The emotional health and development of children is the topic of three current, parent-friendly books by child development experts. Each has his or her own bent, but all subscribe to the importance of tuning in to the child’s subjective experience of the world at any given developmental moment.
Kerry Kelly Novick and Jack Novick, Ph.D. are internationally recognized child and adolescent psychoanalysts and founders of Allen Creek Preschool. In their Emotional Muscle: Strong Parents, Strong Children (Xlibris, 2010), the authors describe the emotional strengths and abilities that parents need in order to foster emotional growth in their birth-to-six-years children. Using examples from ordinary parent-child situations, they illustrate how the capacities to manage feelings, relate well to others, and cope with reality gradually emerge in young children, given parents who are sensitive to their developmental tasks. By flexing metaphorical emotional muscles, both parents and children build character. Free of off-putting jargon, Emotional Muscle is a modern parenting guide in the tradition of ego psychology.
In another, highly readable volume for parents, Claudia M. Gold, M.D., applies research findings from Mentalization theory to depict the importance of trying to see the world from the child’s point of view. The title of her book, Keeping Your Child in Mind: Overcoming Defiance, Tantrums, and Other Everyday Behavior Problems by Seeing the World Through Your Child’s Eyes (Da Capo, 2011), is fully descriptive of its content. Its central theme, which Gold elaborates and illustrates, is that being understood is crucial for the child to develop his mind, a sense of himself, and a secure attachment that lays a foundation for ongoing mental health. The emphasis is placed on how to be with, rather than what to do with, one’s child from birth through the teen years.
Bestselling author Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., with co-author, Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., has written a fresh new parenting guide that uses neuroscience research to explain the child’s developing mind and how best to support it. The Whole-Brain Child: Twelve Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind (Delacorte Press, 2011) examines how parents can work with the developing brain of the child from birth to twelve to help her thrive, not merely intellectually but emotionally; to develop resilience; and to form deep connections with others. With this volume, the reader is introduced to the brain science that forms the basis for clearly explained strategies, such as “Name It to Tame It,” “Engage, Don’t Enrage,” and “Use It or Lose It: Exercising the Upstairs Brain.” Science-based though it is, The Whole Brain Child, is eminently accessible to the non-scientist. As an example, graphic illustrations (like comic strips) depict typical parent-child interactions and their alternatives.
These three titles offer different conceptual frameworks for parents and other caregivers to understand how children think, feel, and experience the world and to respond appropriately to their developmental needs. Emotional Muscle explores the budding personality of under-six children and gives parents guidance to foster mastery of their developmental tasks. The Novicks’ Emotional Muscle approach is solid, practical and familiar to me from my early training and practice as a child therapist. Gold, in Keeping Your Child in Mind, parlays research on childhood experiences of being understood into guidance for parents. I welcome this brief, parent-friendly title in part because of my interest in the research that has provided such useful new insights into the relationship between parents’ ability to mentalize their children’s minds and healthy emotional development in the child.
Seigel and Bryson’s The Whole-Brain Child bridges neuroscience and parenting in an engaging volume that should command the interest of therapists and teachers, as well as parents and other caregivers. Here, the author of Parenting from the Inside Out (Tarcher/Penguin, 2004) and other critically acclaimed works brings the sensibilities of ego psychology, mentalization theory, and developmental neurology together in a new title that elucidates just how helpful to children their parents can be. Any or all of these recent titles may be well worth a look.
Janet Sharp is a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.