Back To School: Thoughts from the Cracked Pot

Dear Readers, Voyeurs, and Insomniacs,

I can’t believe that it has been six months since I last pontificated for the “Thoughts from the Cracked Pot.” Not really sure where the time has actually gone, but it has been an amazing ride and truly inspiring to work with so many amazing people. What originally started as a monthly goal of blogging random insights to help lighten the soul, has quickly fallen by the way (see my January blog about New Year’s Resolutions – oops).

At first, I considered writing some deep, thought-provoking message about the passage of time, the changing colors of fall leaves, or even the smell of a weekend BBQ. But as I discussed my blog ideas with my wife and staff, they simply laughed and said, “Yeah, right…you? The guy who dances in the hallways with clients, leaves photocopies of your face in other doctors’ offices, and has a twitter tagline of #BrainDork? That guy?

So, with that said, I decided that it was best to start again, from the top, here in the new office space at Tanner Clinic (yes, we moved…but hey, we have candy…not to make that sound creepy). What can be a better discussion than the seasonal joys known as THE BEGINNING OF A NEW SCHOOL YEAR?! This is where the background music usually begins. Perhaps it is the sound of lost innocence, a graduation marching tune, or even a joyful ditty (for the mom who simply wants the summer arguments to end). Knowing that we have one final year of math to survive in our home, I am going with the “Imperial Death March” from Star Wars set to the drawn tune of “Chariots of Fire.”

About two years ago, I was invited to appear on Fox 13 to discuss ideas to help with school preparation and perhaps even survival. I guess by default, I am considered an expert. I mean, I did actually earn all the “wisdom streaks” that I call “Old Man Gray.” I thought I was an expert, because I was crazy enough to do all my primary and secondary education (13 years plus Headstart) and then 18 more years of college. For those who have not used math since last school year, that’s 32 years in total. Maybe I need to spend some quality time with myself on my office couch exploring my need for self-punishment? Plus, I do have children and they did take math. Perhaps I simply like the Imperial Death March Theme?

Here we go:

  1. Get your younger kiddos involved. Research shows that the more involved someone is in decision making, the more prone they are to want to do something. There is a sense of pride, control and ownership. Few individuals have ever failed to complete school because they had the weird haircut, goofy backpack, unique lunchbox, or mismatched socks/shoes. Not to scare you parents, but they may be the next #BrainDork.
  2. Set a consistent schedule. It never ceases to amaze me how often I find myself sharing this idea. Whether it is for school, parenting or life. The more consistent we do something, the better it is for us. I was once asked by a friend “What is the best thing to put on a wart to kill it?” I thought to myself, “How the heck do I know? Not get one?” I know some amazing dermatologists, and I even had a patient think that I was a dermatologist because my office was next to that department. My dermatologist neighbor’s advice on war removal was “Doesn’t matter, as long as you are consistent. You can use duct tape, mustard, medicine…the key is consistency.” Not sure this is evidence-based medicine, but the concept is good. Consistent bedtimes, consistent homework times, consistent schedules. Research also shows that a behavior is much easier to maintain than to relearn. Holidays and weekends are no exception. The more inconsistent a family’s schedule, the higher propensity for emotional, behavioral, and academic dysregulation.
  3. Technology. I was recently honored to speak to some amazing mothers about the impact of electronics on brain development. As we discussed the startling research, I also explained that there is not only a developmental impact, but a regulation issue that we often see. I wrote my Dissertation on Chronic Insomnia. Research shows that even 10 minutes of electronics can slow melatonin production for up to two hours. Children (and parents) would sleep better, wake up happier and more refreshed, and handle school better if we limited electronics two hours before bed. I always found it interesting that we use sleep aids, like melatonin, to help us fall asleep because we have been doing things that limit natural production of melatonin.
  4. Reward, don’t bribe. There is nothing evil nor wrong from rewarding good school behavior. However, to bribe good behavior is a slippery slope that often leaves the briber on the short end of the stick. Like the majority of homes, good grades and behavior are simply expectations. I do not believe in bribing good behaviors from my children. They can do as they are asked (and expected), or they can have a consequence. If they won’t do homework, then they obviously do not want their freedoms (playing outside, electronics, activities). If doing what is expected is too much, then I definitely do not want them overwhelmed with what they want…I would be a mean, non-understanding parental figure (my daughter’s words). I have no problem rewarding achievement, but I decide if and when it happens. Research shows us that rewarding behavior solidifies it, while bribing…well, it gets expensive.

So there it is. Basic ideas and thoughts to add to your secret stash of chocolate and caffeine. I promise you can survive. My oldest graduated last year, and my baby is nine months from her graduation march. If it all comes crashing down, you can find me at Tasty’s…buried in double blueberry donuts and a large Diet Dr. Pepper.

Remember, be nice to yourself…you’re new at this thing called today!

Not Broken,

Dr. Ben