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George Kolcun, MFT provides individual and family sessions for children, adolescents and parents to address a wide range of family challenges including anxiety, depression, ADHD, school issues, divorce, developmental issues, discipline and behavior challenges, and much more. George is licensed by the state of California as a Marriage and Family Therapist and also holds a California Teaching Credential. He meets with clients in private practice and also as a medical staff member at California Pacific Medical Center. George lives in Bernal Heights with his wife and their two children.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Myth of the Bumbling Dad

I had a great Sunday with my family this past weekend. We were able to step away from our daily hustle and bustle and spend (almost) the whole day together. We drove out to Berkeley and visited a comic book store and a game shop, my 6 year old dying to spend the birthday money he's been squirreling away. We also saw a musical at the Bay Area Children's Theater entitled Knuffle Bunny, based on the wonderful children's book by Mo Williems. My son almost hit the floor laughing as the little girl in the story desperately tried to communicate to her thoroughly incapable dad that he had left her beloved stuffed animal at the laundromat. Mom clearly would never have made such a grievous mistake, right?  Only the inept male parent would have screwed up so badly. The whole thing got me thinking: are we embracing the image of the Bumbling Dad?

Parenting roles have clearly changed over recent history.  My father continues to state (somewhat guiltily I think) that he "never changed a diaper." (Don't worry, Dad. I've got us both covered.) I guess it's difficult for a father like me to continue to see our role in the family so frequently reduced to such a dimwitted stereotype. After all, this is Berkeley, California, capable of making San Francisco look surprisingly conservative  when it comes to social consciousness and traditional gender roles.  What do we love about this portrayal of dad as the idiot?

The Bumbling Dad is not a new concept. It's been represented in movies like Mr. Mom as Michael Keaton resorts to drastic diaper changing methods.  Dads have Shrunk the Kids and Blown Up the Kids in their respective films.  They can be portrayed as Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin in animated form. In the popular Twilight series of books and movies, the character of Bella's dad is a harmless, clueless male figure who can't possibly understand or help his daughter as she falls madly in love with the local teen vampire (oh, I've seen it).  Advertising seems to be flush with dumb dads who can't do laundry or (heaven forbid) be left alone with their own children for an extended time without some kind of family disaster.

While it's easy to think of examples of this playing out over and over again in popular culture, I can't think of any reason why men are inherently bumbling when it comes to raising their children. The dad of the millennium stays home with young kids, changes many a diaper and volunteers at the elementary school. In fact, our society puts tons of importance on dad just being physically present in the family, giving us all kinds of statistics about what happens to kids when their dad is not around.

Let's hold ourselves to a slightly higher standard. Dads are doing more and more in the modern family and are producing a new generation of boys who will see men taking a more active role in parenting as the norm.  I'm ready to reject the tired stereotype of the Bumbling Dad in all its forms.  The best evidence will not come from movies or TV, but from the example set at home for our own sons and daughters.  We are capable of so much more than just being around.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Talking to Your Kids About Trauma

I can't possibly begin to express my horror and heartbreak as I watched the events in Connecticut unfold on Friday. As a former teacher, all I could feel was terror; terror that again the grounds of our schools have become a battlefield. As a therapist, I was deeply saddened as I thought of how the traumatic nature of these events would affect the children and families involved both now and in the future. As a parent, I felt an overwhelming sense of paranoia.  The halls of my child's school are a safe haven, a place for him to safely develop and grow while we are not together. My parenting world became a far more dangerous place.  As I reflect on this tragedy and what may come next for these families, I'd like to share some thoughts on how to help your children come to terms with this awful story:

  • Remember that small children may have difficulty understanding the difference between other traumatic events and things that may happen to them. Try to avoid exposing them to the news, TV and radio as they discuss this. Kids are prone to jump to conclusions about their own safety when hearing of such trauma.  Also, conversations about the larger issues behind this kind of trauma (gun control, mental illness) are best discussed with other adults away from younger children. 
  • Reassure your children that they are safe and discuss the adults around them that help them feel secure.  
  • Your demeanor and reaction as a parent greatly determines the reality that your child will construct around trauma.  Try to make sure you keep a cool head when you talk to them about scary things. They are looking to you to try and understand how to react. 
  • Listen to your kids first. Show them that you're hearing them before you talk "at" them. Your attention and concern for what they're saying will feel safe and reassuring. Give them a chance to ask their own questions and validate how they're feeling without telling them how to feel. 

It's not easy to talk to our kids about such extreme events, especially when other children are involved.  I hope that these suggestions are helpful in dealing with the feelings that are part of the complex process of understanding trauma, and I truly hope we'll need to have fewer questions like these to answer in the future.  My heart goes out to the families and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School, and I wish them hope and perseverance as they work to rebuild their lives.

If you'd like to know more about how traumatic events affect children, here are some resources I've found helpful:

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has a number of resources for children, parents and professionals to help families heal after trauma.

The Medical University of South Carolina has an online resource with a lot of information about helping kids who have experienced trauma.

This article from PsychCentral does a great job of pointing out some of the more serious symptoms of trauma in children as well as some ways to care for kids who've experienced trauma.

Alicia Lieberman is one of the founders of the Child Trauma Research Program here in San Francisco. I can enthusiastically recommend anything she's written on this subject.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Making Marriage a Success

I'm pleased to announce that I've been quoted in a book entitled Making Marriage a Success by Jaleh Donaldson. The book is a collection of "pearls of wisdom" from therapists across the country and I'm flattered to have been asked to contribute. You can find the book on Amazon here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

My wife is amazed at our differences in sleep habits. I'm usually good for about 5-6 hours. She, however, has far healthier sleep habits and is able to step away from distractions at night like work responsibilities, tv, email, etc in order to get a night's sleep that allows her to be functional throughout the day. She's even able to do it without coffee, which she gave up for tea a few years back (insanity to me). The fact remains, however, that our lifestyle choices and the culture that we live in demand less and less sleep from us. Whether it's getting up early in the morning to run or staying up too late to watch the end of the World Series, we, as a culture, don't get enough sleep. How does this affect my 4-year old?

My wife and I are both working parents. While we both have some flexibility when it comes to work, there are a few nights a week where the time with our son just doesn't feel like enough. After picking him up from preschool, making dinner, finding time to play (he's really into Go Fish right now and beats me regularly), a bath and nighttime routine, I can feel his bedtime getting pushed farther and farther back. This can't possibly be harming him, we tell ourselves. After all, this is the precious family time we've looked forward to all day, right? An hour a night can't hurt. Heck, on the weekends, let him stay up even later. As it turns out, however, getting enough sleep has a profound affect on his brain development and will continue to do so for some time to come.

One study done at Tel Aviv University was able to demonstrate significant impairments in academic functioning in elementary school students after only depriving them of one hour of sleep for just 3 nights. The difference in their performance was as much as two full grade levels.

Another study done at Brown University looked at preschool aged kids who mearly shift their sleep patterns on the weekends. While the children were getting the same amount of sleep, the study was able to show that the greater the time shift on the weekends, the more impact it had on standardized IQ tests. Even one-hour shifts accounted for measurable impairments. A researcher at the University of Virginia went so far as to compare the effects of chronic sleep disorders to that of lead exposure when it comes to children's cognitive development. Others link chronic sleep deprivation to obesity and ADHD.

The impact is even felt in high school, especially since teenagers are such chronic night owls. Researchers at the University of Minnesota were able to show that even 15 extra minutes of sleep can have an affect on a teenager's academic performance. Shouldn't be too much of a surprise as teenage brains are far from fully developed (see my blog on teen development).

Kids that are overly tired have difficulty remembering what they learned. They are more inattentive in class and can be more impulsive (sound like a frequently used diagnosis to anyone?). Furthermore, kids who lose sleep don't have the time needed to process what they've learned during the night making the information harder to retrieve or risk not having it "stored" in their brain at all.

So where does this leave us as over-scheduled families? Have a sleep routine and stick to it. Try to be as consistent as possible with younger children. Engage in a conversation with your teen to negotiate appropriate bedtimes that can be agreed upon. There's a way too much going on in their brains during sleep to risk cutting this time short.

The studies I mentioned in this article were published in Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's excellent book Nurture Shock which I highly recommend picking up. Now turn off your computer and get some sleep!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fostering Morals and Ethics

I had the opportunity the other night to speak to a group of parents at the Potrero Kids Preschool in Potrero Hill about raising ethical and moral children and wanted to share some of what we talked about. I really enjoyed meeting the parents, and our discussion was lively and full of great questions. We geared the strategies and concepts towards preschool age children, but I think that many of the aspects we touched on can be applied to school age kids as well.

The main point that I wanted to convey is that you as a parent are the main teacher and model (both positive and negative!) for your child's behavior towards others. The great part of this is that it gives you many opportunities to demonstrate or point out the kinds of behaviors you want to see in your child. The challenge of this aspect is that your child is likely to pick up on negative behaviors as well, so be careful what you mutter under your breath at the person who cuts you off in traffic (totally guilty of that one).

Deciding what your moral and ethical priorities are is a personal choice for your family. Is honesty something to focus on or would you like to see your child demonstrate more empathy towards their peers? Creating an area to focus on allows you to talk specifically about the trait and also point out the positive examples you see in others, both adults and children.

Learning moral and ethical behavior (or any behavior) starts with learning the differences between good and bad choices. Your preschooler may benefit from a plan that rewards them with praise to reinforce what you'd like to see them doing. The addition of privileges or a simple sticker chart may be a good concrete way to drive home your point about the behavior you're building.

Having an open dialogue with your family about what you're seeing your children doing is a great way to let your child know that the value you've chosen is important to you. Spend some time at dinner or during other family times discussing good examples of values that you're focusing on.

Finally, make sure that the value that you've chosen is appropriate for the age and developmental level of the child. Preschoolers can have a difficult time with skills such as lying, sharing and thinking of others. We want to make sure that the kids are capable of demonstrating the behavior before we hold them accountable for it on a regular basis.

While schools, religious organizations and other activities our children participate in have an impact on their moral development, it's ultimately up to you as the parent to shape this aspect of their personality. Luckily, you're the most powerful tool in the toolbox!

Thanks again for having me come out the the Potrero Kids preschool and keep up the great work in your program!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

New Location!

I'm very excited to announce that I'm moving my practice to a new location.  My new office is located in an old Victorian building at 24th Street and Sanchez, in the heart of San Francisco's Noe Valley.  I'm looking forward to getting to know the neighborhood and connecting with the community.  If you're in the area on Thursdays, come by and say hello!

Here's the new address:

1102 Sanchez Street
San Francisco, CA  94114

Phone and email remain the same:
(415) 810-7085