that they will break apart like fragile teacups.

In some ways, kids are not that complicated.  While kids certainly are seeking love and approval, what do you think is the number one underlying drive of most kids?  What are they seeking virtually all of the time?


Sounds nice, but no.

So, what do kids want?  An expression back in the granny era helps to answer the question.

“They just want to have their bread buttered on both sides,” granny would say.  In other words, they want to have it their way, with no frustration – pleasure round the clock.

While seeking pleasure all the time and having their bread buttered on both sides, kids become Hedonistic Pirates!

Annoying things like doing homework, walking the dog, taking out the trash, are examples of pleasure blocking moments and therefore they are detested activities to avoid at all costs.  Meltdowns, arguments, crying jags, oppositional behaviors, distractions, whatever, are all available to avoid having to do the annoyance that is getting in the way of pleasure.

(Of course, the meltdown or the arguing also gets in the way of having pleasure, but that’s the irrationality of childhood!)

With these pleasure seekers, especially the ones who have emphatic personalities, the “Come on, Bud, are you ready to go” style of making a parental request made fun of by Maher usually doesn’t cut it.  The end result is a child remaining squarely in charge as the parent is largely ignored.

What do you do if you are using “Come on, Bud,” language with your child?

First notice it. Catch yourself sounding like someone who is asking to be ignored and remind yourself, “There you go again. That sounded wimpy. I wouldn’t even listen to me.” (Humor helps.)

By noticing it, you are on the road to parent recovery.

Next week we will drill down even more with what to do.

Takeaway Point

There are different ways to make parental requests.  Would you bet on a child listening to, “Hey, Buddy, how about we start getting ready for bed?”

9 Years In – Some Themes Reemerge

Wow!  I just found out that I’ve just reached my ninth anniversary of writing these blogs.  The first one was published on 6/24/2009  (2009 Blog Post).  Time does fly.

Having written nearly 320 of these posts, I do my best to try to keep things fresh, but I know there are some themes that reemerge. While no one has complained to me (at least not to my face) about that, I apologize if there is a certain repetitive beating of drum.

With that apology out of the way, I can go back to one of my favorite ongoing drumbeats (or to use my wife’s description – “You’re like a dog with a bone.”)

This week’s, theme, one that I’ve hit upon in many different permutations, has to do with the tendency to offer unitary explanations of complex kid issues (e.g., the “diagnosis” of ADHD explaining everything.)

I was prompted to respond to an article that appeared  with the title: “Is ADHD Real?” How I Respond When People Doubt ADHD.”

Now I don’t doubt the veracity of ADHD’s existence, but this is what I said as a comment to the article:

DrSelz New Jersey 2 days ago

As a practitioner in the field, for me the issue is not whether ADHD is real or not, but the casual way that ADHD is “diagnosed,” with very little consideration for alternative hypotheses that explain off-task behavior, distractibility, etc. It is a very rare parent who would be able to challenge an MD’s diagnosis that was based on very little else beyond history and a brief neurological screening. I would be much more comfortable with the “diagnosis” if there were a range of other tests that were part of the assessment. That’s not  likely to happen, since insurance companies don’t typically pay on these tests. Richard Selznick, Ph.D. 

Take Bethany, an 8th grader who is anxious and off-task a lot.  The school suggested to the mom that she was ADHD, so she took her to a physician who diagnosed her with ADHD after about 20 minutes and a brief review of the history.

The mom wasn’t satisfied with the explanation and the approach of “let’s get her on medication” as the top strategy, so she brought her in to be assessed more thoroughly.

Wouldn’t you know it, upon testing her there was a whole lot more in her “pie-chart” than the one factor explanation of “ADHD.”

While there was probably ADHD  in the mix, there were also clear indicators that Bethany was having great trouble understanding what she was reading starting around the fourth grade level (the point where the text usually gets pretty tough).  She had virtually no capacity to answer questions involving inferential thinking and she also was overwhelmed when presented with too much language to “process.”

For Bethany she was confused.  Imagine going to a lecture that was 40% in English, but the rest was in nonsensical gibberish.  Perhaps you might get some of the concepts, but most of it would be passing you by.  How would you feel?  How would you behave?

Right!  Confused, Anxious and distracted.

Takeaway Point

After 9 years of writing these things, relative to moving us away from one-factor explanations of children the drum beat goes on and I’m still a “dog with a bone,”(Yes, I know I am mixing metaphors, but I am looking for you to laugh and it’s the only way I can think to make that happen at the moment!).——————————————————————-

Copyright, 2018

Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

To receive free newsletter and updates, go to:


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