As my regular readers know, I am a certified heretic in my field: child and family psychology. To the point, I am convinced that psychological parenting theory, which began to inform American child rearing in the late 1960s, has caused more problems than psychologists know how to solve.
I came to this conclusion in the early 1980s. I was in private practice at the time and grappling with the realization that few of my clients were getting good results from the psychologically-correct manner in which I was approaching the child-rearing problems they brought to my attention. Without going into the relatively long story, which involved major problems my wife and I were having with the older of our two kids, suffice to say I pretty much trashed nearly everything I had learned in graduate school and post-graduate seminars and embraced the pre-psychological parenting approach my parents’ generation (and previous generations stretching back thousands of years) had employed.
Almost everyone in my profession was telling parents to avoid punishment. I not only began recommending punitive consequences, but punitive consequences that were HUGE (but never, contrary to the myth surrounding my name, spanking). My colleagues were stressing the importance of talking to children about their feelings. They called it “affirming” and “validating” child feelings. I became convinced that these parent-child or therapist-child conversations usually made matters worse. I stopped meeting with children for that reason. Child psychologists were making a living diagnosing children with ADHD, which looked a lot to me like old-fashioned disobedience and irresponsibility. I was the first psychologist in America to blow the whistle on the lack of science and logic behind the diagnosis and the specious explanations being offered for it.
Because I was spreading my heresies through this column, my speaking engagements, and my books, they caused many people in my field to develop full-blown hysteria. I became a target for all manner of attempts to silence me, but here I am, still spreading heresy and intending to do so until I’m no longer capable of much of anything.
Going back to my feelings about child therapy, it is a fact that the reliable efficacy of not one form of psychological therapy with children has ever been verified. Furthermore, I have collected an ever-growing trove of stories from parents attesting to the damage done by therapy to their children.
I was recently reminded of this by an online article in which a psychologist listed signs that “Your Child Needs Therapy.” One of said signs was “If talking to your child about his feelings doesn’t seem to be working.” I had to laugh to keep from screaming. With rare exception, talking to a child about his feelings accomplishes nothing. As does a child’s behavior, a child’s feelings need to be disciplined. Children don’t need to be encouraged to vent their emotions. They need to be taught to control them.
Along that line, the parents of a 7-year-old girl came to me asking what to do about their daughter’s fear of riding the bus to school. She was convinced that the bus was in imminent danger of crashing and exploding into a ball of flame. The parents talked and explained and listened and talked and listened and explained with nothing to show for all this yada-yada-yada.
I told them to tell the child that they’d read an article written by an expert saying that children with fears of that sort were not getting enough sleep. As such, if the little girl resisted getting on the bus in the morning, she had to go to bed immediately after supper that evening in order to catch up on her sleep. Stop talking, I told them. Don’t even talk with her about her fears if she asks to talk. A child’s feelings, I said, are like a hurricane. The more energy they suck up, the more destructive they become.
Within three days, the little girl was riding the bus without incident and continues to do so to this day, proving once again that the best therapy usually consists of lying in the beds one makes, no pun intended.
Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website at johnrosemond.com; readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.