Peter and the Bear: Finding Hope in Child’s Play

3-year-old Peter and his family were referred to my behavioral pediatrics practice for help with “managing his aggression.” In the second session, having taken a full hour to listen to the story from his parents Jonathan and Jalissa the previous week, we are all sitting on the floor. Peter drapes himself across his father Jonathan’s lap, wriggling around while drawing with markers on a pad on the floor. His mother quietly observes. There is a long moment when it feels like nothing is happening. I notice in myself that feeling of not knowing what’s going on, but will myself to tolerate the discomfort of uncertainty.

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Trust: A Book Review

Why is trust vulnerable in America today? Pete Buttigieg asks this question midway through his brilliant new book Trust: America’s Best Chance. In it he lays out a clear, concise, and compelling argument for the urgent need to rebuild trust in order for our country to heal and grow. Not only his extraordinary wisdom but also his unrelenting sense of hope make his voice one we must listen to at this time of unprecedented uncertainty. As a pediatrician and infant mental health specialist I read his book from the perspective of developmental science, with the knowledge that trust has its roots in our earliest relationships starting from birth. What relevance does this knowledge have, I wondered, to Buttigieg’s core thesis? Does it help us to understand why trust is vulnerable? And if so does that knowledge guide us into any specific form of action?

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Through Shame to Belonging: Confronting Racism as Developmental Process

I will never know the experience of a Black person living in a world where people in power condone your murder simply because of the color of your skin. My family wearing a yellow star is the closest I can come to some kind of understanding. But unlike the Holocaust, which was a defined moment in history and is generally well-recognized, today many White people remain largely oblivious to the centuries of brutal violent systemic and structural racism perpetrated on Black Americans.

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Can We Heal Our Country by Listening to Babies and Parents?

We learn to listen by being listened to. Our ability to find our way into another person’s experience begins to develop in our earliest months of life when caregivers naturally respond to our wordless communication. Our ability to listen is enhanced in a setting of connection and communication. Alternatively, our ability to listen can atrophy in an environment that does not model or value listening. When we protect this time to listen to the baby’s unique voice and support parents at this transformative and often disorganizing time, we set babies and families on a healthy path right from the start.


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A Listening Curriculum: School Radically Re-imagined in the Time of COVID-19

The meanings we make of ourselves in the world as hopeful and capable of empathy or, in contrast, as hopeless, fearful, and closed off evolve in countless moment-to-moment interactions. Social emotional learning, for all ages, is the only thing we need to preserve. I propose doing away with all academic curriculum for 6-12 months. All kids will “fall behind” at the same rate, releasing parents from the anxiety that seems to be driving a lot of decision-making.We can replace academic curriculum with what I would call a “listening curriculum.”

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Autism and the Search for Certainty

The truth lies in our humanity, in the complex interplay between biology and environment. It lies in the stories we tell and the meaning we make of our experience. The search for the truth lies in protecting space and time to listen to those stories, in all their richness and complexity.

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COVID-19 and Separation of Immigrant Families

Immigrant families currently face a disturbing variation of the horrific separation of parents and children imposed officially from April through June of 2018 but continuing through the fall of 2019 under the government’s “zero tolerance” policy. Now a federal judge has ruled that all migrant children must be released from detention centers because of coronavirus. But immigration officials are not expected to allow parents to leave with them. Anyone with a hand in such cruel and heartless policy should be required to view the classic still-face experiment. More powerfully than any words, it shows how a parent provides an infant’s ability to literally hold themselves together. Separations beyond their ability to tolerate them threaten their very sense of existence.

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Childcare at the Intersection of Prejudice and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fact that the health of our economy rests on the shoulders of our country’s childcare workers. The majority of the people tasked with caring for our nation’s youngest members are women of color and among the lowest paid and least valued members of our society. Children and their caregivers together bear the brunt of woefully inadequate and poorly thought out plans for reopening early education and care .

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Confronting Prejudice Against Children

Young-Breuhl, an analyst, political theorist and biographer, calls attention to the way human rights of children are threatened. Childism is defined as “a prejudice against children on the ground of a belief that they are property and can (or even should) be controlled, enslaved, or removed to serve adult needs.”

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Helping Parents Make Room For Uncertainty

Many parents today are burdened by an expectation of perfection. When we can protect time to listen to parent and baby together, we convey the idea that, in contrast to a “right” way, they will figure things out together. Growth happens through repair of inevitable mistakes we make along the way.

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