Category Archives: All Kids

Protect Your Children

I established this website to provide parents with child development resources.  The sexual abuse at Penn State that sparked headlines like “Penn State Scandal” made me realize how little parents, or the public for that matter, actually know about child sexual abuse.  Unfortunately, something this huge and outrageous has to occur to get public attention to this issue. While the world is talking about this, I want to provide parents with an opportunity to learn more about child sexual abuse and how to protect your children, because clearly the people we trust with our children are not necessarily going to protect them.

With such an important topic, I decided to go to an expert in this area for help with this post.  Dr. Anna Salter received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and Public Practice from Harvard and is the author of the Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists and Other Sex Offenders: Who They Are, How They Operate and How We Can Protect Ourselves and Our Children.  Dr. Salter agreed to write the following guest post about child sexual abuse.  At the end of her post I have included additional resources for parents.  A number of organizations have created fact sheets about child sexual abuse and ways to help protect children.  The post below by Dr. Salter and the websites listed provide essential information that every parent should know.

Key Facts about Child Sexual Abuse:

Child sexual abuse is something that every parent needs to be concerned about.  According to studies, somewhere between 20 and 30% of girls are sexually abused as children and 9 to 16% of boys.  Abusers are almost never strangers.  They are typically family friends or acquaintances, for example, youth group leaders, teachers, pediatricians, children’s choir directors, camp counselors, coaches and others whose vocation or avocation gives them access to kids.  No profession that works with kids is safe from the infiltration of child sex offenders.  Parents need to understand that these men, and occasionally women, look and act like everyone else.  The successful ones are almost always personable, even charming.  What makes them successful is their likeability.  They act very different in public than they do when alone with children.  They often do extensive “good works” and many have excellent reputations in the community.

About Sex Offenders:

I interview such men for educational films that I make on how sex offenders fool people.  Every offender I have ever interviewed of this type was caught one or more times before the time that it went to authorities.  Kids often disclose; adults walk in on it.  But over and over offenders have relayed to me how parents did not believe the disclosures because they trusted the offender so much.  Even when someone walks in on it, they typically confront the offender – who promises to never do it again – and extract a promise that the offender will “get help.”  They then do not report it to authorities.  This typically happens multiple times before someone finally reports it to police.  Every offender I have ever talked to who had this happen takes this as permission to continue to abuse.  They view it as proof they are invincible, that they can talk their way out of anything, that it really wasn’t that big a deal or someone would have gone to police.  It isn’t just that it doesn’t stop them; it actually gives them permission to continue and emboldens them.  What happened at Penn State doesn’t surprise me.  It just saddens me.

Dr. Anna Salter, PhD

Dr. Salter received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and Public Practice from Harvard University and obtained a Masters Degree in Child Study from Tufts. She was a Teaching Fellow at both Universities. Dr. Salter has lived in Madison Wisconsin since 1996 and consults half time to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.  In addition, she lectures and consults on sex offenders and victims throughout the United States and abroad. She has keynoted conferences on sexual abuse in Australia, New Zealand, Scotland and England. In all, she has conducted trainings in 49 states and 10 countries. Dr. Salter also evaluates sex offenders for civil commitment proceedings and other purposes.

Resources (all links go directly to the website/fact sheet).

American Humane Association.  Stop Child Abuse.  Fact Sheet includes the following section on protecting children:

Protect your children. Teach your children what appropriate sexual behavior is and when to say “no” if someone tries to touch sexual parts of their bodies or touch them in any way that makes them feel uncomfortable. Also, observe your children when they interact with others to see if they are hesitant or particularly uncomfortable around certain adults. It is critical to provide adequate supervision for your children and only leave them in the care of individuals whom you deem safe.”

American Academy of Child  & Adolescent Psychiatry   Fact Sheet: Child Sexual Abuse states the following recommendation:

“Parents can prevent or lessen the chance of sexual abuse by:

  • Telling children that if someone tries to touch your body and do things that make you feel funny, say NO to that person and tell me right away
  • Teaching children that respect does not mean blind obedience to adults and to authority, for example, don’t tell children to, Always do everything the teacher or baby-sitter tells you to do
  • Encouraging professional prevention programs in the local school system”

National Center for the Victims of Crime.  Child Sexual Abuse.  Website focuses on definitions of sexual abuse, symptoms of abuse, how to report it, and how to cope if it has happened.

American Psychological Association.Understanding Sexual Abuse: Education, Prevention, and Recovery. Page 6 has the following tips for protecting children from sexual abuse:

“What is Child Sexual Abuse?

  • The typical advice “Don’t Talk to Strangers” doesn’t apply in this case. Most sexual perpetrators are known to their victims.
  • Do not instruct children to give relatives hugs and kisses. Let them express affection on their own terms.
  • Teach your children basic sexual education. Teach them that no one should touch the “private” parts of their body. A health professional can also help to communicate sex education to children if parents are uncomfortable doing so.
  • Develop strong communication skills with your children. Encourage them to ask questions and talk about their experiences. Explain the importance of reporting abuse to you or another trusted adult.
  • Teach your children that sexual advances from adults are wrong and against the law. Give them the confidence to assert themselves against any adult who attempts to abuse them.
  • Make an effort to know children’s friends and their families.
  • Instruct your child to never get into a car with anyone without your permission.
  • Teach your children that their bodies are their own. That it is OK to say they do not want a hug or that certain kinds of contact make them uncomfortable.
  • It is important to remember that physical force is often not necessary to engage a child in sexual activity. Children are trusting and dependent and will often do what is asked of them to gain approval and love.”

Bivona Child Advocacy Center. If you Suspect a Child is Being Abused.  Excellent tips for how to talk to your child if you think they have been abused.


Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists and Other Sex Offenders: Who They Are, How They Operate and How We Can Protect Ourselves and Our Children. By Anna Salter (2003) New York: Basic Books Amazon Link

My Body Belongs to Me. By Jill Starishevsky


ABC News: Talking to your kids about sexual abuse.






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Mean Parents

Yesterday I realized that I walk around on a daily basis carrying a giant Halloween Pumpkin full of delicious candy.  I bring it into the bedroom with me when I sleep.  It’s the first thing I check when I wake up and usually the last thing I see before I go to sleep.  Sometimes I put it in my purse or pocket, but I reach in to check on it frequently.  Luckily, it even makes a fun noise sometimes to remind me to check it or to tell me that something has happened to my candy.  Sometimes when I’m in the car with kids, I let them reach into the pumpkin and get some candy.  Sometimes before dinner we reach in together to get some candy.  When I go somewhere pretty I pull the pumpkin from my purse and shake it around to capture the images that I see, waving it in front of the little kids faces, reminding them of all the candy and excitement that is inside. But sometimes when the kids ask to have some candy, I say “no, not now” and tears and screaming follows.  Sorry guys, this is my pumpkin, I decide when you get to have candy but I get to snack all the time.  It’s just the way it is.

It sounds like a crazy analogy, but in a lot of ways, carrying around a smartphone is like carrying around a pumpkin full of candy, to both the parent and the child. The pumpkin itself isn’t too exciting, it’s just the container although it is pretty and appealing (the smartphone) but whats inside, all of the delicious mini Snickers, M&M packages, and Reese’s Peanut Butter cups (Angry Birds, There’s a Monster at the End of This Book app, and DoodleBuddy) are exciting, fun, and addicting!  The funny thing about the pumpkin/smartphone analogy is that it is incredibly accurate.  There are times when kids (or adults) reach into the pumpkin excited to get  piece of chocolate but sadly they pull out MilkDuds or black licorice, yuck.  The same thing happens on a smartphone with the millions of apps that parents have for children to play.  Sometimes you reach in and get something great like an app from Duck Duck Moose and other days you get a total dud (I won’t name names here).

What’s funny is that parents understand that it would be totally absurd and cruel to carry around a candy filled pumpkin which they are allowed to repeatedly reach into and get something good, but only occasionally allow their children to reach in and take candy.  But parents don’t realize that they really are constantly pulling out a really fun and exciting toy in front of their kids throughout the day and frequently telling their kids they can’t play with it.  It’s a little bit mean when you think about it.

So what is the solution?  Throw out the pumpkin filled with candy? (There is no way any parent will toss their precious smartphone!)  Hide it on the top shelf and allow the children to take one piece a day?… maybe that is the solution.  Children do understand limits and they like the consistency of knowing that they will get their one piece of candy each day, maybe after dinner or after school, whenever you decide.  Maybe that is a beginning solution to smartphones.  Setting up routine times, like you do with reading before bed, where your children can play with the device for a certain period of time.  This allows children to understand the limits of the device and also to understand that they will get a turn to use it too.   But just like hiding the pumpkin away so the children aren’t constantly tempted to want to eat the candy, parents need to make more of an effort to take time away from their smartphones too and to recognize that it is a HUGE temptation to both the parents and children when it is constantly coming in and out of your pocket and sitting on the kitchen table during dinner.

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Bullying versus Kindness

Bullying is undeniably a problem. In the news we see horrible stories of what can happen when children are continually bullied in and outside of school.  As a result, we are seeing more and more anti-bullying campaigns.  Common Sense Media has a “Stand Up to Cyberbullying Campaign” which provides information for parents of children ranging in age from 2 to 17.  Sesame Street has an anti-bullying campaign which features a video of Big Bird being bullied by members of the “Good Birds Club” and discussion suggestions for parents. Organizations like and’s National Bullying Prevention Center offer information about identifying bullying behavior and  resources and tips for dealing with bullying.  These resources and programs are incredibly helpful and are necessary to decrease the recurring issues of bullying we are seeing in schools, playgrounds, and online.

But there is another side of the coin, right?  We do need bullying prevention and active resources to help parents and teachers understand and prevent bullying behavior, but isn’t it equally, if not even more important, to institute interventions that encourage children to act with kindness and respect and provide tools to enhance children’s social and emotional learning?  A recent meta-analysis (a study that examines multiple studies that are related to the same research question) of 213 school-based, universal social and emotional learning programs found that social and emotional learning programs do help!

First, what is social and emotional learning?  Social-emotional learning is best understood through examples.  Being able to make and maintain positive relationships, work out problems with peers, make responsible decisions, communicate clearly and effectively with others, coordinate and adapt your responses and reactions appropriately…. these are all examples of social-emotional development.

The review of 213 studies found that overall students who participate in some sort of Social and Emotional Learning program demonstrated better social and emotional learning skills, attitudes, and positive social behaviors as well as fewer conduct problems and lower levels of emotional problems.  By providing students with training in positive social and emotional development, we can increase positive behaviors and decrease negative ones that may be associated with bullying and other aggression actions.

It is National Anti-bullying month and I entirely support the effort to decrease bullying and bring attention to the horrible effects bullying can have.  But beyond teaching children how NOT to behave we need to provide them opportunities to practice and learn how TO behave.  Encouraging children to act with respect and kindness and helping them to understand how their behaviors can make other people feel is  key.


Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., Schellinger, K. B. (2011).  The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions.  Child Development, 82, 405-432.

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Always There When You Need Him: Mister Rogers

Fred Rogers, known to most of the world as Mister Rogers from the wonderfully popular PBS television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, was a man who was dedicated to child development and providing children with a world they could be comfortable and safe in. He was passionate about making sure children had the best experiences possible and his legacy and dedication to children lives on through the Fred Rogers Center and the Fred Rogers Company.

I want to bring to attention some resources that the Fred Rogers Company offers for Parents.  The Fred Rogers Company has a Parenting Resources page that contains information and a Mister Rogers’ clip on more than 20 different issues including: disabilities, staring kindergarten, fears, bedtime, divorce, and making friends.  Each topic offers a brief video clip and text that provides parents with background information on the specific issue as well as “helpful hints”.

This is a wonderful resource for all parents, please take a look!

“Parents don’t come full bloom at the birth of the first baby. In fact parenting is about growing. It’s about our own growing as much as it is about our children’s growing and that kind of growing happens little by little.”- Fred Rogers, Fred Rogers Company Parenting Resources Page

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Parenting Programs

As I have mentioned a few times, I am incredibly in favor of parenting programs.  In my opinion, everyone should attend parenting classes.  There is always something more to learn about child development, child health, or social emotional well-being.   There are also factors about parenting that influence the parents directly (like how to co-parent effectively or how to work out parenting differences, etc) that can be learned through parenting workshops.  Parenting classes are something that I am 100% in favor of for EVERYONE. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a society that feels the same way.  Generally, parenting classes are offered when there is an obvious need: social services determines that parents aren’t performing their duties appropriately, divorce filings require parents to attend co-parenting workshops, or prisons provide services for incarcerated parents.  Rather than teaching parents how to parent before they mess it up, in the US we work on a “we will fix it once it’s broke” philosophy.

Since this is the way we do things, I want to talk about a parenting program intervention that was incredibly successful and inspiring.

A few years ago Rachel Barr and colleagues at Georgetown University implemented a media-based parent training intervention at a juvenile detention facility.  They based their intervention on Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model of development which considers the child’s development as a part of the people, relationships, and systems that surround the child.  More simply, the child doesn’t develop in a bubble isolated from the world; rather the child is influenced by parents, teachers, caregivers that directly surround and influence the child, but his development is also influenced by broader systems like the education system, family and cultural values, etc.  All of these factors play a powerful role in child development.  So for a child whose parent is in a juvenile detention facility the systems around the child include that facility, the  incarcerated parent, and the personnel that work in the facility.

Now onto the details of the study.  For this intervention, Rachel Barr and her colleagues first modified the physical setting where the incarcerated parents met with their children and families.  They transformed a cold and uninviting setting into a room more like a child care setting with a rug, bright colors, and age-appropriate toys.  As any parent knows, the setting does matter for young children, that’s why pediatrician offices add colors and toys for kids to make it an inviting and fun environment.  But again, environment alone can’t do it all, so of course the intervention involved the parents!

Trained staff or volunteers were responsible for the parent training sessions.  Training sessions were focused on building parent-child interaction and relationships and incorporated both cognitive/language development and social/emotional development. Clips from the Sesame Beginnings DVD were used to model positive parent-child interactions during training. In addition to improving the environment, providing training sessions with parents, the intervention provided opportunities for the incarcerated parent to practice what was learned during training sessions during parent-child visits at the facility.

The main take-home points from this study were:

  • Training increased parents’ perceptions of their influence on their child’s development– this likely builds parent confidence and therefore success in their parenting abilities
  • Social emotional responsiveness increased across the sessions- meaning that parents provided more appropriate reactions and responses to their child’s social/emotional needs
  • Most importantly: the child’s emotional responsiveness also improved across the sessions-indicating that child outcomes can be improved by parent intervention programs
While, this is a very specific study on a high risk population, the success of parenting intervention programs like this one may also extend to parents in which one parent no longer lives with the child for other reasons (e.g., divorce, military deployment, job in other area, etc).
Barr, R. F., Brito, N, Zocca, J., Reina, S., Rodriguez, J.&  Shauffer, C. (2011).  The baby Elmo program: Improving teen father-child interactions within juvenile justice facilities.  Children and  Youth Service Review, 33, 1555-162.
Link for Article HERE

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Parents, Take More Classes

In the US, people have an obsession with classes.  Of course, we begin our class-taking lives before we are even old enough to attend traditional school.  As an infant, you take mommy and me yoga classes, music classes, and Gymboree classes. When you are a child, you take classes to learn how to play the piano, how to swim, and how to paint.  As a teenager, you take Driver’s Education classes to learn to drive and SAT prep classes to learn how to take tests to improve your chances of getting into college. Classes don’t stop when you are an adult either.  As an adult, we take pottery classes, acting classes, power point classes, dancing classes, Lamaze breathing classes when pregnant, and even marriage classes sometimes.  Clearly as a society we enjoy learning new things and find value at perfecting our skills through classes and lessons.  So, can someone explain to me why with all of these classes no one takes parenting classes?

Why in our society is it important to learn how to improve your singing but not your understanding of how to put an infant to sleep?  Why do adults pay to learn to paint with watercolors but not how to read a book to a child?  Why do we learn to perfectly perform the tango at our wedding, but not how and why a child develops they way he does?

I find that many people claim that parenting is innate- something that you are born with the ability to do. Therefore, why should you spend your time and money learning how to do something that is innate?  You learned to walk on your own and look at you now, you can even run if you feel motivated enough!  You don’t take running classes, oh wait… yes, there are running classes offered at running shoe stores across the country, we do take those.  Again I wonder, if we are even taking classes to improve our innate abilities, why not our parenting skills?

Parenting is one of the most important and longest lasting jobs we will ever have.  As parents, we help our children learn everything!  We read to our children to develop literacy, language, creativity, and imaginative skills.  We bring children to parks to help them improve their motor and strength skills.  We talk to our children to help them develop their social, emotional, language, and communicative skills.  We take our children to lessons to ensure that they learn all that they can and perfect their skills as they develop.  We encourage our children to be the best they can be, so parents, lets raise our own bar to become the best parents we can be.  And if that requires signing up for a parenting lesson or a child development class so be it!  It doesn’t mean you are a bad Spanish speaker when you sign up for Spanish lessons, it just means you want to improve.  So parents, lets forget about how it might look to take certain classes and look at the benefits that our children will gain from us having a better understanding of everything child development and parenting related.

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Great Dad, Great Story

I absolutely love overhearing parents positively interacting with their children.  I have written a few times about the poor interaction or complete lack of interaction that I often see between parents and children on the El, but today I have a very positive interaction story.

I was sitting on the el this morning at about 8:30am reading my book when I heard a little boy say, “I want a hot dog” to his father.  Here is how the interaction continued:

Dad: It’s a little too early for a hot dog.
Kid: I want a hot dog.
Dad:  Sorry, it’s not time for a hot dog.
Kid: I want a hot dog.
Dad: Well, I’m sure people on the el would like some ice water.
Kid: I want some ice water.
Dad: (laughing) ahh, thought so.
Kid: Dad, I want a hot dog.
Dad: You just ate a big bowl of oatmeal, how could you possibly be hungry?
Kid: I want a hot dog.
Dad: You just ate
Kid: I not ate
Dad: You just ate a big bowl of oatmeal
Kid: I not ate (8), I’m two!
Dad: (laughing) yes you are right, you are two.
Kid: I’m not two
Dad: Oh boy, I’m not arguing this with you.

This was probably a five minute kid version of Who’s on Second, but it was hilarious and the entire time the dad was patient and enjoying his time with his 2 year old son.  Never once was the little boy wining or the father responding impatiently or shortly, just a simple, calm conversation between parent and child. Clearly this interaction wasn’t particularly educational or full of any kind of complicated phrases (although the word “ate” was complicated for the 2 year old to understand).  But this interaction was a wonderful, and adorable, example of the simple ways parents can interact with their children.  Both parent and child enjoyed the interaction and it made the train ride faster for everyone else.

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