Monthly Archives: May 2013

PROFILING

Ironically I wrote this column shortly before the new management of the Sunday Times decided to cancel my column. But at least I’d been profiled in a national paper once…

I have been writing this column for the Sunday Times for some years now but I have never properly introduced myself to you, the reader. And because I haven’t yet been profiled for a glossy magazine or featured on a reality TV programme (where I could debut snappy catch phrases like “Get your grown-up on” or “Who’s the mommy’’), I thought I would do the obvious thing: interview myself. So here goes.

Where do you get ideas for your columns?

I read widely to keep up with current ideas in child development, and justify hours of surfing the internet as research into trends, debates and controversies in the area.  But mostly I listen to clients and colleagues and observe what’s happening around me for clues as to the everyday concerns of parents, teachers and care-givers. Just last weekend a friend’s 13-year old daughter said she gets really nervous every time she sees her mother talking to me. Her fear is that whatever issues she’s been having will be broadcast to the world as a parenting column on  “How young is too young to date?’’ or “Is it really wrong to read your daughter’s diary?”

What are you currently reading that might help parents?

how children succeesI have just finished How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough. It is an overview of the research into which factors contribute to long-term success. He argues that personal qualities such as resilience, curiosity, optimism and the capacity for self-control matter most when it comes to raising children who succeed. He also cites a broad range of research that supports his argument that character is directly and powerfully related to the quality of early interactions between children and loving, consistent caregivers.

What else is on your mind?

far 1far-from-the-tree_420I am now immersed in the dauntingly thick but compelling book by Andrew Solomon, Far From the Tree. He writes movingly about parents who face the painful reality of raising children whose identities are shaped by profound difference and disability. For example, parents whose children are transgender, autistic, prodigies or conceived of rape, and families managing deafness, dwarfism, Downs Syndrome and schizophrenia. The book challenges parenting assumptions, and explores how parents can face the truth that loving someone and finding them a burden are not incompatible feelings. It also shows that love can transcend prejudice, pain and disappointment.

Does being a psychologist with an interest in parenting ideas make you a great parent?

No. Definitely not. I wish I could say differently but it’s always easier in theory than in practice. In theory I am a calm, rational and warmly accepting mother who sets limits appropriately while allowing my son to explore and take acceptable risks. All this while earning a living, whipping up tasty and nutritious meals, encouraging wholesome activities and limiting his TV, computer and digital gaming hours. Right. Cue sardonic tone.

Do you analyse people all the time?

Only if they pay me. Otherwise, the therapy mode is switched off.

What was your worst parenting moment?

My husband’s was when he lost our son for a few minutes in a public place. ‘There is no way to describe the gut-wrenching anxiety that overcomes you,” he said, “the sudden fear this might be the rest of your life.” Mine is any time my son coughs while eating. I am deeply neurotic about choking (there is a long backstory to explain the roots of my anxiety, but that’s for another column) and I have no faith that I will remember my First Aid training come a crisis.

Can a parenting column make a difference?

Most of us have to parent instinctively, which is neither good nor bad. But I have the luxury of focusing my professional attention on research on parenting and the world of new ideas. I can be a conduit for those ideas but, in the end, what really makes the biggest difference in parenting is trying hard to be the person you want your children to be. Being more, saying less.

Are there any parenting theories or ideas you don’t like?

I am suspicious of anyone who promises a quick fix or who rigidly holds to one theory of parenting that will fit all children or all situations.

Finally, what are the essential things you would like parents to know?

  • It’s never too late to make a difference.
  • It’s inevitable and necessary to make mistakes, but we can learn from these failures.
  • Fathers matter and the absence of interested and involved fathers impacts negatively on society.
  • School is a marathon, not a sprint. Some children only really thrive after finishing high school – but what happens during the school years lays the foundation for that success.
  • Above all, and to repeat an earlier point, infants and young children need consistent, connected caregiving from birth to make them human, to wire their brains for empathy, thinking and resilience.

Judith Ancer to speak on bullying at Abraham

Judith Ancer to speak on bullying at Abraham Levy Centre in Port Elizabeth

ujw pe

The Union of Jewish Women are bringing renowned child psychologist Judith Ancer from Johannesburg to talk to parents on Sunday, 19 May at the Abraham Levy Centre in Port Elizabeth from 10:00 to 12:30.

Her very pertinent topics are ‘Bullying, and Emotional Safety’.

Funds raised from this event go to our many outreach projects in the broader Port Elizabeth communities.

Where: Abraham Levy Centre
When: Sunday, 19 May
Time: 10:00 to 12:30
Cost: R120, which includes tea

For more information and to book, phone 041 374 3460 or 072 307 3098. Alternatively, email ujwpe@isat.co.za.

Can I “bully-proof”my child?

I have been invited to go down to PE to talk at a fundraiser – and the topic that I was asked to speak on is bullying. So I went back into my archives and here is one of my very first columns. It is a topic that, sadly, is still important as bullying is such a pervasive and difficult issue. And not only in schools and during childhood. My work with adults and within corporate and workplace settings keeps reminding me that it is a big issue throughout our society. 

“Our child lies in bed every night, crying. He says he’s going to kill himself. Kids at school are calling him names. Some of them push him around. We don’t know what to do about it.” The mother becomes tearful.  The father says, “I just want to go to the school and beat up every one of those bullies.” I look at my distressed clients and see the expectant look in their eyes, the look that says, ‘Give us a solution.’ While there is no single answer, there are, however, strategies we can use to try manage this problem.

Bullying evokes a variety of responses. We might feel powerless and tempted to minimise the situation, or angry and determined to protect our kids by taking action against perpetrators. We might also be concerned not to overprotect our child from a ‘normal’ life situation and believe they should ‘tough it out’.

The first thing to do when you suspect your child is being bullied or if he/she reports being bullied, is to establish the extent and nature of the problem. Is what your child is experiencing part of acceptable social interaction or is it more persistent and  problematic? Some children are more sensitive and may struggle to manage ordinary social interactions, but on the whole children are pretty accurate about assessing the intentions of their peers.

Bullying can be verbal, physical or social in nature and has the intention to hurt, humiliate and isolate individuals. It can include name-calling, shunning and ignoring, threatening, mocking, physical violence, spreading rumours, extorting money and possessions. These days it happens not only at school and social gatherings, but also online and through cell phones. And it is something that both girls and boys do.

Parents often ask me whether there is something specific about their child that makes them the victim of bullying, are some kids are more vulnerable? Bullying can be about anything: your height, or lack of it, your weight, or lack of it, your money, or lack of it, Bullies will zero in on any aspect of their victim’s life. However, those children who are the victim of repeated bullying do tend to have certain characteristics in common.  They tend to have poor coping mechanisms in ordinary situations. Often they have low self-esteem and may be anxious and passive, and struggle to assert themselves. On the other hand they may also respond too impulsively or aggressively to an event, making them a sure target for bullies who thrive on getting a rise out of their victims.

Bear in mind also that the way you respond to finding out that your child is being bullied is influenced by your own experiences. If you were, or still are, a victim of harassment, or a bully yourself, you might find it difficult to act in a calm and appropriate way. Bullying also isn’t just something that happens to children. At all levels of society and in all workplaces people intimidate others or act passively in the face of intimidation. How you typically act in these situations can affect how you respond to your child being bullied.

To help your child who’s being bullied begin by acknowledging and recognising how difficult the situation is for them, praise their bravery in telling you about it. Offer comfort and support, no matter how upset you are, and take seriously their fear that if the bully finds out that they’ve told, the bullying may get worse. This does not mean you should keep the incidents secret and bury them. Be active in approaching the situation and deal with it sooner rather than later. Brainstorm and discuss different coping strategies. Consciously working on open communication between you and your child will help you to help them to be more in charge of the painful situation. As part of this approach you could role play what they could do or say differently.

Your actions should also take into account that bullying is a systemic problem, not only an individual one. You might need to speak to the school, or other adults in positions of authority, and report the incident, but in such a manner as not to disempower your child. All schools should have an anti-bullying policy, and this policy must be made clear to learners and staff at the school.  At the same time it is not only the school’s responsibility to solve the problem. This can only be done effectively if you see yourself as in partnership with the school and your child, allies in enforcing zero-tolerance for bullying.