Parents often come to a pediatrician with an expectation of advice and judgment. Our culture may support this expectation by our reliance on “behavior management” and increasingly on medication to treat “behavior problems” in children. Contemporary research at the interface of developmental psychology, genetics and neuroscience offers a different approach. Behavior problems, including such things as colic, sleep disturbance, explosive behavior and separation anxiety, are viewed as disruptions in relationships.
When parents are supported in their efforts to think about their child’s mind and reflect on the meaning of behavior rather than simply respond to the behavior itself, children learn to understand their own minds. In turn children learn to regulate difficult emotions, to think flexibly and to manage themselves in a complex social environment. This learning takes place at the level of structure and biochemistry of the brain.
In my book, as in my clinical practice, rather than telling parents “what
to do,” I help them to “be” with their child in
a way that supports their child’s healthy emotional development.
Being present with a child in this way is not an easy task. In the
face of fragmented families, a child with a challenging temperament
and a myriad of other stresses parents face, the task may seem overwhelming.
In my view, if we are going to nurture our children, we must first
and foremost nurture their parents.
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