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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

Tips for good parenting

Posted: 01 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Here are Richard and Linda Eyre's top five parenting tips:

1. Create a family mission statement. Have weekly family meetings to catch up with how everyone's doing, assign different roles and responsibilities and talk about shared goals.

2. Prioritise your spouse. The children are important but the best thing you can do for them is to love your other half and have a harmonious relationship at home.

Resolve your differences in a diplomatic manner so that your children can learn from you.

3. Love your children, but don't give in to their every whim and fancy.

Teach them responsibility and ownership by making them work for what they want.

For instance, make them earn the money for the things they want by working on chores.

4. Get grandparents involved. Call in the extended family members if you have to.

Parenting is a partnership, and sometimes it requires more than just the father and mother to make things work.

Make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to the children.

5. Give your children a happy childhood that they can look back to and remember fondly.

Academics are important but don't start the children on it too soon.

Encourage more play time so that they can explore and have fun before the seriousness sets in.

Grim reality of midlife

Posted: 01 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Experts have long thought of midlife as a time of stability and emotional contentment, but baby boomers are proving to be an unfortunate exception.

AS Dec 24 ticked to a close in 2011, 65-year-old Michael Kelley walked into the dark of his backyard near Sacramento High School and hanged himself from a beam on the deck.

The Vietnam veteran, who struggled with bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress and heart disease, died in the hospital on Christmas afternoon.

"I just relive it in my head," said his widow, Cathy Kelley, now 63, who was separated from her husband when he died. "I know the dark hole of being really low. How sad he must have felt walking out there in the dark. That's what I think of the most."

Although experts have long thought of midlife as a time of stability and emotional contentment, baby boomers are proving to be an unfortunate exception. Reversing a long-time demographic trend, midlife suicides are on the rise for the generation born between 1946 and 1964.

National figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that the suicide rate for people in this age group rose by almost 30% during the decade ending in 2010, even as the rate among people 85 and older — traditionally, the demographic most likely to kill themselves — dropped by 12% .

For people ages 45 to 54, the suicide rate was 19.6 per 100,000 in 2010. For people ages 55 to 64, it was 17.5 per 100,000. For the whole population, the national rate was 12.4 per 100,000 that year, according to the CDC.

"Historically, people in this middle-aged group have had flat rates of suicide," said Julie Phillips, the Rutgers University social demographer whose research helped identify the trend.

"After 50 to 60 years of data, to see this spike for this generation, it's time for us to figure out what's going on."

The grim statistics hold true in California, with state Department of Public Health data showing that the suicide rate for people in middle age rose 30% by 2010. And the trend is especially acute in the four-county Sacramento region, where about 140 people in this age group committed suicide in 2010, or 25 of every 100,000 local baby boomers.

In Sacramento County, state data show, the suicide rate among boomers rose a startling 60% — from 16 per 100,000 in 2000 to almost 25 per 100,000 a decade later.

For now, researchers and suicide experts have more theories than answers as to why the middle years have become a danger zone for suicide.

"We don't really know, but the increase in this middle-aged group is thought to be in part because of the economy," said Paula Clayton, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention medical director.

"It's always been known that during a period of unemployment, there are higher rates of suicide. That was even clear in the 1920s."

With unemployment and a resulting lack of health benefits, she said, someone who has previously sought help for depression or other problems might forego treatment or fail to fill his medications.

As Diane Sommers, executive director of the Suicide Prevention of Yolo County crisis line, said: "With the instability in the economy and the housing market, we've noticed a lot of people calling the crisis line with anxiety, depression and sometimes suicidal ideation."

Phillips' research shows that the nationwide rise in midlife suicides began in 1999. The trend fluctuated for a few years but was well established by 2005, several years before the rocky economy began taking a financial and emotional toll on people of all ages.

Statistically, the increase in suicide is especially pronounced among men in their early 50s who are unmarried and lack college education.

In general, according to the American Association of Suicidology, a national research group, men are more likely to kill themselves than women are, and the risk of suicide rises with alcohol and drug use. Rates are higher as well for veterans, including those from the Vietnam War era.

Chronic illness

The risk also increases in conjunction with chronic illness – and new West Virginia University research shows that baby boomers in midlife already face higher levels of disability and chronic disease than their parents did.

Boomers, according to the study, are heavier and more sedentary than their elders were at the same age, more prone to have heart disease and diabetes, and more likely to use canes or other walking devices.

Living with pain can cause depression; so can learning of a new and devastating diagnosis. And depression can be a side effect of powerful medications, as well.

What's more, said Phillips: "Maybe there's a disjunction for this generation between what they expected in life and what happened."

Sometimes, most disturbingly, there are no known risk factors. Liseanne Wick's oldest brother killed himself at age 51 a decade ago. Her brother, a computer programmer who lived in Utah, seemed to lead a contented life.

"He was happily married, with a happy family, yet he still felt somehow that life wasn't worth living," said Wick, director of the 36-county Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services programme run by WellSpace Health, a Sacramento-based healthcare provider.

His family doesn't know what led to a moment of despair and desperation so profound that he didn't reach out for help.

"It was one of those unexpected suicides we hear about," said Wick. "It was quite a tragic loss."

Suicides also spiked for baby boomers during their late teens and early 20s, and researchers have long known that members of the boomer generation experience higher rates of depression.

Again, theories for that vary. Was it because more baby boomers came from broken families? Were large numbers of them somehow scarred by coming of age in a time of societal turmoil?

"The reasons were never clear," said Clayton of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "But depression is a recurrent illness through life. You can be well for years and get ill again.

"Researchers postulated 30 years ago that this group would have more suicides as they got older because of that."

Whatever else might be going on in their lives, she said, more than 90% of people who die from suicide already have a diagnosed mental disorder of some sort.

The risk factors added up tragically for Michael Kelley, who was born the first year of the baby boom: when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder more than a dozen years ago, his widow said, he was already a man in pain.

A talented artist, he had been grievously wounded in Vietnam. He turned to activism, raising funds to build the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the 1980s and helping other veterans.

"He was probably the most generous man I'd ever known in my life," said Cathy Kelley, his second wife, whom he married in 1979. "If he loved you, he'd stand in front of a bus for you.

"But mental illness takes a lot away. And he already had post-traumatic stress disorder because of his wounds."

Michael Kelley worked for the county until his retirement. A year before his death, he was diagnosed with heart problems and arthritis. He developed a palsy in his hands, so he couldn't continue to draw. And even with medication for his bipolar condition, he suffered from delusions, his widow said.

"He was tortured for a long time," she said. "He was very unhappy. I think it was too overwhelming for him to get well. He was in so much pain. I hope he is at peace now." — The Sacramento Bee/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Prioritise your children, say best-selling authors on parenting

Posted: 01 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

There is no magic formula for parenting — it's all about investing time and energy in your children, say best-selling parenting authors Richard and Linda Eyre.

COPING with a child is tough enough for some parents, so imagine raising nine while managing a successful career.

Richard and Linda Eyre did just that. Richard, 69, has an MBA from Harvard and is president of his own management consultant company. During the Reagan administration, he served as the director of the White House Conference on Parents and Children.

Linda, 66, is a teacher, musician and co-founder of JoySchools.com, an in-home, do-it-yourself co-op and programme for teaching pre-schoolers the joys of life (as compared to a syllabus favouring academic achievements).

They also channelled their passion and parenting experiences to author Teaching Your Children Values in 1993, which became the first parenting book in 50 years to reach the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list.

The couple, who has been married for 45 years and have 26 grandchildren, have appeared on national network shows like Oprah, The Today Show, Prime Time Live, 60 Minutes and Good Morning America. The Utah natives were in Kuala Lumpur recently to conduct a series of parenting seminars, barely a week after a holiday in Bali with their entire family.

"None of our children live near us – some are in New York, Boston, Phoenix, Hawaii and England. But still, we bring everyone home every summer. We are so grateful for the Internet – there's always a lot of communication going on all the time. The children know that they are our first priority even though we are always busy travelling," says Linda.

The Eyres have a big family, but they do not necessarily advocate one. It's not size that matters, but the time spent with your kids that make all the difference.

"We know our family is very unique because we live on a ranch and have a lot of space. But we think that whether you have one child or nine, it's all about understanding that you'll only have that child for a small number of years — perhaps just one-fifth of your life. And while your child is there that should be your biggest priority," says Richard.

Parenting has of course changed over the years, and in this day and age, the challenge lies in parents working long hours, he adds.

"A generation ago, nobody talked about parenting — it was almost science. Now you have so many books on the topic that parenting is almost thought of as an acquired skill now.

"Parents are also far busier than they used to be and many try to compensate by giving their children things instead of their time, which is a worrying but very real trend now," adds Richard.

This causes children to fall into the "entitlement trap", a subject covered in Richard and Linda's 2011 book Entitlement Trap. .

"Once children start feeling like things will be given to them they lose their motivation, gratitude, perspective and even creativity because they figure everything will just come to them.

"Parents are also becoming more affluent and it's all very natural to say: 'I love my children and I want to give them everything.' What they don't understand is that if they give a child everything, he or she will never learn how to become a responsible adult," says Richard.

The preferred way would be to teach children to work for what they want, he suggests.

"We don't care so much for the things we don't work for and it is the same with kids. In our book, we talked about how parents can assign children specific responsibilities. If they carried out their tasks, they are paid an allowance. With this money, they can then buy their toys and clothes. They would more likely care for them because they worked hard for them."

Entitlement trap

Families who are caught in the entitlement trap can face many problems in the long run, as Linda learnt from her daughter who worked in a rehabilitation centre for young women from affluent families.

"I was curious about the problems the girls were facing – we're talking about young women who were into all kinds of addictions: bulimia, anorexia, drugs, alcohol, self-inflicted wounds. And my daughter told me the main contributions were that their parents were always off partying and leaving them alone so much.

"Their parents were willing to give them anything they wanted except their time, and there was the issue with communication. They felt like they couldn't communicate with their parents and simply drifted further and further away from them.

"These parents are now paying to have these girls rehabilitated and very often it could have been avoided if they had prioritised their children in the first place," shares Linda.

According to Richard, families that are proactive are less likely to have communication issues in their families.

"If you take a poll and ask people what's the most important thing to them, 90% would probably say their family, but they don't act like it. It's the same all over the world — people are simply not spending enough time and energy on the one thing that's important to them.

"We always tell parents: instead of reacting only after there's a problem, be proactive and have a plan from the beginning. We see a lot of leading business people who are really busy but if they plan carefully and divide the responsibilities, there's really nothing they can't do.

"We love marriages where the father is very much involved because it's so unfair for both parents to work and yet the mother has to be the one to do all the parenting at home.

"We see a growing trend where fathers are becoming more hands-on with their children and even taking their turns in the kitchen.

"Having a partnership is a wonderful thing. If you're a single parent, and we know many are, try looking towards the grandparents or an uncle or an aunt — someone who will work with you in a team because it's tough raising a child on your own," suggests Richard.

There are many useful parenting tips out there, says Linda. But at the end of it all, she believes, it's about setting family goals and following through with them.

"We always tell people we have nine children — one of every kind. Because that's true, every child is different and so is every family. I think having family meetings or a shared mission statement really helps so that the whole family knows where they're going together.

"We've talked to lot of business people and we always ask them: 'Hey, don't you have weekly staff meetings so that everyone knows what is to be expected and understands what the vision statement is?' Well, why not do that with the family?"

Read more about Richard and Linda Eyre's parenting values at valuesparenting.com

Related story:

Tips for good parenting 

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