Archive for July, 2009

Ten-year-olds and their changing brains.

July 31, 2009

It might be at nine-years old, it might be at eleven, but somewhere around ten years of age children’s brains change in a significant, but often overlooked way.  It’s at this stage that the brain’s cells begin to develop a sheathing along their bodies, a bit like bark developing on a tree trunk; this new development makes the brain a little less open to new connections and much faster along the connections it has built.  This change has important implications for learning, but also for feeling.

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What animal would your child say you are?

July 30, 2009

lots of charactersAsk your child to imagine which animal everyone in the family most resembles.  Draw your child out by asking about why they chose the animal they did, was it based on appearance, behavior or an affinity of spirit that they see between you and a bear or penguin?  

Consider what your child says, and what it implies about the way that they experience you (as well as siblings and others in the household).  Are you perceived as hot-tempered, scary sometimes or are you seen as warm and nurturing while they see themselves as helpless or hapless?  Perhaps they see you, or your spouse as a turtle who withdraws into their shell, or as some rare creature that is hard to spot in the forest or jungle.

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No Idea

July 29, 2009

bd irisA girl named Lily was murdered.

I hardly knew her, and yet I can’t stop thinking about her… and her parents.

After my best friend was killed when I was a kid, I overheard a man say, “God has his reasons,” and that was the final straw in my tenuous belief in the God I was raised with.  And if I learned anything from that experience, it is that platitudes hurt more than they help in the face of abject despair.  My friend’s death was an accident.  Lily was killed deliberately.  The truth has some very dark stuff in it that none of us understand.

So, just in case it helps, please send love to Lily’s spirit, and to her parents.

Artificial Intelligence and the Age of Autism

July 28, 2009


If we parents are going to care about, and take better care of, all our collective children it will help if we better understand those children and the world we are all living in together.  Just because our specific child does not have a learning difference or an anxiety disorder doesn’t mean that we ought to care less about those things.

While we have been in a long age of narcissism, with people appearing self-involved when in truth many people simply have had little to no idea about who they truly are, not to mention what meaning or purpose they might discover within (or at least assign to) their lives (See post on how narcissism is like footed pajamas: we all continue to evolve (although it may at times seem to be more like devolve).  Just like children, who may regress a little and take a developmental step backward in order to then take a leap forward, our collective age may be doing the same—at least in terms of authenticity and relatedness.

Although I suspect (or at least hope) that the world is in a major transition and will not remain stuck in this alienated and pervasively commercialized state for long, we do seem to have slipped into a virtual age of autism.

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Can a stay-at-home mom be a workaholic?

July 27, 2009


Debra Borys, Ph.D., a clinical and health psychologist in the West Los Angeles with particular expertise in trauma mentioned an intriguing and disturbing trend amongst a growing number of former professional women:  full time moms who have fallen into workaholic lifestyles.   Could someone be a workaholic without a job outside the home?  Dr. Borys, a mother of two herself, gives the following case example:

Tracy is a full-time mom of an 18-month-old daughter, with a spouse who works full-time but is very involved in Stella’s care as well.  Before having Stella, Tracy managed human resources for a major corporation.  As a stay-at-home mom, she finds herself venting to friends (whom she now only sees for joint play-dates) that while she adores Stella, she always feels tired, trapped in her schedule, and overwhelmed by a never-ending list of tasks.  She feels herself to be a prisoner of her to-do list and is compelled to try and complete it (which we all know as parents is impossible).  While at work she could at least eventually leave the office, now that her home is her office the mind-set of work never ends.

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Walk don’t run to better parenting

July 26, 2009

running SFForty years ago human beings took their first step on the moon… at the same time that I took a step off a dock at summer camp, became trapped under it and nearly drowned.  Now it might not exactly have been at the same moment, but in my former life as a filmmaker I learned that we ought not let the truth get in the way of a good story.  But as a psychologist I’ve learned that you sometimes have to get a bad story (i.e. that someone is inadequate) out of the way of the truth.

Thich Nhat Hahn teaches a walking meditation.  It’s quite simple:  you take a slow and conscious step and in your mind you say, “I arrive, I arrive, I arrive.”  You take the next slow and conscious step and say to yourself, “I am home, I am home, I am home.”  This needs no analysis or interpretation, and it is highly worth doing; we can do it on the way to the laundry or the dishes or on the way to the trash can.

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What The Painted Turtle offers for sick children

July 25, 2009

lake landscapeA friend’s child suffers with Crohn’s disease and it has been hard for him being ten, eleven and twelve and having to struggle with his condition—the discomfort, the doctors and the embarrassing and frequent trips to the bathroom.

But he recently returned from a summer camp experience that proved transformative.  Some readers may be familiar with The Painted Turtle (, but I was not.  It is a camp for children with serious illnesses, the sixth in a family of Hole in The Wall camps founded by Paul Newman and other philanthropists.  And while you have to apply and children are accepted in the order of applications received… the camp is completely free.

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When we fear our children (biological, adopted or psychological)

July 24, 2009
Wide-eyed CoralineWith the film Orphan opening today, some factions have raised an uproar about an adoption horror story threatening to scare potential parents away from adopting (  I don’t think this is going to happen any more than Fatal Attraction managed to put the kibosh on married men seducing women (disturbed or otherwise) and later wishing they hadn’t done that.

But like Fatal Attraction a film like Orphan taps into unconscious fears; the former is all about the Shadow Anima, the dark aspect of the feminine that gets projected out, and then is both desired and feared—an archetypal story that threads its way through Ulysses tempted by the sirens and re-appears as the femme fatale in many a detective yarn.  
When it comes to the archetype of the child, we have Peter Pan on the one hand, and then we have the demon child on the other.  What’s essential to understand as parents is that the demon child dwells within us, and cannot be avoided either via birth-control nor by battening the hatches on adoption and hanging garlic on the door.
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Pregnant women need to know that they are beautiful

July 23, 2009

 AA Pregnant BellyPregnant women are beautiful.  In talking to my wife about things she wished she might have known when she was pregnant, she mentioned that during her pregnancy she could not believe (despite my continually, and sincerely, telling her) that she was beautiful—she just felt fat and unattractive.  So, if you’re pregnant, trust that you are beautiful and that this is a sacred and beautiful passage in life.  Re-think the notion of beauty as defined by a collapsing culture (i.e. that being thin is the quintessential paradigm of beauty), and consider Oscar Wilde’s statement that if you haven’t seen the beauty in something you haven’t really even seen that thing.

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I can see those red tail-lights heading for Spain

July 22, 2009


I was having dinner with friends whose fourteen-year-old daughter had just come back from Italy with her grandparents, where they stayed in an elder-hostel.  She was just delighted to have been able to make new friends with other grandchildren and, in contrast to her life in LA, be free to walk anywhere alone in Venice and feel completely safe.  She got lost, figured it out, struggled with the language barrier and seemed to feel an added boost of confidence and maturity as the result of her experience.

Then I came home and opened my email where a reader had sent me a note that said that my blog-post on overprotecting children came to them directly after they had just heard an audio postcard on NPR about the opposite side of the issue.  This synchronicity only further underscored the gist of the NPR piece where, my reader informed me, “a correspondent from Spain described how a village, some forty miles from Madrid, comes to life in the Plaza after 10 P.M. and the siesta. Children run all over the place, quite free.  The correspondent explained that in Spain it is understood that all children are the responsibility of all parents, especially those within thirty feet of one’s self and they therefore feel safe. A corollary is that many adults kiss and complement even strangers’ children all the time.  Is Spain our past?  I, too, was totally free after age 12 and I baby sat my sister (13 years younger) all the time.”

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