Welcome to my blog, which speaks to parents, professionals who work with children, and policy makers. I aim to show how contemporary developmental science points us on a path to effective prevention, intervention, and treatment, with the aim of promoting healthy development and wellbeing of all children and families.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Celebrating Fathers, Relationships, Being Present

In his beautifully illustrated children's book Magic Always Happens: My Daddy Loves Me; psychologist Neo Papaneophytou follows a father and son through the seemingly mundane events of the day. He shows the "magic in moments," or the value of simply being present in supporting a child's healthy growth and development. The book's introduction states:

To write “Magic Always Happens: My Daddy Loves Me!” the author drew from his experiences raising his own son. Seeing every day as a blessing, father and child find joy in all their daily activities, especially when their two-year-old therapy dog, Mya, joins in! While this father was born and raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus—a world away from his son’s upbringing in the New York City metropolitan area, the experience reflected in “Magic Always Happens: My Daddy Loves Me!” shows the impermeable bond between father and son spending quality time together, wherever in the world that may be. Such loving bonds are relevant to all dedicated fathers all around our global village!
Proceeds from sales of the book are going towards development of an international center for treatment of children with autism.

Neo is part of a community of colleagues who have all been educated in the latest developmental science as fellows in the U Mass Boston Infant Parent Post Graduate Certificate Program. Last week I had the pleasure of being reunited with the group (I graduated in 2011) at the conference I described in my previous post.

From conference speaker Stephen Porges I learned a new phrase, "connectedness as biological imperative." Listening, being present, is not just some "soft" extraneous concept (one pediatrician referred to it in a less than kind tone as "that baby whisperer stuff, " making me wonder if she herself did not feel heard.) Porges' work echoes John Bowlby, whose recognition of the central role of attachment relationships in survival drew from Charles Darwin's theories of evolution. Porges demonstrates how connectedness is necessary for regulation of physiologic and behavioral states. In other words, the way we learn to manage ourselves in a complex social world is through connectedness, through relationships. This is first learned in our primary caregiving relationships in our earliest years, and continues to be developed and supported in relationships throughout our lives.

In describing his book, Papaneophytou wisely identifies the need for a village to raise a child. Increasingly we offer parents "behavior management," "parent training," or even medication to address challenges in raising children.  The best science of our time tells us we should instead focus on protecting space and time for parents, for children and for each other. We need that space and time for listening, for "being with," for supporting that connectedness that is central to our very survival.

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