Unlocking Parental Intelligence:
Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior
by Moms Magazine’s Columnist, Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.
Do you ever wonder why your child behaves the way she does? How many times in a single day do you ask yourself, “Why did she do that?” Even little things can throw you. Your three-year-old lies about brushing his teeth. He lied? At age three? Sometimes it’s subtle. For example, your teenage daughter tells you about her day, something she rarely does. Why now? Is she just feeling chatty or did something happen that she’s not quite ready to tell you yet? Sitting in a parent-teacher conference, or even a principal’s office, you may ask yourself, “Why did my child behave that way? How am I supposed to handle this?”
We’ve all experienced that awful feeling of fear, surprise, or incomprehension when our kids do something unusual, unimaginable, or outright distressing. And when nothing changes, despite our best efforts to address the behavior, all we can do is wonder, “Why?”
It’s common to have moments of despair, when you feel that parenting is beyond you; when you believe that the job requires a special kind of intelligence that wasn’t encrypted on your brain and you’re waiting for the time when you can sustain—for just one day—that important parent-child bond psychologists say is necessary for a healthy family life.
In this book, I am going to give you a new perspective on behaviors that may confound you and cause you powerful inner pressure or even panic. I’m going to lead you up a path that enlightens, uplifts, and relieves you as you learn how to unmask the meanings behind your child’s behavior. As you continue to practice this process, you will become a meaning-maker, empowered to read your child’s actions like an open book. Using the tools I provide, I will help you experience the heightened energy and deep satisfaction that come with unlocking your Parental Intelligence.
Parenting offers many humorous, precious situations—like the time you invited fifty people to your daughter’s first birthday party and she pressed her chubby fingers into the center of the chocolate cake you baked, swirled them around, and then happily put them into your mouth like there was no distance between the two of you. If only it could stay that way; if only that instant could last forever, like a memento that reminds you of the cow that jumped over the moon. You hoped she could have a dreamy childhood and never stop believing that family life is all chocolate cake. We all wish it could stay simple—all good humor and pure joy.
But parenting can have a difficult side, too—like the time your eight-year-old fled the house yelling, “I’m running away! Why do you ruin everything? You never get it.” He came back, exhausted after fifteen tortuous minutes speeding around the front yard like a freight train that had gone off its track and landed in a deep ditch. You stood by the window, watching him, heart pounding, worried and scared. You felt winded, as if you were the locomotive spinning off the track. Tears pushed out from your tired eyes. And your son came in defeated and spent. Even though he returned, you knew there was some deeper meaning behind what he did. But what do you do when you’re afraid that whatever is wrong will shadow you and your child everywhere? The stakes are high.
I’ve been inspired to write this book after three decades of clinical work as a psychoanalyst, working with both mothers and fathers who came to me at different stages in their parenting careers, questioning what to do to salvage their parent-child relationships, asking how to put their children back on a reasonable course, and wondering how to find meaning in their family lives. I am grateful to those parents for telling me how unlocking their Parental Intelligence has benefited their families.
The circumstances and backgrounds of the parents I’ve worked with as a psychoanalyst vary greatly—yet, I discovered that they had some crucial things in common. They were conscientious, thinking parents. And most importantly, they all wanted to understand their kids. This was key.
They were all searching for that special intelligence needed for respectful parenting, even if they didn’t quite know how to ask for it. What they were searching for is what I call Parental Intelligence. I coined this term because I believe parenting requires the persistence and rigor of an intelligence that can be honed with the right tools and life experience.
I believe parents should never be underestimated—even when they doubt themselves. With a clearly designed pathway, you can unlock your Parental Intelligence, access and harness your parenting capacities, and solve the most important problems your children are facing.
With Parental Intelligence, you will figure out the whys behind your child’s behavior. Knowing why your child behaves a certain way will allow you to find the best approach to dealing with the behavior. Understanding why your child acts out, disobeys, or behaves in disruptive and disturbing ways is the key to preventing the recurrence of the behavior. Parental Intelligence provides that understanding.
I have narrowed down and systemized the learning process into five steps that will unlock your Parental Intelligence. And I will illustrate—through examples of many difficult scenarios of compelling family situations—how to use these positive parenting steps in order to achieve the outcomes you desire.
These five steps reveal how behavior mirrors the workings of your child’s mind. With Parental Intelligence, you enter the inner world of your child and understand where he or she is coming from. You will no longer focus initially on stopping misbehavior, but you will first try to understand the meaning behind the misbehavior, and even consider it a useful communication. This approach not only prevents undesired behavior more effectively, it also strengthens parent-child relationships. You and your child grow together.
Three basic interrelated tenets lie behind Parental Intelligence: (1) behaviors have underlying meanings; (2) once parents understand how their own minds are working, they are liberated to understand their child—how their child’s mind is working; (3) once meanings are clear, options surface by which to change unwanted behaviors. When the three core concepts come into play, the ambiance of family life fundamentally changes.
When parents get to know themselves—their reactions to their child and the many influences on their parenting—they find that they gain a better understanding of their child who wants to be known as he or she actually is. This means that parents no longer focus on the child’s specific misbehavior as the overarching troubles and problems emerge. When those problems are addressed, the original misbehavior loses importance and usually stops.
The book is divided into three parts. “Part One: Developing Your Parental Intelligence” describes the theory behind Parental Intelligence and the five steps toward creating it: Stepping Back, Self-Reflecting, Understanding Your Child’s Mind, Understanding Your Child’s Development, and Problem Solving. The five steps are geared to parents who look to support their children’s growth, and happiness. In today’s society, there is a broad array of roles that mothers and fathers take on as they participate in parenting. These varied roles are readily adapted to family life as parents use their Parental Intelligence.
“Part Two: Stories of Parental Intelligence in Practice” offers eight short stories about parents using Parental Intelligence with their children. Each family portrait reveals that as parents understand themselves, they can better understand their children. With these understandings, misbehaviors become a catalyst to change. As open dialogue evolves, parents discover and clarify the meanings behind the behaviors. In turn, parents and children grapple with the underlying struggles that, though not apparent at first, were hidden behind the behaviors. Once brought to light, problems can be solved.
These stories about infants, children, and adolescents—including three with special needs—demonstrate the broad spectrum to which the five steps of Parental Intelligence apply. The eight stories (a fussy baby, a two-year-old with many losses, a asix-year-old jealous identical twin, a four-year-old with Asperger Syndrome, an eight-year-old with ADHD, a thirteen-year-old with an anxious mother, a fifteen-year-old depressed teen, a seventeen-year-old brilliant teen who breaks curfew) focus on the pivotal roles fathers and mothers can have in their child’s behavior and development.
“Part Three: The Future with Parental Intelligence” describes a world where Parental Intelligence has become commonplace and in some cases, leaders are born. This philosophy of parenting has ramifications at familial and societal levels. I discuss how this parenting approach provides a meeting ground where parents and children get to know each other in profound ways as they solve present problems that affect their future values and directions. Children of such families will have the skills to work through conflicts in their daily lives and future relationships.
This book doesn’t have an ending. Many mothers and fathers raising their children with Parental Intelligence have told me that using these principles as a guide have led to a new way of being together—a new parenting life. And for myself, I learned the most about raising children by becoming a parent to my two outstanding, spirited sons, David and Rich. They continue to give me the privilege of carrying out my most important job—being a mother. I humbly know that Parental Intelligence helps you feel love in ways you never dreamed possible. Parental Intelligence provides a vision of hope: a pathway for parents to better understand both themselves and their children at all ages and developmental levels. Using Parental Intelligence, parents support their children as they solve their problems and lead loving, satisfying lives.
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Condensed International Endorsements
“A notable feat … offering a window into the inner workings of the minds of parents and children.”
–Phyllis Beren, PhD, Institute for Psychoanalytic Training & Research
“Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. masterfully makes strategies of Parental Intelligence our own as we learn to better understand our children.”—Kenneth R Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed., University of Pennsylvania
“Groundbreaking…Parents learn to understand the underlying determinants to their child’s behavior,to ‘read’ nonverbal as well as verbal communication, and to create an open dialogue. “–Rena Greenblatt, PhD, New York University
“Dr. Hollman wisely encourages us to ask why, to listen with greater empathy, and look for the meaning in children’s behavior”–Kenneth Barish, Ph.D., Cornell University.
“Dr. Hollman…shows how children‘s troubled behaviors communicate. With talent, she illustrates parents helping children find their way out of impasses.” –Myriam Szejer, MD, University Versailles-Saint Quentinen Yvelines.
“Highly engaging approach …vivid examples…essential reading for all parents and professionals who seek a greater understanding of children’s behavior.”—Ilene Sackler Lefcourt, Columbia University.
“Parental Intelligence is theory of mind in action! This excellent book shows how you can be aware of your own thoughts & feelings while keeping in mind your child’s thoughts & feelings” —Janet Wilde Astington, PhD, University of Toronto