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A Psychologist's Thoughts on Clinical Practice, Behavior, and Life

On Deserved and Undeserved Parental Guilt

While it is best for a distressed child to receive mental health treatment as soon as possible this is not always done. Babies are not born with instructions and parent guilt is often a factor, they not wanting to accept their role in their child's problems. While parents don't blame themselves for a child's physical illness they often do so with their child's emotional problems. Feeling responsible, and with justification since early life experiences are the bedrock of adequate functioning. But parenting mistakes derive from their own imperfect life experiences so, after gaining treatment for their child, parental guilty feelings are undeserved and counter-productive in helping their child. And though children will readily forgive parental mistakes they never forget having been ignored.

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Good Common Sense Isn't Always Good Parenting Sense

Some child interaction guidelines, which have long been followed by both parents and teachers, derive from the popular notion that reward and punishment effect behavior. Thus if a child is punished for misbehaving they are less likely to do so in the future. A belief which sounds reasonable but is not.


As psychologists have long known, behavior modification work with dogs but not cats, with those of severely limited intellect (since it simplifies their environment) but not those of near normal and above intelligence, and for inhabitants of tightly controlled environments such as prisons. It does not work with others since humans are a thinking species.


Moreover, children are reasonable and want to develop into adults. Thus if asked to do something by their parent or teacher they usually will though being less likely to do so if they are hungry or tired or ill or troubled, or unable to do what is asked for a reason which may make sense to their immature mind but not to others.


Thus, apart from emergency situations involving harm or danger, explaining why a child should do something will usually gain their cooperation. If not it will be for one of the above reasons in which case they will be behaving like similarly afflicted adults.

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The Inexaustable Strength of Mothers

My experience with treating mothers has long impressed me with their strength. Despite their continuing daily tasks of tending to wandering-about youngsters, seemingly incomprehensible teenagers, difficult husbands, and an occasional sickly rabbit or other pet, they cook, clean, negotiatate with school officials, provide transportation to appointments, and cope with such intermittent crises as helping with children's homework and arranging for home repairs. All while trying, and often failing, to care for themselves.


Part of this is inevitable since, in most families, the mother is the emotional center of the family, which also makes her the major recipient of children's complaints. If a child is unhappy, it's HER fault. Is this fair? Of course not but that's how it is.


Which is not to say that the father's role is unimportant since, though the mother (or mothering figure who can be a male) is the most important figure during the first two years of a child's life, the father becomes equally important during their third year, serving to pull the child from the symbiotic relationship with their mother into the larger world and, ultimately, independent adult functioning.

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Why Your Child is Sometimes Impossible

While all children are sometimes irritating, occasionally they're completely impossible. I've joked with parents that the business office next to mine has a Saturday swap meet where children are exchanged.


But troublesome behavior has meaning since when a child is unhappy they don't spontaneously speak of their distress but instead act difficult. This is why Oppositional Defiant Behavior is the most common mental health diagnosis of children.


When asked to do something by their parent a child will usually comply since they want to grow up, to be an adult. Resistance thus indicates their inability to do what is asked because of illness, exhaustion, emotional upset, or an unspoken reason making sense to them but isn't logical. Then, speaking with the child is more productive than yelling, which should only be done when confronting a potentially dangerous or harmful situation. Otherwise, frequent yelling by a parent will cause warnings that a child should respect to be ignored.

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The Unavoidable Stress of a New Parent

While a child's birth is joyously anticipated, their parents' initial reaction is stress. This, even with a child who is generally considered easy to parent since this pain is both universal and unavoidable.


Beginning at birth, a newborn makes unceasing demands of their parents to become a more effective caretaker. Demands that are critical since a child is dependent on their parents for survival. But the adult mind is conservative and resists the rapid personality change that is needed. This clashing of demands and wills creates parental stress but, slowly, a melding of the needs of both.


An added stress is that a newborn is inserted into an ongoing (family) social system that has developed over time, and must now transform itself to incorporate this unselected newcomer.

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Becoming a New Parent and Then Changing Again

Becoming a parent involves not only bearing a child but adopting a new identity, an expected identity, and new behavior. If soon after birth one asked a mother or a father if they felt like a parent they would say "no," and likely give the same answer several months later since they had not yet fully incorporated parenting into their self-image and range of behavior. The young parent must battle to safeguard an area of "self" against the demands of their baby-intruder.


Then, years later, the opposite happens when the parent must re-discover and re-mold their sense of who they are when their child leaves the home, depriving them of the caretaking role.


Slowly, throughout life, multiple behaviors and new functions are added to the expanding sense of who one is: the being as sexual, the being as worker, and the being as parent, all intertwined, similar to how the biological body metabolizes food to make it usable before incorporating its nutrition within itself.

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Psychiatrists’ Families Aren’t Healthier Than President Trump’s!

In a well-received book some years ago, a psychiatrist described his mother’s naked body being used as a card-playing table by his father and cronies. In a paper by a psychoanalyst-psychiatrist (Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, “The Sad Soul of the Psychiatrist,” early 1970s), it was stated that clinicians who treat children do  Read More 
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President Obama's Proposal of Free E-books Reflects Naive Psychology

President Obama's proposal to provide free E-books reflects naive psychology since there are already free books available through school and local libraries. What is needed is for parents to read to toddlers and to speak with rather than to their children (i.e., explain why something shouldn't be done rather than saying, "Do  Read More 
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Why A Financial Journalist Should Resist Giving Parenting Advice

Several years ago The Wall Street Journal published an article by a financial columnist on how to discipline children, using his experience with his teenage son as an example.

Basically, his advice was to take away something which the child likes but not something which would impact their future ( Read More 
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Excessive Video Game Play By Teenagers

On a bulletin board on Amazon.com, a mother spoke of her distress at the excessive video game play by her teenager. This was his major interest and interfered with his school performance and family life. So intense was his involvement with these games that he would become enraged when his parents attempted  Read More 
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