Happiness In The Age of COVID

The Advocate newspaper carries a column on parenting by child psychologist John Rosemond. I’ll herald the latest installment to my wife: “Hey Honey, cranky ol’ Dr. Rosemond is at it again!”  He’s old-school, wherein children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard, hard-work-is-its-own-reward, etc.  While not exactly advocating that kids work 14 hour-shifts in textile mills, he likes to cast doubt on such “modern” diagnoses as ADHD.

He sometimes makes good points. His column “Why Some People Believe That They Are Entitled,” speaks to the erosion of happiness in the age of COVID.  Entitlement is the idea that you deserve happiness, wealth, and success, whether you’ve earned it or not.  According to Rosemond, recent generations have raised kids to think like European Royalty, that they’re more special than everyone else, and thus Entitled.  Even cheating to get what you want is okay, since you’re above the rules meant for commoners.

Many argue that instilling a sense of Entitlement, and generally spoiling children, has led to the rise in depression and suicidality in kids and teens.  When kids don’t get their way in the real world, in school, with other kids or adults, they’re profoundly disappointed, their world-revolves-around-me view shattered.  Now with social distancing, travelling restricted to grocery shopping, and economic free-fall, few adults are getting their way anymore either.

With loss of work and freedom, people are bored, depressed about a life without purpose, and full of anxiety that they or their loved ones will get seriously ill. Many raised in the land of plenty are, like spoiled toddlers, now profoundly disappointed with life.  However, many others, in the search for meaning in this new age, have taken action. They’ve started life-affirming tasks- learning new skills like a new language or cooking; spending more time with their kids (and parents!), making masks and delivering food to health care workers and shut-ins, donating blood.

John Rosemond is right, at least about this aspect of parenting. Kids should learn that being useful, being moral, and working hard, are more important than striving to be happy and successful.  Then strangely enough, the pursuit of character begats happiness anyway.. Especially in the Age of COVID.

Another pillar of happiness is being connected with others.  While we just discussed that hard work and a meaningful life lead to happiness, social interaction helps too.  Before the invention of telephones in 1876, people communicated from afar by written letter. Also in those days, early death was a constant.  About one quarter of infants died before their first birthday, and almost half of children died before puberty.  The average adult was lucky to live past 40.  Thus letters between distant family members often started with “I hope this letter finds you well,” followed by a summary of the health of those at home.

That was the snail pace of life, death, and communication in the Age of Enlightenment. Thanks to the internet, with email, twitter, instagram, and facebook, the above sentiments are transmitted instantly.  I’ve gotten scads of electronic messages from near and far asking me if I’m okay on the “front lines” in the Emergency Department. At home we’ve been spending lots of facetime with my daughter in Seattle and my son in New Orleans, COVID hot spots.

Though it’s a good time for the internet, with it keeping us connected and informed, the net’s also a two-edged sword in these respects. Hateful and divisive posts on facebook or twitter come at us instantly as well. Nothing gets people fired up, and not in a good way, like a skewed political post claiming the other side is criminal or incompetent.

Misinformation spreads quickly too, For example, there’s many posts about how influenza, the plain old flu, has caused many more deaths than COVID, and yet we never tanked the economy by closing schools and businesses during flu season. What they don’t mention is that COVID threatens to cause even more deaths than influenza, since it’s more deadly to individual patients, may be even more contagious, and has no vaccine or anti-viral medication to check its spread. The only way to stop it and save lives- closures and social distancing.

So for information on keeping you and your kids safe, and your futures, please use expert sources without political or social agendas: the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP.org). These places will give you the straight scoop as it becomes known, without an extra helping of anger to dampen your happiness.

ADHD Or Just Bad Behavior?

This week’s guest columnist is Dr. Seth Koster, a Family Practice resident at the University Hospital and Clinics here in Lafayette.

Is your child ”bouncing off the walls” or “just won’t listen?”  Pediatricians and family physicians see lots of kids with behavior problems.  Parents or teachers often want to know if this is ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or just bad behavior?

ADHD is a hot topic.  Some claim that ADHD is only bad behavior from ineffective parenting- “she just needs a good spanking!”‘  On the other extreme, some kids receive ADHD medication who don’t need it. Regardless if you believe ADHD is real, here are tips on helping kids act better.  Kids who don’t have ADHD respond to these tips; kids who do may respond less consistently, but will still be happier and better behaved.

Spanking?  Many ask, to spank or not to spank?  A bigger question is why are you spanking?  If you do spank your child, avoid doing this in anger.  Only spank for behavior that’s dangerous, like running into the street, not for something small. Explain why you’re punishing. He may not understand right away, but kids get more than you think and will eventually catch on.

More importantly, reward good behavior.  Positive reinforcement is MUCH more effective than punishment.  Saying things like “Thank you for being so quiet,” and “You did a good job picking up your room” is great behavior modification. Every kid (and adult!) likes praise, and kids will work to earn more.

Don’t be sarcastic, or make fun of your child.  Young children are sensitive, and cutting remarks and mean-spirited teasing hurt feelings.  Pre-teens and teens don’t like that either.  If you are unpleasant to your children, they will grow up thinking that it’s okay to be abused and to abuse others

Build family traditions.  Many households lack structure or traditions.  Do something together!  Go to a park or to church every Sunday, or have Friday night pizza as a family. Kids look forward to these things- it’s something to do with mom and dad. Also keep extended family in mind and make time for them.

Keep a home routine, or “rhythm.”  Chaotic homes make chaotic children.  Some kids who seem to have ADHD just aren’t used to having to sit still and follow along; they never learned how at home.  We know it’s especially important to have a routine home life for children with autism or ADHD, but every kid behaves better and is happier with structure.

Keep the same bedtimes.  Don’t let kids stay up later with phones or watching TV-that’s cheating!  Eat meals together at regular times. Give your children daily and weekly chores. Even kids as young as 5 years-old want to help, and should start picking up after themselves.  Be realistic though; the seven year old shouldn’t be shingling the roof.  5-6 year-olds can clean rooms, 8-9 year-olds can help with dishes and take out trash, and 13 year-olds can mow lawns and babysit younger siblings for short periods.

Expect your children to RESPECT others.  Respecting adults and peers is important. The Golden Rule, “Treat people as you want to be treated,” even very young children understand.  This is the South- we expect ”yes sir” and “no ma’am.”  Doing this will help your kids earn respect in turn. 

Set a good example by respecting others in speech and action.  Your child should never hear you curse.  If (or when?) you do mess up, be honest with your children and tell them you expect better from yourself, and them.

Don’t argue with your kids, or ask them “why” they did something.  If they misbehave, punish them appropriately and briefly explanation why they acted badly.  Asking them why makes it personal, as if they are bad inside and not just simply making a mistake.  If they argue with your reasoning, don’t engage them in the argument.  As Dr. Hamilton used to say to his kids, “This isn’t an argument, this is simply how you should act.”

The most challenging child can benefit from these tips. Try them out; if you don’t make progress with difficult behavior, you’re not alone!  Talk with your doctor or school counselor.  They can help you with behavior techniques, to help your kids be the best they can be.