Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior
Interview with author Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.
Holidays are here and children are home. However wonderful this may be, this is also the time when family dynamics can get pretty intense with everyone home all of the time, and have parents counting the days until school starts again. If you want to enjoy every moment with your kids and find meaning in every interaction, read further.
In her groundbreaking book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence:
Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior, Dr Laurie Hollman empowers us as parents to find the source of our own innate intelligence and unlock it. As we become mindful of the issues driving our own and our children’s behaviors, we can become pro-active, connected parents, reading our children and understanding the messages behind their behaviors instead of just reacting to them. In a world of profound disconnect, this book is a guiding hand, crediting us with the deep parenting intelligence we all have, and giving us the tools we need to use it.
Shelley Davidow, December, 2016
Below is a book description followed by an interview with the author.
As a new or seasoned parent, there are always questions you have about your children. You don’t understand why they can’t just listen to what you say. Unlocking Parental Intelligence allows parents of all walks of life to answer the questions:
Why do children do what they do?
What’s on their minds?
How can parents know their child’s inner world?
Unlocking Parental Intelligence lifts the curtain on these questions by helping parents become “meaning-makers” who understand the significance behind their kids’ behaviors. With five enlightening steps, parents will solve problems by learning what their kids think, want, intend, and feel. They will see actions as communications. The challenge is to understand their messages.
Parental Intelligence helps parents as they wrestle with the common and sometimes desperate vexations of family life. Experienced psychoanalyst Laurie Hollman, PhD, explains Parental Intelligence through compelling stories of parents who view distressing behaviors as catalysts for change by transforming them into open exchanges of ideas and feelings.
Stories about parents using Parental Intelligence to understand various puzzling behaviors include a fussy baby, a two-year-old with temper tantrums, a four-year-old with Asperger Syndrome, a six-year-old twin who hits his brother, an eight-year-old with ADHD, a thirteen-year-old with an anxious mother, a depressed fifteen-year-old with a messy room, and a lonely, brilliant seventeen-year-old.
Parents and professionals alike will find a new empathic approach from this uplifting book that will reshape families’ lives and guide them through all stages of typical and atypical child development
1.Laurie, what inspired you to write your book?
It’s hard to write in the past tense about being “inspired” because even though the book is finished and published, I continue to be inspired to write about unlocking Parental Intelligence. My inspiration has had and continues to have three ongoing sources for which I am grateful—the children and parents I treat in my clinical
practice, my children, and my grandchildren.
Furthermore, I’m fortunate to be able to continue to write about parenting and Parental Intelligence for Huffington Post and the brand new platform Arianna Huffington has created, Thrive Global,
so I can keep on reaching more and more parents and receive their feedback and questions. I’m still inspired!
As my three decades of psychoanalytic practice and research progressed during the years of my clinical work, I incorporated the voices of so many mothers and fathers who came to me at different stages in their parenting careers. They were questioning what to do to salvage their parent-child relationships, asking how to put their children back on a reasonable course, and wondering how to find meaning in their family life.
Feeling thankful to those parents for telling me how unlocking their Parental Intelligence benefited their families, I was compelled to narrow Parental Intelligence into five accessible steps for others to read and grow from.
My children were raised with the precepts of Parental Intelligence. It was natural for me to want to understand their minds—their thoughts, feelings, intentions, and imaginings. It brought me close to them as they grew. Early on we began to learn from each other as I tried to guide them to think for themselves about making good
judgments and choices. It’s amazing how wonderful it is to share trust and love with your children. I hadn’t coined the term Parental Intelligence when I was a young mother, but I was practicing it nonetheless.
Today I have the good fortune to have two empathic, industrious sons with wonderful senses of humor who enjoy learning, creating, and relating well with others in their own individual ways. They have been and surely are an inspiration for my writing.
At the conclusion to my acknowledgments for the book I also thank the future generation who inspire me. I write: “I can’t conclude without thanking the future generation: my loving grandsons
Zander, age seven, and Eddie, age four. Hearing their remarkable use of language
at such young ages and watching their vibrant youthfulness has always inspired me to keep on writing. When they confide in me their personal thoughts and wishes, I am reminded of the essence of Parental Intelligence; the close bonds it brings between parent and child, grandparent and grandchild.”
2. What distinguishes your approach from other approaches to parent-child conflict
My approach is distinguished by my intent to help parents become “meaning makers.” Three basic interrelated tenets lie behind Parental Intelligence:
1.Behaviors have underlying meanings;
2.Once parents understand how their own minds are working, they are liberated
to understand their child—how their child’s mind is working;
3.Once meanings are clear, options surface by which to change unwanted,puzzling behaviors.
When these three core concepts come into play when parents are faced with misbehavior, first they ask, “What does it mean” not “What do I do?” With this in mind, the ambiance of family life fundamentally changes.
When parents get to know themselves —their reactions to their child and the many
influences on their parenting—they find that they gain a better understanding of their child who wants to be known as he or she actually is. This means that parents no longer focus on the child’s specific misbehavior as the overarching troubles and problems emerge. When those problems are addressed, the original misbehavior loses importance and usually stops. Parents learn how to understand the underlying determinants to their child’s behavior, how to ‘read’ nonverbal as well as verbal communication, and how to create an open dialogue.
3. If you could give parents just one piece of advice, what would it be?
The major premise behind Parental Intelligence is that a child’s behavior or misbehavior has meaning and often more than one. Once the treasure trove of meaning emerges, we realize there are many possible reactions to misbehavior. My advice is to not react quickly or even immediately, but to step back and mentally
remove yourself from the situation, so you can calmly review it and begin the process of understanding it. I know this is very difficult at first when your child is too loud or too quiet, but with practice it can become a natural response that is very effective.
It’s amazing how when kids see their parents react calmly, quietly, and slowly they begin to slow down themselves. Parents set in motion a process of self-reflecting for themselves and their child. Children sense the love and care their parent is willing to invest in them and they, too, over time, become curious about their misbehavior.
Just one example: I remember a father calling me to share that his eight-year-old son screamed vociferously that morning about how his back pack was filled by his father. Perplexed, but cautious, his father didn’t react and waited. When the boy was walking out the door, he turned to his confused father and said, “Don’t worry,
Dad, I don’t really care about the back pack. I’m worried and angry about something else I’ll tell you about when I get home.” This child, at eight-years-old, had already learned his behavior had meaning and he intended to communicate it to his father. That’s a remarkable moment!
4.How did you come up with the title?
I use the word, “unlocking” because I believe parents should never be
underestimated—even when they doubt themselves. In my book, they are given the tools to “unlock” all the knowledge they have about their child so they can use my five steps of Parental Intelligence to harness what they know to become even more effective parents.
Just today a patient told me about intending to buy three copies of my book—one for her daughter who just had a baby, one for her daughter-in-law with her six-year-old grandson, and one for herself. She said to me that her favorite word now is “unlocking” because these ideas have helped her to unlock all the resources from inside her to live a fulfilling life
With Parental Intelligence, you figure out the whys behind your child’s behavior. Knowing why your child behaves a certain way will allow you to find the best approach to dealing with the behavior. Understanding why your child acts out, disobeys, or behaves in disruptive, disturbing, puzzling ways is the key to preventing the recurrence of the behavior. Parental Intelligence provides that understanding.
5.Briefly, what is the book about?
The book is divided into three sections. The first gives the theory of Parental Intelligence describing the 5 steps that are like a tool kit to understanding your child’s behavior and the underlying problems that lay beneath it.
The second part gives eight stories of parents with children from infancy to age 17 who have applied the 5 steps to their child’s puzzling behavior. You will meet two teenage parents, an adopted child with temper tantrums, a stay- at-home father and working mother who are learning how to love and nurture their son with Aspergers Syndrome, a child with ADHD, a highly anxious mother whose daughter is affected by her mother’s mental illness, a depressed teenager, and a lonely, brilliant seventeen-year-old whose parents use Parental Intelligence to connect with her and further her emotional and social development.
The third part of the book looks to a future where parents use Parental Intelligence. I discuss how children raised this way would learn to be complex thinkers facing our complicated world. My younger millennial son is quoted describing how when a child is raised with Parental Intelligence he has the potential to become a leader who is empathic and open to the diversity of our world.
6. Do you have any recommendations for parents to help their kids cope with stress?
My most important recommendation is for parents to become “meaning-makers” looking to understand their kids’ behavior as cues to the stresses they are under. By engaging their kids in conversations about their stress by listening without interrupting—really hearing them out until they are finished with their thoughts—the children are relieved to find they are not alone with their feelings about the stressors. This creates a strong parent-child bond that in itself relieves stress. When a child or teen feels understood the stress emotional temperature starts coming down and then the parent and child can find solutions to stressful problems.
7. What's the most important message you want your readers to get from your book?
I want readers to know that external behavior has internal meaning. I don’t want parents to get stuck on the actions of their kids, but look to figure out the message the action is sending. Sometimes kids don’t have the words or words don’t suffice to communicate, so they act out. That’s when stepping back and thinking about what might the message of the behavior be comes into play. As you get to know what’s going on in your mind and the mind of your child, problem solving comes quite naturally.
8. It’s fascinating that you’ve been an educator. Can you tell us something about your teaching experience?
I’ve taught on many levels from elementary school to being on the faculties of New York University on the post graduate level and Long Island University teaching counseling for children and adults as well as on the faculties of the Society for Psychoanalytic Study and Research and the Long Island Institute for Psychotherapy where I trained psychotherapists. Despite this diversity, what all the teaching held in common was that my connection with each student furthered their ability to learn.
As an elementary school teacher I remember spending many of my lunch hours with individual students just talking if they seemed troubled or giving them a particular lesson on a subject they had difficulty with using their best learning style. This connection fostered their growth.
At NYU I taught listening skills to psychotherapists in training showing them how to find themes in their patients’ communications and to listen for the unconscious. I also taught art therapy for children to the postgrad students which was creative and inspiring. This was all very rewarding as the students got to know themselves better as they got to understand their patients.
As a teacher of psychoanalytic therapists in training I particularly taught about personality disorders. This is a very difficult subject for new trainees. Once again, my relationship with each student helped foster their growth as they learned to understand how their patients’ minds were working. It was very rewarding to see how my relationship with my students helped them learn just as a parent’s relationship with their child helps them develop and grow.
About the Author
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with specialized clinical training in infant-parent, child, adolescent, and adult psychotherapy. She has been on the faculties of New York University and the Society for Psychoanalytic Study and Research, among others. She has written extensively on parenting for various publications, including the Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, The International Journal of Infant Observation, The Inner World of the Mother, Newsday’s Parents & Children Magazine, Long Island Parent. She also wrote her popular column, PARENTAL INTELLIGENCE, at Moms Magazine and has been a parenting expert for numerous publications such as Good Housekeeping and Bustle Lifestyle. She currently writes for Active Family Magazine (San Francisco), Thrive Global and blogs for Huffington Post. Her recent book is Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior. To learn more go to Dr. Hollman’s website at lauriehollmanphd.com.