A few basic signs [of reliability]:
- Keeping one’s word about the small things – time home, calling as had been agreed, being (pretty) honest about who’s around in others’ houses.
- Your internal feeling that what your child says makes sense – pay attention when it doesn’t add up – you’re probably onto something. The truth usually flits across your mind and you ignore it.
- Both you and your partner get the same – or at least a similar enough story. Kids can only play us against each other if we don’t bother to talk to each other.
- Giving you enough time to truly think about a decision – feeling less like a hostage to time pressure makes you feel more trusting.
- Owning their behavior – without torturous explanations or excuses.
- Your child is not afraid to tell you the truth – even if it’s not something you don’t want to hear. This is a hall-mark of mutual trust – in your child and your being a reasonable, firm parent.
- Your child has a couple of good friends, regular playdates and receive calls – a sign of trustworthiness with peers.
- Other parents are truthful around you – and do not hold back important information you then hear about later. This openness usually indicates your child is acting within acceptable bounds when you’re not around.
- Your own growing sense of trust – be clear-eyed, but be open to seeing and enjoying your child’s maturation.
Ron Taffel – Childhood Unbound p.175
Remember to acknowledge only when you mean it, and not every time you notice a change for the better. I emphasize this because child rearing went terribly awry in the praise department with our kids, turning a powerful necessity into something so cheapened it became inauthentic and perhaps even destructive. Have you ever wondered whether the past 30 years’ emphasis on robotically praising our kids has actually been good for them? And have you considered that there might be a link between rote, reflexive adult praise, and the proliferation of a harsh reality–TV shows laced with “brutally honest criticism,” as well as the ever–edgy tone of the second family? I believe these 21st century phenomena of “mean “might in part be a manifestation of our decades-long love affair with praise.
For a while, I and others in the child-rearing world have been sensing that the self-esteem movement parentheses (which began in the sixties and seventies after the discovery of family violence and hidden abuse behind closed doors) was a profoundly important contribution to understanding and ensuring the safety of our children. But by the nineties it had gone way too far and created unintended consequences. Three decades after its “discovery,” boomers, post–boomers, and now the free–est generation have come to consider continuous praise a staple of life and a necessary precondition for work to be done.
Ron Taffel – Childhood Unbound p.160
Today’s parents must learn to appreciate the shadow of temperament as Jerome Kagan puts it. Children’s hard wiring can guide your footwork out of clumsy, frustrating dances. Temperament, or basic characteristics, are noticeable to every parent from early on, and remain fairly consistent through the teen years. If you recognize this and try to match your movies in the dance with your child’s basic temperament, you’ll have a greater chance to authentically engage, and spend less time fighting. Here are some of the main temperamental constellations to watch for and how to approach each:
- Sensitive child – tone of voice, pacing of questions, much less yelling.
- First-time fearful child – practice, go slowly, let child’s reaction guide.
- Tenacious child – offer a “limited choice,” either one of which you can accept.
- Active child – allow fewer choices, talk small and quick, arrange a lot of everyday physical activity to burn off energy, and be on the look-out for food allergies.
- Difficulty with transitions child – simple, but harder than you think: cut down on the number of transitions; one less per day can make a huge difference.
- Low frustration tolerance child – anticipate escalations ahead of time, and always try to attend to biology: not enough rest, hunger, and over-stimulation. Physiology always wins.
- Clingy child – prepare your child for transitions, more one-on-one time, try to make sure there are fewer surprises for this kind of temperament.
- Scattered and disorganized child – ask kids to repeat what you said, help with gentle reminders and break tasks into smaller chunks. This “executive functioning” will get somewhat better with age, but not as quickly as you would like.
- Quiet or low mood child – mindset is critical: low-grade moodiness is not a rejection of your love, which is how it feels to many mother and fathers; much more down time is needed, as well as reassuring rituals.
Ron Taffel – Childhood Unbound p.95
I began to register that for the past decade, teachers of our youngest children had been telling me about this diminishing world of inner emotion. Decades ago, psychologist Selma Faiberg in her seminal work The Magic Years, wrote about the vital importance of an almost otherworldly childhood era – between toddlerhood and early elementary school – filled with rich fantasy and imagination, unrestrained by time pressures or the constraints of everyday reality. I realized that magic was being assaulted in children of all ages, seeking to keep up with a world based on instant interaction. (I am convinced that one of the little discussed reasons for the Harry Potter phenomenon is that J.K. Rowling tapped into this yearning in children, who had been made to leave behind their magic much too early in life). With little room for cumbersome emotion or playful fantasy or idiosyncratic passion they had better learn to move fast and to “Live Free or Die Tryin,” as the older kids might put it.
Why is the inner world of magic, play, and emotion so important? An internal world hits the “pause” button. It stops action and slows down time just long enough to nurture reflection and protect genuine passion. Connecting to one’s inner self helps a child learn to handle the ups and down of everyday life (a lot of conflict can happen during recess) through creative play, rather than instant acting-out. It helps a child learn empathy through the use of role-play and imaginative games (remember dolls and puppets?), rather than the lightning-sharp repartee of social cruelty. It helps a child regulate anxiety, anger, and frustration through a focus on passionate pursuits. Mastery of some interest, whether it’s comic books, guitar, or dance, requires kids to put off immediate gratification, and helps them deal with envy and a fear of failing. Without these skills, children tend toward explosions of raw, unprocessed emotion. An inner life also provides ballast, a strong sense of self that helps navigate the unfettered rush of the here and now.
Ron Taffel – Childhood Unbound p.49
The flip side of the new freedoms was a new anxiety. It was infused by endless access, early decisions about high-risk behavior, the ability to do “whatever” without concerns about being seen, and by the overwhelming reach of technology and the warp-speed of life itself. The free-est generation began to shimmer with neon-bright anxiety. This was different than internal neurotic anxiety, by which I mean symptomatic, psychological conflict, thought to be the result of guilt between “right” and “wrong,” the struggle between “id” and “superego,” and the fear that “bad” thoughts meant being a bad person. In children this anxiety can lead to a raging battle between pleasing parents and pleasing oneself, and even to feeling personal responsibility for the very lives, health, and well-being of one’s parents. This type of internal conflict had been the bread and butter of psychoanalysis during the time of the greatest generation and its boomer children.
No, by the second millennium, the kids of older boomers and post-boomers were suffering from a different breed of anxiety, generated by real-life forces: intense social, academic, and techno-driven pressures.
Ron Taffel – Childhood Unbound p.42
In his work, moment after moment, an analyst lives intimately with the human passions. Lust, greed, envy, hate – the seven deadly sins and more; love, charity, faith – the heavenly virtues and all the beatitudes; these assail him endlessly. While he is not to be caught up in the emotional tempest that storms about him unremittingly, it is in such an atmosphere that he must exist. One consequence of this incessant exposure must be satiety, a feeling of fullness, of overripeness, the defense against which is the antagonistic feeling of monotony. Only a “surprise,” only a sudden, unpredictable event, can restore to the analyst who has reached the satiation point that quickening of interest, of zest, necessary to refresh his senses and render him once more sensitive in the way he must be if he is to perform efficiently. Fortunately, such “surprises” are not lacking.
By confinement, I refer to the actual physical fact of enforced immobility that is the condition of work for people such as I. Everything we do takes place in the consulting room. Activity, movement, is denied to us. The great dramas of which we partake, the tremendous conflicts, the shattering experiences – these come to us, come to the rooms in which we sit and listen. Eternally, we are spectators – rather, auditors. Sometimes, it cannot be denied, one chafes against the sheer physical constriction of such a life; one longs for movement; one becomes physically restless, hungering for the air of the outdoors, for the vigorous employment of the limbs and for the distant use of eyes against horizons rather than walls. Finally, one tires of words, words, words. The long vacations habitual with analysts are one antidote, and it is to be observed how they drift to the mountains and the sea in an annual effort to feed their appetites for mobility and space.
Robert M. Lindner – The Fifty Minute Hour p.277
There is an old Hasidic story of a rabbi who had a conversation with the Lord about Heaven and Hell. “I will show you Hell,” said the Lord, and led the rabbi into a room containing a group of famished, desperate people sitting around a large, circular table. In the center of the table rested an enormous pot of stew, more than enough for everyone. The smell of the stew was delicious and made the rabbi’s mouth water. Yet no one ate. Each diner at the table held a very long-handled spoon – long enough to reach the pot and scoop up a spoonful of stew, but too long to get the food into one’s mouth. The rabbi saw that their suffering was indeed terrible and bowed his head in compassion. “Now I will show you Heaven,” said the Lord, and they entered another room, identical to the first – same large, round table, same enormous pot of stew, same long-handled spoons. Yet there was gaiety in the air: everyone appeared well nourished, plump, and exuberant. The rabbi could not understand and looked to the Lord. “It is simple,” said the Lord, “but it requires a certain skill. You see, the people in this room have learned to feed each other!”
Irvin D. Yalom – The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy p.13