Review by SHEILA JAYA POOMY
KEEPING YOUR CHILD IN MIND
By Claudia M. Gould, MD
Publisher: Da Capo Press
If, like most parents, you are tearing your hair out when the repeated reprimands, yelling and “time outs” do not seem to be working, or the sibling fights are turning into physical combat and emotional meltdowns are patterned into weekly routines – then this book offers a fresh perspective.
Keeping Your Child in Mind is about gaining a better understanding of your child – and WHY this is important. It gives a fresh perspective to their needs and struggles – from infants to teens, with scientific research and situational analyses. It’s about getting to the child’s heart – which matters, in making things better.
It calls us to reflect on the inner person of the child – what are his feelings, emotions and possible thought processes. Unlike other books which offer advice on “what to do,” this book shows “how to be” with a child.
With 20 years' experience as a paediatrician, Gould’s vignettes are distilled from cases she has seen from her time as an instructor at Harvard Medical School.
In trying to understand why “difficult children” are so, the book presents various research findings that call the reader to examine the child’s genetic makeup, the surrounding household, family, marriage, grandparent-parent relationship history issues, and environmental considerations – which all play into how a child feels and responds to situations.
Gould is candid about the aim of the book – it does not provide the answers on “what to do” with your “difficult child” or provide steps to address behavioural issues. The book is premised on relational parenting – aimed at resolving relationship issues first before behavioural conditions are tackled.
So, how is this done? It begins with “holding a child in mind” – an ability to think about your child’s behaviour in terms of his underlying feelings and motivations. The world, as seen from their eyes, through their mind, taking into context their developmental stage. Framed such, parents will not just respond to the behaviour but can empathise and think deeper about its meaning and address it accordingly.
Chapter one provides simplified explanations of how our emotions are regulated by the wiring of various functions in the brain, tracing its development from the time even before birth.
In the next chapter, Living with Colic, the book expounds on common techniques used by parents to console a crying child – even to the extent of sometimes misinterpreting a baby’s gestures, and how to deal with the fear and guilt often experienced by first-time parents. One of the most fundamental truths drawn out from this section is the assurance parents need to continually provide to the infant through this season. Gould says: (from within the child’s mind) When someone we love validates our experience, it lets us know that we are not alone.
Of course, this also means that “you must regulate and manage your own feelings, so that they do not get in the way of being present with your child at moments of distress.” She calls for a calm tone and posture when engaging with the newborn, instead of struggling with the child during the moments of high-decibel discomfort.
Chapter two goes on to tackle sleep issues and assures parents that there is no hard yardstick as to when a child should be taught to self-settle. Gould provides support in her argument by using the “strange situation” research which has become the gold standard for measuring a child’s security of attachment. This comes into play later on in a child’s life as to how they manage emotions and social dynamics.
The next chapter deals with preschool children who commonly display separation anxiety and explosive behaviour (read: tantrums). She attributes this to a child who is dealing with rapidly developing emotions vis a vis their less-than-advanced language development. The book gives pointers on how both parents and child can regulate these emotions of anxiety and aggression.
School-age children, addressed in the next chapter, go through social and learning developments. Gould raises some strong points here about the common (and often too quick) misdiagnosis of ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) and learning disabilities. Children who have difficulty in resourceful problem-solving often have insecure attachment issues, she says – leading to a lack of ability in managing emotions.
The next chapter on teenagers is said “to have much in common with the melodrama of the toddler years, but on a different scale.” She encourages parents to frame the issue, setting limits and keeping to it.
Keeping Your Child in Mind goes beneath the veneer, describing the effects of broken families, possible social misnomers of adopted children, those scarred by early trauma and depression, aggression by heredity, and how parents can better navigate these thorny conditions, while helping develop their child's self-esteem.
All in all, the book holds an American worldview on children which may not necessarily address some of the issues and/or approaches by Asian families. Most of the scenarios raised in the book seem to have a happy ending, reinforcing the approaches recommended by Gould.
Nevertheless, this is a timely book – against the backdrop of an increasing population leading urbanised, fast-paced lifestyles, having children in their later years (naturally or adopted) – leading to generational gaps which become harder to cross. It is also a useful guide. It provides suggestions to unlocking some treasures by “being” with our kids and slowing down to enjoy the flowers, with the life in our care.