INTENSIVE PARENTING – PART 2

Dr. Corinne Masur

Following up on my last post where I talked about intensive parenting, I would like to talk a little more about the subject.  

But this time I want to talk about one of the things that makes parenting intensive these days and one way to reduce the workload.

And to help, I want to quote Dawn Staley, former Temple University Women’s basketball coach, Olympic gold medallist, and Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer who was interviewed recently by Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

Dawn Staley made some interesting observations about parenting. 

She said that parents these days often cannot stand to see their children feel uncomfortable.  She said that the parents of her players often want to protect them from frustration or failure … or even minor discomfort. 

This takes A LOT of work on the parents’ part and is a questionable strategy for raising resilient, independent children.

She said:

“I find that just through my life, being uncomfortable, I found a way to grow. And I give that to our players. … I’ll give you an example. Most of the players that I coach, their parents, they don’t want them to hurt. Like, they don’t want them to be unhappy. They don’t want them to go through life hurting or failing… bad game, bad grade, just – break up with your (partner). Like, their parents don’t want them to go through that.

And I am the direct opposite of their parents. Like, I want them to do that. I want you to break up, have a breakup. I want you to have a bad game. I want you to fail the test because from those moments, growth is taking place. You find a way to not have those repeat performances in … your life. So sometimes my players – they struggle with me because I don’t treat them like their parents treat them.”

This is so profound – Coach Staley is suggesting that in her own life she grew from the times when she was uncomfortable – and she thinks her players can do the same.

This may sound sensible – and yet it is so hard to institute a similar policy with our own children – so hard to tolerate our own children’s frustration or pain. 

Letting children fail or fall or have a bad break up without rushing in to prevent it or to fix it is hard for parents.  We want our children to be happy and comfortable.  We want their lives to be smooth and easy.

But is this the best thing for our children?  And is it the best thing for us parents?

Will our children learn what they need to live their lives independently, and to survive frustrations and disappointments – if we don’t let them experience difficulty as they grow up?

I have written about this in other posts and no doubt I will write about it again.  But I think it is worth thinking about the answer it to these questions.

And I think it is likely that protecting our children too much is not a good parenting strategy – not only for our children but for us. 

Trying to cushion every fall (metaphorical or real) is a full time job even if you just have one child. And if you have more than one?  Well, that is total overload.

And taking this approach to child raising leaves very little time to be an adult outside of work, to talk to our partner, to be with our friends, to relax, to read, etc. 

To be good parents, we need time to refuel, including in the presence of our children – not just on nights out.

We need to do this partly for ourselves, and partly to show children that being an adult is not just one never ending string of chores and responsibilities. 

I just read a wonderful comedic memoir called, “Did Ye Hear Mammy Died” by Seamus O’Reilly.  In this book O’Reilly describes how his father raised him – and his ten siblings – after their mother died.

His father had eleven children. He raised them without help.  He never remarried.  But he did expect the older ones to watch the younger ones and perhaps, most importantly, he did expect them all to amuse themselves.

The author describes hours and days and weeks of boredom.  And he also describes all the reading and other activities he and his siblings dreamed up to do.

Their father did not sit on the floor to play with them.  He did not see it as his job to entertain them, except, perhaps on the occasional vacation. But he did keep an enormous library of books and videos (movies) in the house and he did insist that they spend time with each other and he also made sure that they knew what they were supposed to do and when they were supposed to do it.  He did wake them all up every morning and he did chauffeur them to their various clubs and choirs and classes and performances.  He made sure they got where they needed to be and he did have someone to clean up the house after them. But again, he did not feel it was his job to sit on the floor with them or to entertain them. He had his own interests and hobbies and activities that are well described in the book.

This is a fascinating story for so many reasons, not the least of which has to do with parenting.  

Reading this book, and listening to Dawn Staley gives us pause to think – and these two tremendous adults make clear how all encompassing AND how limited our current view of parenting is.

Parents’ lives today are arduous, in part because we have a hard time discriminating what our jobs are with our children and what we need to leave up to our children to do on their own. 

When our 16 year old gets a ticket, if we contact our friend who has an inside track on cancelling that parking or speeding ticket, will that teenager learn that it’s better not to speed or to park in an illegal spot?  

Or, if we pay the fine for them, again, will they learn anything from the experience?

The answer is obvious.

And the same goes for what will happen if we always jump in to help them to finish the school projects they have left to the last moment or when we write the college essay for them.  

We may feel the stakes are too high to let our child experience consequences.  If he doesn’t get a good grade in 6th grade, he won’t get into the higher level classes in middle school.  If she doesn’t write a good essay, she won’t get into the college she wants.

But we have to ask ourselves, how will our child learn to do what they need to do in life if they DON’T suffer the consequences when they fail to do these things? And why we are so worried about our child’s project or college essay or problem with a girlfriend/boyfriend/partner in the first place? 

We have to ask ourselves why we don’t think our children can sort these things out and what our children will miss out on learning if we sort everything out FOR them.

And then we need to think carefully about when and where we step in to help – and when and where we sit back, do our own thing, and let our children figure things out for themselves.

Is parenting too intensive? 

YES.  But perhaps we can do something about SOME of the load by looking at our own behavior.

And for the Dawn Staley interview, here it is in its entirety: 

https://www.npr.org/2022/06/06/1103287397/inspired-by-the-sixers-basketball-star-dawn-staley-forged-her-own-path-on-the-co

INTENSIVE PARENTING

Recently while talking to Dr. Pauline Boss (author of Ambiguous Loss and The Myth of Closure), she said something remarkable. Although we were not really talking about parenting, as an aside, she said, “I think parenting, the way it’s done today, is unsustainable”.

And then, just today I saw an article in The Atlantic on the same topic (copied below because it’s important to read in its entirety).

Parenting today is SO intensive that it is exhausting parents and making them feel ever guilty that they are not doing enough. And it is not necessarily benefitting children.

I noticed a trend in the parent-baby groups I run, starting about twenty years ago.  Parents were suddenly feeling that they had to make their own baby food, they had to be “present” with their babies and children at all times, they had to get down on the floor and play as often as possible and they had to sign their children up for music and language classes starting in early toddlerhood.

But why?

In previous generations, parents were too busy to get down on the floor to play – children were sent outside to play or expected to play on their own in the house. One meal was made for breakfast, lunch and dinner and children were expected to eat it.  

You know what I’m talking about here – every child was not the focus of attention every minute. 

But somehow the demands of parenting have escalated exponentially.  To consider themselves good parents, parents now have to exhaust themselves all day, every day, meeting every need of every child.

And this IS unsustainable. 

Read the below and see what YOU think.

From The Atlantic:

How to Quit Intensive Parenting

It’s the prevailing American child-rearing model across class lines. But there’s a better way.

By Elliot Haspel, May 10, 2022

A girl sitting on branch of a large tree
Luca Zordan / Gallery Stock

Intensive parenting—the dominant model of modern American child-rearing—is a bit like smoking: The evidence shows that it’s unhealthy, yet the addiction can be hard to kick. I’d like to suggest strategies that could help society quit overparenting, and they require parents, policy makers, and even the childless to pitch in. But first, we need to understand why intensive parenting—whereby mothers and fathers overextend their time and money curating their child’s life in hopes of maximizing the child’s future success—prevails.

Often used interchangeably with more derisive terms such as helicopter parentingbulldozer parenting, and snowplow parenting, intensive parenting has its appeals. Scholars suggest that it first arose among middle-class families in the mid-to-late 20th century, amid shrinking manufacturing jobs, globalization, growing wealth inequality, a sense that children were both “vulnerable and moldable,” and a general feeling that American triumphalism was perhaps not a guarantee. In response to this anxiety, parents started pushing harder to ensure their kids’ future stability. Throughout the 2010s, as precarity continued to increase, the intensive-parenting ideology stretched its tendrils across class lines.

Rafts of research prove that intensive parenting mainly serves to burn out parents while harming children’s competence and mental health. But the facts are losing. In a 2018 survey, 75 percent of respondents rated various intensive-parenting scenarios as “very good” or “excellent,” and less than 40 percent said the same about scenarios showing a non-intensive approach. (An example that respondents grappled with: When a child says they’re bored, should a parent find an activity to sign them up for or suggest they go outside and play?)

What parents need, then, is not another bromide against micromanaging their kids, but pragmatic steps to alter course and still feel good about it. This is where the idea of “good enough” parenting comes in. The phrase was coined in 1953 by the British pediatrician and psychologist Donald Winnicott, and we can now update his work. Winnicott pushed back strongly against the idea that children require perfection from their parents, or that children should be perfectible. “There is room for all kinds of [parents] in the world,” Winnicott wrote. “And some will be good at one thing, and some good at another. Or shall I say, some will be bad at one thing, and some bad at another.” He added another idea too: That no one-size-fits-all parenting model exists. “You are specialists in this particular matter of the care of your own children. I want to encourage you to keep and defend this specialist knowledge. It cannot be taught.”

“Good enough” does not mean mediocre or apathetic (the not-good-enough parent is real), but requires acknowledging the point beyond which attempts at further optimization cause more harm than good. Given reasonable conditions and plenty of love, there are many ways in which kids can have happy childhoods and emerge as healthy, conscientious, successful adults. The developmental psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik likens this approach to gardening. Where intensive parents are carpenters, hammering children into a particular shape one stroke at a time, gardening parents pour their labor into creating preconditions of “love, safety, and stability” for their kids to grow in potentially unpredictable ways.

So how do we move away from the cult of intensive parenting? Very carefully and intentionally. We have to start thinking of parenting not as a set of instructions but as several dials. Research suggests that certain dials, such as “display love,” “validate feelings,” and “set aside some regular quality time,” should absolutely be turned up to 10. Others, such as “solve your child’s (nonserious) problem for them,” should be pretty low. And many, such as “provide educational support” and “offer enrichment activities,” should be somewhere in the center. Your exact dial settings will depend on your values and your family situation, of course. All 10s and all ones are almost always a bad idea.

We can’t calibrate those dials correctly, however, without unraveling some societal myths that perpetuate intensive parenting. For instance, many parents overestimate the extent to which their day-to-day parenting choices influence child development, fueling unnecessary pressure. Similarly, the perception that kids face enormous physical dangers outside the home, which is often not reflective of reality, influences limits on many children’s autonomy. And perhaps no myth has done more damage than the idea that one must attend an elite college to secure financial stability. Matt Feeney, the author of the book Little Platoons: A Defense of Family in a Competitive Age, has called the college-admissions process “truly one of the most influential forces for the steering of human behaviors and the formation of human attitudes in the United States.”

The “wage premium” for those who graduate college versus those who don’t continues to be very real (although it has narrowed in recent years, and elite-college access remains hugely inequitable). But the differences among college-completers are much more modest, particularly if the goal is middle-class security as opposed to extreme wealth. The Harvard economist Raj Chetty found that by age 33, people of any income bracket who attended Ivy League and other top schools ended up earning more, on average, than nearly 80 percent of their birth-year peers. Yet those who attended non-elite four-year colleges still ended up earning more than nearly 70 percent of their similarly aged peers. In other words, parents should be reassured—and reassuring one another—that their kid attending a mid-tier university instead of an Ivy, or even taking a track toward a well-paying trade, is an equal cause for celebration.

Moving away from intensive parenting will also require a culture in which parents’ needs outweigh child optimizations. We need to normalize not adding more extracurriculars (and all the attendant time and money) to our schedule; not spending hours completing our children’s homework with (or for) them. To be sure, parental intervention is necessary at times—securing a tutor for a struggling reader, ensuring college financial-aid applications are completed—but those times are limited in scope and merely require attentive, rather than intensive, efforts.

At the same time, we need to normalize saying yes to prioritizing adult friendships and an adequate amount of sleep. We need to reassure one another—explicitly, publicly—that being a whole person is being a good parent. Generally, content parents are less prone to conflict and more prone to listening, and the opposite also holds true. Small, everyday parenting decisions may not have a massive impact on kids, but the causal link between parental well-being and child well-being is quite strong. Anxiety-driven intensive parenting has even been implicated as one factor in the rising youth mental-health crisis. Freedom from intensive methods provides both parents and their children with the ability to fashion a healthier life.

This is neither a purely individual problem nor an endeavor for parents alone: American public policy encourages intensive parenting. The United States lacks affordable child care and paid family leave, tolerates massive income inequality, and enshrines few employee protections, such as fair workweek laws. This setup generates tremendous stress and insecurity, and many parents respond by clenching tighter around their children’s lives. The “free-market family” system, as the author Maxine Eichner fashions it—in which families are largely on their own to meet child-rearing needs with limited public options—leaves parents competing against one another for resources kept artificially scarce. Those same competitive forces that isolate and exhaust parents are a barrier to them rallying together and demanding that lawmakers pass pro-family policies. A conscious effort will be necessary to see that, as Dana Suskind and Lydia Denworth put it in Parent Nation, “the fate of each child, no matter how well nurtured, is, ultimately, intimately intertwined with the fates of all children.”

Changing the nation’s dominant parenting model might feel daunting. But in seeking a replacement for intensive parenting, we shouldn’t harken back to a mythical yesteryear: Steven Mintz, the author of Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhoodwrites that “there has never been a time when the overwhelming majority of American children were well cared for and their experiences idyllic.” Instead, we need a model that meets the current context while rejecting false premises. Intensive parenting, for now, has the momentum of a surging river. By replacing mindsets and policies of scarcity with mindsets and policies of abundance, carpentry with gardening, competition with solidarity, we can erect a dam. And a new, healthier way forward can emerge: not more, not perfect, but good enough.

https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2022/05/intensive-helicopter-parent-anxiety/629813/

Our hearts go out to the grieving parents, children and community of the Robb School in Uvalde, Texas, a town we would not have known much about were it not for an 18 year old gunman. It is time to work toward better gun control laws in the U. S. to protect our children and to make all of us safer.

The Push and Pull of Privilege

By Tejal Toprani Misra who is a psychotherapist in part-time private practice and a most-time stay at home mom. She lives in California with her spouse and two young sons.

Is it just me or does every mom stay up at night thinking about how they are raising their kids? 

Maybe it’s being a therapist. 

We think – and then we over think – every single decision. 

Is my goal to make sure my kids don’t talk about how I messed them up when they go into therapy in twenty years? 

Or is it just that I want to raise good kids?

Let me give you some back story: When I became a mom over six years ago, I intentionally decided to give my kids the opportunities and experiences I wanted, but never had. 

This led to burning questions keeping me up at night like, Is privilege “bad”? And what is “privilege”? 

When my six-year-old has a conversation with his friend about luxury cars should I be happy that he found a common interest with a friend or should I cringe that they compare Teslas to BMW’s? At their age, I didn’t know the difference between an Altima and an Audi. 

We just moved to an affluent, predominantly upper middle-class suburb this year. Should we want to keep up with the Jones – those proverbial people with “all the things”? And…should my six year old son even know what a Tesla is?

Here’s another example: I now survey trusted mothers on how many extracurriculars are enough. One friend tells me one or two. The other says as many as you can handle as a parent. The third says something in between. Meanwhile, I keep asking my 6-year-old if we can accelerate getting him his driver’s license. Who wants to drive to all these activities, anyway?

When I was growing up, my family fell into the middle to lower middle class “trap.” There was enough money to have everything we needed and a few things we wanted – but not so little that we qualified for assistance –  or so much that we had money for the extras. For example, when I asked to join Girl Scouts, the answer was an immediate “no”. My parents had full time jobs that prevented them from taking me to activities. And they certainly did not have the money to sign me up for them and  buy all the uniforms and other paraphernalia. 

This fall, when my oldest son asked me if I could sign him up for soccer, I thought this is great, right? Now he can do what I never got to do. This is the way it’s supposed to go. Your child expresses an interest in an activity which hopefully means they will put effort into it, and then gain confidence and skill. 

But then I thought, is one practice and one game a week enough? Should we sign up for a fundamentals class to further his knowledge base of soccer? Should we take a ball anytime we go to a park or encourage him to play when there is down time? Or should we hire a private coach?

It’s a slippery slope. 

When I signed my son up, I paid extra for a partial scholarship so an interested child who might not have the means would have the opportunity to play soccer in a league. I didn’t do this as a “flex” I did it because the child who couldn’t afford to join reminded me of the younger version of myself. My child of course has no knowledge of my childhood. He thinks it isn’t too much to ask for a thousand dollars from the tooth fairy.  

So now I’ve fallen into the ”if you give a mouse a cookie” situation. 

Since I signed the 6-year-old up for soccer then it felt like I had to sign my three-year-old up for something too. So, I signed the three-year-old up for after school soccer.

To be honest I did this to give myself another hour before pick up time. – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t enjoying it. 

I’ve started telling myself that by doing these activities, my kids build connections with others – like Adam Neumann and We Work.

But really, they’re just a six-year-old and a three-year-old who want to play soccer. 

And when I ask my six-year-old about his teammates’ names I get, “I don’t know.” 

So, is it even working?

And the question remains, what will ever be enough? Will tennis lessons be next? Then chess lessons? And how about a second language? 

Where is the balance? When am I just trying to keep up with my upper class neighbors and when am I actually helping my children to have good learning and social opportunities and helping them to acquire grit and resilience?

And THIS is another unanswered question from yours truly.

RAISING RESILIENT CHILDREN: It’s not what you think!

Some parents think that raising their children to be resilient means trying to instill confidence in their children.

And they think that the way to do THAT is to say, “Good job. Buddy!” after everything their child does.

Other parents, often Dads (sorry, Dads) think that raising resilient children means telling your children to “shake it off” when they fall down or miss a goal in a soccer game.

They often believe that it is better if their children don’t cry or focus on their disappointments and hurts.

But let’s look at what a researcher in the field has to say.

Dr. Lucy Hones studied resilience at the University of Pennsylvania and then at The University of Christ Church in New Zealand.

What she found is that resilient people are different from others in three main ways.

And, according to me, we can help our children to become more resilient by adopting some of the strategies that are used by resilient people.

First, Dr. Hones says, resilient people know that suffering is part of life — which helps them to accept negative events when they happen without feeling victimized. When it comes to children, it is important for parents neither to protect them from every scrape or disappointment nor discourage their children from feeling their feelings about getting hurt or disappointed.

What parents can do instead, is to help children to understand that difficult things happen in life, they won’t always succeed, and they will sometimes fall down and get hurt. And when they are disappointed or hurt, it is painful.

And parents can also help children to know that they can withstand disappointment and move on afterwards.

Recently, I talked to a psychologist who works at the counseling center of a local college. He said that he sees college freshmen ALL the time who have NEVER received less than an A and don’t know how to handle it when they receive a B or a C at college. And he said that he sees loads of freshmen who do not seem to know how to tolerate and manage disappointment or failure on any level. For example, he said when they are rejected from the fraternity or sorority of their choice, or when they suffer a romantic disappointment, they break down, they cry and they feel like they just can’t handle it.

These college kids have clearly been protected from failure their entire lives. And it has not helped them.

Second, Dr. Hones says, resilient people acknowledge what they cannot control and focus on what they can. So again, when it comes to children, we can help them to understand that there are certain things they must do in life whether they like it or not, and rather than trying to rescue them from these things or do these things for them, we can help them to understand that some things are hard and no fun but they need to try their best to get through them.

For example, I had a parent who came to me because her son never finished his projects for school on time. When I asked her how she had handled this in the past, she said that she hated doing this, but she felt that she had to help him because he was so anxious about getting the projects done by the due date that he would get himself all upset and stay up late into the night being unproductive. As a result, she often stayed up late with him on the night before it was due to get it done.

This mother, like so many parents, was not helping her son to do the thing he did not like to do, she was not helping him to accept that if he wanted to finish something on time he had to start before the last day. Instead, she was rescuing him. And I don’t think that this strategy was helping the boy toward reliance. I suggested that she hire a nice high school student to start the next project with the boy a couple of weeks ahead of time and come by a few times a week to work on the project with him. It is often hard for parents to get a child to do something differently, but often an older teen or a tutor CAN. This boy accepted this strategy and gradually learned how to start doing his projects ahead of time.

Third, Dr. Hones found that resilient people acknowledge the negative but focus on the positive.

She gave the example of someone coming out of their house and seeing a tiger on a hillside several thousand yards away on one side and a nice surprise on the front walkway on the other side. She said that it is of course important for that person to note that the tiger is there and to take adequate precautions to protect themself from it and THEN to go and get the nice surprise.

If, instead, she said, the person focuses on the fact that there is a tiger in the vicinity and as a result, stays anxious all day and night, they will never get to see what the surprise is and enjoy it.

So, how can we help children to focus on the positive?

The worst way is to tell them to do this. This will be meaningless to them.

The best way is through modeling. If we are anxious all the time, focusing on all the bad news and terrible events in the world, our children will undoubtedly learn from us that the world is a dangerous place, and they too will feel anxious.

Moreover, if we watch the news 24/7 and check our phones constantly, we will not be available to our children to comfort them and to provide them with an island of security and reassurance — which all children need.

If, on the other hand, we can acknowledge the terrible events going on in the world and in our lives, learn what we have to do to protect ourselves and take care of ourselves, limit our news and disaster “diet”, and then celebrate the good in our lives, our children will learn that there is a balance. Life has difficulties we must be knowledgeable about and deal with and it also has relaxed times and joyous events we can celebrate.

We do not have to deny the negative but nor should we focus on it full time — and we must help our children to do the same.

So, try these strategies with your children and see if they help them toward greater resilience.

And for more from Dr. Hones on resilience, see her TED talk:

What Your Child NEEDS Versus What Your Child WANTS!!

Dr. Corinne Masur

How do you know whether your child NEEDs or WANTs?

Recently, a mother in our parenting group asked a really good question:

Does her 19 month old need to be nursed several times during the night or is this something she WANTS but does not NEED?

During the same discussion, another mother asked when a baby’s need for immediate attention turns into more of a want? She knew that newborns need you to feed and comfort them immediately after they start crying — but when can you let them wait a while?

This discussion brought up a topic which I have been wanting to write about for a long time.

It is one of the things that is most confusing to parents — especially first time parents.

Opinion varies as to what constitutes a need versus a want.

But let’s start with the most concrete example: hunger.

Most experts say that by the time an infant has reached 13–15 pounds, they can safely sleep through the night without requiring a feeding. This is particularly true for formula fed babies and babies who have started on some solid food in addition to breastfeeding.

The age at which most experts suggest that your baby can manage to sleep through the night without undue hunger is between 4 and 8 months.

But what about the mother in our group who had a 19 month old? She felt unsure as to whether her baby was actually hungry several times each night or whether her baby was crying in order to receive comfort from her through breastfeeding at these times.

And this is exactly what all parents have to figure out. Does your baby or toddler or child wake up and then cry in the night because they are hungry? Because they are ill? In pain? Or because they want some comfort and companionship? And what should you do if it’s the latter?

Years ago we had a Mom in the group who used to ask the same question about her 7 year old — but during the day. Did he NEED her when he begged for her attention? Should she feel guilty when she set limits with him?

It is important for parents to dedicate some time to think about this question when they are having trouble sorting it out. Talking to a spouse, a friend who has had several children, an older relative or a professional is often necessary.

Guilt is one of the most likely culprits when a parent finds him or herself torn over whether and when to give to a child.

After the newborn phase (3–4 months) an infant CAN wait a little while to be fed or picked up or changed. Not an hour — but 10 minutes?

Yes.

You CAN go to the bathroom, make a cup of coffee, take a brief phone call.

And at this age you CAN leave an infant on his or her back to play on a quilt or to do tummy time — and even if they fuss a bit, you can let them prolong their ability to play or hold up their head for just a few minutes longer than feels comfortable for them.

As your baby becomes a toddler and then a child, you will want to let them learn how to tolerate small amounts of frustration or delay. That way they will be able to manage their own boredom and hunger and unfulfilled desires as they grow up.

By this I mean all the normal things: if your child is hungry and wants a snack and it is a half hour before dinner, they can wait. If they cry, and you know they had a good lunch and a snack later on, you help them to understand that something good is coming and it will just be a little while longer and that they CAN wait. No guilt necessary. If they didn’t eat lunch and had no snack, well maybe you can set them up with a sliced apple or orange or carrot sticks…..but not the cookies or chips they were asking for.

And even later, at 7 or 9 or 15 — if your child wants your attention — and you know they are not hurt or ill or in the midst of a serious upset, again, you can ask them to wait. In fact, you can tell them that they have to wait if you are in the middle of something — but then be sure to get back to them when you are free and can give some time to them.

Guilt often leads to a parent thinking they are depriving their child of what they NEED. And when a parent feels guilty (maybe because they work full time and are away from the child all day or maybe for another reason known or unknown by the parent) it often leads the the parent feeling confused — AND sending confusing messages to the child — such as “I can’t play now….OK, I’ll play now but just for 5 minutes” etc. — you know the drill.

Giving in when your baby or child asks more of you than you feel you can give (like numerous night time feeding when they are over 8 months old or asking to play while you are making dinner or working or on the phone) can lead to a parent feeling resentful. And this resentment is bound to be communicated to your child in one way or another.

Another culprit that can lead to a parent feeling confused by what their child needs versus what they want is anxiety. It turns out that the toddler who was still asking for night time feedings at 19 months had had some serious medical issues at birth which led to trouble with feeding. With this kind of history, no wonder her mother was unsure when to stop night time nursing! She had been worried for her child’s well being for so long during her early week and months!

Try to sort out what your baby or child REALLY needs from what it is that they want and then set some limits accordingly.

So, what does this mean for the 19 month old I mentioned earlier? Well, that will be up to her parents. Perhaps they will decide that the situation is Ok as it is for now and they will allow the night time feeding to continue for a little while longer given her early struggles with feeding. Or maybe they will decide on some gradual night time weaning. Her medical issues are in the past and it is likely that her need at night at 19 months old is not for nutrition – but is more of a WANT for some Mommy-time. We might conjecture that what she needs at this point is help learning how to sleep through the night with confidence AND how to entertain herself or soothe herself back to sleep when she wakes up in the middle of the night.

And for the 7 year old, sorting out his wants from his needs might mean saying no and meaning it when he asks his mom to play while she is making dinner or having her coffee or when she is on the phone — because really, he wants her attention at these times but is not in dire need of her. On the other hand, children and teens of all ages DO have a need for nurturance and support – so his mother will need to devote some time to being with him during other parts of her day when she CAN give him her undivided attention.

Figuring out what your child wants versus what your child needs can make a huge difference in knowing what to do as a parent! Think about it!

Translating Psychoanalytic Terms into Everyday Life:

Containment — it’s not about what to do when your toddler is running around too much.

When we talk about “containment” in the psychoanalytic sense, we are talking about the parent’s ability to contain the infant’s anxiety and anger.

Wilfred Bion, a brilliant British psychoanalyst, talked about the mother’s ability to stay relatively calm in the face of her baby’s upset. He said that this is the way that the baby eventually learns how to tolerate his or her own upset.

He explained that the mother grasps the importance of, and takes into herself, some of the baby’s earliest and most primitive anxieties…she thinks about such things in her own way without being caught up in them or overwhelmed by them herself. Babies with mothers who can take the panic out of their anxieties eventually take into themselves some version of a mother who can manage without being knocked off balance… internalizing the mother’s capacity to tolerate and manage anxiety.

The baby achieves a sense of psychological holding by having a mother who can be in a state of openness to the baby’s state of mind. The baby can communicate primitive anxiety to the mother, who in an intuitive way, drawing on her own inner resources, including her own experience of having been mothered, receives these feelings. If the mother can manage the infant’s primitive fears and impulses, then she can communicate this back to the baby in her own language — her tone of her voice, the manner of holding, the look in her eyes, and the baby has the experience of RELIEF.

Someone can manage the things that he cannot! Gradually, after many experiences like this, the baby can learn to tolerate primitive states of mind and difficult feelings.

Of course, this can be done by EITHER a father OR a mother.

When a parent becomes anxious or angry in response to a baby’s fussiness or discomfort or distress, the baby receives the communication that these feelings simply cannot be tolerated — by ANYONE.

However, when a parent meets the baby or the toddler’s anger or anxiety with relative calm, the baby or toddler learns that these feelings CAN be tolerated AND survived.

This is important for the rest of the baby’s development — through childhood and into adulthood.

ALL feelings, no matter how intense, CAN be survived. AND they do not need to be acted on. They can be experienced and they can be metabolized.

If a parent can tolerate the strong feelings that their baby or toddler has — and this can be VERY hard at times — they show the baby or toddler that these feelings are just feelings and they can be lived through.

A parent who can soothe an infant who is distressed and who can be with a toddler even during a tantrum without melting down themselves, proves to the baby and toddler that feelings are not toxic.

Of course, parents, there will be days when you are LESS able to do this than others. On these days there might just be one too many tantrums and then you may have had it!

This happens.

But containment is about what you are able to do most of the time.

The ability to tolerate — and contain — your baby or toddler’s discomfort or anger or fear is a valuable part of being a parent — and one worth reflecting on.

Translating Psychoanalytic Terms into Everyday Life:

Aggression in Our Children — It’s Not What You Think!

Most people think of aggression as a bad thing.

Especially when it comes to our children.

“He’s too aggressive” is something you do NOT want to hear from your child’s teacher!

However, it is important to consider other meanings of this word.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, talked about people having two drives: the aggressive and the libidinal — or loving. He believed that these two drives motivated all human behavior.

Modern day psychoanalysts do not necessarily think this way anymore — but we do still think about aggression — and not necessarily in the way that you think.

Henri Parens, a wonderful child psychoanalyst, moved the field forward by MILES by talking about the aggressive drive as having more than one component.

He talked about the HOSTILE aggressive drive which is the one we normally think about.

And then he talked about the NON-HOSTILE, NON-DESTRUCTIVE aggressive drive. This is the one that provides motivation in life. It is the “oomph” that moves kids forward to learn, to be creative, to get up and DO! It is the thing that drives curiosity and exploration.

All kids need SOME aggression –

They need the first kind in order to be able to protect themselves and to stand up for themselves.

This is the kind of aggression that is built into our DNA in order to ensure that we survive as a species — as well as in our individual lives. Being able to fight back is not a bad thing! It is only when this form of aggression is expressed in excess or in situations that do not warrant it, that it becomes problematic.

And children need the second kind of aggression — the non-hostile, non-destructive type, to learn new things, to move forward in life, to achieve, to do MORE.

The non-hostile, non-destructive type of aggression is so important to kids to provide the motivation to do what they need and want to do. And some children have more of this than others. These are the children that are more active, more curious, more energetic and seem to want to just do MORE.

It sometimes feels like a burden to a parent to have a child like this —

BUT if you can help your child to channel this energy, to use it for productive purposes, if you can support their energy level by engaging in productive activities with them and encouraging them to engage in some on their own, if you can provide them with the materials and activities they need — whether legos or art supplies or science kits or music lessons or teams to play on or model airplanes to build, if you can set sufficient limits to help them to contain their energy and to channel it, you may find that you have a future CEO or artist on your hands!

For more on this subject, see Henri Parens’ book,

Aggression in Our Children

5 Great Things That You’ll Gain As a Parent From Intermittent Phone Fasting

Everyone is doing intermittent fasting as a diet/get healthy plan these days.

You know, the thing where you only eat between about noon and 8PM?

Well, how about this: intermittent phone fasting!?

This is where you only use your phone for a few hours at a time throughout the day and thereby avoid insulting your friends and family and you stop getting in so much trouble with your boss.

It’s an idea whose time has come.

Believe me!

We all know that it’s no good for babies to have you on your phone while you’re nursing.

We ALSO all know it’s no good for kids to see you on your phone when they need you to be looking at them and telling them how great it is that they can run/jump/draw/pull down the curtains so well.

AND we all know it’s no good for your relationship when you’re supposed to be cuddling but actually you’re looking at your phone.

I could go on.

But you get the idea.

How about letting yourself gorge on your phone for a few hours a few times a day? You decide when the best times of day for you are. And the rest of the time, you put it away!

Turn it off.

Don’t get alerts, dings, twangs or alarms.

Just turn it off!

I guarantee you of the following:

  1. You will feel less distracted and harried.
  2. Your children will feel better and more nurtured.
  3. Your partner and/or friends will like you better.
  4. You will actually get a few things done.
  5. You will feel proud of yourself for wasting less time.

Good luck! And if you get hungry, just eat a little popcorn.