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What A Penguin Can Teach You About Being A Better Parent

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast
When Dr. Amen took his son to Sea Life Park, the last thing he was expecting to get out of it was a lesson in parenting. But that’s exactly what he got, and he got it from a penguin! In the third episode in a series about parenting during a pandemic, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss some of the many parenting lessons they’ve learned to be most effective.
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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com.
Dr Daniel Amen: So I was a child psychiatry fellow at the time, which means I'm in training. I don't know anything about being a child, psychiatrist. I'm learning about it. And my supervisor said, "You're not spending enough time with them, and you have to notice what you like more than what you don't." And then what I did is, I took him to a place called Sea Life Park in Hawaii. That's where I was living at the time. Loved it.
Tana Amen: Sounds rough, yeah.
Dr Daniel Amen: Loved it. And it was just he and I that day. Sea Life Park's sort of like Marine World or SeaWorld, and they had sea animal shows. We went to the whale show, and that was awesome, and then we went to the dolphin show, and that was cool, and then the sea lion show, and at the end of the day we went to the penguin show, and the penguin's name was Fat Freddy. And Freddy was really cool. He comes out. He climbs up a diving board that's like 20 feet in the air, goes to the end. There's a diving board. He bounces on the diving board, and then he jumps in the water. And I hold my arm around my son. I'm like, "So cool." And then he gets out of the water, and he bowls with his nose. He counts with his flippers. He jumps through a hoop of fire. And I'm like mesmerized with it.
Dr Daniel Amen: And then the trainer asked Freddy to go get something. Freddy goes and gets it, and he brings it right back. And in my mind, I went, "Damn, I ask this kid to get something for me, and he wants to have a discussion for like 20 minutes, and then he doesn't want to do what I ask him to do." And I knew my son was smarter than the penguin. And so I went up to the trainer afterwards, and I said, "How'd you get Freddy to do all these really cool things?" And she said, "Unlike parents, whenever Freddy does anything like what I want him to do, I notice him. I give him a hug and I give him a fish." And the light went on in my head that even though my son didn't like raw fish... Now, [Chloe 00:02:49] likes raw fish.
Tana Amen: [crosstalk 00:02:51] raw fish.
Dr Daniel Amen: [inaudible 00:02:51] another story. But even though my son didn't like raw fish, what I realized is I was paying attention to him when he was doing wrong things rather than when he was doing right things. So I collect penguins as a way to remind myself to notice the good things about the people in my life more than the bad things.
Dr Daniel Amen: What do you think Freddy would have done? Let's just say Freddy was having a bad day, and the trainer asked him to go get something, and he didn't do it. Well, what do you think Freddy would have done if the trainer would have gotten a big stick and started beating the penguin? He would have never performed for her again, because he would not have trusted her. Do not be beating children. That is not smart. It's not helpful. It's not going to develop the kind of person that you want. It's just so important for us to do the right things. Discipline, really important. We're going to talk about that. I love Love and Logic. We'll talk about that. Notice what you like more than what you don't like, and so a smile, a hug, allowance, whatever you can do to notice their good behavior, you're more likely to get good behavior back.
Tana Amen: Right, I agree. Yeah, and I mean, I just don't know what else to say.
Dr Daniel Amen: So how do you notice the girls' good behavior?
Tana Amen: I mean, this kind of not a fair question, because we have really good kids, so we're really lucky, especially in a time like this. They really do try to be helpful, even... I mean, one thing, we are on top of each other, so there needs to be a little more grace than usual, and I think we're going to talk about that as one of the things, but mostly everybody's trying to help, and by getting them involved, it makes it really easy. Having them involved in everything we're doing makes it really easy to encourage them, notice what they're doing. It's not really hard with them, so I'm not sure it's fair to... But you still have to notice.
Dr Daniel Amen: I notice them all the time.
Tana Amen: Yeah, you still have to notice it. You still have to verbally say it out loud to them, so-
Dr Daniel Amen: Yeah, so it's a hug.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr Daniel Amen: It's a smile.
Tana Amen: "Thank you. That was awesome."
Dr Daniel Amen: It's a thank you.
Tana Amen: "That was so helpful."
Dr Daniel Amen: It's a bonus for their allowance because they [crosstalk 00:05:24].
Tana Amen: And here's one way. We have very clear things, especially right now, expectations like Chloe helps make dinner. She's the oldest one, so she helps make dinner. The others help, but they're not doing it entirely on their own. But they each have their own thing. Everybody's helping with certain things, dishes and cleaning and all that stuff.
Dr Daniel Amen: And don't make dinner and then you do all the dishes.
Tana Amen: No, we do it together.
Dr Daniel Amen: We do it together as a family, and sometimes they'll try and sneak off and [crosstalk 00:05:50] because it not only goes faster, but then they become competent in cooking, and so you're great at doing that. They become competent at keeping it clean, which is important during a pandemic.
Tana Amen: So one of the things that I would say about this topic is, just because it's their chores and it's expected doesn't mean you still can't thank them and tell them they did a great job. So it's not like, "Well, you were supposed to do that, so why..." So I still-
Dr Daniel Amen: That was my dad's attitude.
Tana Amen: Yeah, no. So even though it's their chore, even though they know-
Dr Daniel Amen: You get paid for going to work, so why do I have to tell you you did a good job?
Tana Amen: Well, I still tell them they did a good job. I still say, "Thank you. That's really helpful to the family." I still encourage that, because it makes them want to do it.
Dr Daniel Amen: Okay, so know what you want. Bonding, critical. Roles, structure. Notice what you like more than what you don't like. And then comes discipline. So once you've done all those things... Because if you start with time out, it's not very effective. You need to lay a foundation of a relationship in order to effectively parent during a pandemic, and if you've not been good at those things, take some time to work on these before you come down on people. And discipline is not yelling. It's not screaming. It's not hitting. Those are things that are not going to get you your goals for yourself as a parent or in raising healthy people.
Tana Amen: Right. I agree.
Dr Daniel Amen: And so we came across a program that literally saved my daughter's life. It's called Love and Logic.
Tana Amen: It saved my relationship with her for sure [inaudible 00:07:46] She was not an easy child. Chloe was not an easy little child. Daniel used to say that she was either going to be the leader of a gang or the leader of the free world. We weren't sure which one, but she was going to lead something. It was very challenging. And so she and I just butted heads like crazy when she was four or five. It was awful. And then one day I broke down. I literally broke down and burst into tears, and I started praying, and I'm like, "It's not supposed to be this hard. It's just not supposed to be this hard." And I'm a trauma nurse, and I can handle people bleeding out in trauma unit and people with gunshot wound to the head, and I can't handle a five-year-old? Are you kidding me right now?
Tana Amen: So I just, I started praying about it, and several people within the same month, which, I don't believe in coincidence, said to me, "Have you heard of this program?" And so I got this program, and it was just exactly like it says. It's just very logical. And I was like, "Duh." Light bulb moment. I'm very intense and authoritative. I'm an ICU, right? So I'm like, "That's not working with a very intense, strong-willed child." Our personalities were just clashing big time. So by me learning how to sort of back off, let her make mistakes, let her fall... I wanted to tell her what to do and not let her make mistakes. That wasn't working. So as soon as I started learning to let go a little bit, to be very clear about what the consequences were going to be, and then let it go up, let her fall, let her make the mistakes, let her pay the consequence. She learned really quick, she hated consequences. I mean, she really hated consequences. So it it was transformative.
Dr Daniel Amen: So, we have two examples. One, homework time used to be very stressful, and now it's not stressful at all. And she was in second grade?
Tana Amen: Second grade. I mean, it was just, every night was a battle. She would not sit down to do reading. She wouldn't sit down to do whatever her homework was, her little math problems, and we had to fight over it, and I somehow had thought that this was my responsibility. And one day I went to her and I said, "You know what, sweetie? I love you so much. I hate fighting with you. I'm not going to fight with you anymore. You don't have to do homework ever again. If you don't want to do homework ever again, you don't have to do it." And she was like... She sits there and she looks at me. She's up on the stool. She goes, "That doesn't make sense. That doesn't make any sense." And I said, "No, I'm serious. I'm not going to tell you you have to do your homework ever again. So if you're okay with the consequences of not doing your homework, I'm okay with it. Let me know if you want to know what those are. If you're ever curious to know what the consequences are, I'm here. Let me know."
Tana Amen: And so she was like, "This doesn't make sense. What are you talking about?" I said, "Well, staying inside at recess and lunch probably is what's going to happen if you keep not turning your homework in. You're going to disappoint your teacher." Which, she hated disappointing her teacher. She loved her teacher. And I said, "And you know, but the thing is," I said, "you're so cute and you know you're pretty funny. It's going to be easy for you to make new friends next year when all of your friends move on to third grade. You're going to repeat second grade. But that's okay, because you'll make friends easily." She got so mad, she threw her pencil down, jumps off the stool. She goes, "I never said I wasn't going to do it. I'm just not doing it right this second." I never said a word. She walked out of the room. She came back 20 minutes later, got in that chair, did her homework, and never asked me for help. So over the years-
Dr Daniel Amen: And she's in 11th grade, again.
Tana Amen: And she is doing AP and honors classes, and she's amazing, so she's... Yeah, she's amazing. So she-
Dr Daniel Amen: So that is a logical consequence to not doing something that you're supposed to do. Now the other example is, we were going to take her to a special premiere in Los Angeles, and she was just acting badly.
Tana Amen: She threw worst temper tantrum she has ever thrown in her life, ever, to this day. [inaudible 00:11:40] It was awful. And so she'd never been left with a babysitter because of some of my own weird issues with babysitters. Just the thing I have. And so-
Dr Daniel Amen: [crosstalk 00:11:50].
Tana Amen: Yeah. So I never left her with a babysitter. We can call it that. But this time, I knew I had to do something, and so I had thought about it, and one of the things Love and Logic tells you to do is buy yourself time. Don't make any decisions in the heat of the moment when you're angry, because that's when we make bad decisions.
Dr Daniel Amen: Don't discipline when you're angry.
Tana Amen: Right. You don't need to tell them right then what's going to happen. You don't need to do that.
Dr Daniel Amen: [inaudible 00:12:14].
Tana Amen: I'll let you know now after I think about it.
Dr Daniel Amen: I'll let you know after I think about it. There's going to be a consequence. I'll let you know.
Tana Amen: Right. You don't need to do that right then. So I... Thank God she threw herself onto a rug and we have hardwood floors, and I drug the rug down to her room, and I was so mad. I said, "I think you know it's in your best interest to stay in this room right now." And she didn't say a word. She stayed there. She knew. It was bad. And she'd grabbed my face. And so I put her in a room and I left the room and I'm like, "I need to think of what to do." So I thought, "You know, it's time for me to let someone come over and watch her." And I called someone that I knew that I trusted, and I said, "Can you show up quickly, last minute?" She showed up at the house.
Tana Amen: Now, in Chloe's mind, she's never had a babysitter, so she didn't understand what was happening. And so all of a sudden, 20 minutes, later she comes out. She's completely fine. She's all well adjusted, and she's like, "Okay, I feel better mom." And I'm like, "Good, I'm happy about that." And I didn't say a word. I didn't say a word about what she had done. Doorbell rings. She runs downstairs. She sees the person. She knows who it is. She's like, "Oh, are you going with us?" She just was confused why they were there. And the girl looks at her. She's like, "What?"
Tana Amen: And before Chloe could say another word, I handed the girl list and I said, "These are her chores. This is her homework. After she finishes her chores in her homework, then you guys can do something fun if you want to, but she needs to get all of this done first." I looked at Chloe and I said, "Sweetheart." I said, "I'll give you an advance on next week's allowance if you don't have enough of your allowance to pay her. And if you still don't have enough, she takes twice for payment." Chloe started to scream, "This is all your fault." I mean, she started going crazy. And I'm like, "Well, you have all day to think about that," and I walked out the door. And that was it. And I made her pay for the babysitter. Never happened again.
Dr Daniel Amen: So the consequence was not taking her to the thing she wanted to go.
Tana Amen: And making her pay for the babysitter.
Dr Daniel Amen: And making her pay. That's a logical, loving... Love and Logic. It's a loving, logical consequence. I don't want you screaming. I don't want you yelling. I don't want you hitting. What I want you to do is thinking, "What is the consequence of this behavior?" Now, it starts with goals and bonding and roles and noticing what you like. Those are critical foundational things. And then, what's the logical consequence to this behavior? And sometimes it's timeout. Timeout can work. And I have rules. Timeout starts when you're quiet. Don't send someone to their room and let them scream at you. So time starts when you're quiet, but basically it's time out from things that they like, whether it's video games, which are not good for them anyways, or... You just want to make an impact. But ultimately, discipline comes from the Greek word disciple, which basically means to teach. Use it as teaching.
Tana Amen: If you're enjoying the Brain Warrior's Way podcast, please don't forget to subscribe so you'll always know when there's a new episode. And while you're at it, feel free to give us a review or five-star rating, as that helps others find the podcast.
Dr Daniel Amen: If you're considering coming to Amen Clinics or trying some of the brain-healthy supplements from BrainMD, you can use the code podcast 10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at amenclinics.com, or a 10% discount on all supplements at brainmdhealth.com. For more information, give us a call at (855) 978-1363.