Managing problem behavior

Dr. Alan Kazdin is one of the leading experts in the field of child behaviorism. His methods are widely recognized by the scientific community and clinicians alike; in other words, his method is evidence-based. Dr Kazdin utilizes an approach that is authoritative, yet gentle. He helps parents to encourage behaviors they want to see more of (i.e., positive behaviors), while de-emphasizing problematic behaviors. This method, also called differential reinforcement, requires parents to abandon punitive attitudes towards behaviors, and instead, think about the behaviors we want to reinforce.

He states:

“The best way to eliminate an unwanted behavior is to build a strong alternative behavior in its place, what’s called the positive opposite of the unwanted behavior.  The Kazdin Method® provides step-by-step instruction in how to do this under almost any conditions.  If your child has horrible tantrums or just mildly intolerable ones, if your child does not do homework, or does not listen, to take three common examples, the method gives you a reliable and research-proven set of moves you can make to address the problem in the home, or wherever it occurs.  The method guides you in defining the behavior you want and then creating opportunities for your child to repeatedly practice it–working up to it by increasingly closer steps, if necessary.  And the method shows you exactly how to reinforce good behavior with good consequences without throwing rewards at your child.”

Dr. Kazdin’s book is one that I frequently recommend with parents.

If your child is having trouble with managing behaviors, call Dr. Lawing today at (504) 289-5995 for a free consultation.

Guidelines on Screen Time

Many parents wonder how much screen time is okay for their children. For years, one of the leading authoritative sources, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), advised that children under two should have absolutely no exposure to screens, and for older kids screen time should be limited two hours a day.

Very recently, the AAP made important updates to their stance on screen time. Here are their new recommendations:

  • Media is just another environment. Children do the same things they have always done, only virtually. Like any environment, media can have positive and negative effects.
  • Parenting has not changed. The same parenting rules apply to your children’s real and virtual environments. Play with them. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Teach kindness. Be involved. Know their friends and where they are going with them.
  • Role modeling is critical. Limit your own media use, and model online etiquette. Attentive parenting requires face time away from screens.
  • We learn from each other. Neuroscience research shows that very young children learn best via two-way communication. “Talk time” between caregiver and child remains critical for language development. Passive video presentations do not lead to language learning in infants and young toddlers. The more media engender live interactions, the more educational value they may hold (e.g., a toddler chatting by video with a parent who is traveling). Optimal educational media opportunities begin after age 2, when media may play a role in bridging the learning achievement gap.
  • Content matters. The quality of content is more important than the platform or time spent with media. Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer.
  • Curation helps. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research validates their quality (). An interactive product requires more than “pushing and swiping” to teach. Look to organizations like Common Sense Media ( that review age-appropriate apps, games and programs.
  • Co-engagement counts. Family participation with media facilitates social interactions and learning. Play a video game with your kids. Your perspective influences how your children understand their media experience. For infants and toddlers, co-viewing is essential.
  • Playtime is important. Unstructured playtime stimulates creativity. Prioritize daily unplugged playtime, especially for the very young.
  • Set limits. Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Does your child’s technology use help or hinder participation in other activities?
  • It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are integral to adolescent development. Social media can support identity formation. Teach your teen appropriate behaviors that apply in both the real and online worlds. Ask teens to demonstrate what they are doing online to help you understand both content and context.
  • Create tech-free zones. Preserve family mealtime. Recharge devices overnight outside your child’s bedroom. These actions encourage family time, healthier eating habits and healthier sleep.
  • Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. These can be teachable moments if handled with empathy. Certain aberrations, however, such as sexting or posting self-harm images, signal a need to assess youths for other risk-taking behaviors.”

These updates may be a relief for many parents who have struggled to keep stringent rules about screen time. Rest easy parents, the take home message here is that screen time is and will continue to be part of our daily lives, and parents and kids should make sure they strike a balance between technology and “real world” activities.

If your child is having a hard time using screen time in moderation, call Dr. Lawing for a free consultation at (504) 289-5995.

Personal/body safety

Parents, it’s never too early to talk to your children about safety and personal space. Here is a fantastic flyer that can be shared with your little one. Try reading it aloud with one another and come up with a safety network together. The more you can talk about these important issues with your child, the better decisions they are likely to make regarding their personal safety.

Body Safety Poster(image shared freely from:

Dr. Lawing provides therapy for children that have been exposed to traumatic events including sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Please call (504) 289-5995 to set up an appointment with Dr. Lawing today.

Picky Eaters

While some kids develop a refined palate and enjoy eating a variety of foods, others are picky eaters and limit their intake to one or two foods. Understandably, this can be exhausting and quite worrisome for parents. A couple of tips:

  • Introduce your kids to a variety of foods as early as possible. This will allow them to explore the different flavors, textures, and smells of different foods.
  • Praise, praise, praise! It is so important to give your little one praise when they try new things, even if it’s just a bite or two.
  • Model expected behaviors for your child. That means, if you want your child to take a bite of broccoli, you take a bite first to show them just how yummy it is.
  • Don’t force it. If your child is putting up a fight, don’t force them to eat the food, as this can lead to their development of stressful associations with meal times.
  • Try sprinkling some different seasonings or a little cheese or yummy sauce over the “offensive” food. The key with this is to gradually decrease the amount of seasoning/cheese/sauce over time so that your child does not always rely on these things.
  • Have your child help out in the kitchen to see how different foods are prepared. This takes the mystery out of where the food came from and they may feel a sense of pride in their work, and thus eat their creation.
  • Try to avoid withholding dessert or other things as a punishment for not eating certain foods. Rewards are much more powerful motivators for kids (and adults!), so focus on the positives. If your child can just take a tiny nibble of food, even if they spit it out, give them praise for trying.

If you would like to set up a consultation with Dr. Lawing to discuss your child’s picky eating habits, call (504) 289-5995.

Book review for grieving children

For children, learning to cope with different every day emotions is quite the task. However, when a child experiences bereavement, it can be especially difficult to help them navigate such foreign and painful emotions. While there are several books aimed at helping children grieve the loss of a loved one, there is one in particular that I like:

When Someone Very Special Dies: Children Can Learn to Cope with Grief by Marge Heegaard

This book is written for children of all ages, but because of the reading level, I find it is best for children 5 to 6 years and older. One of the best features of this book is that it offers a simplicity that makes it comprehendible for children. It takes into consideration the concrete thinking style of most young persons and delicately explains the finality of life.  This is important, as most children have difficulty with understanding such an abstract concept.

The book is formatted with black and white illustrations so that the reader can color in the pages, which I find to be more interactive and allows for creative expression and emotional release onto each page. I appreciate how the author encourages children to ask questions about death, which is a dialogue that I take up in therapy with such patients. The text is written in such a way so as to validate and help children understand the intense emotions of grief.

I also like how the text encourages children to release their intense emotions in ways that are healthy and appropriate (e.g., through physical exercise). This is especially important for children who have difficulty with verbally expressing or sharing their emotions.

For parents who are more interested in a story-telling book about grief with colorful illustrations, or for younger children, I also recommend these two books: I Miss you: A First Look at Death and Always and Forever

If you live in the New Orleans metro area and would like to set up an appointment with Dr. Lawing to discuss grief therapy for your child, please call (504) 289-5995.

ADHD Assessment

This article from Psychology Today is over a year old, but a great resource for anyone wondering if ADHD is over diagnosed, under diagnosed, and likewise, over or under medicated:…/adult-adhd-overdiagnosed-…

Symptoms of ADHD can exist independently, and sometimes they coincide with other issues. Alternatively, other symptoms may look like ADHD but in fact are the result of a different underlying issue (for example, anxiety, stress, depression). Therefore, testing for ADHD is comprehensive and often includes a clinical interview, collateral interviews with parents and teachers, record review (if possible), behavior rating scales, measurement of intelligence, objective measurement of attention and impulsivity, and other psycho/emotional rating scales.

In other words, there are several other issues that need to be ruled out, and testing usually takes anywhere from 4-7 hours. Psychologists do not simply run down a symptom checklist to determine if an individual meets criteria. There are many other factors possibly at play and these must be fully explored.

Dr. Lawing provides ADHD testing for children and adults. Please call 504-289-5995 for a free testing consult to determine if psychological testing is warranted.