Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dr. Laura's Advice on Child Rearing

I can remember sitting in my fifth grade class and my teacher, Mrs. Katz, asking the class, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" She then gave us time to think over our answer. After a few minutes, she went around the classroom to stand up and tell everyone about our ambitious futures.

Shyly and slowly each fifth grade student of Mrs. Katz's Bayview Glen Public School class, took their turn and said professions to her like "I want to be a doctor when I grow up or I want to be a fireman." And then came my turn. I stood up by my desk and said loudly to the class "When I grow up, I would like to be a child psychologist." The students laughed as they had no idea what that was. Well, I had no idea on how to even spell psychologist.

So even at the age of ten, I knew that I wanted to work with children and families. There was just something deep inside me that knew. Plus I wished when I was a child that a child psychologist would come into my home and make life better for my brother and me.

I went to college and got my degree in child and family studies. I then trained and worked for the state of California as a behavioral specialist. However, what prepared me the most to become a social worker, were my childhood experiences being in a family with two family members living with mental illness. What prepared me to become a social worker was from my experiences in my childhood with mental illness, my schooling plus my field experience. With that said, nothing prepares you for when a parent looks you in the eye and asks you if you have only known their child for 2 months then what makes you the expert on their child. That's when you have to work on building trust and respect.

I did have an extreme case, while working at the child and family agency, with a twelve year old boy. He had been suspended from his junior high school numerous times, had beaten up his younger brother, was very rude to his parents and at twelve years old was still wetting the bed. (The fact that he was wetting the bed told me that he had some deeper psychological issues inside of him and was crying out for help.)

His parents contacted our agency and asked for a young counselor (I was 24 at the time) to come and work with "David" at his home and at school. They asked for a younger counselor so I could still relate to him and he still could relate to me. Yet his mother still said to me "So how many children do you have?" When I answered none so far, she wanted to know how I could be of help since I didn't have any children.

After I had visited "David" parents and his younger brother's home it seemed that things were a lot worse then had been reported. I had found out that "David's" parents were fighting all the time, his father had just lost his job, "David" was about to be expelled from school and the only thing that "David" truly cared about was watching WWF wrestling. He would race home and turn on the TV without doing his homework and chores. Then he would play with his wrestling ring and figurines.

What would you do to help this child and his parents? My behavioral specialty background told me that he needed to care about life again and be rewarded with positive and negative reinforcement. I spoke this over with my mentor at the family agency and her advice was that "David" needed tough love. I first spoke to his parents separately and suggested that "David" needed a harsher approach. Boy did "David" hate me for awhile.

First thing that I did was limit his WWF wrestling TV watching until he had behaved well enough to gain back the privilege of watching again. We stripped his room of TV, video games, books, toys and only his bed and clothes were left. Then I suggested a rewards sticker chart. When "David" was kind to his parents and brother he would get a sticker. When he wasn't he would have to sit in his room for a period of time with nothing to do. Over time "David" really started to take pride in his achievements and every time he accomplished a task, like no longer wetting the bed, he would earn something back for his room like his video games and toys. Over a four month period "David" earned all of the things for his room and turned his life around.

After seeing all of his hard work, my own reward to him was to take him to the movies to see The Scorpion King starring The Rock (a wrestler). "David" was so happy. He did stay in school and although he still had some other difficulties he graduated from high school and is able to hold down a job.

Please check out my favorite red weasels blog and friend La Belette Rouge. Weasel this post is for you. It just so happens that La Belette Rouge now lives in the same city that I use to be a social worker in. I love her blog, the way she writes and how she sees the world!

My advice to anyone about child rearing is that every child needs to feel that their voice can be heard. We all want children to become productive members of our society and every child can do this with love and support. I think it could have been very easy to discard "David" as a lost cause, but instead we all fought back.

Tell me your thoughts on how you might have handled "David" if you had been his social worker? Do you have any questions or topics you would like me to cover regarding child development.


Georgie B said...

Actually I do have one question.

How do you answer people, say like "David"'s parents when they ask "How can you be of help when you don't have any children of your own?"

Overall, I think that this would be an informative series for you do. I work in the clerical side of a state agency that does children and familes social work, so I don't really get to understand/experience this particular side of the issue. I only get to experience the criminal side from the facility I do payroll for.

Laura said...

Dear Miss. Georgie B,

Thank you so much for your feedback. I keep writing cable car confessions for you :)

My answer to your question, How do you answer people, say like "David"'s parents when they ask "How can you be of help when you don't have any children of your own?"is:

I would let them know my qualifications with my schooling and upbringing with mental illness. Then I would have to earn their respect with how I help their child. In "David's" case it also helped that the family was in therapy and looking for someone who would follow through.

Please ask me any more questions that you may have.

Fancy Schmancy said...

Good job with David. I would love to hear more stories like this.

pj said...

Just keep writing this blog for a few more years and I will have tons of questions. My daughter is 18 mths now. Great stories keep em coming.

La Belette Rouge said...

I am so delighted I inspired this lovely piece. I was in your home town and without the internet and so this is the first chance I have had to come by your lovely blog. I am so sorry our ships crossed int he night in both cities. Perhaps one day we will be in the same city in the same time.

I really appreciate the message of this piece, that the wounds of our childhood can be made meaningful by the choices we make as adults. David was luck to know you.

Your very kind shout out to me is much and sincerely appreciated!!!

Georgie B said...


Purely frivolous one for you.

Why the "Miss" in front of my name?

And no, I'm not offended by it, just curious.

Mary-Laure said...

It was funny for me to see the title of your post. My mum is also named LAURA and she's a PhD in psychology!