Why is your child so unreasonable?

Kids! They’re so irrational! Unreasonable! They’re…well, kids.

Toddlers are usually not able to understand that the ideas in your head are different than the ideas in their head. Learning that other people don’t know/see/hear/think all the things you do is called developing a “theory of mind.” Before this, kids think everyone knows what they know. If you hide a toy with Joey while Sarah is out of the room, and invite Sarah back in, 3-year-old Joey will not understand how Sarah can not know where the toy is. Joey is still developing a theory of mind. You will know when your child has developed a theory of mind when he or she tries to lie. This usually happens relatively late in the preschool years. Until then, if they know what they want (and are regrettably incoherent) and you fail to understand and comply, they can only reasonably assume (from their perspective) that you are being mean on purpose. They know what they want – how can you NOT?

As children develop a theory of mind, they also develop other signs of brain maturity. One is the ability to “conserve.” This doesn’t mean the Greenpeace/Sierra Club type of conserving. It means that they understand that, whether you break it into four pieces or leave it whole, it’s the same puny graham cracker for snack. The golden days of breaking it in two so they think that there is now “more” are behind you.

As they develop their theory of mind and the ability to understand a bit more about the physical world, they stay very literal for a while, or what cognitive scientists call “concrete.” They are in the real world. This makes it difficult for them to consider multiple aspects of a problem at one time, and makes abstract concepts – like algebra – just about impossible. They might fixate on one aspect of a project or task despite your efforts to get them to consider other aspects. They might memorize things to make you happy, but until their brain reaches a certain point of development (and sooner doesn’t necessarily mean smarter, it just means sooner) algebra and other abstract concepts don’t really “click.”

While, for example, a 15-year-old can be on a debating team and argue in favor of a point with which he or she personally disagrees, a bright 7 or 8 year old would have a great deal of difficulty doing so. This is a function of brain maturation – a process that continues into the early 20s.

So…that’s why your child seems so unreasonable. It’s because their brain is a child’s brain – growing, amazing, absorbing information at lightning speeds. It’s our job to meet them where they are and go with them as they grow.


Dr. Lori Puterbaugh, LMHC, LMFT, NCC

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.


Too busy!

People brag about the strangest things.

Not getting enough sleep is one; are Americans in some sort of dysfunctional competition to see who can get by on the least possible sleep – regardless of the effect on their mental and physical health?

Another is being busy – so very, very busy – that one could not possibly do anything healthy, or creative, or refreshing in any way.

Is it real busy-ness? It’s hard to say, but I have my suspicions that it often comprises some combination of underestimating how much time is frittered away on time-wasters, taking on a lot of extra and unnecessary tasks, and, sometimes, more than a hint of pride. You know, the people who find out you actually read books in the evening or squeeze in a date night with your spouse and give that little smile and a hint of a sniff when they say, “Well, it must be nice…” Well, yes, actually, it is. Very nice.

Pride, or arrogance, aren’t necessarily obvious. Healthy humans have a normal, natural need to feel needed and wanted. This is a good, but the fear that somehow your absence will cause all of creation – or at least your workplace or the kitchen at home – to immediately crumble into dust is not good. Even Jesus and Moses sometimes sneaked off for some very necessary R&R, either to be alone with God or also with some of their most loved, trusted friends.

Some people are going through a stage of life that is very busy. People with school-aged kids who each  participate in one extra activity will indeed be temporarily overly busy, driving to practice or lessons. They check homework, look under the sofa for shin guards, and use their vacation time for pediatric appointments for yet another ear infection. This stage is transient. Even too-busy parents, though, often hide time-wasters into their day.

When someone asserts always being “too busy” to do things they claim they really want to do, then I suspect that perhaps they don’t actually want to do those things. It would be better to say, “Oh, no – last thing I want to do is be stuck in a gym five mornings a week,” then to dodge exercise by pretending they are just too, too busy. Once they are honest about the issue (apparently they would rather do something else than spend hours on the human version of a hamster wheel) they are free to figure out how to meet the essential need (enough exercise to stay healthy) and stop dodging reality with brag-worthy busy-ness.

It’s hard to give up the busy excuse to oneself. It might be a polite dodge to other people (but remember that “let your yes mean yes and your no mean no” admonition?) but it’s just pointless to lie to oneself.


Dr. Lori Puterbaugh, LMHC, LMFT, NCC

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

A little out of sync…

Intellectually gifted children are a challenge for grownups.

Their ability to learn and apply information may be far ahead of their peers but their emotional and motor skills may be completely normal (read: average and right on schedule). So your highly gifted six-year-old, who can visualize Johnny Depp’s pirate ship but whose little fingers can only manage 5-year-old’s motor skills, will be angry and frustrated to the point of tears over a boat that looks perfectly fine to you. Your gifted twelve year old will, with the emotional fragility of a middle-school-aged heart, grapple with the existential questions peers more often face in college.

This kind of asynchronous development is hard for the child, too…and will continue to be so, until adulthood. It’s easier for adults to find a few intellectual peers with whom to deeply connect. The more gifted the child, the harder this will be, simply because of the mathematical odds. Intellectual giftedness comprises only 2% of the population. Highly gifted persons are less than 1/1000 of the population; for them, the odds of finding someone on par, or, an even happier event, encountering someone sharper in intellectual terms, is slim. It’s important for grownups to be aware of the interior struggles gifted children face and provide opportunities for support, encouragement and sometimes some careful education on why they feel so different from other kids.

Add to this gifted kids’ tendency to need a little less sleep, be a little more bouncy, be in a hurry to learn and do, ask a lot of questions…or, conversely, be very quiet, observant and introverted, and the challenge for parents and teachers becomes clear.

Interested in learning more? There are a lot of resources out there: American Mensa and SENG are two excellent sources of information and support for the gifted child (or grownup) in your life.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Toxic Myths, revisited

A lot of people ask about toxic myths: what does that mean? Why “myths?” (I’d like to say, well, buy the book, and sometimes do).

The toxic myths are examples of lies dressed up as truths. Our culture is seething with them, but in Toxic Mythology, I only addressed a few.

For example, consider the myth that people can compartmentalize their lives. Someone can, within this myth, be an absolute scoundrel in their personal life but supposedly be capable of being completely trustworthy and honorable in their public/vocational role.   Conversely, they can (per the myth, at least) be a sociopath in their professional life but be kind, tender and good in private.

So…if you buy this myth, you have to be willing to:

Vote for someone who swears to uphold a particular principle while having a personal and/or professional life littered with betrayals and a habit of acting on expediency, not principle;

Believe your child who promises she didn’t really cheat on that exam or plagiarize on the paper (despite the software evidence) after same child was grounded for “borrowing” money out of your wallet without permission.

Keep on an employee whom you overhear lie to customers because you haven’t caught that employee lying to you.

Convince yourself that your gossipy acquaintance never, ever would talk about YOU behind your back.

Does any of that sound reasonable? Of course not; these are, however, the toxic myth in action. Our culture tells us that it’s perfectly reasonable to believe that compartmentalization of character is possible and (further) that we should be “judgmental.” That’s another myth for another day.


Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Mental Health, Well-Being, and Responsibility

More about personal responsibility in regards to mental health and well-being…

Have you noticed how often people talk about things they do as if they were events that happened. It’s as if “stuff happened,” and they were just hapless victims of circumstances. Note, I am talking about the things people actually DO – not things that really do happen to them.

“I got to work (or class, or church, or wherever) late.” A more accurate description would be, “I decided to do (some category of activity) rather than leave on time.” Maybe it was staying in bed, maybe it was “one more chore,” but the person decided to do something and thus the lateness.

Someone complains, “I woke up with a hangover,” when, of course, the reality is, “I decided to drink to a point where I knew I would feel lousy today but last night it seemed like a really good idea.”

“The (whatever task – homework, a chore, etc.) didn’t get done.” What really happened? The person decided to do something else, or a whole bunch of something elses, rather than that pesky task.

So, one way to improve one’s well-being is to simply start taking responsibility for choices. I might decide to have a brownie ice cream sundae for breakfast, and if so, I should say I am deciding to have this instead of scrambled egg whites with cheese. The brownie sundae, in all its wonderful deliciousness, will not just happen to me by accident, without warning.

I can decide to sit and stew about something that bothers me or I can decide to try to focus on some other activity and decide that I will figure out what to do about a particular problem when I’m in a better frame of mind. I get to decide; an hour spent stewing is something I can choose, or maybe I can choose to do something else instead.

You can decide to be in a relationship with someone who is toxic and mean, or not.

You can decide whether to seek help in parenting strategies, or throw up your hands in despair, or try the consequence-of-the-week approach except for when you’re too tired to argue.

You can decide whether to join a grief support group or suffer in silence and loneliness.

The act of owning a decision gives a greater sense of control, because if you decided one thing today, you might decide something else in five minutes, or tomorrow, or next week. If stuff just happens to you, you have no control, and thus must sit around being helpless, hoping for better luck next time.

Luck is an iffy plan.

It would be better to decide.



Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Personal Responsibility and Mental Health

This is another reflection on the Florida Adlerian Society’s annual conference last Friday. One of the primary speakers emphasized the role of personal responsibility in mental health. I can imagine, taken out of context, how brutal that might sound. “Are we now blaming victims and ill people for their woes?” the person exposed to just that sound bite might wonder. “Is that what mental health professionals believe?

The short answer is no, that’s not what we believe.

Embracing free will and the dignity of each person, however, ineluctably leads one to emphasize the role of personal responsibility in how one deals with what happens in life. This isn’t something new: it is ancient philosophy dressed up in psychotherapy clothes. So, while someone may suffer terrible misfortunes outside of their control, the impetus to decide what to do about it is within them. Seek help, or sink into despair? Reach up to grasp a hand, or reach out for a bottle, or needle, or some other vial of trouble?

Sometimes people do have some personal responsibility for what happens, and indulge in magical thinking in which bad things just randomly happen to them. I recall a person I met many years ago who got into trouble for buying drugs. He complained about the injustice of the level of trouble; he didn’t mean to do it. It just happened. (I’m pretty much quoting here.) I asked, how do you buy drugs by accident? How do you take a peaceful stroll around your neighborhood and accidentally end up lurking behind a shopping center chatting with the type of entrepreneurs who set up shop near dumpsters and concrete walls? Acting like there is no personal responsibility means that there is no effort to make things better. It’s just a lot of bad luck, from his perspective; no reason to change because you can’t change “luck.”

Often, though, human suffering is due to others’ actions. Just the same, an adult has some power to effect change. The responsibility is not for others’ bad actions, but to take some sort of action to help oneself. Sometimes people evade taking responsibility to make change because it will be uncomfortable, or embarrassing, or mean that they have to admit that at some earlier point they were wrong. Breaking off a destructive friendship or leaving a toxic work environment can be very challenging for a host of reasons, and leaving an abusive relationship can be dangerous. Reach out and get help. If the first, or second, or third person you go to for help is clueless – keep looking for the right help.

Typically, people do things that undercut happiness and health in some way and evade responsibility. People have habits that cause insomnia, for example, and complain, as if poor sleep side-tackled them in the hallway due to no fault of their own. We take on extra activities and complain about being too busy. People fail to set limits with their kids and then yell and throw consequences around when their children are irresponsible, disrespectful and unpleasant to be around. People make choices all day, often on auto-pilot, and a great many of us are prone to griping about all sorts of situations that result, as if stuff just happens without cause. Yes, of course, sometimes, stuff does happen…but, if you’re always five minutes late…that’s you. Not the traffic, not the cat, not the dog…it’s you. If your friends are inconsiderate, that’s not your fault, but it is your problem if you keep tolerating it. If you do tolerate it, then take responsibility for it and stop complaining. “Yes, good old Joe is always late but that’s just him; it’s not personal.” You’ve decided to accept it. Stop griping. If you can’t stop griping, you haven’t accepted it. If you can’t accept it, then do something: leave when he’s late. Put your foot down. Tell him off. Lie about what time you’re meeting and get there late yourself (it might work, once). Whatever; if you’re not prepared to do something about it then face that you have decided to let Joe be chronically late without regard for your preferences or schedule because you have decided tolerating it beats the alternatives you’ve identified of annoying Joe or losing his friendship.

Narrowing it down to mental health, whatever a person is suffering, help is available. How one lives is always part of healing. Proper amounts of exercise, sleep and nutrition are part of it, and things for which most people can take some responsibility. Seeking right guidance requires making choices. Unless you belong to a professional mental health association, your friends might not be the best source of professional advice on the specific strategies, to, for example, use mindfulness training, exercise and specific cognitive therapy techniques to rewire your brain and reduce obsessive-compulsive symptoms. You get to choose. That’s not blaming you for your suffering, but it is saying that you have the freedom, responsibility, and capacity to move towards healing.


Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Letting Children be Children

Is having a healthy, happy childhood a good thing? Is it important to have that foundation in order to be a productive, healthy and happy adult? All of us would agree that, “Well, duh. Of course.” Well, of course…yet, around the world, it seems that the short-lived glorification of childhood as a separate, sacred stage of life (in many ways a 20th century movement) is crumbling away.

In some European nations, 14 year olds have attained the age of consent to sexual activity with adults. Here in the US, they aren’t expected to remember their homework and thus teachers must dutifully post assignments on a school website so parents can check. For the record: 14 year olds can remember homework. Try breaking a promise about a privilege and see how good their memory actually is. The same child, however, is not capable of informed consent. They are not equipped to really understand long-term consequences due to brain development.

In the Netherlands, a 12 year old who is seriously ill – and consider that here, an awful lot of parents don’t expect 12 year old children to do chores or remember their own shin guards for soccer – can petition a judge to be euthanized due to illness. Their parents get to choose whether to grant permission up until age 16. That means that a 17 year old can petition to be medically killed. The same child might not be able to follow through on a college admission essay, or otherwise exhibit normal responsibility, but somehow their request to die ought to be treated as a perfectly normal legal procedure.

In our own country, about 9% of children have been diagnosed with ADHD and are being treated with medications, most often powerful stimulant medications – a rate that dwarfs much of Europe’s less-than-1% rate for medicating children.

Psychologically and physically, children aren’t miniature adults, as was so often the view in the past, due to the physically challenging, dangerous life most humans lived over much of history. They need love, secure boundaries, and guidance in learning to make good choices as they mature. Where these needs are unmet, adult dysfunction, emotional distress and physical illnesses are apt to follow.

They definitely don’t need to make life-or-death decisions, or be exploited by bad adults, or otherwise be treated with an expectation that they are fully rational, insightful grownups.


Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.