Parental Intelligence is a concept I created after decades of talking with parents about their infants, children, and adolescents as a psychoanalyst. Some parents and grandparents have this intelligence naturally and others can acquire it with some learning and practice.
This intelligence gives parents and other caregivers the ability to understand how a child thinks, feels, and acts. When a parent has this knowledge they can help their child solve problems, progress well in their development, and have healthy, happy parent-child relationships with open dialogue.
Parental Intelligence is for parents with all children including those with special needs.
The easiest way to learn how to develop this intelligence is to choose a behavior of your child that might be upsetting you that you want to understand, so you know how to help your child with it.
Once the behavior is understood, then it will be easy to know how to relate to your child about it.
Although the behavior seems like the problem, it may just be a clue to an underlying problem with more significance.
If the underlying problem is solved, the behavior will disappear.
Here's a common scenario:
Your eight-year-old son, Reese, comes home from school throws his back-pack on the floor which was not securely fastened and all his books and papers fall out which he leaves on the floor, grabs some cookies left on a plate for him in the kitchen, leaves a trail of crumbs as he heads to his room, changes from his school clothes to sweats, and leaves his clothes all over the room.
This isn't his usual style and you keep a tidy home. You ask him to clean everything up and he slams his door.
This goes on for three days and you're ready to punish, scream, throw your hands in the air, but not give up.
The first thing to do is to step back and not react impulsively with a grand punishment that might work for a few days but result in your good kid resenting you and feeling even more frustrated.
The only thing wrong so far is a mess. Not a tragedy.
You have the mindset that there's something to be understood because this is unusual behavior for Reese.
You decide to reflect about your own reactions. You feel angry and confused. You know you like a tidy, organized house, so this behavior feels frustrating. You feel disrespected, not listened to, and even hurt that your son is disregarding your needs and wishes.
With more thought, you realize that the hurt is the worst part. It feels really bad to be ignored and not have your thoughts and feelings recognized.
To your surprise, you realize this is something you and your husband battle about and you also felt this way with your mother growing up. You need to feel valued.
Using Parental Intelligence, you decide it's not your son's job to make up for the problems you had with your mother and now with your husband.
Using Parental Intelligence, you decide that this messy, disorganized behavior is a communication to you that something different is going on in your son's mind than usual. This is not his ordinary way of behaving.
Following the Parental Intelligence mindset, you decide the behavior is a communication that something is disorganizing not only his things, but his mind - his thoughts and feelings.
You remember suddenly that he mentioned in passing last week that he wasn't invited to a birthday party of one of the boys in his third grade class. The party is this weekend.
Could this be bothering him more than he let you know?
Only by setting the messy behavior aside and thinking about his mind were you able to think maybe something more was wrong than the messiness.
You also remember that he said he was thinking of quitting the soccer team, something you knew he was good at and enjoyed.
It is characteristic of your son to keep his worries to himself like your husband does. Usually he just gets quiet and you know to talk to him. Could this behavior be a clue to something you don't yet know about?
Fortunately, this is an easy one in this case.
Your son's school work is progressing well. He is an above average student in reading and math. He's athletic and well-coordinated.
The only area of difficulty has been his shyness but he seemed to be overcoming it and making friends since last year when he joined the soccer team.
Using Parental Intelligence has been a life-saver so far. It kept you from punishing wildly and screaming at Reese which may have only made him totally incommunicado as he usually is when he's upset.
He knows you don't like his behavior, knows the house rules about what is expected of him, so punishing wouldn't teach him something he doesn't know already. As a result, you've kept your relationship with him intact, so he might be open to talking.
Following the trail of day four's mess, you find him in his room, lying on his bed looking up at the ceiling. He'd usually be outside playing. So, he is withdrawing after all.
You knock on his open door and this dialogue takes place:
Are you tired? You're inside on a sunny day.
Had a rough day?
What's going on?
Okay. If you want to talk about anything, just let me know.
To be brief, an hour later Reese comes down and with a lot of hemming and hawing, his mom finds out he's been bullied by a very large, popular kid on the soccer team. He's considered "cool" and has a lot of followers. It's his birthday party that Reese has been excluded from.
The bully started to call him names and give Reese sneaky pushes on the soccer field when Reese started scoring more goals than this "cool kid."
Reese was becoming a super star and the bully didn't like that. Reese retreated fearing he'd lose friends. The coach called him out for not playing well.
The worst part was when his dad came to watch and he didn't score. His dad said he was disappointed.
That was the icing on the cake!
Over the course of the next few weeks, mom gets permission from Reese to talk to dad. When Reese's father learns the whole story he helps Reese slowly learn how to stand up to the bully.
This takes time and is very hard for Reese and his dad who don't usually discuss problems.
Reese is fortunate to have a patient mother who was willing to develop the Parental Intelligence mindset that behavior has meaning.
By not rushing into solving the problem of being messy, she uncovered a difficult social problem her son was having that was affecting his self-esteem, his friendships, and most important, his relationship with his father.
An amazing result!
For more insight into how typical and special needs children's minds work, how to engage and listen to your kids, infant and child development, and parent-child relationships go to Dr. Laurie Hollman's blog, Parental Intelligence, and learn more about the Five Steps to Finding Meaning In Your Child's Behavior.
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