What Does It Mean To Truly “See” Your Child?

Recently I read an article about Adam Phillips, the wonderful British child psychoanalyst. In it he was quoted as saying, “There’s nothing to you until someone sees something in you.” 

At first I wondered, is this really true?  Don’t we know ourselves and know what we are capable of even without someone else noticing?  And then I remembered my developmental training.  In studying child development, I learned that it was eye contact with the parent that helps the infant to settle down when agitated or frightened and it is through eye contact with the parent that infants learn social regulation. In fact, the greater the amount of parent-infant eye contact, the better the social regulation of the infant. 

So, quite literally, from the very beginning babies need to be looked at by the parents.

I also remembered that later in development, at ages two and three and four, the greater the ability of the parent to “see” and to admire their child, the more likely it is that the child will feel worthwhile and known. The child of this age who feels admired and valued by the parent will incorporate these feelings into their own sense of themselves as admirable and valuable. This is the basis for self-confidence.  

All two and three-year-olds will say, “Look at me!” and what they need is for the parent to see who they are and what they are doing – and then to express admiration.  Children of all ages want to know that they are noticed, that they are valued and that their particular abilities are appreciated.

Thinking about this raised the question of what exactly it means to “see” your child and to let your child know that they have been seen.

And I remembered a family I saw in my practice many years ago.  The father was a self-made man, the first boy in his extended family to go to college and the only one to ever go on for an advanced degree in medicine.  When he had his own four children, he wanted the same success for them that he had had.  He valued education and he wanted his children to do well academically.  Of his four children, it was clear that his two favorites were the two who were most academically inclined.  One of the others showed signs early on of being artistic.  She loved dance and painting from her earliest years. While her father was loving and well meaning, he did not understand her. He projected onto all of his children his own wishes and values.  What had made him successful is what he wanted for them.  As a result, his artistic daughter felt misunderstood and “unseen”.  She did not feel valued by her father and while talented, she eventually lost faith in her own artistic ability.  She became an angry and unhappy teenager.  She was furious with her father, although she did not exactly know why, and she had very little confidence in herself.

This father wanted his daughter to be like himself.  He was not able to love and appreciate her as a different sort of person.  Of course, his desires for his children came from a loving place; he wanted his children to be successful in life.  But unbeknownst to him, in not being able to value his daughter’s unique talents, he contributed to her lack of confidence in herself.

So one important element in “seeing” our children is to be able to see them for who they are, not for who we want them to be, to value their unique character traits and abilities, and to reflect our appreciation of them – just as they are – back to them.

But how do we do this?

It occurs to me that there is no one simple answer to this question – but there are some starting points.  

First of all, to be truly “seen” children need to feel that they are understood.  Every child needs to feel that their parents know what they like and what they don’t like, what is easy for them and what is hard, when they are making an effort and really trying and when they are not.  And every child needs their parents to be able to be with them for prolonged periods of time and accept their interests and their way of being.  This is related to something talked about all the time these days – being “present”.  

Being present with a young infant, a toddler or a young child means just being there with them as they do what they are doing. It means being able to hold back on our own projections and agendas and just to be.  Is your baby lifting up his head during tummy time?  Can you take joy in this moment with him in his effort? Is your two-year-old collecting rocks?  Can you be with her and collect some too rather than hurrying her along or telling her to drop them because they’re dirty? Is your four-year-old drawing a three-armed man?  And are you able to comment on how interesting this is rather than saying “but people have only two arms?”

To allow our children to “see” something in themselves, to feel confident at least some of the time, and to move forward in development, we must first be able to “see” them clearly and be able to love and admire what we see. Secondly, we need to be able to be present with them as they are and to put into affectionate gestures and words how much we admire them.

This is the beginning of what we need to do to truly see our children and to allow them to become people who see something valuable in themselves.

And while we’re at it, we all need to try to expend some effort on “seeing” our partners and our friends as well.  We need to acknowledge more often that we appreciate their unique selves and that we value their efforts. Just saying, “You are such a good cook and you made a great dinner tonight even though you were exhausted” or “Thanks for making the effort to call/text/email” will go a long way.  

After all, we ALL need to know that we have been seen.

How To Be A Better Aunt, Uncle, Grandparent, Or Friend To A Child

Dr. Corinne Masur 

Recently, the New York Times Parenting Blog posted on the topic of how to be a better aunt (see link below).  What an interesting topic!  And I have a few ideas of my own for aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends of young children.

Some people are naturals when it comes to forming relationships with young children – and some people are not.  Some people know how to engage a child easily – and some people feel hurt when they ask a young child, “how was school today?” and the child just stares blankly at them or runs away.

Here are a few tips for those who want to be closer to their nieces, nephews, grandchildren or children of friends and just can’t seem to bridge the age gap:

1. Visit.  Visit often. Do not rely on the phone or video chats to make a relationship work with a child.

2. When you visit, get down on the floor with the child.  Whatever they are doing, join them.  Make observations about what they’re doing.  Compliment them in some way – for example, you can say “Wow!  That is a BIG lego car you’re building!” Children, especially those six and under, live in the moment.  Questions about something they are NOT doing at the moment (school, sports teams, etc.) won’t go anywhere, but discussion of what they are doing right now may.

3. Time with the child is a good investment. Each time you visit, spend at least 10 or 15 minutes focused just on the child,  Just this small amount of time will start to build the relationship you have been wanting with the child.

4. When you visit you can sometimes bring a project or an idea for a project.  Find out from the parents what the child’s interests are and clear the project with the parents first.  Do you want to make cupcakes? Would you like to build this lego spaceship with me? Do you want to do a puzzle together? Doing something together on a regular basis will build your relationship with the child and your feeling of closeness with them.

5. If you know that a parent is not feeling well or is extra busy at the moment, offer to step in for an hour or two.  This will build your relationship with the child and the parent will be eternally grateful!

6. Gifts are good – but they are not the best way to actually deepen a relationship.  All children love gifts – but many aunts and uncles and grandparents have felt disappointment when a child does not thank them or seem grateful for a gift. Moreover, as thoughtful as the gift may be, outside of the context of an already established relationship, they will probably not work to make a relationship happen.

7. Take the child on adventures. Once you feel you have a relationship with the child, after having done some projects together, with the permission of the parents, take the child on some adventures.  For young children, keep it simple: a visit to a particularly fun park, lunch in a restaurant, tea at a hotel or a trip to the zoo for a few hours is a good way to start.  If you have multiple nieces, nephews, grandchildren or young friends, try to take each child, one at a time, for an outing,  The parents will love you, and the child, if they feel comfortable with you, will feel special. For an older child, a movie or a play is fun, but even better is doing something where the two of you can talk and experience something together.

Relationships are precious and the more children in your life, the better! If relating to young children is not your forte, try some of these ideas and read more below:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/21/parenting/how-to-be-a-better-aunt-uncle.html

Will the Pandemic Ruin my Child?

Part 2: Intellectual Development

Dr. Corinne Masur

Parents are SO worried that this pandemic year will interfere with their children’s intellectual development and academic progress. So let’s talk about that according to your child’s age and stage of development:

0 – 2

Infants and toddlers will in no way suffer due to increased time at home: IF you talk to them all the time, if you read to them at least once a day and if you provide reasonable amounts of play time (with you, your partner and their siblings).

And at this age, babies and toddlers will NOT suffer from missing the programming provided at daycare or pre-school. PLEASE, do not feel the need to fill in for the curriculum that might be in place were they attending a program. What babies and toddlers need to learn, they learn in the course of normal interactions with family members, during play and during story time. Whether your two year old knows his or her shapes is actually irrelevant – no matter what you hear. At this age what is needed is basic human interaction, hearing lots of words and being able to do lots of play, both alone and with others. At this age structured classroom time is neither necessary nor optimal. And screens of any kind are not needed either – but a little bit of screen time (an hour or less a day) may not hurt.

3 – 11

Older children of all ages are having their school routines and their learning processes disrupted. This is hard for children and parents. Everything is different. Online school is extremely hard to manage – especially for parents! There is nothing optimal about the compromises that have been made in setting up virtual school, hybrid models, shortened school days, etc.

Some children in this age group will be excited about online or in person school and they will be cooperative. But if they are attending school online they still will need help choosing a place to be each day for school, getting online, having supplies and worksheets ready and staying organized – and this is very hard for parents, especially working parents. You will find that your child misses some things due to technology problems, confusion about schedules, forgetfulness, etc. TRY not to stress over these. They are inevitable. Everyone is experiencing them.

And if your child is going to in-person school – even some of the time, he or she will need help remembering to wear their mask, to socially distance and to go by all the safety guidelines in place at school. Your child may also need help understanding why it is safe to go to school now when it wasn’t a month ago. And of course this is a difficult question. But remember, at this point in the pandemic we have learned that what we need to do is minimize risk. We can not eliminate risk altogether but we know more now about how to lessen the risk of contracting COVID than we did at the beginning. You can explain this concept to your child, no matter what their age, and you can encourage them to think of ways to minimize their own risk.

No matter how much we try to prepare them, however, some children in this age group will have trouble getting used to online school or a hybrid model, When they are online, they may have trouble paying attention, they may intentionally “forget” to log back in after a break or they may do other things while class is in session. This too is hard for parents because we cannot be there at every moment to check up on what our children are doing. Especially for working parents, this is a dilemma. Again, try not to stress too much when these things happen. Young children have naturally shorter attention spans. Having to look at a screen for learning purposes for more than a couple of hours a day is very very difficult for them. Getting anxious about your child’s school participation is natural and getting angry with your child is, at times, inevitable – BUT –

Remember, all children are going through this right now. It is not just your children. Everyone’s learning process has been compromised. AND a year of this will not ruin any child’s chances at getting a good education. Children will catch up, they will make up for what they did not learn this year. They will learn again how to be in a classroom. This is important to keep in perspective. This situation is NOT forever.

11 – 22

Children of this age are hungry for learning and for the social interaction that takes place at school. Online school, hybrid models and in person school with masks and social distancing will be very very hard for many of them.

Parents, however, are not teachers and we cannot expect ourselves to make up for all that children of this age are not getting at school.

This is extremely hard. Parents are worried about standardized testing, SATs and college admissions. But again, remember, everyone is going through this. Colleges will understand this when it is time to apply. And intellectual development proceeds – school, no school, or limited school. Remember, intellectual development and academic progress are two entirely different things.

What parents can do:

Parents are overwhelmed right now. I actually think that the effects of the pandemic may be worse for parents than for many other segments of the population.

But if you CAN, supplementing your children’s school time learning to promote their intellectual development can be helpful at this time. If you do not have the time or the band width, that is totally understandable and feel free to ignore what’s below.

BUT IF you CAN:

  • Encourage your children to read more.
  • Make frequent trips to the library if your library has good Covid safety.
  • For kids under 14, start reading to your children for a half hour to 45 minutes a day on weekends. Reading aloud does not just have to be for bedtime. Pick chapter books with engrossing stories – or books of interest to your particular children. Iceland, which has a long winter with very few hours of daylight was, for many years, the country with the highest literacy rates – because reading is what children and adults did during those long dark hours.
  • Encourage teens to read fiction AND non-fiction.
  • Have discussions at dinner time – current events should provide plenty of material! There is a civics lesson in every day’s news. Talk about the electoral process, the constitution, the Supreme Court, the way Democracy should work, etc. Ask your children their opinions.
  • Encourage teens to also have some social down time (ie something other than playing video games or looking at social media by themselves), for example, encourage them to set up game nights with friends online or to do group chats.
  • Encourage younger children to play games online with friends – and actually support their doing so rather than nagging them to get off the computer!
  • And parents, use the time that your children are online with friends to do what you need to do. One of the hardest things about enforced togetherness is the lack of privacy and downtime for PARENTS.
  • Encourage your children to start or continue playing a musical instrument. Lessons can be online.
  • If your children are interested, take some virtual tours of museums – science, art, whatever they like. And don’t ask them if they want to – because they will often say “no” especially if they are busy playing video games! Perhaps there can be one dinner a week when the family take a virtual tour during the meal.
  • And try throwing a documentary or Broadway play into family movie night.Many of these things can be streamed for free. Sweeten the deal with snacks: popcorn, pizza, brownies, anyone?
  • If you enjoy games such as Chess or Go, teach your children to play if they are interested. For younger children, intellectually stimulating games which involve matching, making pairs, memory skills and using numbers are also a possibility.

Good luck, stay safe, and please, do not despair.

Will the Pandemic Ruin My Child?

A Three Part Series

Dr. Corinne Masur

Part 1

Parents are all worried about what effect this pandemic year will have on their children’s development.

And of course, it’s complicated.  There’s the concern about how children will be affected by all the health worries.  And then there’s the worry about how they’ll be affected by not being able to see friends easily.  And THEN there’s the worry about how disruptions in their educations will affect their academic and intellectual progress.

So, let’s break it down:

The effect that the social limitations and the school interruption will have on your children will depend on their age and stage of development. So, we are going to talk about this by age group – and in this part of the series we will talk about:

Socialization

0 – 2

Babies do not require social interactions outside the home. 

You will often hear people say that they are sending their babies and toddlers to daycare because they need the socialization.  Well…this is not exactly true.  Older babies and toddlers often enjoy seeing other babies and toddlers.  They will be interested in them, laugh at their antics, cry when they cry, etc. but actually, they do not NEED to be with other babies and toddlers to develop well. What you provide for them as loving parents is what they need.  Babies and toddlers require their parents’ love and attention and social feedback. What you provide at home for them is what babies and toddlers need the most.  Talking to your baby, reacting to your baby’s facial expressions and verbalizations, playing with your baby, reading to your toddler, setting normal limits and teaching basic rules is what children of this age need.  They are FINE at home.  In fact, some parents have noticed that they are getting to know their babies and young children better than they did before when daycare or babysitters were involved – and they have found this to be a good thing – for themselves and for their children.

2 – 4

You will be surprised to know that what was said above is also true of older toddlers and young children.  

At this age, interaction with family members, play with family members and learning basic rules of socialization (what hurts another person, what’s fair, etc.) is what your child needs.  Is it fun to see other young children?  Does it give Mom or Dad a much-needed break to get together with families of other young children? Yes, of course.  But remember, for millennia there was no school at all and up until recently, very few children went to daycare, and many children did not even go to preschool or nursery school – and they did fine. 

At this age, children want their parents’ approval.  And if they say “NO!”, it’s the parent they are saying it to.  At this age toddlers and young children are just beginning to develop a sense of themselves as separate and independent human beings – and they do this best in the context of the family!

So, in essence, if you are not feeling safe about sending your children to daycare or preschool or setting up playdates, this is FINE.  You may have to spend extra time on the floor or outside playing – but you are NOT damaging your child in any way.

4 – 7

Children of this age love to play and socialize.  

Starting around age 4, most children love to have friends.  In fact, they start to create their own small worlds with their friends – and this is the beginning of being able to operate as people separate and apart from their parents.  As children get to be 5 and 6, they often develop best friends and are pleased to play with these friends without the intervention of their parents. Socializing at this age is an important part of their development.

As a result, even during a pandemic, it is helpful to allow 4 to 7 year olds some time with other children if you can do so safely and comfortably.  Playing outdoors, going to a local park, riding bikes and scooters, playing running games with masks can all be possibilities. And if you can find one or two children whose parents’ views on COVID safety are in line with your own and regular play get togethers and be managed, even better. HOWEVER, again, what you can comfortably provide for your children is what is most important. Children of this age are hungry to learn about the world – and if you are not comfortable organizing play dates or pods, if you can take them on outings, read to them, play together for an hour or two a day and teach them the rules of interaction with others, they will be getting most of what they need socially.  You may not believe that this is true – but again, in many societies, children do not even start school until age 6 or 7.

7 – 11

At this age the peer group is what kids really care about. By this time children are keen observers of other children and their behavior.  They know who they like and who they do not like.  Their relationships are complex and alliances can be strong…until they shift. Children of this age generally love to be with other children they know.  Games with rules are of great interest and playing games can take up hours.

Given this, allowing your children, if they are at home for school, some time to play with other kids each day is important.  If you are not comfortable allowing them to get together with other children this often, then allowing them to play video games with other kids can fill the bill during this unusual time.  Zoom conversations and virtual play dates are also an option if your child likes them. And if you can manage to allow your children to get together with friends outside once in a while, even better. It may not feel like enough to them or to you – but a year spent this way will not ruin their social development.  Learning social skills is a lifelong process – and again, do not underestimate what you provide at home. When you say things like, “No, we cannot play that game AGAIN” or “No, you cannot have the last donut” or “Figure out what to do when you’re bored” you are providing your child with necessary social feedback. These are basically the same things they learn from their peers when they play together. At this age children are learning what is fair and how often they can expect to get their own way.  They are taught by their peers what they can and cannot do if they want people to like them, what is right and wrong, what rules are and how often they have to stick to them.  When you interact with your children at home you are also teaching these things just in the normal course of everyday life.

11 – 20

Kids of this age often seem to care more about interacting with each other than they do with you. 

Social contact with others their age is important. This time of limited social contact is especially hard for this age group. 

Parents will need to work on their own flexibility and patience with children and teens during this quarantine/pandemic time because kids of this age will feel deprived and angry if they do not get to see their friends.  

 If you feel comfortable allowing this, perhaps you can let your child get together with certain friends at your house – or you might allow them meet up outside at a park.  But if you do not feel comfortable with this amount of contact then in this case, technology is your friend. Perhaps some loosening of limits on phone/pad/computer use will be necessary. Kids need to be able to text and Instagram and Facetime and IM for at least a few hours every day. Most will want to have their phones with them all the time.

Summing it Up

So – in summary, from a social standpoint, the pandemic and the quarantining required is NOT ruining your child or his/her social skills.  It IS hard; it IS limiting and frustrating. It DOES require us as parents to do more than we ever thought we could.  But a year of limited social contact will not stunt the development of your children.

*****

What can parents do?

– When you are not working, play on the floor and outside with your babies, toddlers and young children as much as you can manage.  

– If you have reached your limit with meeting your children’s needs and feel you just cannot do it all, bringing in an older teen or a babysitter or nanny (whose COVID safety you trust) to help at home may be necessary and may ease your burden.

– If you are working either from home or from your work place then day care or a sitter may be the only way your family can realistically manage AND allow your children some socialization time. Parents who are trying to help their children with virtual school while working are finding that this is just not possible.

– Set reasonable limits on device use for older children.  These can include no phones during school or homework and a set bedtime after which no phone use is allowed – but otherwise?  Let them go for it!

Talking to Kids about Porn

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Dr. Corinne Masur

You aren’t going to want to read this, even though you need to read this:

Kids and Porn

This is a difficult subject.

Parents don’t want to believe that their kids are watching porn.  But…your kids, if they are computer literate, are probably watching porn. I’ve had patients as young as seven who admitted that they had gone to a porn site and watched “sex.”  This was accompanied by giggling and embarrassment.  But behind the giggling, I found, was confusion over what sex is and why people are all watching this stuff.

Older kids, from ages 10 through adolescence, may understand more about the meaning of the word sex and why people watch porn– but don’t assume that they have accurate ideas about either.

A teacher at Philadelphia’s Friends Central School, Al Vernaccio, teaches sexual literacy starting in elementary school.  He begins by talking about puberty to the 4th and 5th graders, continues with discussions about romantic crushes with the middle school kids, and in high school he talks about the question: what is sex?  Continue reading

Kids Can Be Foodies Too! Check Out Netflix’s Family-Friendly Show “Somebody Feed Phil”

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It can be difficult to find a family-friendly show that’s a good fit for both younger and older kids. We love the new Netflix series Somebody Feed Phil, which follows the travel and food adventures of Phil Rosenthal, a television writer who brings enthusiasm and wonder with him whoever he goes. He was recently interviewed by 7-year-old fan Evan Wittenberg, who asks the hard-hitting questions we want answers to, such as “What’s the grossest food you ate this season?”:

https://www.tastecooking.com/phil-rosenthal-vs-a-7-year-old/

We hope you enjoy the show too!

How Much Choice Do Kids Need?

UnknownDr. Corinne Masur

Once upon a time (when I was growing up) children were told, “Tonight we are having chicken a la king for dinner.”  Now, you might have hated chicken a la king, or perhaps you had the same thing for lunch at school…but that was STILL what was for dinner.

At some point parenting changed, and the idea that choices were important for children’s development became popular.  “Child centered parenting” was on the cutting edge, and giving children choices in what to wear, what to eat, and what to do was part of that.

At the very same time, our society was becoming increasingly industrialized with more and more consumer products becoming available in stores.  In the 50’s, as the world was recovering from WWII, middle class people in Western nations might have a car– or they might not.  But they usually didn’t have two cars.  Adult women might have a few nice dresses and a few for everyday wear, but that was it.  No one had a walk in closet–they didn’t need one! Children had clothes for dressy occasions, school, and play, and these categories did not mix.

Now that we have prepared foods at grocery stores, take-out food, fast food, Amazon, Target, and Walmart (plus lots of things imported from other countries where labor is cheap), dinner is often whatever your child wants. Kids often have a great deal of choice in clothing, and their weekends are full of playdates and activities of their choosing.

Is this helpful for children? Continue reading

Talking about Technology

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Dr. Corinne Masur

The promotional website for Screenagers, a film about technology in families, is offering new conversation starters for parents every Tuesday. This week, they’re focusing on how kids feel about their parents’ connection to technology and asking the following questions:

  • What are some of the best ways I give you my attention?
  • Do you find that I’m on my phone, tablet or laptop when you want my attention?
  • What are ways you can tell that I am only half paying attention?

And if you’re interested in learning more about the movie: “Award-winning SCREENAGERS probes into the vulnerable corners of family life, including the director’s own, and depicts messy struggles, over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction. Through surprising insights from authors and brain scientists solutions emerge on how we can empower kids to best navigate the digital world.”