Some wise words

From child psychiatrist Stella Chess (1914-2007). Chess was the first to classify children according to temperament, and hypothesized that children whose temperaments weren’t a good match with their parents invited a childhood full of conflict and anxiety:

Stella’s concepts of temperament and goodness or poorness of fit offered a paradigm shift for understanding the child’s behavior—from a prevailing psychoanalytic model of a basic intrapsychic conflict and anxiety in the child to a new model in which the child’s intrinsic patterns of behavior came first, followed by parental goodness or poorness of fit. Any parental mismatch and disapproval that might emerge might then generate anxiety and subsequently give rise to behavioral symptoms in the child, especially when the parent’s anger mounted. Nowadays, the goodness of fit transactional model is one of the basic models used in a broad spectrum of child mental health services, ranging from children’s psychiatric inpatient services to pediatric practice and work in schools.

We can see this model at work in modern parenting methods as well – the underlying theme being that our behavior as parents can make or break a young psyche. And I’m sure that, to a certain extent, that’s true – yet we mustn’t forget children are not presented to us as blank slates. Chess made this clear with this great Pediatrics article (that I sorely wish I could access in full online!). Money quote:

It is desirable for the mother and the father to have immediate and active contact with their newborn baby. But absence of such contact does not prevent parent bonding to the infant nor does it doom the infant to less than optimal development. A relaxed and emotionally positive attachment between the 1-year-old infant and the mother is indeed valuable. But the mother does not need extraordinary capacities for this to occur. And if, for some reason, either the mother’s bonding to the infant or the infant’s attachment to the mother is impaired, this does not foretell failure in later emotional relationships.

So take a nice deep breath, Mom. It’s not all your fault, even if you had a C-section, or didn’t feel all those hormones converging on you in the delivery room. Relax and just love your kid the best way you can.


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