Category Archives: Child & Family

Preschoolers Store Info and Use As Needed

Here is an enlightening piece of research for those of us raising the strange little creatures known as preschoolers, and those of us providing treatment to families raising the little barbarians as well. Research by Colorado Professor Yuko Munakata suggests that three-year-olds are often listening when you give them directions — they simply choose to ignore you until there is evidence that the directions are needed. From Science Daily:

“… For example, let’s say it’s cold outside and you tell your 3-year-old to go get his jacket out of his bedroom and get ready to go outside. You might expect the child to plan for the future, think ‘OK it’s cold outside so the jacket will keep me warm,’ ” said Chatham. “But what we suggest is that this isn’t what goes on in a 3-year-old’s brain. Rather, they run outside, discover that it is cold, and then retrieve the memory of where their jacket is, and then they go get it.”

Munakata doesn’t claim to be a parental expert, but she does think their new study has relevance to parents’ daily interactions with their toddlers.

“If you just repeat something again and again that requires your young child to prepare for something in advance, that is not likely to be effective,” Munakata said. “What would be more effective would be to somehow try to trigger this reactive function. So don’t do something that requires them to plan ahead in their mind, but rather try to highlight the conflict that they are going to face. Perhaps you could say something like ‘I know you don’t want to take your coat now, but when you’re standing in the yard shivering later, remember that you can get your coat from your bedroom.”

I would argue that this tendency to ignore advice until there is evidence to support its necessity extends beyond preschool — I still go through this with my nine-year-old! The point is, you can probably save your breath and a lot of extra annoyed feelings by accepting that your small child’s brain does not operate in a way that tends to accept futuristic warnings. Showing them what will happen if they don’t listen, or helping them imagine the scenario of how they will benefit if they heed your directions, will probably be more effective than just repeating yourself ad nauseum.

(cross-posted on my psychotherapy site at

Slumdog Exorcist–Messing With Kids

I wrote a post recently opining that “Slumdog Millionaire” lacked a sense of the community in the Mumbai slum of Dharavi. One rugged individual prevails and gets the money and the girl– a feelgood plot. The use of real slum children–scores of them in extra parts–and the casual violence against them made me worry that the movie had raised the bar. You might remember a TV movie from 1974 called Born Innocent. The script writers had come up with a novel form of violence and got 15-year-old Linda (Exorcist) Blair to star. Within weeks, some children acted out the assault scene for real on a smaller child. That’s one consequence of dramatized violence; it can lead to “copycat” crimes.

In any form of art, what is perceived depends on the viewer and the context.  “Slumdog” was a validation for many, enjoyed by many, won Oscars and may, I hope, empower the people of Dharavi. The director, Danny Boyle, was interviewed on NPR. He sounded very proud that he had paid all the children the standard rate in Britain, not India. He had arranged for education and a trust fund for the child stars. But it’s not enough.

The disparity, the power imbalance, the need and the rage are forces much bigger than a movie crew with good intentions. The system is designed to ensure that the rich will get the millions, and the slumdogs will stay in the slums. How else would it be possible to keep so many in such desperation for so long? The child actors will not be saved by a trip to Disneyland and a little cash. Their situation now would be difficult for an adult, never mind a small child. From destitution, to Hollywood, then back to the slums

Azhar, 10, spent the weekend vomiting and has developed a temperature of 103 degrees since returning home last week after travelling to the Oscars with co-star Rubina Ali, 9.
He has been prescribed antibiotics by doctors, who said he is suffering from fever and exhaustion, but his condition has continued to worsen.

Azhar’s neighbours have also rallied round to build an 8ft by 5ft metal structure for him to sleep under out of the sun.
The families of the two child stars have said their children are not readjusting to life back in the slums after five days of glitz and glamour in Los Angeles.

“I cannot believe these kids have just been left like this after being taken to Hollywood. It is bound to affect them psychologically,” said social worker Sanjay Bhatia, who works in the slum.

There’s no question that the children need protection– someone who will stay and advocate for them until they are old enough to make their own way in life. They might need that well past the age of 18. Linda Blair, who had none of the culture shock and way more privilege than the Dharavi children, struggled with drugs and was lured into exploitation films before finding a stable adult life. The former child star is a sad Hollywood cliche. Was anyone thinking of that when they recruited these very young, very poor children?

Calling India — these kids need help on the ground, their parents are not up to the task. It’s a superhuman task. There’s no normal for them to go back to now, they need a trustworthy and skilled social work team to arrange for them and their families to have a safe place to live and a plan that works. They were chosen for the movie because they were sweet, and fearless and bright. With some good people to help them make the best of their fame they may be writing their own scrip in a few years, and that would be the one I’d want to watch.

Help a Child’s Dream Live On

Every so often, I find a story that really touches me in the news.  One that isn’t full of violence, destruction or hatred. Although the story of Matthew McIntyr’s wish to help adopted children, like himself, is not the one that his family would have necessarily written since Matthew passed away at age 9 last June; they are doing all they can to make his wish of helping other children in need of adoption a reality.

The McIntyre family of Cranston adopted Matthew, a former resident of Boys Town in Portsmouth, RI, in 2003.   He had been abused as a small child and through Boys Town he became a member of the McIntyre family.  After he passed away in June 2008, his family established the Matthew McIntyre Memorial Fund to assist children like him who are placed at Boys Town and hope to make the transition to a family of their own.

The Fund’s first event will be held Friday, February 27 at 6:30pm at the West Valley Inn and the money raised at the dinner will assist Boys Town to provide the opportunity for children to experience recreational, educational and other activities that fall outside of the Portsmouth facility’s budget.

For more information about the Fund or to reserve tickets for Friday’s dinner, please visit or contact Denise or Paul McIntyre at 828-0001.

Some Home Truths

I count on Patricia J. Williams as a voice of reason, and her recent essay, Eight is Enough in The Nation is clear-sighted and compassionate without letting anyone off the hook. She discusses not only “the Octomom” but large families on reality TV, and Alex Kuczinski who paid a surrogate to carry her baby and wrote about it the New York Times Magazine.

Against the backdrop of a cold, impersonal and lonely world, these well-feathered and overly populated nests look villagey and warm. It’s an undeniably seductive vision, even if other options like adoption and fostering are almost never mentioned. Also less discussed are the side effects of this mad race for biological generation at all costs: the likelihood of multiple births, low birth weight and birth defects; the ethics of using poorer women as fetal hatcheries; the health risks to young women who have their “Ivy League” eggs extracted for handsome sums of cash.

Freedom and responsibility, choice and consequences. The questions won’t get easier as science advances, and we have to find answers.

Sasha and Malia Dolls Not OK, Says First Lady

I wonder how long it will be before limited collection Malia and Sasha dolls are selling for thousands on Ebay. On the other hand, I can certainly understand why First Lady Michelle is feeling a little protective. From CNN blogs (which by the way are powered by WordPress:)

WASHINGTON (CNN)  They’ve been in the White House less than a week, but the first daughters have already been co-opted by marketers  and Michelle Obama isn’t happy about it.

Ty, the toy company responsible for the popular Beanie Babies dolls, is now marketing “Sweet Sasha” and “Marvelous Malia” dolls.

The first lady’s office said Friday Ty was out of line.  “We feel it is inappropriate to use young private citizens for marketing purposes,” said a spokeswoman for Michelle Obama in a statement.

People over the on CNN blog are already swearing off TY toys forever. Expect a “Boycott TY Toys” Facebook page to be circulating shortly.

Child Abandonments Surge in Nebraska

This is scary: give people the option of dropping their children off at a local hospital, no questions asked, and people will take it. Nebraska has had 35 children of all ages dropped off in hospitals since they passed a “safe haven” law this past summer, meant to prevent infants from being abandoned unsafely. Yesterday, the Nebraska legislature voted to limit the age of children acceptable for drop-off to 30 days after birth.

CBS News investigated some of the dropping-off parents and found that many were struggling with unmanageable and violent behavior from their children. Here is a link to the full story.

As a clinical social worker, it doesn’t entirely surprise me. It is clear that some parents really don’t know what to do to help their children and have struggled with them for so long that they are ready to give up, especially if they think there might be a better option out there provided by the state. Also, you have to wonder if the sinking economy and the pressure from shrinking budgets to limit mental health services are also factors in these situations.

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner– SANE

It was 1989 at Women and Infants hospital. I was a counselor-advocate for a woman seeking emergency care after a rape. She told me she had been abducted by two men who talked about killing her. She managed to run away and hide in the woods. She was grateful to be alive.

We waited for hours in the busy emergency room. Triage demands that the most emergent patients be seen first, and a rape exam is low on the list.

Finally the doctor arrived. She rushed into the room and stared at my client coldly. ‘Is this the woman who was supposedly raped?’

I was shocked, but kept silent so that the doctor could do the exam and leave, and this exhausted woman could finally go home.

This woman was in pain, with wounds physical and emotional. No one wants to be her, no one wants to be in that place. I’ve often wondered whether the doctor’s contemptuous manner covered a fear that any woman, even she herself, could be a victim.

I volunteered for two years with the Rape Crisis Center, (now Day One), and quickly lost the illusion that women are the more nurturing sex. In fact, the doctor, police officer, or nurse you want is the one with respect and compassion. That person can be male or female. Women might be more empathetic in general, but that’s no help when you run into a woman like that doctor. There were many other doctors both male and female who were kind and professional. It’s character, not gender.

This summer Day One held a class for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE). Nurses who complete the program take call to respond to an emergency room when needed. This spares victims a long wait and frees the emergency room doctors from having to take out time from other urgent needs. SANE nurses have a much better record of collecting evidence, documenting, and offering antibiotics and the ‘morning after’ pill to protect against sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy. The evidence collected from the rape exam can be crucial if a case goes to trial. DNA evidence can help to convict the guilty or exonerate the innocent.

The SANE program is not cheap. Emergency room services and trained professionals are needed. In Rhode Island State Crime Victim Compensation Program will pay the costs so that victims are not billed for their care.

This will remove a barrier to women, children, and men who are victims of sexual assault and need emergency care. Day One, formerly the Rhode Island Rape Crisis Center, can be reached at 421-4100. The Victims of Crime Helpline can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-494-8100.

More on Podcamp Boston

Yesterday was my first experience liveblogging an event, and as you can see from the skimpy blog post, it was a challenge — getting on wifi, staying online when I paused to listen more intently to presenters, typing on the small hand-held computer screen, shutting off my technology so that I could interact with the people around me. But overall, it was an amazing first experience.

For me, though, what rises to the surface after an experience is almost better — that’s the real grist for the mill. For me, reflection is as important as experience, since it allows me to comparatively assess the depth of new information received and how it will impact my own thoughts, plans, ideas and actions.

I’m not going to go into detail, but the bottom line is that attending Podcamp helped me further conceptualize some possibilities for Kmareka as well as some possibilities for how to use new media in psychotherapy. To that end, I will be doing a lot more research and writing both online and offline in the coming months.

I want to thank the presenters and participants I met at Podcamp who took the time to talk with me and share their ideas. Your listening ears and engaging responses have bolstered my enthusiasm for my work:

Philip Robertson, Oovoo

Susanne Sicilian,

Cristos Lianides-Chin,

Jim Spencer, JBS Partners

Deborah Block-Schwenk, Writing and Social Media Marketing

Larry Lawfer, Yourstorys

Robert H. Blatt, Audio Engineer and Podcaster for the New York Sun

Crystal King, Sr Principal, Communications and Global Marketing,

I’d also like to thank the people at for the really cute stuffed cow! My younger daughter is enthralled with it.

Nice Guys

I moved to the East Side of Providence in 1977. This was during an economic recession. It was the first time I discovered how cold an apartment could get when you needed to save money on heat. I was young, inexperienced, but learning.

I had to make it on my own in many ways. No college dorm transition to independence. Lived with my parents when I went to Rhode Island Junior College (nickname — ReJeCt) and graduated broke but debt-free.

I was just getting started living in my own rented room on Waterman Street. There were still some fine old businesses on Thayer Street before the chains pushed them out. There was a diner with a guy who wore a paper cap and called everyone ‘Champ’. He was at least 103 years old and way cool. He served greasy coffee in plastic cups.

I was just getting started in my adult life. I had no phone, couldn’t afford one. They still had pay phones on the corner then. I called my Mom and she said –

“I have bad news.�

This is the preamble to the announcement of a death in the family. This time it wasn’t a death. My tough, cigarette-smoking, hard-working widowed grandmother had been raped in her home by a housebreaker.

The spring that was blooming around me, the spring of my life turned dark.

Anyone who has had harm done to someone they love knows what it is like. It’s like a death.

My grandmother survived that awful crime. She didn’t lose her health or her mind, just her house and her place in the neighborhood. My aunt and uncle built her a basement apartment, with everything except a separate entrance. Which she said she didn’t want anymore.

While she was in the hospital, the housebreaker came in and stole the gun that my grandfather carried when he was an officer in the Providence Police. The old neighborhood had changed. Housebreaking and rape were the signature crimes of the decade.

I discovered fear. I had always believed that Jesus would protect his own, but now I was faced with a dilemma. Either there was a god who knows when every sparrow falls, but turns his back on the unsaved sparrows, or my sense of specialness was an illusion. To stay under the wing of Jesus, I would have to conclude that my grandmother was cast to the whims of fate because she clung to her Catholic religion. She wasn’t saved. If she was, Jesus would have raised his hand to protect her.

This was my rough entrance into the reality-based community. Siding with my grandmother — sharp tongued, Irish, always with a cigarette and something to read. If a god will sit up on a cloud in heaven, and watch this happen to her, because she’s not the right religion — that’s not my god.

So now I had to face the world godless.

I read the Providence Journal police report like it was the weather. If I knew where the storm was predicted to strike I might avoid it. Rape, assault, threats, narrow escapes. The Providence Journal kindly refrains these days from publishing the names and addresses of rape victims. If you get roughed up by some bullies on the street, you report it to the police at your own risk. Our one local newspaper will helpfully tell them where you live.

The weather report in 1977 was turbulent social change with an 80% chance of being insulted for being a bra-burning libber and a 40% chance of being frightened by imminent violence and erupting male rage with a 10% chance of violence getting major and physical. These predictions increased in severity as your social status decreased, but affluence did not guarantee safety.

Nearly every woman I know has had some experience of threat, because she’s a woman. Being young, you feel it. Without the sense of social validation you get from being half of a couple, without the knowledge that someone would miss you if you were three hours late getting home, you feel it.

I left the rented room and moved in to another. The house was bought out and everyone was evicted. I moved in with some Brown kids, but couldn’t blend into the household. They lived on assumptions of safety and privilege that astounded me. It was like we spoke a different language. I left that place and moved in with a couple of guys in a place in Fox Point.

Right after I got my stuff into the third bedroom of the apartment lightning struck in the neighborhood. A young couple who had bought a house to fix up were broken in on. The invaders beat and robbed them, and raped the wife in front of the husband.

One of my new roommates knew the accused. “They were nice guys,� he said.

That was one of the enlightening moments of my life. Of course they were nice guys. To him. To the young couple they tortured they were the face of hell.

When a person suffers a serious wound, the power of life being strong means they will probably heal. If they have the love and help of other people to speed their recovery they will heal faster. But a scar is not the same as undamaged skin. It is marked, and more fragile than skin that has not been injured. So trust can grow back, but you can’t undo the past.

Nice guys. To other guys, when it worked for them. Regular guys who always had someone to speak up for them. Who would believe nice guys could do this?

It’s human nature. No one wants to believe that the nice guys have another side. If they are good to you they are good by you. The guys must have been drunk. Maybe the urban homesteaders were flashing their wealth. Any excuse to evade the truth that this is part of human nature, to favor your friends and rip off strangers. It works if you don’t get caught. Those guys got caught pretty fast.

This all happened around the time Roman Polanski fled to France. Now he’s knocking on the door again. A nice guy. Lots of friends. Didn’t hurt anyone important. Just a child. Just a mother. Just a woman.

America’s First Blow for Freedom

Do you know what “America’s First Blow for Freedom� was? If you’re like most Rhode Islanders, who live outside of Cranston and Warwick, then the answer more likely or not is no. That’s sad because it means that the majority of Rhode Islanders are unaware of the important role that Rhode Island played in the colonies’ fight for independence from England prior to the American Revolution.

In 1772, the HMS Gaspee patrolled the waters of Narragansett Bay to enforce the Stamp Act. On June 9, the Hannah lured the Gaspee onto a sandbar off of what is now Gaspee Point and while it was stranded, a group of colonists burned the Gaspee. For a more detailed synopsis of the events, visit:

I grew up in the Gaspee Plateau area of Warwick and my neighborhood was located right on Narragansett Bay directly across from Gaspee Point, where the burning of the Gaspee transpired in 1772. Each Memorial Day weekend, my brothers, friends and I would visit the Gaspee Days Arts & Crafts Festival at least two of the three days (sometimes more) and eagerly await the Gaspee Days Parade which is held the second Saturday in June. I can document stages of my childhood from pictures taken at the parade; from my first parade at 10 months old, to when I was a four year old who talked my father into buying me a painter’s cap from Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ tour (my mother was less than pleased), to my teenage years and this year we’ll hopefully get some photos of my son at his first parade.

If you’ve never been to any of the Gaspee Days events, I encourage you to attend the Arts & Crafts Festival, Fireworks at Salter’s Grove, reenactment of the Burning of the Gaspee and of course, the Parade. The Events calendar can be found here: The Gaspee Days’ season has always been a part of my life and I hope to continue that tradition with my son, and even though we don’t live right on the parade route, fortunately, Gramma and Grandpa do!


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