Sunday, April 21, 2013


Deborah J. McNally, Psy.D.

Parents  often feel reluctant, disinclined or even unwilling  to set limits for their children.  They feel guilty.  They don’t want to be too harsh.  Or sometimes they just don’t have time to establish and enforce a limit, and decide to just let it go or even give in to their child’s demands.  

Furthermore, limit setting is taxing on parents.  Sometimes it’s difficult to think about what an appropriate limit is.  Parents can feel they are being too harsh or, worse yet, hurting their child’s feelings or emotional development.    Parents may not know why  limits are important.  Understanding the importance and value of setting limits with their children, can help them feel confident in doing so.

 So why set limits?   Yes, limits control behavior in the here and now.  But what else do they accomplish?

First, let’s take a look at exactly what are limits.  
A limit establishes a behavior as unacceptable.  A limit could be a simple “No” when a child does something he should not like throwing a bottle of water on the carpet or reaching to touch a hot stove.    Sometimes “No” is not enough to curb the existent behavior or there is a continued pattern in which the child repeats the behavior.  For example, whenever the parent turns her back, the toddler tries to hit his baby sister.   This might require a different kind of limit, i.e., a consequence for hitting his baby sister.  A “Time Out” such as  sitting on the stairs for 2 minutes would be an appropriate consequence for a toddler in this circumstance.

 But what are these limits really accomplishing?   And why should a parent feel confident about setting appropriate limits with their child?

1.  A limit controls a child’s behavior in the here and now.  It stops him from touching a hot stove or throwing his food on the floor or hitting his sister.

2. Limits help to socialize a child.  Establishing limits is a form of teaching your child the proper behavior that will allow him/her to function well in society according to societal norms and expectations.

3.  Limits serve to habitualize the behavior.  It makes the desired behavior a habit and it minimizes or extinguishes the unwanted or inappropriate behavior.

4.  Limits helps develop self-regulation and  internalization.   The child begins to internalize these limits meaning he/she incorporates them as an attitude, value, norm or behavior into one’s own identity and sense of self.  The limits provide a necessary structure which then creates an internalized structure for the child by which he learns to control his own impulses and resulting behavior (soon the toddler no longer hits his baby sister).  This begins the development of self-regulation.   Self-regulation or self modulation is the skill of being able to control one’s behavior and one’s emotion. 

5.  Therefore, good limits are a building block of self esteem which is the individual’s own evaluation of his/her self-worth.   All children want to please their parents.   Pleasing their parents along with being able to exert control over themselves provide a sense of self-control, mastery and behaving in the way parents approve of.  It is an achievement of control over one’s behavior.   This all builds a child’s sense of self worth.   It creates a positive feeling in the youngest of children and as they develop it creates a more complex feeling of    “I can do this!  I can act in accordance with my parents wishes.  And I can exert control over myself”  Many of these behaviors become routinized  (internalized) for the child  and the sense of self worth grows accordingly.

Setting limits is an extremely important part of parenting.  It helps control behavior in the here and now as well as teach children self-regulation and appropriate ways to function successfully in the world as part of the development of a positive sense of themselves.  

Monday, July 30, 2012

  This is a thoughtful piece on anger and it's expression.  While it is often thought that expressing anger is the best for commuication and personal health, in fact it is quite the opposite.  


Beat anger by imagining you're a fly on the wall

Anger is "the elephant in the room in mental health" according to The Mental Health Foundation. In a survey they conducted in 2008, a third of respondents said they knew someone with an anger problem. Anger is often made worse by misguided folk wisdom that says it's a good idea to reflect on your feelings and vent them. In fact, past research has shown that ruminating and venting anger make it worse.

A new study tests the idea that anger can be dissipated by mentally distancing oneself from the situation - as if viewing proceedings from the perspective of a fly on the wall. There's evidence that this is beneficial, but before now this was derived from studies that merely asked people to imagine frustrating scenarios. Now Dominik Mischkowski and his colleagues have ramped up the realism levels, deliberately winding up their participants in the lab.

Ninety-four undergrads signed up for what they thought was an investigation into the effects of music on problem solving and creativity. They listened to some intense classical music and attempted to solve a series of anagrams against the clock. Part of the procedure involved them reading back the correct answer to the researchers over an intercom. This is where the wind up began - the experimenter repeatedly said that they weren't speaking loudly enough. After the twelfth anagram he went as far as saying "Look this is the third time I have to say this! Can't you follow directions? Speak louder!"

Immediately after the wind up, the participants were told a second experiment (on the effects of music on feelings) required that they reflect on the previous anagram task - either seeing the situation unfold again through their own eyes, or as if they were watching the situation from a distance, "as if it were happening to the distant to you all over again." A third of the participants acted as controls and were  told to reflect on the anagram task without any specific instructions. Afterwards, all the participants rated their anger levels. The key finding was that the participants in the distancing condition reported feeling less angry and having fewer aggressive thoughts compared with participants in the self-immersion and control conditions.

A second study was similar but this time a new set of participants were given the chance to actually vent their anger. After the wind up and the reflection phase (from a distance vs. immersed in their own perspective) the participants were invited to take part in a competitive anagram task with a partner located in another room. Part of this involved the chance to blast their opponent with loud noise when he/she got answers wrong - taken as a sign of aggressive behaviour. The important result here - participants who reflected on the initial, frustrating anagram task as if from the perspective of a fly on the wall showed less aggression compared with the other participants.

Mischkowski and his team said their findings showed "how people can neutralize aggression while focusing on their emotions and the situation at hand—by adopting a self-distanced perspective." They added that this is important given that distraction is often not possible in real life situations, for example when it's necessary to carry on interacting with the provocateur.


Dominik Mischkowskia, Ethan Kross, and Brad J. Bushmana (2012). Flies on the wall are less aggressive: Self-distancing “in the heat of the moment” reduces aggressive thoughts, angry feelings and aggressive behaviour. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.03.012

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Shoes! What do they say about you!

What your choice of shoe says about you

When you meet a stranger, look at his shoes (from Good Advices by REM)
The UK's fashionistas are abuzz after the Duchess of Cambridge was pictured at the weekend sporting a £300 pair of Le Chameau wellington boots. Does her shoe choice tell us anything about her? In a culture where so much attention is paid to the material we strap to our feet, a new study asks this very question more generally - how is shoe choice associated with personality and what assumptions do onlookers make about people based on their shoes?

The new research builds on an existing literature that's shown we form impressions of strangers incredibly quickly, discerning a surprising amount of information about their sexuality, background and personality. However, much of the past research on these thin-slicing abilities has involved participants looking at the faces of strangers, not their shoes.

Omri Gillath started by getting 208 undergrads (aged 18 to 55) to fill out numerous questionnaires about their personality and background, as well as submitting a photograph of "the pair of shoes they wear most often." Next, a separate group of 63 undergrads each looked at a sample of these shoes and gave their best guess as to the personality and background of the wearers.

The participants in the role of observer tended to agree with each other in their judgments, suggesting that we make consistent assumptions about wearers based on their shoes, regardless of whether those assumptions are accurate or not.

In decreasing order, observers were most accurate in identifying the shoe-wearers': age, gender, income, attachment anxiety (as measured by the wearers' agreement with statements like "I worry that romantic partners won't care about me as much as I care about them") and their agreeableness. Observers were unsuccessful at identifying other aspects of personality such as political ideology, extraversion and conscientiousness, despite tending to agree with each other in their ratings of these traits.

So what cues did the observers use to make their judgments? First off, let's look at some of their mistakes. The observers assumed that colourful and bright shoes belonged to an extravert person. In fact, the only shoe characteristics that correlated with wearers' extraversion were being worn out and being of greater height (the top part, rather than the heel). Observers thought that attractive shoes in a good condition probably belonged to a conscientious person. In fact, the only relevant factors here were that conscientious people tended to have higher-topped shoes and to photograph them against a colourful background. And they assumed wrongly that less attractiveness shoes, with less pointy toes, in relatively poor repair, and low value price, probably belonged to someone with liberal political views. In fact there were no significant associations between political ideology and choice of shoe.

On the other hand, the observers discerned correctly that more agreeable people tended to wear shoes that were practical and affordable (pointy toes, price and brand visibility were negatively correlated with agreeableness); that anxiously attached people tended to wear shoes that look brand new and in good repair (perhaps in an attempt to make a good impression and avoid rejection); that wealthier people wear more stylish shoes; and that women wear more expensive-looking, branded shoes.

The study is obviously limited by its use of a narrow sample of Western university students. The assumptions observers make from shoes could be completely different in another culture, as could the links between shoe features and the traits of wearers. Another shortcoming is the reliance on the self-report ratings of the shoe wearers. Perhaps, for some of the personality factors, the observers were "seeing through" the shoe wearers' idealised selves. "Do people buy and wear shoes strategically to portray an image, and can observers detect the 'acquired image'?" the researchers asked. "These are fundamental questions in personality and social psychology, and they play out in many domains - shoes are merely one attractive alternative to research."

  ResearchBlogging.orgOmri Gillatha, Angela J. Bahnsb, Fiona Gea, & Christian S. Crandalla (2012). Shoes as a source of first impressions. Journal of Research in Personality DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2012.04.003

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Psychology Today has an interesting article in this month's edition called "Six Clues to Character."  It not only gives "clues" to help figure out if someone has character but also helps define what the attributes of character are.   These are probably things you knew all along but never quite articulated in this way.

Monday, October 4, 2010

More on forgiveness

"When you forgive, you in no way change the past, but you sure do change the future"

.....attributed to Bernard Meltzer