As a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst I have been in private practice for over 35 years, with a special interest in parents and couples. For 25 years I studied and wrote about neuroscience for mental health professionals. Most recently I have dedicated myself to working in the community to improve the lives of children and their families. In 2008 I founded the Center for Reflective Communities, whose mission is to ‘promote healthy child development, by strengthening the relationship bonds that children have with all those who care for them through an emphasis on reflective thinking’.
The current focus of my writing is Reflective Parenting. My latest book ‘The Reflective Parent: How to Do Less and Relate More with Your Kids’ to be published February 2017, is available now for pre-order. The book, for parents of children of any age, emphasizes that relationships matter most in the life of a child and provides parents with the skills for building positive relationships with their children. What parents will gain from reading this book, is that they will feel less anxious and more competent as a parent, while at the same time feeling confident that they are giving their child all the necessary ingredients for healthy development.
My philosophy about parenting
Parenting is a relationship not a task to complete or a job to do well. A strong parent-child relationship is the single most important gift you can give your child. It is the gift that keeps giving. Relationships are about caring, connection, understanding and communication. Everything else is secondary.
- True communication requires understanding another person and communicating that understanding in an effective way. In fact when we try to understand another person it is one of the major ways we express how much we care.
I emphasize the relationship when I talk with parents, No matter what issue they are facing with their child, parents always ask me “what should I do?” I always tell them “No matter what you do, make sure to keep your eye on the relationship”. What is important in parenting is not what you DO. It is HOW you DO what you do that matters. It’s the how you relate to your child, which will influence whether or not the relationship you have together is a strong one.The actions you take, the activities and lessons you provide are no where near as important as HOW you RELATE to your child.
- Every parent wants their child to be healthy, happy, get along with others and to be successful. It’s a worthy goal. But if you want to increase your chances of getting there, make sure you first build and maintain a strong relationship with your child.
- Cooperation is good but its not everything. The truth is you can get kids to cooperate in lots of ways. But unless you have a good relationship, their cooperation now will not necessarily improve their chances later on for long-term success as a person. Only a strong relationship can do that.
- How you relate has a lot to do with how well you understand where your child is coming from; what your child’s perspective is. You can’t just react to their behavior. You need to respond to what is underneath their behavior. You need to recognize the behavior is communicating a feeling, or an intention or a belief the child has. This is what being Reflective means.
Reflective is about understanding what is in the mind, not just what is on the surface. A good parent-child relationship requires being reflective. The parent who can reflect will be better able to understand, respect and validate the child’s perspective.
- This does not mean agreeing or giving in all the time. It only means ‘getting it’. This is what kids crave- when someone understands their viewpoint.Even if your child is acting up or not cooperating, whatever you do in response make sure you try to see it from within the perspective of your child and to incorporate your understanding into how you respond.
- Here is a very simple example. When your older son hits his little brother, the natural thing is to say “Stop hitting your brother”. There is nothing wrong with that. We all do it. But I am adding something extra you can try, a little shift in how you relate. Something like this. “I know you didn’t like it when your brother grabbed your toy. I get that. But you still can’t hit him. In a way you get to have your ‘cake and eat it to’. You show your understanding and get to set the limit at the same time in a way that maintains the connection.
Fortunately you don’t need to be perfect at understanding. It turns out that for healthy child development to occur, kids need understanding, but they also need some misunderstanding. This is because a lot of development happens around how parents and children clarify and work out their misunderstandings.