Loop Lit: Trial and Error? Or Pride and Joy?
06 Sep, 2012
By Amalie Howard
I’ve read my share of parenting books over the years, particularly ones dealing with sleepless babies, toddler tantrums and sibling rivalry. But Mamaroneck’s Dr. Kenneth Barish’s PRIDE & JOY—A Guide to Understanding Your Child’s Emotions and Solving Family Problems was a bit of an eye-opener.
I say this because as a fairly intuitive person, I already know that my emotional health affects how I interact with the world (if I’m crabby, you can bet someone’s going to get the short end of the stick), so it makes sense that my child’s emotional health is going to have a similar impact on his social relationships. This is the basic principle of PRIDE & JOY … a better understanding of your child’s emotional health makes for a healthier and happier child (and bonus, a more sane parent).
As many of you know, being a parent is one of the most difficult jobs in the world and we tend to learn by trial and error. But we all want the same thing … well-rounded, emotionally-equipped and socially-capable, confident, happy, resilient, thriving children. However, when the sheer speed of life gets in the way, a parent’s sense of empathy can get lost in translation especially as it relates to their children. Empathy can be eroded because of stress—work stress, financial stress, emotional stress, physical stress—and too often, children bear the brunt of this. In addition, in a culture where parents give in to every demand to avoid disappointing their children or “are afraid of their children,” parenting lines can become blurred and common sense strategies, ineffective.
To me, PRIDE & JOY was a reset button. With years of personal parenting and professional clinical experience under his belt, Dr. Barish suggests a parenting approach that is smart, practical and thoughtful. Full of anecdotes, real-life examples and solutions, PRIDE & JOY offers parents a fresh way to reconnect with their children and bolster parenting techniques. Dr. Barish puts parents back on the right track to build and strengthen family relationships by expressing interest in their child’s interests, or praising for effort, not for the task itself, or simply listening for ten minutes at bedtime to foster positive behavior and resilience. He talks about parents sharing personal stories so that children can feel a sense of connection (“that happened to you, too?”), or about the benefits of interactive play—parents getting down and dirty with their children, whether it’s via checkers, baseball or a video game.
An insightful approach to parenting and parent/child dynamics, PRIDE & JOY is a smart choice for frustrated parents as well as any parent needing a boost or looking for alternate strategies in child rearing. Verdict? Read this. Chances are you’re already employing many of these strategies, but when it comes to your own pride and joy, a refresher never hurts. Your child—and your sanity—may well thank you for it. I know mine will.
1) What made you want to write this book?
I decided to write this book for several reasons.
First, I wanted to present to parents some of the lessons I had learned, over many years of teaching and clinical work, about how to solve common family problems.
I was also dissatisfied with much of the advice that is currently offered to parents. Most parenting advice teaches strategies or “techniques” to help parents manage their child’s difficult behavior. These techniques are undoubtedly helpful to many families, and I make use of them in my clinical work. But they also have limitations.
Too often, this advice misses the big picture. We need to think not only about how to help children behave better now, but also about how to help them sustain their motivation and effort in the long run, and to become responsible and caring adults.
Last, but not least, I had the support and encouragement of my family – my wife and my two (now adult) children. I began to write the book soon after my daughter said to me, “Dad, why don’t you write a parenting book?”
2) The whole concept of “emotional health” makes a lot of sense to me, especially as it relates to social interaction. Can you explain more why it is so critical for us as parents to strengthen this in our children? And how does it prepare them for life after childhood/early adolescence?
I focus on fostering children’s emotional health because, more than anything else, this is the key to their success in life.
Children who are able to bounce back from frustration and disappointment – children who have developed qualities of optimism and resilience – will be more successful in all aspects of their lives. They will have better peer relationships. At home, we will see less argument, less withdrawal, and less defiance. They will be more willing to compromise. They will also work harder and achieve more in school.
Fostering optimism and resilience in children is the best preparation we can give them for coping with the challenges they will face as adolescents and adults.
3) There are so many incidences of bullying in schools today. Do you think that your techniques to strengthen a child’s emotional health can make a difference?
Children who are being bullied need our complete support.
When a child is being bullied – for whatever reason – we need to let him (or her) know that it will get better and that bullies are, in the long run, the losers. Then, we can think together with him about how he can effectively assert himself. It is also helpful to let children know that we may have been bullied – and that we bounced back.
And yes, children who are more emotionally resilient – children who have more confidence in their futures – will also have more confidence in their ability to cope with these difficult situations.
4) We live in an affluent community. Do you think children/teens in Westchester suffer from an inflated sense of entitlement because of this? How should parents address?
There are several ways that we can reduce our children’s sense of entitlement. First, from an early age, we should teach kids the principle of earning. Our love and concern for them, of course, are unconditional. But privileges – and the things that they want – must be earned.
We also need to talk with them, not just about their feelings, but about the feelings of others, and we should make helping others an important part of our family life. Research on moral development has shown that children are more likely to be caring and helpful to others when children are given responsibilities within their family; when parents and children share positive feelings; and when parents talk often about the feelings of others.
5) As a parent, I worry about the accessibility of drugs and/or alcohol to children/teenagers. I know your book is about early adolescence and before, but sex is also a subject that is occurring as early as the preteen years in some communities. Do you see these as issues in our local communities and how can your approach help our children make better choices with these types of life-altering decisions?
Drugs, alcohol, and early sexual activity are a constant temptation for adolescents and a constant anxiety for all parents. We can keep them away from these dangers, but only for so long and only so much.
The best ways to protect children and adolescents from making bad decisions are to strengthen their optimism and to create an atmosphere of open communication in our families. Children who have positive expectations for their futures will more often make good decisions in the present. Children who are angry and discouraged – or alienated from us – are at much higher risk for giving in to the emotion of the moment and making bad choices in their lives.
We should also keep in mind a simple truth: Children and teenagers are always more willing to listen to us if we have first listened to them. The quality of our listening is more important than the words that we say – which they have probably heard many times before.
And the first principle of effective listening is this: Acknowledge what is right about what they are saying or doing before you tell them what they are doing wrong.
6) In PRIDE & JOY, you talk about parents sharing their child’s interests and actively playing with them. Do you think it is better for parents to spend more time interacting with their kids on a one-on-one basis rather than shipping them off to every conceivable after-school activity? Is there a healthy balance?
I am, of course, in favor of exposing children to different activities – sports, music, drama, dance, and art. These activities give kids an opportunity to find an area of interest, to feel a sense of accomplishment (and camraderie with other children), and to improve their skills.
But they should never replace playing with our children. Children learn invaluable lessons from one-to-one interactions with admired adults. Playing with children strengthens our relationships with them and hones their social skills. Recent neuroscience and educational research has demonstrated significant cognitive and emotional benefits of interactive play.
If we want our children to play (and work) well with others, we should play (and work) with them often. In many ways, playing with young children is to their social development what talking with children is to their vocabulary development and what exercise is to their physical development.
Yes, parenting is all about finding a healthy balance. Extreme methods may get the most attention, but most parents are trying to find a balance – between empathy and discipline, competition and cooperation, encouraging self-expression and teaching self-restraint. All parents want their children to succeed in life. But we also want them to be good kids – kids who act with kindness and generosity toward their family and their friends. Playing with them often is an important part of achieving these goals.