About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

#99 - The Secure Child

2001 was a frightening year. There was September 11, of course, followed by anthrax and shoe bomb scares, and the unrelated crash of another plane in New York City 2 months later. Don't forget the collapse of Enron, and the unraveling of the Catholic priest child molestation scandal.

It was in this context that Stanley L. Greenspan wrote The Secure Child: Helping Our Children Feel Safe and Confident in an Insecure World (Perseus Publishing, 2002). Depending on your level of cynicism, you might say this was an attempt to cash in on a nation's paranoia by repackaging the same old stuff in slightly different wrapping, or perhaps Greenspan was genuinely trying to use his knowledge of psychology and child development to benefit the public good. Either way, this book has a few interesting points, but is mostly a rehash of the different stages of development, rather than offering anything truly new about security, per se.

Greenspan's main premise is reasonable enough: there are actions parents can take to help their children feel more secure despite the frightening events taking place in the world around us. Specifically, he argues that spending time together as a family, giving children the time and empathy to express their feelings (even the scary ones), reassuring them in an age-appropriate way about what you and others are doing to keep them safe, and finding a way to help others in need can help inoculate children against becoming unduly burdened by stress. Latter chapters -- one each for infancy and early childhood, grade school, and adolescence -- each follow the same format, beginning with an overview of the developmental tasks paramount at each stage (even though Greenspan calls them "foundations of security"), followed by signs of distress and recommendations for what parents can do to help.

Chief among his recommendations is that children of all ages benefit from what he calls floor time. As he defines it in the infancy chapter,
"'Floor time' is when you interact with your child on his terms, following his lead and helping him learn to engage with others, communicate, and begin to think logically. ... The main principle of floor time is a simple one: A parent gets down on a child's level, and the child is encouraged to be the boss of all the drama that unfolds. The parent follows. A small child's world is largely on the floor, where he feels most comfortable and where his toys and playthings are located. When you get down there with your child, you generate a sense of equality that encourages him to engage with you, take initiative, and act more assertively."
While floor time is first defined in and draws its moniker from the infancy chapter, Greenspan is emphatic about the importance of analagous activities for older children. Of the grade-school child, he says:
"Obviously, with an older child, you might not literally be on the floor. You may be sprawled on a couch or sitting side by side on the back steps, taking a walk, or sweating it out on the basketball court. But the goal, no matter where you are or what you are doing, is to follow your child's lead and tune in to whatever interests your child."
Likewise, even teenagers benefit from unstructured time where they're the boss:
"Hanging out with one's adolescent child (that is, 'floor time' for adolescents) is just as important as with a grade-school child. Creating access for the adolescent is much more challenging, however. ... One of the best ways of creating access is to get interested in things that your adolescent is interested in. He may go with you to that concert because you got the tickets or to watch Michael Jordan basketball because you have the seats or to his favorite restaurant because you are paying the bill (and his allowance already got spent this week).

This all makes sense to me, though I do wish the adolescent piece didn't sound so much like encouraging parents to buy their kids' time and affection -- but it's also nothing new. Most of the meat in the book comes from Piaget's developmental stages, and John Bowlby's theory of attachment. I guess it's a decent enough book for what it's designed to be -- I'll be charitable and assume the altruistic explanation for the moment -- but is limited to self-help, rather than real scholarship. A series of articles in a general-interest weekly or parenting mag probably would've served the purpose just as well.

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