Janet Taylor

Be Willing to Learn from Failure

Written on March 18, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

Inspired by my work at an inner-city hospital—but dismayed by what seemed a revolving door of the same critical patients—I decided to obtain a graduate degree in public health 10 years ago. I was exhausted by having a job during the day and school at night, but I felt like the luckiest student in the world when I confidently turned in my first paper.

I can still remember gasping for air when I checked my grade on my smartphone: C minus. I had let myself and my family down. I was an academic disappointment—or was I?

Looking back, that episode taught me a valuable lesson. I realized that there is a difference between a moment and an experience. Yes, I had let myself down in that moment. But the experience made me want to improve. This was not a fatal event, but one from which I could regroup.

Whenever you attempt a victory—whether it’s hitting a fundraising goal for your child’s school trip or creating the ultimate Easter basket—there is a risk that you may not succeed. The question is whether you stay in the game, knowing that there is always room for improvement, or slink over to the sidelines and never try, try again.

Be willing to learn from the experience of failing and be determined to turn things around. I did so with hard work and a willingness to listen to painful but honest feedback from my advisor. You can too. Remember: Failure is a symptom. It does not have to be a condition.

 

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

#LoveYourSelfie: How One Snap Can Build Self-Esteem in Kids

Written on March 7, 2014 at 11:00 am , by

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, then your selfie should be an epic story. And it doesn’t have to crash Twitter to be worth a read. I’ve been watching with interest the recent campaign by NBC’s Today show, #LoveYourSelfie. The campaign began with the anchors, faces without make-up, openly discussing their perceived flaws. Viewers sent in their own pictures, spanning a range of ages, actions, body types and expressions. Priceless.

I applaud the viewers who were brave enough to share their photos. However, it begs the question: Do we need a campaign that reminds us to love ourselves?

Yes.

Girls as young as 6 report being dissatisfied with their bodies, which is shocking but understandable. Media images promote thinness as perfection and seemingly place a higher value on models who are white, blonde and slim. Rarely are the concepts of beauty and goodness from the inside out adequately displayed.

The Cast of Today show

Low self-esteem and a negative self-image can lead to risk-taking behaviors in children and teenagers. Having a positive self-image, a healthy body image and good self-esteem are critical factors as children and teens work toward self-acceptance.

That’s where our important role as parents comes in. We have an opportunity to empower our children when it comes to how they feel about themselves. Doing that requires understanding how they view themselves and, more important, how we view ourselves. Our children listen to the words we use to describe our bodies and our feelings of self-acceptance. Our children listen to the comments we make about their friends as it relates to appearance.

Here’s a suggestion: Have everyone in your family take a selfie that they’re willing to share. Sit down and ask each person talk about their photo, explaining how they felt taking it and how the photo represents one of their strengths, then caption it in three words that describe what they like about themselves. Parents can use this opportunity to share their own experiences growing up and how they dealt with issues of self-esteem and self-acceptance.

Telling the story of your wonderful, beautiful, individual self is a click away: #LoveYourSelfie

Have you taken a look at your kid’s selfies? What do you think they say? Post a comment below and tell us about them.

 

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, who took this selfie, is a mother of four and a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

 

 

 

 

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What Made Teen Ethan Couch Think He Could Drink and Drive?

Written on February 11, 2014 at 2:53 pm , by

Ethan Couch

Just when I thought I had seen or heard everything, a news item really floored me—or in this case simply made me sick.

Recently, a 17-year-old young man, Ethan Couch, was sentenced to 10 years’ probation and an unspecified amount of time at a rehabilitation facility for an unspeakable crime. While driving 70 miles per hour with a blood alcohol level three times the limit, he slammed into innocent bystanders who were trying to help someone get a car started. His foolish decision to drink and drive—30 miles per hour over the speed limit—killed four people and seriously injured two others. Legally, what would have appeared to be a very horrific and sad case for everyone involved became frustrating and complicated by a single word.

Affluenza

According to his defense, this condition—having a privileged upbringing and lacking parental boundaries—apparently resulted in the disastrous events. Ethan’s wealthy parents raised him with a sense of entitlement and poor judgment, and thus he was incapable of being held completely accountable. Yes, a sociological term used to define the downright destructiveness that results from greed, selfishness and ruthless behavior brought on by the quest for the almighty dollar became a defense.

Sad, crazy and true! As the grieving widower and father of two of the victims said, “I only wanted to hear two words at the trial: ‘I’m sorry.’” And Ethan never uttered them. The devastated father went on to say that his home is now empty and just a house. Tragic.

How did this happen? How can parents with or without economic resources raise children who have absolutely no regard for their peers or fellow citizens? Have we overindulged our children to the point that being responsible for multiple deaths is excusable because they didn’t know?

I can think of two people who are directly responsible and need to be held accountable for this tragedy: his parents. You would think that instead of hiring a high-priced lawyer, they should have invested in parenting classes and psychotherapy for their spoiled, remorseless son. You would think that multiple apologies would have been forthcoming from them. You would think that a judge would understand how her ruling reinforced the double standard of leniency largely related to class and socioeconomic status.

My hope is that as parents this tragic case reminds us that teaching individual responsibility to our children is more important than buying them a new iPad or the latest video game. May it force us to realize that we are raising not just children but citizens of the world, a world that needs compassion and just behavior instead of more senseless deaths and devastated communities.

 

Do you know any children that suffer from “affluenza”? Post a comment below and tell us about them.

 

 

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

 

When Your Teen Tries Your Patience

Written on February 4, 2014 at 2:34 pm , by

By now most of America has seen the infamous recent television appearance by Kate Gosselin with her twins on NBC’s The Today Show. It started off promisingly enough, with the 13-year-old twins clamoring to talk about “how normal their lives are.” Compelling stuff! What transpired was both shocking and sad. The twins were painfully silent on live television, creating the dreaded dead air. After glares and a curt “Use your words!” from Kate in response to their silence, one of the twins uttered a few sentences. Whew!

The resulting debate centered upon Kate’s fitness as a parent, conjured up memories of Mommy Dearest, questioned the twins’ sanity (they’re fine), and suggested that their performance was meant to get back at their mother. What an intriguing concept. Are teens that smart and deceptive?

Maybe.

Teens certainly know how to push mom’s buttons. Television and radio personality Wendy Williams recently burst into tears when talking about her 13-year-old son, who “doesn’t like me anymore.” She didn’t get the memo: No crying when raising a 13-year-old. Really? Of course not.

The reality is that 13-year-olds will try you to make you question your own sanity. They alter their personalities and responses to situations in the blink of an eye. The same cuddly child giving you hugs and saying, “I love you, Mom,” can give you a look and spew words that make you search for the 666 that must be somewhere on her forehead.

Thirteen. Hormones are raging, friends are confusing, parents are annoying and life can feel full of pressure and confusion. The good life…

Instead of labeling them as crazy or mean, we need to just hang with them and show them love. We must parent with limits and consequences in spite of how they push back. Remember when you were 13 and how easily you communicated with your parents? Yeah, right.

If you need proof that teens come around, fast-forward to the Gosselin segment on The View a few days later after their initial debacle. The girls were pleasant, relaxed and laughing. It was good to see, as it was further proof that if you wait long enough, the kids have a way of letting you know that they’re all right.

Has your teen ever tried your patience in public? Post a comment below and tell us what happened.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

 

 

 

This Video Will Change How You Think About Teens and Drug Abuse

Written on January 16, 2014 at 9:30 am , by

 

Many outsiders would look at Chiara de Blasio, the 19-year-old daughter of newly elected New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, and see a young woman with a completely charmed life. A recent fashion spread in a well-known teen magazine does little to dispel that image of a magical existence.

Fashion mavens may argue about her style, but few could dispute her honesty. In a video released by her father’s campaign last month, Chiara’s struggles with depression and substance abuse, which began in her teenage years, add a sobering reality to what it means to be a first family.

She details her difficulties with fitting in and self-esteem, and the need to self-medicate with marijuana and alcohol. Describing how her mental state impacted her academic and social progress, she offers wise advice to others, stating: “If you’re suffering…getting sober is always a positive thing…It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s so worth it.”

Mental health issues can be present in any family. Being an elected official doesn’t exempt one from them. What’s most important, however, is a family’s reaction to the problem, which can make the difference between a person’s shying away from treatment and their embracing it.

[Also Read: Down Time: Teens and Depression]

Chiara’s openness may help break the stigma associated with mental illness and seeking the appropriate treatment. By simply telling her story, she potentially can help so many others.

As parents, we try to protect our children as much as possible. However, there are times when silence is not productive. Instead, it can reinforce negative behaviors by not addressing them. We can all learn from the example set by the de Blasios.

If your child is struggling with similar issues:

Support your teenager. Be open to their getting a professional assessment and treatment. They may be resistant, but purposefully and gently push for treatment.

Talk to other families. Many families feel like they’re the only ones going through challenging times. You are not. Talk to your health care professional about support groups.

Look at the big picture. Staying sober is a lifelong journey. Buckle up and be prepared for the peaks and valleys. Celebrate successes while being mindful of a blueprint.

Share your struggle. Breaking the silence about issues like depression and substance abuse can assist others in getting help. I applaud the de Blasio family for sharing their story—and hope more families do the same.

Is there someone in your life who could benefit from getting support for substance abuse? Post a comment below and tell us how you plan to approach them about this and offer them help.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

Who Could You Forgive Today?

Written on December 27, 2013 at 9:00 am , by

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Years ago, I found myself carefully counting my dog-eared dollars and placing them into a clearly disinterested clerk’s hands to pay for one package of hot dogs and buns. As I glanced at the towels in the backseat of my old Chevy, I excitedly thought how much fun this afternoon would be. First, we’d go swimming at my neighborhood pool. Then we’d grill lunch. Great plan, one problem: The two young brothers I’d arranged to take out of the city and into the country for the day never showed up at our agreed-upon pickup place. Calls from a nearby telephone booth went unanswered. I waited for an hour and a half, then dejectedly drove home.

I was so disappointed.

As I racked my brain to understand what happened, my sadness turned to anger. How dare they blow me off? Their disappearing act turned personal. All I could think of was confronting them.

Then something happened: I forgave them. A conscious mind-set of forgiveness slipped in and took over. Actually, it started with forgiving myself. Instead of blaming them and myself, I let it go.

While forgiveness is a powerful individual act, it can also lead a community to a deeper level of awareness. The recent death of Nelson Mandela and the dialogue that followed about his decision to leave behind the pain of 27 years of suffering in prison began with one word: forgiveness. “I had given [them] enough…I couldn’t give them my mind and my heart,” he said. Mandela used his personal convictions to lead a divided nation to truth and reconciliation.

Teaching our children to forgive may be one of the best lessons we can give them. Instead of fostering destructive competitive practices, think about the power of forgiveness. As an alternative to time-outs and harsh disciplinary words or actions, perhaps we should teach our children about expressing empathy—feeling what others are feeling. Maybe we can educate them on the art of offering an apology and accepting one with a sincere “I forgive you.”

We often hold on to old pain and negativity like an invisible shield to protect us from future hurts. What we don’t understand is that our power doesn’t emerge from the past. It comes from the ability to be fully present and say, “It really is okay. I forgive you.”

Is there someone—even yourself—you could forgive today? Post a comment below and tell me who it is.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

Be a Goal-Getter

Written on December 23, 2013 at 10:00 am , by

Many years ago, I decided to start running. I began by alternating between walking and jogging every 30 seconds. Eventually, I worked my way up to running 10K races.

My first competition was fun! The weather was sunny and the course flat. My second race, not so much. The day was overcast and cold, the route was hilly and as I approached the finish, I slowed down, thinking, “I can’t run another step.” At that moment, a woman tapped me on the shoulder. “I’ll run with you,” she said. “Don’t stop! We’re almost there.” We crossed the finish line together and, even though I was a bit breathless, I managed to thank her.

Just like that race, life is unpredictable. Even with expert planning, obstacles can throw you off course and make you feel as if failure is imminent. But that 10K experience taught me three things.

First, to get ahead, you have to silence your inner critic. Stay away from negative thoughts by thinking positive ones. Instead of saying, “I can’t,” think to yourself, “I can run another step.”

Second, let the past inform future successes. I went into my next race with a tougher mind-set, better preparation and a willingness to embrace challenges instead of pushing them away.

Third, look to like-minded individuals for motivation. Chase after the person in front of you, and try to reach out and pull others along on their journey as well, the way that stranger did for me.

Ultimately, the universe doesn’t care if you run or walk in the direction of your goals. It only wants you to keep moving toward them. Don’t stop! You’re almost there.

This originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of Family Circle Magazine 

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

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The “Knockout Game”: 2 Ways to End Horrifying Childish Assaults

Written on December 5, 2013 at 10:00 am , by

 

By now you’ve probably heard about the “knockout game,” in which a young person targets an unsuspecting victim and punches them as hard as possible. However, out of respect for the victims worldwide—one of whom died—you won’t see any images of those assaults here. And in an attempt to deter copycats, you won’t be able to click through to any links to videos of those attacks here either.

I’m of the opinion that repeated viewing of these antics can minimize the horror because we watch them and then turn off the TV or move on to the next news story. What’s missed are the aftereffects: the perpetual trauma experienced while innocently walking down a street with the purpose of getting home or to work or school after having been blindsided by a vicious blow to the head. It’s unfathomable.

Anyone who excuses such horrifying behavior as a childish prank is grossly mistaken. There is a huge difference between pranks that embarrass and surprise folks and the knockout game—meant to intentionally cause bodily harm for the sake of a laugh or screen shot.

Violence is not a game. The recent sickening posts involving ruthless, immature hooligans who target innocent men, women and children for assault and videotaping are criminal acts and should be dealt with accordingly. Media outlets should stop the distributing videos of the attacks. I am certain the victims are further traumatized by the repeated airing.

There’s work for parents to do as well. Unsupervised teens who hang out in groups are more likely to be involved in questionable activity. If their destructiveness is born out of boredom, let’s increase volunteer opportunities in environments that promote self-esteem and compassion for others. Parents should also be held to a higher standard for the untoward behavior of their children. Something has to change.

What do you think? Post a comment below and let me know.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

 

Breaking the Silence on Adult Bullies

Written on November 13, 2013 at 11:00 am , by

Bullying is not just child’s play. Jonathan Martin, a 300-pound tackle for the Miami Dolphins, recently took a break from playing professional football due to alleged bullying from a teammate. His complaints of harassment from, intimidation by and physical altercations with his colleague Richie Incognito typify the very definition of bullying.

Aside from their ages, the fact that their differences couldn’t be handled on their own highlights the destructiveness of bullying at any stage of life. Bullies make people change their attitudes, moods and behavior. They force others to quit, cry, get angry or depressed, withdraw or stay silent because being the victim of a bully is both painful and embarrassing. It’s hard for kids to speak up and even more difficult for adults. As we get older, there’s pressure to “suck it up” or “just deal with it.”

The perception that bullying stops in the schoolyard isn’t just challenged by what happens on the sports field. It’s also countered by the hordes of adults who report that they are bullied on the job by coworkers or bosses, older siblings who continue to harass younger siblings into adulthood and teens bullied by parents and coaches. Whether you are 12 or 42, bullying can be psychologically detrimental and physically painful.

Adult bullies use emotional tactics, verbal abuse and technology to provide consistent harassment and hurt feelings meant to create fear, powerlessness and helplessness in individuals. These are not out-of-body experiences. Adult bullies are aware of their behavior. Their tactics are detrimental not only to the victim but also to bystanders, who may feel uneasy, be forced to pick sides or end up feeling unsafe.

We need to break the silence on adult bullies. Bullying in not acceptable at any age or size. If you are dealing with an adult bully, follow Jonathan Martin’s example.

* Document incidents and speak out. If this is happening at your job, know that most companies have a policy on workplace behavior. Familiarize yourself with the employee handbook outlining those rules.

* Identify your support network and engage them as a sounding board for assistance.

* Avoid self-blame by focusing on doing your best job at work and not getting distracted by negative behaviors.

* Treat others the way you’d like to be treated and avoid engaging in the same behavior.

Bullying needs to stop. I applaud Jonathan Martin for highlighting his experiences. Perhaps he’s meant to make a difference not just on the field, but off it as well.

Has an adult bully ever harassed you? Post a comment, share what happened and help break the silence.

 

Janet Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

How to Raise an Honest Child

Written on November 4, 2013 at 1:00 pm , by

 

Actress Lauren Holly recently wrote a blog wondering if her young sons were social deviants because they wouldn’t admit to stealing cans of soda from the fridge at home. In it, she accused them of lying and indicated her ongoing distress about their future.

Really?

The reality is that children lie. Preschool children between the ages of 2 and 4 will routinely tell lies that indicate more of a need to please a parent than to actively deceive. As children age, their lies become a little more calculating and deliberate, but most of the time the lies are harmless.

Sometimes kids will withhold the truth because the punishment for honesty is too intense or doesn’t fit the offense. Households that are punitive and harsh don’t promote a safe enough space for self-disclosure.

Know that occasional fibs do not mean that you should turn your kid’s college fund into potential bail money. They provide an opportunity to talk about honesty, trust and the value of speaking authentically from the heart.

Parents should worry, though, if their children’s lies become more frequent and attempt to cover potentially destructive or dangerous behavior (substance use, sexual activity) or declining grades because of missed homework assignments or a lack or preparation.

It’s important to remember that adults lie too. If we are concerned about deception in our children, it is critical to examine our own behavior and modeling. How many times do you tell your child, “Don’t tell your Dad,” or shrug off a phone call by saying, “Tell them I’m not home”?

The next time you have a concern about whether your children are telling the truth, sit them down and frame the conversation with a basic request: “Will you promise to tell me the truth?” Research shows that approach works. They are eight times more likely to fess up. And that’s no lie.

Are you concerned about lies your child is telling? Post a comment and share why.

 

Janet Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

 

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When Mom Feels Helpless

Written on October 16, 2013 at 2:14 pm , by

Imagine you’re a fireman being rushed to the scene of a blaze. Your fire truck pulls up to a building engulfed in smoke and flames when you come to a shocking realization: It’s your own house that’s on fire. A sinking feeling forms in the pit of your stomach. Meanwhile, a fear of the unknown mixes with knowledge, desperation and the need to just do your job.

Well, last week, I felt like that fireman.

My daughter called me three days in a row from college with escalating panic and tears. She voiced anxiety that I had never heard before. Her emotional climb wasn’t due to the usual school angst: feeling overworked, over-partied and just plain overwhelmed. She had increasing feelings of gloom and doom that had emerged from out of the blue.

Usually, I can quell any emotional situation that arises with my family. Hey, I am a professional. But it became increasingly apparent that she wasn’t experiencing anything that a prescription of my calming words could handle.

I racked my brain—and hers—searching for a cause of her anxiety and hence a solution. “I just don’t know what to do,” she told me. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Her words hit my heart and my gut. I urged her to go to the student health center, which she did. But she ended up only talking about a hurt finger. Perhaps the fear of being labeled as “crazy” or opening up to a stranger was just too much.

When I realized that her visit to the student health center was just that—a visit—and she was still increasingly symptomatic, I began to panic. I imagined the worst: that she had suffered an unresolved horrible trauma, was potentially suicidal or truly losing her mind. As the mother of four daughters, during their teenage years even I thought that a possibility.

Summoning my doctor’s hat, I told her to go to the emergency room and added a precautionary order. “If you don’t go, I will send EMS to your dorm room,” I told her. “I can do that, you know.” Reluctantly, she went. It turns out that she was experiencing panic attacks, a common form of anxiety as a reaction to stress. Her blood work was normal and she actually felt relief after going to the ER. Luckily, she had a very compassionate and competent doctor who—with my daughter’s permission—called me. Together, we developed a plan to manage her anxiety.

Being on the other side of the table as a concerned but helpless parent increased my empathy for what the families of my patients go through. Eventually, every mom will arrive at a point where she doesn’t have all the answers for her kids. But that doesn’t make you powerless to aid them. You can still be their hero by helping them find the help they need.

Have you ever felt helpless to assist your child? Post a comment and share what happened.

 

Janet Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

 

Lost Your Motivation? Here’s How to Find It

Written on October 3, 2013 at 12:00 pm , by

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This past weekend, I witnessed one of those sporting events that they make heart-swelling, tear-jerking inspirational movies about. Well, almost. My daughter competed in a basketball game with her college club team. What is so unusual about her team is that it’s self-coached. And even though they were up against a team that had three coaches (that’s right, three), my daughter’s team blew them away.

The game itself was fun. I love to see my daughter play. What really caught my attention, however, was the body language of both benches. My daughter’s team was loose, smiling, joking and very relaxed. They used their own system of substitutions and time-outs with ease.

The other bench looked completely unhappy. The girls had minimal interaction with one another. They stared straight ahead—not acknowledging their teammates and waiting to be summoned by their coaches. It was if they’d handed away their will and were waiting to get it back with a nod from a coach.

As we all know, the goal of a basketball game is pretty simple: Put the ball in the basket. Score more points then the other team. Win the game. But there are plenty of daily activities where the goal is simple yet the win is hard to achieve. How many of us have started a diet plan only to bail on it by dinner? Or begun an exercise program only to give it up after two workouts? My daughter’s self-coached and self-motivated team tapped into some secrets to success. Here’s what I think a few of them are.

1. Learn to Coach Yourself. Simply put, look at your past successes (and failures) to figure out what it takes for you to thrive. Know what you need to do and give it your all.

2. Offer Support. I observed an obvious willingness of players on my daughter’s team to sacrifice individually and encourage one another. Trust that the process of giving to and bolstering others will make you all winners.

3.  Lean In. Be willing to step up to a challenge, take a chance, try or just try out (for a team).

4. Lean On. Surround yourself with like-minded indivuduals. The girls in my daughter’s group chose teammates who would be team players: unselfish, productive and willing to make others better. With that winning formula, you just can’t lose.

What lessons have you learned from watching your kids play sports? Post a comment and share them with me.

 

Janet Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

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