Month: June 2024

“We’re Not Doctors…We Think You Should See a Neurologist”

Oliver, age 8, has difficulty behaving in his third grade class.

They were told by the school, “We’re not doctors, so we don’t know why he’s doing these things, but we think you should see a neurologist.”

The last statement is code language.

Here’s the translation – “We think Oliver has ADHD and needs to be on medication.”

The parents come to consult with me about Oliver, even though I am not the kind of doctor the school has in mind.

Oliver’s mom says, “We just don’t know why he does these things.  If we only knew why, then it could be fixed.  Maybe it’s his anxiety or his sensory issues.”

I can’t help myself pushing back.

“The problem with the “Why” question is it’s all speculation,” I say.  “Even the best neurologists are using subjective rating scales and history to determine things like ADHD.  So it becomes a “weight of the evidence” diagnosis.   Usually there are a number of variables interacting at the same time, not all of which are in the child’s head.  There are many variables that are external, too.”

“So how do we fix it?”  (Ugh…the question I hate, but get all the time.)

“Well, they’re not car engines.  Nothing’s broken.  So there’s no fixing it. Rather than speculate, try and stay with the facts that are observed.  What happened first, second, third?  How did the adults respond?  What were the consequences?  Before starting on medication,  let’s get a sense of the basic facts of the behavior. ”

Takeaway Point

Back in the day there was a popular TV Show, “Dragnet,” where the main detective would say, “Just the facts, Ma’m.”

Stay with the facts.  “Just the facts, Ma’m.”

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Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2023,

“Missed Opportunities for Practicing ‘The Skill of…'”

So much of a child’s world can be framed in an ongoing series of different skills.

For example, some kids have the “skill of” saying hello and greeting someone they meet for the first time.  Others may have the “skill of” manners in social interactions by saying “please” and “thank you” – things like that.   These skills of greeting someone or using social manners do not happen naturally.  They are learned and practiced over countless repetitions,

What happens when we shut off the ability to practice these skills? Then there are lost opportunities and the skills simply do not develop.

Marnie, a five year, old came to my office accompanying her mother who wanted to talk to me about her older sister, Jocelyn.  When I went out to greet the mom, Marnie was on some type of head set connected to a small screen device.  Marnie never looked up, never said hello. The opportunity was lost for that small social pleasantry and interaction of putting out my hand to greet Marnie and ask her a couple of questions about her world.

Marnie continued to spend the whole time quietly with her head set on, swiping her fingers across the screen.  I did not exist as a human being.   There was lost opportunity (for both of us) to practice the “skill of” social interaction.

Later in the day I went to “Saladworks” for lunch.  A 20-something was in front of me on line.  As she placed her order, “I’ll have spinach… I’ll have olives…turkey….banana peppers…” I was struck by the fact that there was no “please” or “thank you” mixed in that salad.  The person behind the counter dutifully filling up the woman’s salad bowl did not exist to her.  There was no real human or polite social interaction.

Maybe the 20-something was just an older Marnie, someone who never had the opportunity to practice essential skills.

There are continual opportunities to practice the “skill of ___________ ” (fill in the blank).  Out of expedience parents may be cutting off these opportunities.

It certainly is easier having Marnie completely quiet and transfixed on a screen than deal with the usual five-year-old behaviors.

It just seems that something is off, though,

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email:

Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2023,


“‘Hayden, Remember to Use Your Indoor Voice'”

Modern parents can make you nostalgic for bygone eras.

There was a time when children went outside to play and basically did not see their mother for a solid 8 hours, except when she made them a nutritious bologna sandwich on white bread, which was wolfed down before running back out the door.

For the most part, parents didn’t bother with you or your stuff. From about five years of age on, you were mostly left alone.

There was no hovering or desire to understand what happened outside. (“Ok, Jimmy pushed you.  That’s too bad.  You probably deserved it,” was the level of psychological support you received.)

In contrast, self-conscious and very involved parenting is the rule these days.

Self-conscious parenting is revealed in the way parents speak to their child:

  • “Now, Hayden…you know that is not your indoor voice, is it Hayden?” (While Hayden runs around the café yelling.)
  • “Remember Lloyd, please do not run ahead, okay? (Lloyd has already blown off his mom, running down the store aisle.)
  • “Luna, please don’t use you your whining voice.” (Your whining voice???)
  • “Emma, where are your listening ears?” (Hmmm???”)
  • “Grant, don’t you think it is time we started our homework?” (Wait, you have homework too?)
  • Dutton, I think it is time we went to bed, isn’t it?” (We??)
  • It’s time for us to brush our teeth, Ava?  (“Our teeth?”)

Compliance between the parent and child can be complicated by many variables affecting the outcome.  A big one is how the message is sent.

Very often the sender of the message (i.e., the parent) is sending a weak, low-level message/command that conveys insecurity and is likely to be ignored.

In attempts to be nice and overly measured  while worrying about the child’s psychological well-being or  “self-esteem,” the message is not clear or direct enough.

Takeaway Point

In line with the above reference to the way things were in other parent eras, if you don’t know this dated term, “mollycoddling” you may want to look it up.

Then do the opposite!!!

For more on Parent-Child dynamics, check out my latest book:  Beyond the Power Struggle:  A Guide for Parents of Challenging Kids

“‘Spilling the Milk’ & ‘You Owe Me’ – Child Behavior in Two Acts”

Since my latest book, Beyond the Power Struggle:  A Guide to Challenging Kids, was published some months ago, I have had some interesting interactions – a number of different interviews and parents contacting me about their kid’s behavior.

A nice surprise was a small group of parents, let’s call it a parent book club, who formed to dish about the concepts related to my book.

As we talked about different ways of handling challenging behavior, one of the dads asked about how he should have handled his four-year-old son pouring milk over the furniture (not accidentally).

We speculated how their grandparents’ generation would have handled it.  (One clue.  Their grandparents  would not have been dwelling over the psychological variables behind the child’s behavior.)

One approach to the milk crime would be to employ the often used (overused?) strategy of “time-out.”

To my ears, that approach would have little real impact on the child, as he would likely be kicking, screaming and raging while being marched off to time-out with little learning taking place.

Underneath many child behaviors, I believe most kids suffer from a syndrome I have come to call IWWIWD or “I Want What I Want Disorder.”

What did this four-year-old milk pourer want?  Probably a combination of “This will be fun to see how far I can go,” coupled with an immediate demand soon after to play with a screen – some kiddie iPad or its equivalent.

Some might write off the behavior under the category of “Well, he’s a four-year-old boy and that’s what they do,” effectively brushing it off.

Well, I wrote the book.  I should have an answer, right? Here’s my answer.

I think there are “kid crimes” that call for an action and misdemeanors that can be brushed off.  I wouldn’t brush it off.

If I were able to keep my wits about me (not easy to do in this situation), I like removing the child from the situation as quickly as possible. Then speaking in clear and firm terms I’d  say something like the following:

“That was not cute and I am very upset with you.  You know that’s not how to behave in the house.  We were going to go out and have fun, but now I’m too angry to go anywhere.   For now, there is absolutely no screen playing or TV watching.  I will check back with you later.”  Then I’d walk out and be a bit chilly.  Maybe an hour or so later I’d warm up by degrees. I made my point.

Some may disagree, but this approach has its value.  No yelling.  No time-out.  An effective and clear statement of anger from the parent with the linking up screen use as an earned privilege.  I would predict future desires to spill milk  might be filed away somewhere in boy-brain as not a wise thing to do.

In another story brought to me beyond the group,  Marcus, age 13, was being tutored in a public library.  Marcus knew the tutor well, having worked with her for a number of years.  When asked to do a writing exercise, Marcus had a 13-year-old version of a five-year-old meltdown.  It was quite a scene in the public library.

Mom, sitting close by was understandably mortified, later telling me Marcus’ behavior was “reprehensible.”

How did mom handle it?  Again, she didn’t use time out or other such low impact consequence.  Instead, she drove home in stony (chilly) silence, not speaking to Marcus.  There were no lectures or harangues. Thinking about what a waste of time and money that tutoring session was and how embarrassed she felt, this is what the mom did:

Once inside, mom said to Marcus, “I know you were saving your Christmas money for something with your game system, but that session wasted time and a lot of money.  You owe me  Please go into your room and pay me back the $65 for that session of embarrassment.”

Ouch!!! Elegant and to the point.  It certainly made a statement to Marcus that is likely to stick.

Takeaway Point

It’s not too early or too late to make an impactful statement.

Feel free to make comment below. 

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Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2023,


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