Welcome to my blog, which speaks to parents, professionals who work with children, and policy makers. Through stories from my behavioral pediatrics practice (with details changed to protect privacy) I will show how contemporary research in child development can be applied to support parents in their efforts to facilitate their children’s healthy emotional development. I will address factors that converge to obstruct such support. These include limited access to quality mental health care, influences of a powerful health insurance industry and intensive marketing efforts by the pharmaceutical industry.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why is this Post Different From All Other Posts?

My son's bar mitzvah is this September (yes-two weeks after my book comes out!!) and so despite the fact that we are not a particularly observant family, we found ourselves at Shabbat services on Saturday morning of Passover. The Rabbi has members of the congregation take turns reading parts of the service. By total random chance, it was my turn to read when we got to the translation of the day's Torah portion. And this is what I read:
A God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sins. Yet He does not remit all punishment, but visits the iniquity of parents upon children and children's children, upon the third and fourth generations.
So there it is in the Torah, what in the world of child development is referred to as "intergenerational transmission of trauma," or "intergenerational transmission of attachment." This can take many forms. Parents who have been abused are more likely, without adequate help, to abuse their own children. Most parents I see in my office who are struggling with their child’s challenging behavior tell me some variation of the statement "Í don’t want to do to Charlie what my parents did to me.” Yet they are horrified to find that they are in fact behaving in exactly the same way as their parents. They find themselves distracted and emotionally unavailable, or explosive and full of rage. In the book History Beyond Trauma two French psychoanalysts describe how psychiatric symptoms can represent trauma of war that has not been expressed, sometimes for generations.

"So why is this in the Torah?" the Rabbi asked. One member of the congregation said that it was about taking responsibility for your behavior as a parent. I thought this was a good answer. When this question of how parents behavior affects their children comes up, it is often heard as blaming parents for their children's problems. In the first chapter of my book I have a section entitled "Guilt, Blame and Responsibility" (also a previous blog post of the same title) because I think is is important to address this problem up front. When people feel blamed, they may become defensive and shut down. Here's an excerpt
Guilt and blame are negative words, and responsibility is a positive one. People generally feel good about themselves when they take responsibility for their lives. They feel empowered. But taking on the responsibility for raising a child in a meaningful and effective way is not an easy task. In the setting of
fragmented families, financial stress or a parental history of abuse or neglect, it is especially difficult. Add to this a child with a challenging temperament, and the responsibility can easily feel overwhelming.
As I've said many times before, supporting parents in this essential task of raising the next generation is critical. The flip side of recognizing our society's responsibility to support parents is for parents to recognize their responsibility for facilitating their child's healthy development. For what its worth, the Torah seems to support this point of view.

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