I wanted to focus today on a subject dear to my heart, which is perhaps not that well understood. To a large extent, it has to do with parenting but, more broadly speaking, affects and is involved in all of our relationships.
The core of this idea is the capacity to symbolize. People often ask me what exactly this means. For many of you who work in the field of psychology, this may be a bit rudimentary, but nonetheless a foundational distinction that makes us human and allows us to relate in very specific and important ways with our environment.
One of the fundamental mistakes that takes place in parenting involves reactivity. For instance, the parent may have a strong emotional response to something the child says or does. Some of the most common examples of this are when the child is aggressive to the parent and/or says something provocative.
What parenting isn’t, is reacting to the aggression with aggression or taking provocative statements literally. At that point, the parent is no longer a parent but just another human being flapping in the wind. Now, of course, there are times where one needs to react. We can’t always be in a state of observation. But my point is more substantially related to the function of the parent and how imagining and reflecting on the child and their emotional lives is so important to their successful emotional development.
In today’s interview, you will hear Maria and I discuss the notion of engendering hope in the child. The worst thing a parent can do is shame a child for having innate emotional responses to the world or punish them for expressing feelings of loneliness and isolation. A common example of this is a child who feels isolated at school, stops paying attention, perhaps gets into trouble, and then is continually reprimanded at home for failing to live up to expectations. This is a clear example of a failure to symbolize. The parent has either lost or never had the capacity to imagine the child’s pain. Maybe some of you will have had the experience of not remembering whole parts of your childhood or know someone who has told you that.
Children will push all the buttons through no fault of their own, which is why comments such as, “You are a difficult child” are so utterly damaging. It is an evacuation on the parents’ part of their pain and one of the building blocks of intergenerational trauma.
These experiences, though, can be repaired. Maria and I dive into the weeds in this regard today. Engendering curiosity about ourselves only opens up the door to more space for children to be seen, loved, and experienced for who they are and not what we want them to be. I hope you enjoy my conversation.
- Maria’s background in psychotherapy and her early work experience.
- How trauma stays in our physical and psychological DNA.
- What articulating the trauma we’ve been through does to us.
- The unique spirit that is in every child.
- Why a child doing something wrong is actually a good thing.
- The self reflection every parent needs to do.
- Why we should aim to be good enough parents, not perfect parents.
- The importance of being personally rooted as a parent.
- Why we need to be able to go back to our children after making mistakes.
- The split in thought regarding mental health in the UK.
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Mitchell Smolkin is a sought-after clinician, speaker, and author. For media and interview requests please contact his publicist Randy Phipps at email@example.com. For all other inquiries, please send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.