Challenging Boys Blog:

Understanding Your Son, Yourself, and How to Bring the Best Out of Each Other

Challenging Boys Blog:

Understanding Your Son, Yourself, and How to Bring the Best Out of Each Other

Three Books Every Parent of a Challenging Child Should Read

 

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If you have a challenging child and are looking for helpful parenting books to read, I would highly recommend starting with the following three books:

 

The Explosive Child is flat out the best book there is for understanding the origins of challenging behavior and working with the problems that underlie it.

 

The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child teaches parents how to create effective reward charts. Reward charts are powerful tools for working with challenging behavior. They are an essential addition to every parent’s tool box, and a great supplement to the methods presented in The Explosive Child.

 

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen picks up where The Explosive Child and The Kazdin Method leave off. It’s important to balance our efforts to manage challenging behavior with consistent work aimed at fostering a positive parent-parent child relationship. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen shows how to cultivate a close, open and fun relationship with our child even as we work to modify his or her challenging behavior.

 

Below I have summarized the three main takeaways from each of these wonderful books.

 

The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children, Ross Greene

 

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1. “Children do well if they can.”

 

When our kids misbehave, it can feel like willfulness, opposition, defiance, you name it. It feels like they don’t want to do well, and for caring parents like us, it drives us crazy. Ross Greene, in The Explosive Child, helps us see that our challenging kids actually do want to please us, but problems with frustration tolerance, and inflexibility can make it so that they can’t do well even though they want to.

 

2. The best approach to challenging behavior is to teach challenging kids the skills they need to do well.

 

Punishments and rewards don’t help with challenging behavior because they effect a child’s motivation to cooperate. Since challenging children are lacking the skills they need to cooperate consistently, no amount of motivational help will eliminate challenging behavior in the long run. Challenging children, instead, need to be taught the skills of frustration tolerance and flexibility so that they will be able to succeed.

 

3. Problem solving teachings challenging kids the skills they need to do well.

 

Greene emphasizes the power of problem solving to teach kids valuable life skills. Problem solving is not only a great way to solve individual problems, but it also actually helps kids develop the frustration tolerance and flexibility they need to do well.

 

(To read more about The Explosive Child, click this link to see my review: “Review of The Explosive Child, by Ross Greene“).

 

The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child, Alan Kazdin

 

You might be saying, “I’ve tried reward charts, and they don’t work.” This is a common experience because creating an effective reward chart isn’t as easy as it might seem. Kazdin identifies the key ingredients of reward charts that work. You’ll learn to:

 

1. Determine a “positive opposite” behavior.

It’s much more effective to reward a child for doing a positive behavior, than it is to reward him or her for not doing a negative behavior. Kazdin recommends building reward charts around reinforcing a positive behavior that is the opposite of the behavior that you want to eliminate. Rewarding the child for doing the positive opposite behavior automatically reduces the frequency of the negative behavior you want to eliminate.

 

2. Select appropriate rewards.

 

Kazdin recommends small rewards that a child can earn quickly, and a large reward that the child is working towards over time. This combination of small and big rewards is more effective than either small or large rewards alone. The rewards do not need to be material rewards. Great rewards are special activities, or special time with parents.

 

3. Break the desired behavior down into small pieces.

 

A good reward chart breaks the desired behavior down into smaller parts that can be separately rewarded. This gives the child more opportunities for success, and the child quickly gets a new chance to succeed after a failure has occurred. For example, if you want your child to get ready for school on time, giving him or her a single point for being ready on time would be much less effective than giving the child a point for getting up at a specified time, another for getting dressed by a certain time, another for brushing teeth on time, etc.

 

A well designed and executed reward chart is a quick and effect method for reducing many types of challenging behavior.

 

(To read more about The Kazdin Method, click this link to see my blog: “Sticker Charts/Reward Charts/Behavior Charts: The Five Most Common Mistakes Parents Make When Using Reward Charts”).

 

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So That Kids Will Talk, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

 

1. “There is a direct connection between how kids feel and how they behave.”

 

Bad feelings (anger, sadness, anxiety) are frequently the cause of a child’s “bad” behavior. Helping children cope with these difficult feelings is the best path to “good” behavior.

 

2.  The best way to help kids to feel good (and to feel good about themselves) is to accept and respect their feelings.

 

When we listen to our child’s feelings with full attention; when we take his or her upset feelings seriously (even when the situation seems small); and, when we respect our child’s problems and allow our child to solve them on his or her own, we help our child to develop the ability to accept and manage his or her own feelings. Today we recognize that this type of emotional intelligence is as important for success in life as IQ.

 

Accepting and validating our child’s feelings does not mean that we necessarily agree with the feelings. It is soothing to anyone merely to have his or her feelings acknowledged and understood sympathetically, but for kids this is essential. When we deny our own children’s feelings, it often leads to arguments, hostility, and poor cooperation.

 

3. Punishments should be abandoned in favor of problem solving.

 

It is tempting to use punishments in response to bad behavior because they get a child’s attention. The frequent rationale for using punishments is that they “teach right from wrong.” However, punishments actually divert our child’s attention away from reflecting on and taking responsibility for his or her misbehavior. Instead, punishments focus our child on feeling resentment towards us. Faber and Mazlish view many forms of misbehavior as “problems” that need solving. They suggest that parents and children use problem solving techniques to resolve the conflict or problem that lies behind the misbehavior.

 

How to Talk is full of real life examples that can be immediately applied in your own home.

 

(To read more about How to Talk, click this link to see my review: “The Best Parenting Book: A Review of How To Talk So Kids Will Listen.”)

 

I hope you find these books helpful to you in parenting your child. If you read them, let me know what you think. As always, I love hearing from you. Please connect over facebook, twitter or email.

 

drdavis@challengingboys.com

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5 Steps to Stop Arguing with Your Kids

 

Arguing with our kids is something that we all hate, but still most of us spend a lot of time doing it. In this blog post, you’ll learn 5 steps that have the power to transform any potential argument into an opportunity for you and your child to understand each other better and grow closer.

 

Here are my five steps to ending arguments:

 

Step 1: Stop Trying to Make Your Point.

Step 2: Check-in with yourself.

Step 3: Start “Listening and Learning.”

Step 4: Express Your Feelings.

Step 5: Problem Solve.

 

Let’s look at them illustrated in a fairly typical argument between a parent and child:

 

The moment David, a 6th grader, came home from school, he turned on his laptop and dove straight into Minecraft. Though this would ordinarily aggravate his mom, Maureen, it really gets to her today as she just picked up an email from David’s teacher saying that he was missing several assignments.

 

MOM:             Rather than playing on your computer, wouldn’t it be a good idea to get started on your homework? I just got an email from Ms. Sutton who said you are missing two English assignments.

DAVID:          I’ll get started in a minute.

(Ten minutes later he’s still sitting there).

MOM:             Didn’t you hear me? I said get off that computer and get to work!

DAVID:          I’ve got it under control.

MOM:             If you had it under control, I wouldn’t be hearing from your teacher! Get up to your room and get started on that homework!

(He ignores her and continues to play his game.)

MOM:             This is serious. If you can’t keep up now, how is it going to be when you get to High School?

DAVID:          Ms. Sutton’s class is stupid. Her assignments are pointless. I’m never going to have to read a poem to get a job.

 

You can imagine how this fight might end: Maureen could make threats, try to shut off his game, or give up. David could storm off, start yelling, or remain on his computer in open defiance.

 

What can Maureen do to change things? And what can you do to break out of a cycle of arguments with your child? Here are my 5 steps:

 

Step 1: Stop Trying to Make Your Point.

 

In any argument, especially ones with our children, the urge to make our point – again and again if necessary – is huge. It’s important to us because the stakes are high and we worry that we’re not being good parent if we don’t convince our child of our point of view. Although letting go of making our point can feel like giving up, it’s actually the most powerful path toward being heard by our child. Continuing to push our point only leads our child to dig in harder, and tune us out more.

 

Let’s take David and Maureen. Neither is listening to the other, they are both pushing their points of view. Maureen is focused on getting David to do his homework. David is focused on getting his mom to stop nagging him. Neither Maureen nor David is interested in understanding where the other one is coming from.

 

When we notice that we have gotten caught up in an argument with our child, Step 1 is to stop trying to make our “point.” Making the shift from pushing our point to listening and understanding, paradoxically, is the shortest and most effective path to being heard and having influence.

 

Step 2: Check-in with yourself.

 

Once we’ve stopped trying to make our point, we need to check in with ourselves.  This looks like the following: Ask ourselves whether we can, just for the moment, suspend being “right” in favor of really listening to and understanding our child. Am I open to the fact that my child has a point of view that makes sense to him or her? Can I let go of my judgments of my child?

 

Family researcher, John Gottman, has found that it’s impossible for any of us to truly listen when our heart rate is above 100 beats per minute. Anger at our child, or anxiety about what he or she might do or has done, can send our heart rate skyrocketing. Feeling stressed, tired, hungry or sick can also make it extremely difficult to listen. Maureen definitely had a lot going on with David which, when combined with typical life stress, can make listening very difficult.

 

If we find, when checking in with ourselves, that we are ready to work to understand where our child is coming from, it is time to move on to step three: “Listening and Learning.”

 

If we discover that we aren’t in a good place to listen, it’s time to take a break from the conversation and give each of us a little space from the other. Talking can be resumed once we both have had a chance to calm down. Continuing talking while feelings are running high almost always make things worse.

 

Step 3: Start “Listening and Learning.”

 

When we argue, we feel we are right and our child is wrong (or doesn’t get it, is irrational, oppositional, naïve, etc…). However, the truth is, as beautifully summarized by one of my favorite quotes taken from the movie Raising Arizona: “there ain’t no pancake so thin it ain’t got two sides.” There are always two valid points of view in any conflict.

 

In the listening and learning step we need to work hard at understanding our child’s point of view and why it makes just as much sense as ours given the information, beliefs, emotions, and perceptions that he or she has. This is the hardest step of all. It’s where we all want to quit and go back to being “right.” I promise, if you persist here, despite the challenge, the rewards will be amazing.

 

When Maureen shifts from wondering “Why is my son so lazy?” to “What is going with David that makes him feel so awful that he won’t do homework?” then everything shifts. Instead of trying to get David to listen to her point that success in school is the springboard to success in life, she might ask David, “What is it about Ms. Sutton’s class that’s stupid?” If she did, she might hear some clues from David that he is having a difficult time understanding the poems they are reading for class and it makes him feel stupid. Or, Maureen might find that David feels embarrassed and self-conscious that he is being asked to write about the feelings he has when he reads a poem. Or, Maureen might learn that Ms. Sutton embarrassed David, who has a slight stutter, by asking him to read aloud.

 

As we understand more about our child’s perspective, we can ask questions to clarify things further and reflect back what we have learned. It’s hard work, especially because our kids frequently can’t or won’t tell us exactly what they are feeling. We often have to guess. Maureen might say, “So poetry isn’t your thing. You don’t have an easy time understanding what the poems are about. It makes you want to avoid the whole thing.” The goal is for David to feel understood and validated. Feeling heard always makes people more inclined to listen.

 

Let me be clear: listening, understanding and validating our child’s point of view does not mean that we have to abandon our own position, or are that we are giving in to our child. It also doesn’t mean that we agree with how our child is handling the situation. What it does mean is that we accept that we both have valid points of view. By understanding David’s discomfort with poetry better, Maureen is not giving up her position that doing homework is important. She is helping David experience her as an ally instead of an adversary so they can work together to solve the problem.

 

Step 4: Express Your Feelings.

 

Once our child feels that we get where he or she is coming from, our child will be much more receptive to hearing about our feelings and concerns. Maureen might say to David it makes total sense to her that he’d want to avoid doing homework that makes him feel stupid or embarrassed, but that she also knows that he likes to do well in school and that not doing these assignments is hurting his grade. She might add that when we avoid our problems they don’t go away and they usually get worse.

 

Don’t be surprised if your child doesn’t exactly validate back just yet. It’ll come with time as we work consistently, when there is conflict, to listen to and validate our child, instead of arguing.

 

Step 5: Problem Solve.

 

Once we each feel understood, we can now start brainstorming solutions to the problems underlying the argument. The goal of problem solving is to find a win-win solution in which both side’s feelings and needs are met. In the initial phase of problem-solving, parent and child brain storm together possible solutions. David might suggest that his mother ignore Ms. Sutton’s emails and leave him alone. Maureen might suggest that David set aside his upset feelings and “just do it,” like the Nike ad. Of course, neither of these proposals address of their main concerns. Eventually David might suggest that Maureen talk to Ms. Sutton and tell her he needs different assignments. Maureen might suggest that David go in to school early and get some extra help with the poetry. These suggestions start getting closer to win-win. Finally, they might agree that they will speak with Ms. Sutton together and seek to have the assignments modified to something that David is more comfortable doing. Maureen likes this option because David will get caught up on his work in Ms. Sutton’s class, and David likes it because he has his mother’s support in dealing with a challenging issue.

 

I hope these 5 steps:

 

Step 1: Stop Trying to Make Your Point.

Step 2: Check-in with yourself.

Step 3: Start “Listening and Learning.”

Step 4: Express Your Feelings.

Step 5: Problem Solve.

 

are helpful to you in dealing with the inevitable arguments that arise between a parent and a child.

 

After you give these steps a try, let me know how it goes. I’ve been thrilled to hear from you. Please contact me by email drdavis@challengingboys.com or on

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How Do I Get My Son to Practice His Musical Instrument?

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When I am asked by parents, “How do I get my son to practice his musical instrument?” they are frequently surprised by my response: “Don’t try.”

 

Let’s face it, you have enough battles with your challenging son already in getting him up in the morning, off to school, his homework done, off his screens, to eat healthy foods, etc… without adding one more. Your relationship doesn’t need another thing to fight about. Furthermore, pushing your son to practice risks spoiling his relationship with music. Playing music will stop being a joy and will get turned into work. You’re not failing to do your job as a parent if he doesn’t practice. In fact, you should feel very good about the fact that you’ve got him playing a musical instrument in the first place.

 

I know it feels frustrating to pay for music lessons, which can be expensive, and have your son not get his “money’s worth” by not practicing. You might wonder, “Why not cancel the lessons altogether?” That would ensure no fights. There are very important reasons to keep the lessons going, however. Increasing scientific evidence is showing that playing a musical instrument is good for brain development. Studies have found playing a musical instrument to be associated with improved attention, greater working memory, better impulse and emotion regulation, as well as improvements in other aspects of executive functioning. Most challenging boys are challenging precisely because they have deficits in attention, emotion regulation, and executive functioning. Musical lessons are exactly the type of training that an ADHD/EF child needs.

 

I recommend keeping the lessons going. Children’s brains are sponges. Just as children absorb language faster than adults, they learn musical skills more quickly too. Even playing music once a week during a lesson your child’s brain is getting important stimulation for growth.

 

Some music teachers will complain to you about your son not being prepared for the lesson. If this is the case, I’d explain to the teacher that your priority is your son developing a love a music. Let the teacher know that you want the lessons to be a good experience for him and that you are not worried about whether or not he practices. Most teachers can adjust to meet a child where he’s at. If your teacher can’t, I’d seriously consider getting a teacher who understands ADHD/EF kids and who knows how to make lessons fun. Your music teacher’s skill and personality are probably the most important factor in encouraging your son’s enthusiasm for music.

 

Here are some ideas to encourage your child to play his instrument between lessons without forcing or fighting:

 

Make sure he’s playing an instrument he likes.



Make sure he’s learning songs in his lessons that he likes and wants to play.



If you play an instrument, play together. (Generally, challenging kids will prefer to play music with someone else, rather than alone.)

 

Encourage him to participate in band or orchestra at school (I even had a friend who put a rock band together of her sons and their friends.)

Most of all, get excited about his playing and progress. Hopefully your son’s interest in music will catch fire. Feel good also that you’re giving him a skill that he can enjoy throughout his life and that can boost his self-esteem and self-confidence.

Discipline 101: What’s the Difference Between Punishments and Consequences?

Time OutReading about discipline can be confusing. Many experts argue that we should avoid punishments in favor of consequences. But what exactly is the difference? Sorting it out can be confusing. I’ve written this primer to help clarify things.

 

Punishments vs. Consequences

 

Punishments

 

A punishment is an aversive (painful) response to a behavior that aims to make the behavior less likely to occur in the future. A punishment causes pain to the person being punished by inflicting something unpleasant on him (a spanking, having to write “I will not …” over and over like Bart Simpson does at the beginning of every Simpsons episode, etc…) or the taking away something pleasurable (no dessert if you don’t eat your vegetables). Examples of punishments that parents commonly use are time outs and cancelling playdates for younger kids, and groundings and loss of phone privileges for older kids.

 

Punishments can be effective in reducing the frequency of problem behaviors, if properly applied. In fact, a recent widely publicized study found that punishments were more effective than rewards at shaping behavior in their task.

 

If punishments are so effective, why do we need to concern ourselves with consequences? There are several big problems with using punishments in child discipline. Here are just a few examples:

 

Punishments frequently actually increase misbehavior.

 

While punishments can be effective in stopping misbehavior in the moment, they can paradoxically increase the frequency of misbehavior in the future. Kids desperately want our passionate attention. They even prefer passionate negative attention to no attention. When we respond to misbehavior with anger and punishment (that is, with our passionate negative attention), our child is actually rewarded for misbehaving. He, therefore, learns that misbehavior is a way to get our passionate attention and is likely to use it as a strategy in the future. The message, in effect is, if your cute little sister is getting too much attention, you can hit her or push her over and get an angry parent to focus on you.

 

Punishments do not teach right from wrong. They teach kids to be sneaky and deceptive.

 

Despite what many people believe, punishments do not teach moral lessons. Punishments are about controlling behavior and, as such, they frequently make kids feel the feelings that go along with being controlled – angry, mistreated, and resentful. Punishment discourages children from reflecting on how their behavior has impacted others. Instead their focus is on feeling that they have been treated unfairly, or thinking about how they will get even. Rather than teaching a child a set of moral values, punishments teach children that the problem is not the behavior itself, but getting caught and punished. They learn to cover up and be deceptive rather than to control their own behavior.

 

Punishments do not teach skills.

 

Even when effective, punishments only teach children what not to do, not what to do. The meaning of the word “discipline” is “to teach.” Too often “discipline” is used as a synonym for punishment. Our job as parents is to teach our children the skills they need to have happy, successful, respectful lives. Punishments do not teach any positive skills or behaviors.

 

Punishments pit parents and children against each other.

 

Punishments harm the parent-child relationship. Punishments can cause resentment and erode trust. Rather than being on the same team in facing the challenges that life presents us with, punishments put parents in the position of acting coercively against their child to control his behavior.

 

Consequences

 

Because of these inherent problems with punishments, in the 1960s child development experts like Rudolf Dreikurs and Haim Ginott, began discouraging parents from using punishments as a part of child discipline. They both emphasized focusing on decreasing misbehavior by addressing its causes, rather than trying to get rid of it after it has surfaced by punishing it. However, they both did feel that it is important for a child to experience the consequences of his behavior.

 

Used in this way, consequences are about the child learning the effects (i.e., consequences) of his behavior. If I do this, then that consequence will occur. For example, a child has a tantrum and smashes his favorite toy on the ground breaking the toy. The effect or consequence of the action is that he doesn’t have that toy anymore.

 

Natural consequences are distinguished from logical consequences. Natural consequence are consequences that occur without parental intervention. The broken toy in the example above is a natural consequence. The boy’s parents didn’t need to do anything to create the consequence of no toy. It naturally followed from the child’s behavior. Other natural consequences include getting bad grades for not doing homework, or getting detention for misbehaving at school. When a natural consequence occurs, because they didn’t create the consequence, parents can be on the child’s side in helping him deal with the consequence (consoling him about the loss of his toy, or guiding him in how to respond to trouble at school).

 

According to this view, parents should not shield a child from the natural consequences of his actions or fix things for him, but should supply “empathy and encouragement” as the child deals with the consequences (see Jane Nelson, author of Positive Discipline). There are certain circumstances where a child needs to be protected from the natural consequences of his behavior: if a child’s actions will endanger or harm the child or another person (in these instances the behavior must be stopped), of if the child does not have the skills or foresight to handle the situation that might lead to a natural consequence (so nothing will be learned from the consequence).

 

Logical consequences are different from natural consequences in that they result from parental intervention. A logical consequence is a punishment. It is a punishment that is logically connected to the misbehavior. A teen who misuses his phone faces the logical consequence of losing use of the phone for some period of time. Losing the phone for fighting with a sibling is not a logical consequence because the fighting and the phone are not connected. It is argued that logical consequences are preferable because they feel less arbitrary to kids and can feel more fair. While logical consequences can be effective, they frequently fall prey to the problems associated with other types of punishments.

 

Here are a some guidelines regarding the use of consequences:

 

Use alternatives to consequences/punishments whenever possible.

 

Examples of alternatives to punishments are problems solving, and setting up a sticker chart to reward and teach positive behaviors rather than punishing negative ones.

 

When using consequences, use logical ones. When using logical consequences, follow Jane Nelson’s “Four R’s for Logical Consequences.”

 

Consequences should be:

 

  1. Related – the consequence should be related to the misbehavior.
  2. Respectful – the consequence should be administered respectfully, that is without anger, shame, blame or lectures.
  3. Reasonable – the consequence must not be seen as harsh by parent or child.
  4. Revealed in advance – consequences for misbehavior should be established in advance so that parents and children know what to expect. Consequences should not be made up on the spot. The most effective consequences are made with input from children.

 

Want to read more? Check out Why rewards are more effective than punishment–with children.

 

Is Minecraft Dangerous? 4 Tips to Keep Kids Safe While Playing Minecraft

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Minecraft is probably the most popular video game among the challenging boys that I work with. Their parents often like it too because they find Minecraft’s blocky and cartoony characters, animals and monsters reassuringly innocent when compared to the graphic images contained in so many other games. However, Minecraft has caused more serious problems for the families in my practice than any other video game – much worse than any of the violent first person shooter games out there.

 

Minecraft’s troubling features include:

 

• Minecraft can be highly addictive.

 

You may have already noticed that children can get very caught up in playing Minecraft. It can be difficult getting kids to stop playing at the end of their allotted time. In more extreme cases, children will push to play Minecraft to the exclusion of other activities and leading to big battles with their parents. Some children will secretly stay up late into the night playing the game.

 

• Minecraft can expose kids to bullying and exploitation.

 

Minecraft can be played online on multiplayer servers, some of which can be quite violent. Players attack and kill other players and steal their hard earned (or bought) virtual possessions, or destroy the buildings they have worked hard to build. This practice of stealing from other players or wrecking their creations is referred to as “griefing” in the Minecraft community. These types of attacks can be much more stressful for kids to handle than the more realistic violence of Call of Duty or other war games.

 

• Minecraft can tempt kids into spending large sums of money (that they often steal from their parents).

 

Server owners can sell special packages of tools, weapons, armor, and other accessories to players on their server. These special packages give players such a huge advantage in the game that there is a serious temptation to buy them. I have known kids to spend many hundreds or even thousands of dollars this way, often stealing their parents’ credit card numbers to pay for their Minecraft purchases.

 

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I realize that all of this sounds scary. Minecraft does have positive qualities, however. It’s an incredible medium for creative expression. Some have described Minecraft as “LEGO on steroids.” Gamers refer to Minecraft as a “sandbox” game which, like a real sandbox, can be a place for creative, unstructured play. Minecraft, unlike many other games, has no levels to conquer, no preset objectives to achieve, no predetermined path to follow. What the Minecraft player does is determined solely by his interests and imagination. (As an example of the creative possibilities of Minecraft, here’s a scale model of the Tower Bridge of London created in Minecraft.)

 

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It’s possible, as you read this, that you feel the advantages don’t outweigh the dangers. You may even consider preventing your kids from playing Minecraft. However, doing so runs the risk of creating other problems. When parents ban Minecraft, children often just sneak around to play Minecraft anyway. If your child plays in a hidden way, you won’t be able to supervise his play and you won’t know about the problematic situations he is being exposed to.

 

How do you ensure that your child plays Minecraft safely? I have written this brief guide for you to better understand Minecraft and supervise its use so that your child can be engaged in a safe and healthy way.

 

1. There are many different ways to play Minecraft. (What format of Minecraft your child plays determines what if any risks playing the game exposes him to.)

 

There are many different formats for playing Minecraft. It can be played on a smart phone or tablet (Pocket Edition, PE), on Xbox, or on a Personal Computer (PC). Minecraft can be played single player offline, multiplayer on your local wifi network, and multiplayer online with players around the world.

 

Online forms of Minecraft include opportunities to play on unregulated public servers run by individuals who are unaffiliated with Mojang and Microsoft (owners of Minecraft). Servers typically feature incredible cities, buildings, and games with-in games (popular games include “prison” and “hunger games”). For many kids, playing Minecraft on servers is the most entertaining form of Minecraft.

 

Here’s an image from the server Cousinville:

 

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What format your child plays Minecraft on — PE vs. Xbox vs. PC, single player vs. multiplayer, online vs. offline — determines what risks he is exposed to.

 

While many Minecraft servers are safe (here’s a link to a blog describing some family friendly Minecraft servers), servers are where the greatest dangers are found. Many servers are “Lord of the Flies” like environments where kids can get exposed to bullying. Server owners also profit from selling (at astonishingly high prices!) special weapons, armor and materials that players pay for with PayPal and credit cards. Unscrupulous server owners can even extort payments from players by threatening them with being expelled from the server (which would mean losing days or weeks of accumulated possessions and work) if players don’t pay the fee. This can lead to huge financial outlays and the temptation to steal from parents.

 

Minecraft like other online multiplayer games also creates a situation where kids can meet and communicate by voice or text with strangers.

 

Playing Minecraft single player on PE, Xbox or PC offline is the safest form of Minecraft. Also safe is playing multi-player Minecraft with friends who are present on your home wifi network. These forms of Minecraft furthermore do not provide kids with opportunities to spend large sums of money.

 

2. Minecraft is constantly changing.

 

Minecraft programmers are continuously adding new features to the game. There are thousands of Minecraft servers with dozens more being added every day. You have to put effort into staying up to date.

 

3. Play with your child.

 

The most effective way to keep your child safe playing Minecraft is to spend some time playing Minecraft with your child. Have your child show you what he likes to do on Minecraft and the servers he likes to play on. Playing Minecraft together not only allows you to monitor his Minecraft use, but it will also develop more closeness between you and your child. There’s nothing like showing interest in what your child is interested in for promoting your bond.

 

Especially with difficult to connect with kids and with kids who are easily overwhelmed by interpersonal interactions, playing multiplayer Minecraft together on PE or Xbox is a great way to connect and expand their capacity for connection. Your avatars run around in the Minecraft world and interact with each other cooperating, playing in parallel, playing with each other, and maybe sometimes even fighting. This type of interacting has lower intensity making it easier for the kids to begin building up their capacity to engage.

 

4. Collaboratively establish rules for playing Minecraft.

 

Children are more likely to follow rules that they have a hand in creating. I recommend establishing rules about the following:

 

• How much time they are allowed to spend playing Minecraft?
• Where are they allowed to play Minecraft (e.g., offline only, local multiplayer with friends, Xbox, servers)?
• How much money are they allowed to spend money on Minecraft? (I recommend that kids not be allowed to spend money on Minecraft if you can avoid it.)

 

I’m really interested in hearing from you. Please try some of these suggestions out and send me an email or leave a comment on Facebook, letting me know how it went. Thank you so much for reading.

 

Wishing you success and joy in your family, Dr. Timothy Davis