Friday, April 20, 2001
Psychologist puts expertise to test in raising resilient kids
"Could a car suck empathy out of you?" queried author Dr. Robert Brooks of his 300 attendees on Wednesday, April 11 at the Concord-Carlisle high school auditorium. He shared his own experiences raising a difficult child and related how, on his drive home from work each evening, his psychiatric expertise would be left by the wayside. Brooks holds impressive credentials: a faculty member at Harvard Medical School, a former staff psychologist at McLean Hospital, international speaker, and best-selling author. But every evening during his son Richard's disappointing high school career, Brooks would open the door and bark at the boy, "Have you done your homework?"
Everything turned out well in the end. Richard went on to college and success. Perhaps more importantly, Brooks and his son now sustain a very close relationship. But during his boy's turbulent adolescence, Brooks confessed to feeling like a hypocrite while consulting for others on raising children. He attributed the turnaround to his wife who, having read his works, reminded him to apply empathy, the ability to see the world through another's eyes. Brooks and co-author Sam Goldstein, also a Ph.D., devote an entire chapter to the importance of empathy in their new book, Raising Resilient Children.
Brooks prescribes empathy for all relationships. He counsels couples to look at themselves through their spouse's eyes and describe themselves. The author's solid knowledge, relevant experiences, and poignant humor enabled him to form a strong connection with the audience. He held the group spellbound for an entire two hours.
Brooks took the audience through a review of modern psychology over the past fifty years, first embracing and then discarding various philosophies. He supports Chess and Thomas, authors of Know Your Child (1996), who believe children's temperaments are formed at birth and fall into three basic categories. The descriptive classifications include the Easy Child, the Shy Child, and the Difficult Child. Brooks' youngest son, Douglas, was an Easy Child. But the category of the Difficult Child, as embodied by Richard, has kept the author professionally and personally occupied for the last 33 years, ever since his son was born.
"Never judge other persons' parenting until you've walked in their shoes," Brooks reminded the audience. While children may fall into pre-defined categories, this does not ultimately reflect their future success or happiness in life. The author believes that the key to making it in the world is a child's resiliency, the ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or change.
Brooks shared five principles on raising resilient children:
1. Accept children for who they are and not what we want them to be.
2. Give children responsibilities (versus chores) and teach them compassion.
3. Find countless opportunities to help children develop problem-solving skills.
4. Do away with the fear of mistakes, and foster instead the idea of learning from mistakes.
5. Set limits to teach children self-discipline and self-control.
While acknowledging the importance of doing things together as a family, Brooks also emphasized the importance of a parent regularly spending time with a child on a one-on-one basis. He talked about the need to deliver positive feedback and encouragement to a child. He advises parents to change their negative scripts, by replacing criticism with "words of honey." He concluded, "Never lose an opportunity to make someone feel special."
Brooks could not address more than two questions from an audience brimming with them, so he invited electronic questions with one advisory: "please, no case studies." His online address is email@example.com. Brooks also has a Web site, created by his entrepreneurial son at www.drrobertbrooks.com. He notes that Richard charged him to develop the site. Once a difficult child, always a difficult child.