Archives for posts with tag: child psychology

As you may recall, I completed about 90% of the requirements for an art history degree in addition to my B.S. in Psychology. (Yes, I’ve heard all of the jokes about my “B.S.” in conjunction with “psychology”. Believe me, I had to take calculus, among many other hardcore classes to get that degree. It was no B.S.) One of my professors often referenced Robert Hughes’ book on modern art, The Shock of the New.

Modern art didn’t come from nowhere but it was still a shocking departure from the familiar. Art had been representative, rather than abstract for a long long time. It was often idealized but always recognized.

The shock of newness does not just apply to our external world but also to feeling new. A fellow healthcare provider and dear friend shared a blog post about being a novice in healthcare, in other words being a trainee and new professional. The post made me think about being a psychology trainee in grad school as well as when I was a post-doctoral fellow.

In most measures, I am much better at my job as a clinician than I was when I was less experienced. But there were advantages of being a novice that were therapeutically advantageous.

For one, I was supervised so this made me extra conscientious to do things “by the book”. Supervision, by the way, meant doing my work with a supervisor either in the room with me or in a separate room, observing me on video monitors, all of the while commenting to other students or interns, also in the room, about the rightness or wrongness of my actions. So, I stayed sharp and kept on top of what I was supposed to be doing.

The largest advantage, however, was that my lack of experience as a parent made it much easier to deliver recommendations and teach parenting strategies, with a straight face. During my post-doc, I was a mother of an infant, but I still did not know how hard it would be to rear a child who could walk and talk. And disobey. And not perpetually vote me to be her favorite person in the world in a tie with her father. I didn’t know how parenting touches us in tender places, at our identity, and at the hurts we’ve held with us our own lives. I just said, “Do this!” I had a wonderful optimism. And most parents did what I recommended.

Once I got to understand what I was asking parents to do, I had to make adjustments. Every parenting situation is different. But as a parent, I can empathize with the fact that parenting is never easy and for some, it is incredibly hard.

Even so, I still ask parents to do a lot. I now understand the magnitude of my recommendations, in my gut. But now, because I am no longer a new parent, I have learned that just because something is really hard to do, doesn’t mean that it is not necessary to do.

Many years ago, I was working with a child with aggressive behavior problems and his parents. As I recall, he was 8 years old at the time. He was so easily angered. Some children are. By the time an 8 year-old child who has trouble regulating anger and has a great deal of trouble with impulse control, they typically have a lot of practice being aggressive and being impatient. There is an automatic reflex for disappointment and frustration.

The boy had been playing with toys, Legos I believe. It was time to clean up. There are children who kind of lose it when they are told to clean up. He was one of those children. Now, I don’t set things up so that kids will blow a fuse. I wrote out the session schedule as a check list. An example of this kind of schedule might be as follows. 1) Grown up talking time, 2) Show and tell, 3) Grown up talking time, 4) Show and tell, 5) Clean-up time, and 6) prize time.

In other words, “clean-up time” did not come out of the blue. But as soon as the words, “It’s time to clean-up” were uttered, I could see the boy’s brow knit and his fist clench. He picked up some Legos and I could tell that he was planning to throw them across the room.

A big part of my job is observing and waiting for little opportunities. Opportunities to offer a child a chance to do something different. An opportunity to be appreciated by an adult in a positive way. Once these opportunities present themselves I have to work extremely quickly.

I picked up the Lego bin, smiled, and said, “Oh you look like you are ready to put those Legos away! Thanks so much for helping!” His face relaxed and he put them in the bin. I said, “Wow, I bet you are really fast at putting things away. Oh look at that!  You put all of those away. Oh, there are some more in the corner! There you go, I knew you were fast. Thank you for taking care of the toys. That means that other children will be able to play with them. You have been very kind.”

Did that interchange solve all of the boys problems? No, it didn’t. But I do believe that it opened a window to how things could be different. For how helping can be powerful. For how seeing the positive possibilities in another human being can be powerful rather than naive. And more important than showing this possibility to the boy was the fact that the window was opened for his parents, to see their son as capable of positive growth.

It doesn’t always work when I try to take these opportunities to make a shift with my patients, with their families, with my loved ones, or with myself. But sometimes it works and works beautifully. As I become more mindful in my own life, I look for these micro-opportunities to make changes in my own life, in the way I think about things or in the way I behave.

I often tell children, “One of the best things about life is that you almost always get another chance. Every day is a new opportunity.”

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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