The Push and Pull of Privilege

By Tejal Toprani Misra who is a psychotherapist in part-time private practice and a most-time stay at home mom. She lives in California with her spouse and two young sons.

Is it just me or does every mom stay up at night thinking about how they are raising their kids? 

Maybe it’s being a therapist. 

We think – and then we over think – every single decision. 

Is my goal to make sure my kids don’t talk about how I messed them up when they go into therapy in twenty years? 

Or is it just that I want to raise good kids?

Let me give you some back story: When I became a mom over six years ago, I intentionally decided to give my kids the opportunities and experiences I wanted, but never had. 

This led to burning questions keeping me up at night like, Is privilege “bad”? And what is “privilege”? 

When my six-year-old has a conversation with his friend about luxury cars should I be happy that he found a common interest with a friend or should I cringe that they compare Teslas to BMW’s? At their age, I didn’t know the difference between an Altima and an Audi. 

We just moved to an affluent, predominantly upper middle-class suburb this year. Should we want to keep up with the Jones – those proverbial people with “all the things”? And…should my six year old son even know what a Tesla is?

Here’s another example: I now survey trusted mothers on how many extracurriculars are enough. One friend tells me one or two. The other says as many as you can handle as a parent. The third says something in between. Meanwhile, I keep asking my 6-year-old if we can accelerate getting him his driver’s license. Who wants to drive to all these activities, anyway?

When I was growing up, my family fell into the middle to lower middle class “trap.” There was enough money to have everything we needed and a few things we wanted – but not so little that we qualified for assistance –  or so much that we had money for the extras. For example, when I asked to join Girl Scouts, the answer was an immediate “no”. My parents had full time jobs that prevented them from taking me to activities. And they certainly did not have the money to sign me up for them and  buy all the uniforms and other paraphernalia. 

This fall, when my oldest son asked me if I could sign him up for soccer, I thought this is great, right? Now he can do what I never got to do. This is the way it’s supposed to go. Your child expresses an interest in an activity which hopefully means they will put effort into it, and then gain confidence and skill. 

But then I thought, is one practice and one game a week enough? Should we sign up for a fundamentals class to further his knowledge base of soccer? Should we take a ball anytime we go to a park or encourage him to play when there is down time? Or should we hire a private coach?

It’s a slippery slope. 

When I signed my son up, I paid extra for a partial scholarship so an interested child who might not have the means would have the opportunity to play soccer in a league. I didn’t do this as a “flex” I did it because the child who couldn’t afford to join reminded me of the younger version of myself. My child of course has no knowledge of my childhood. He thinks it isn’t too much to ask for a thousand dollars from the tooth fairy.  

So now I’ve fallen into the ”if you give a mouse a cookie” situation. 

Since I signed the 6-year-old up for soccer then it felt like I had to sign my three-year-old up for something too. So, I signed the three-year-old up for after school soccer.

To be honest I did this to give myself another hour before pick up time. – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t enjoying it. 

I’ve started telling myself that by doing these activities, my kids build connections with others – like Adam Neumann and We Work.

But really, they’re just a six-year-old and a three-year-old who want to play soccer. 

And when I ask my six-year-old about his teammates’ names I get, “I don’t know.” 

So, is it even working?

And the question remains, what will ever be enough? Will tennis lessons be next? Then chess lessons? And how about a second language? 

Where is the balance? When am I just trying to keep up with my upper class neighbors and when am I actually helping my children to have good learning and social opportunities and helping them to acquire grit and resilience?

And THIS is another unanswered question from yours truly.

3 Principles Which Will Help You To Nudge Your Children into Doing What you Want –

Or — the gentle art of Choice Architecture

Every day we make thousands of decisions, most of them unconsciously. What we decide often depends on the way in which the choice is framed and the context in which a choice is made. Economists have been concerned with how people make decisions and behavioral economists specifically, among them Nobel Laureate Richard Thaler, were the first to incorporate insights from psychology into their work.

Thaler has developed a whole science revolving around how people make choices.

In its highest application, this science is used to help people to make the choices that are best for them. This is called “Choice Architecture” and Thaler writes about this in his books “Nudge” and “Nudge, the Final Edition”.

Here we are going to apply these ideas to parenting — and for transparency’s sake, I will say that all the ideas in this post are stolen from this brilliant man!!!!

Principle #1

Think about what words you choose when you speak with your child. This can drastically alter what choice your child makes!

For example, when you want your child to go to bed, you say, “Are you ready for bed?”

And your child says……….”No”.

Of course. What do you expect them to say?

Thaler would say that you have constructed the question in the wrong way.

If you want your child to go to bed, you need to say, “OK, time for bed! Do you want to jump into your bed like a frog or slither into bed like a snake?”

Or something like that.

You can give your child a choice. You can give him or her SOME power and agency. But you DO NOT give them a choice about WHETHER or not they go to bed.

Principle #2

To get your child to do what you want them to do, make the choice simple for them.

For example, let’s say your child is five and you want them to get dressed in the morning on their own. And let’s say your child has put up some resistance to doing this.

Ask yourself why.

Investigate.

Figure out what’s making it hard for them to get dressed on their own.

Let’s say you go into their room and realize that their drawers are a mess, full of clothes that are too small or for the wrong season.

Or let’s say you think about it and realize you gave your child six choices about what they COULD wear. You know the old, “do you want to wear a dress or leggings or maybe tights and a skirt or here’s a nice pair of jeans you liked last month.”

No.

In the first case, your child might be unable to get dressed because he or she finds it so frustrating to look through the drawers and find something.

If you need to, help clean and organize the drawers. Put things that are appropriate for the season in the drawer, get rid of all the old stuff and put pants and shirts and socks and underwear in different places so they are easy to find.

And, if you have to go a step further, lay out two outfits — but no more.

Make it easy for your child to do what you WANT them to do.

Look for whatever obstacles are getting in the way of their doing what you want and REMOVE THE OBSTACLES!

Principle #3

If you want to reduce certain aspects of your child’s behaviors, make those behaviors you don’t like harder for them to do.

Let’s say your child likes to run around at night after bath and before bed. He gets himself all excited and then it’s hard to get to bed and the whole process takes too long. You’re exhausted by then anyway and this makes it worse.

Try something new. Pick your child up in his towel (let’s say he’s five or younger) and say something loving and distracting (“oh, you’re so snuggly after a bath”) as you walk to his room. Once there, shut the door(s) without saying anything and then help him get the pajamas on. If you need to, make up a story — this is our bear den — let’s be cozy here. Do you want two books or three? Let’s make this room our princess castle, here’s your princess nightie. ETC.

In other words, get your child to their room without making a big deal of it, shut the doors and don’t let them out.

But do it quietly. And subtly.

This way you reduce your child’s ability to run around wildly. The trip between the bathroom and the bed is obviously a hard one for your child and one that invites running! Removing the obstacles to their doing what you don’t like, in this case, means removing the temptation — and the ability — to run around

Or let’s say you don’t want your child to eat so much junk food.

Sorry — but you’re going to have to either hide the junk food you like or stop buying it all together. And don’t go to fast food places together either. If you want your child to stop eating so much junk, make it hard for them to find any!

These three principles WILL help — if you think about how to use them. They are not magic. They won’t make parenting a snap in five minutes as so many blogs promise you their advice will do — but they WILL help.

Thank you, Richard Thaler! The next book you write should be for parents!

More Social Media Advice From A Teen


So, remember that 19 year old I wrote about a few weeks ago? The one who gets her friends to pile their phones on the table when they eat together so that no one looks at their phone during the meal?  Well, she has more ideas.

This week she told me that she had an exam that she was worried about.  So what did she do?  She decided to analyze her own social media use.

She looked at her phone to see what apps she spends the most time on – and found out that by far, she looks at TikTok the most.  Very scientific approach, right?

So she deleted TikTok for two days prior to the exam so that she would get those hours back – and use them for studying.  

Self control being what it is, she knew she could not stop herself from looking at Tiiktok if it was still on her phone.  

Teens of all ages as well as young adults have told me that they simply cannot stop themselves from checking social media – sometimes as much as every 2 or 3 minutes. 

Young teens have complained to me that they just don’t know what to do.  They know they shouldn’t do this – but they find themselves doing it anyway.  And for some highly motivated kids, this is distressing – they want to do well at school and they know their use of their phones is getting in the way.  One young teen boy cried in my office as he told me how guilty he felt – he knew he should be studying more, reading more and doing other things that were better uses of his time but Youtube was sucking him in every day after school and he just couldn’t stop.

People have compared social media use—as well as computer gaming, Youtube and other computer activities— to an addiction.  And I tend to agree.  The in-the-moment pleasure derived from doing these things, the immediate surge of gratification gained from looking at these sites is so powerful.  Reading and studying?  They don’t stand a chance. 

So, parents, you are in a difficult spot.  Recommending that kids delete their apps, even temporarily, will be met with protest and push back.  What are you to do?

Maybe just leave your computer open to this post for a while and let you kids walk by and see it for themselves…..

Or talk with your kids about the ideas here, just to see what they think.

Let The Kids Eat Sugar! (In Moderation)

By Karen Libber Fishbein, LCSW, and Samuel Libber, MD

Halloween is almost here, and candy is everywhere! My daughters (ages 6 and 8) are very much looking forward to celebrating the holiday after missing out last year due to COVID-19. Thinking about the sugar consumption that will follow this festive day may be overwhelming to some parents.

In this post, Samuel Libber, MD, and I hope to put your mind at ease. Dr. Libber is a pediatric endocrinologist with over forty years of experience. He is also my father and a fellow sugar lover.

Dr. Libber and I both believe that establishing healthy habits surrounding sugar intake is an important task that parents can take on.

Sugary treats are everywhere and equipping our children with realistic and healthy approaches to sugar consumption will benefit them throughout their lives.  

Part One: Karen’s Observations As A Mother

To start out, I will share my philosophy on sugar consumption in children. I believe that children who are typically developing (and don’t have medical issues that impact how sugar is metabolized) can benefit from being offered certain sugary treats. In my present-day home (with my children) and in my home growing up as a child, dessert is/was offered as a reward for consuming a healthy meal. A “healthy meal” is defined by a meal that includes  protein, fiber, whole grains, a calcium source, and fruits and/or vegetables.

As a result, my daughters consume sugar on a daily basis – and so did I when I was growing up.

Some folks and some fellow parents might wonder how this impacts my children.

Here are my  reflections:

–  First of all, sweets are not viewed as a forbidden fruit in our home. My daughters both understand the rules listed above and realize that as long as they adhere to mealtime standards, they will earn a sweet treat.

   We do monitor that the girls don’t go too far with their dessert treats. I believe that when kids are offered treats as a reward for healthy eating, they learn how to self-regulate their sugar consumption. Once my oldest daughter ate too many marshmallows after dinner and was sick to her stomach during the night.  Since that happened, she has never binged on sweets again. I truly think that learning the hard way was an effective means for her to gain a deeper understanding about her body.

– Secondly, I think that when children are offered sweets regularly, it reduces the “scarcity mindset”. If children know that dessert will be available to them, they are less likely to spend time worrying about when and how they are going to get some candy or a cookie.  They also may not feel the need to overeat  sweets when they receive them, since they know that there will be opportunities to partake in the near future.  Interestingly, when other children come over to play, I notice that kids whose parents strictly restrict sugar often go straight to our candy jar upon their arrival. Not only is it the first stop, but the experience often involves overeating. When my daughters come home from school or from other activities, heading straight to the candy jar is usually the last thing on their minds. They are more interested in playing outside with friends, playing with toys/games, or having time to decompress.

A final observation I have about children living in a sugar-friendly home is that they often model the adults around them. So, for example, I am a dessert lover, and since I was given sweets after healthy meals from a young age, I find that I know how to control the amount of sweets I eat as an adult and I am able to moderate my dessert intake. At mealtimes, my daughters observe me eating healthy, balanced meals, and they know that I will enjoy dessert right along with them after the meal is over. I believe this gives me more credibility in their minds and lets them know that I too understand the importance of eating healthy, while also enjoying the indulgence of dessert. I feel strongly that children who view their parents eating a variety of foods, and positively accepting their bodies will then be more likely to adopt this behavior in their adolescent and adult lives.

Many folks may wonder what this sugar consumption means in terms of my girls’ physical health. I will share that both of my daughters are in the average ranges of height/weight. Staying physically active is something that we value as a family. Both of my girls often run around and play outside with their friends, sometimes for hours at a time. Additionally, they swim, dance, go to the playground and take walks all around Philadelphia. We try to come up with fun, physically active activities on a regular basis.  This mindset is integrated in our day-to-day life just as much as having sweet treats is.

Part Two: Dr. Libber’s Perspective As A Pediatric Endocrinologist

One lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that there is tremendous variability in how interested kids are in sweets.   Some of this may be environmental, and some may be innate.  In any case, many kids are not at all motivated by sweet foods and are fine finishing their meals without desserts and steering clear of sweet snacks between meals.   But when kids do desire sugary foods, certain rules should prevail:   Snack foods between meals are best designed around fruits, vegetables and savory foods.  Desserts, if sweets are offered, should have carefully controlled portion sizes without visible offerings of “seconds”.  If children are still interested in further dessert items, those should center on fruits and not on baked goods, ice cream or high-calorie processed foods.  

Many of the challenges in the diets of American children may be averted at the “supermarket stage”.   If parents concentrate on buying healthy food such as fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid purchasing unhealthy or overly processed foods, choices stay available to the child but become more limited.  If the choices are apples with cinnamon and raisins versus chocolate chip cookies, many of today’s kids would likely go for the cookies.  However, if parents refrain from purchasing chocolate chip cookies and the choices boil down to sliced apples versus mandarin oranges versus banana slices with jimmies, kids are still presented with options.   Furthermore, any of the latter choices are healthier than the chocolate chip cookies. Another tip to cut back on sugar intake is to avoid juices, sodas and artificially sweetened drinks.

Health problems due to excess sugar are well-documented.   There are potential dental concerns, behavioral concerns, weight-gain concerns and later in life, concerns over the consequences of too high a caloric intake —high blood pressure, diabetes, blood lipid problems, heart disease and many more.

Childhood is a great time to start setting patterns that could last a lifetime and help to prevent a large variety of health challenges later in life. Remember the wise words of my daughter – portion control, plenty of outdoor play and avoidance of the “scarcity mindset” when it comes to dessert. It’s never too late – or too early – to get started!

HALLOWEEN READING WITH KIDS

From Lisa Walton Medium Daily Digest:

16 Spine-Tingling Halloween Books Kids Will Love

Spooky stories are a great way to draw in reluctant readers

Photo by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

It’s the season of witches and warlocks, goblins, and ghosts. And one of the best times of year to hook your kids with a good book. Even reluctant readers are often sucked in by the thrill of a good mystery or ghost story. Here are 16 spine-tingling Halloween books that kids will love.

Take advantage of the eerie allure of Halloween to pick a book that will delight your readers. From mildly-spooky to spine-tingling to sweet, there is a book just right for every reading appetite.

This spoiler-free list includes Halloween choices for readers of all ages.

Picture Books (Grade K-2)

Room on the Broom

by Julia Donaldson

This classic Halloween read about problem-solving, friendship and making room for everyone is sure to bring a smile to young readers.

How to Catch a Monster

by Adam Wallace

This sweet bed-time story is just spooky enough to qualify for Halloween. It reminds kids that things aren’t always as scary as they seem.

Bonaparte Falls Apart

by Margery Cuyler & Will Terry

This Halloween story is chock full of monsters. With encouragement and support, they help Bonaparte keep himself together during a stressful transition.

Frankie Stein

by Lola M. Schaefer

One of my favorite Halloween stories of all time. Frankie Stein is not the child that his parents expected. This story about love and family teaches children and parents alike that it’s okay to be different.

Young Readers (Grades 2–4)

Case Closed #1: Mystery in the Mansion

by Lauren Magaziner

This choose-your-own-adventure story is packed with puzzles and clues. The readers join the story to help Carlos and friends solve the mystery and save his Mom’s detective agency. This book is the first in a series so it’s a great way to get kids excited about reading.

The Nocturnals

by Tracy Hecht

Three unlikely friends learn about friendship, teamwork, and laughter as the Nocturnal Brigade solves unexpected mysteries of the night. This series is perfect for virtual learning. Visit the website for printable online activities and educator guides.

It’s Halloween, I’m Turning Green, My Weird School Special Series

by Dan Gutman

Another kid favorite! I couldn’t included a list of Halloween books without a selection from My Weird School. Join A.J. and the gang from the laugh out loud funny My Weird School series in a holiday-themed chapter caper about candy, costumes, and more.

Middle Grade (Grade 4–7)

Ghosts

by Raina Telgemeier

After Maya and Cat learn their new town is haunted, Maya becomes determined to meet a ghost. But Cat is not interested. Can Cat put aside her fears and make the spirits appear?

The Haunted Lighthouse

by Zander Bingham

A classic mystery that kids will love. After Jack’s aunt buys an old lighthouse, odd things begin to happen. Mysterious figures in the windows, strange noises, flickering lights. Could it be haunted?

Ghost Squad

by Claribel Ortega

This action-packed debut novel weaves a thrillingly spooky tale about family and phantoms.

Premeditated Myrtle

by Elizabeth C. Bunce

This smart new series combines unexpected plot twists with a strong female lead trying to earn the distinction of most daring and acclaimed amateur detective ever. You can’t help rooting for Myrtle.

Spirit Hunters

by Ellen Oh

We Need Diverse Books founder Ellen Oh bring us this captivating ghost story about a seventh-grader who must face down the dangerous ghosts haunting her younger brother. Its twists and turn will have you guessing with every page.

Young Adult (Grade 8–12)

One of Us Is Lying

by Karen McManus

This New York Time Bestseller is one of my favorite reads. The twisty plot keeps you guessing until the end. Five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out? Who did it? Can you guess? You can’t go wrong with any of McManus’ books.

Cemetery Boys

by Aiedn Thomas

This modern ghost story is perfect for Día De Muertos. A transgender Latinx boy summons a ghost to prove to his family that he is a real brujo. Only now he can’t get rid of the spirit? A wonderful book for Halloween and beyond.

Rafa and the Real Boy

by Emily Juniper

This exciting new release blends family drama, romance, friendship and suspense. Readers will find themselves engrossed in Rafa’s complex, emotional journey and guessing at what is real and what’s not.

Smartphone Fatigue

Recently a 19 year old I know told me something shocking.  She said that she wished her friends would use their cell phones LESS when they are together.

I have to say, I was really surprised – and elated!

She said that everyone’s constant phone use got in the way of talking to each other.

HALLELUJAH!

Here was living proof that even teenagers get tired of seeing their friends on their phones all the time!  It’s not just parents who feel this way!

And I suspect that plenty of teens feel this but just don’t say it.  I suspect, as I said in my last post (see “Attentional Insult”) that teens, kids, even adults feel a little bit hurt each time they are wanting to talk to someone and instead see that person looking at their phone. 

This teen even had suggestions!  She said that sometimes when she and her friends go out to eat, they put all their phones in the middle of the table so that no one uses a phone during the meal.  She said that she grew up in a house where phones were not allowed at the table and she actually liked this rule.

So parents – what can you do to help your kids and teens with phone use? Take a tip from this teenager – and The American Academy of Pediatrics.  Ban phone use during meals.  No phones at – OR UNDER – the table for anyone – and that means you, too!

What Does It Mean To Truly “See” Your Child?

Recently I read an article about Adam Phillips, the wonderful British child psychoanalyst. In it he was quoted as saying, “There’s nothing to you until someone sees something in you.” 

At first I wondered, is this really true?  Don’t we know ourselves and know what we are capable of even without someone else noticing?  And then I remembered my developmental training.  In studying child development, I learned that it was eye contact with the parent that helps the infant to settle down when agitated or frightened and it is through eye contact with the parent that infants learn social regulation. In fact, the greater the amount of parent-infant eye contact, the better the social regulation of the infant. 

So, quite literally, from the very beginning babies need to be looked at by the parents.

I also remembered that later in development, at ages two and three and four, the greater the ability of the parent to “see” and to admire their child, the more likely it is that the child will feel worthwhile and known. The child of this age who feels admired and valued by the parent will incorporate these feelings into their own sense of themselves as admirable and valuable. This is the basis for self-confidence.  

All two and three-year-olds will say, “Look at me!” and what they need is for the parent to see who they are and what they are doing – and then to express admiration.  Children of all ages want to know that they are noticed, that they are valued and that their particular abilities are appreciated.

Thinking about this raised the question of what exactly it means to “see” your child and to let your child know that they have been seen.

And I remembered a family I saw in my practice many years ago.  The father was a self-made man, the first boy in his extended family to go to college and the only one to ever go on for an advanced degree in medicine.  When he had his own four children, he wanted the same success for them that he had had.  He valued education and he wanted his children to do well academically.  Of his four children, it was clear that his two favorites were the two who were most academically inclined.  One of the others showed signs early on of being artistic.  She loved dance and painting from her earliest years. While her father was loving and well meaning, he did not understand her. He projected onto all of his children his own wishes and values.  What had made him successful is what he wanted for them.  As a result, his artistic daughter felt misunderstood and “unseen”.  She did not feel valued by her father and while talented, she eventually lost faith in her own artistic ability.  She became an angry and unhappy teenager.  She was furious with her father, although she did not exactly know why, and she had very little confidence in herself.

This father wanted his daughter to be like himself.  He was not able to love and appreciate her as a different sort of person.  Of course, his desires for his children came from a loving place; he wanted his children to be successful in life.  But unbeknownst to him, in not being able to value his daughter’s unique talents, he contributed to her lack of confidence in herself.

So one important element in “seeing” our children is to be able to see them for who they are, not for who we want them to be, to value their unique character traits and abilities, and to reflect our appreciation of them – just as they are – back to them.

But how do we do this?

It occurs to me that there is no one simple answer to this question – but there are some starting points.  

First of all, to be truly “seen” children need to feel that they are understood.  Every child needs to feel that their parents know what they like and what they don’t like, what is easy for them and what is hard, when they are making an effort and really trying and when they are not.  And every child needs their parents to be able to be with them for prolonged periods of time and accept their interests and their way of being.  This is related to something talked about all the time these days – being “present”.  

Being present with a young infant, a toddler or a young child means just being there with them as they do what they are doing. It means being able to hold back on our own projections and agendas and just to be.  Is your baby lifting up his head during tummy time?  Can you take joy in this moment with him in his effort? Is your two-year-old collecting rocks?  Can you be with her and collect some too rather than hurrying her along or telling her to drop them because they’re dirty? Is your four-year-old drawing a three-armed man?  And are you able to comment on how interesting this is rather than saying “but people have only two arms?”

To allow our children to “see” something in themselves, to feel confident at least some of the time, and to move forward in development, we must first be able to “see” them clearly and be able to love and admire what we see. Secondly, we need to be able to be present with them as they are and to put into affectionate gestures and words how much we admire them.

This is the beginning of what we need to do to truly see our children and to allow them to become people who see something valuable in themselves.

And while we’re at it, we all need to try to expend some effort on “seeing” our partners and our friends as well.  We need to acknowledge more often that we appreciate their unique selves and that we value their efforts. Just saying, “You are such a good cook and you made a great dinner tonight even though you were exhausted” or “Thanks for making the effort to call/text/email” will go a long way.  

After all, we ALL need to know that we have been seen.