Q. I am trying to find an appropriate parent-support group or family therapist for myself and perhaps my husband.
We are older than the average parents of a 7-year-old and have more knowledge and experience than average (but not as much as we need!). My husband has been a clinical psychologist and I have been a social worker.
Our only son is a bright, happy child with no major problems. He is, however, quite sensitive and easily frustrated and discouraged. He also has a tendency to be a little shy. Whereas all of this behavior is normal for a child, I would like to do what I can to minimize it. My husband and I both tend to be overbearing with him at times and I'm afraid our son gets overwhelmed by us more than he should.
I have been aware of this situation for the last couple years and have been reading books on parenting to see what help I could find.
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk was extremely helpful. When we applied their suggestions we found they made a positive, sometimes dramatic difference in our family life, but then we would forget to use the suggested techniques. It's very hard to change habits. Without some outside support we seem to fall back into old ways of reacting.
We did try one support group, but it was poorly led by a nonprofessional and filled with young, naive mothers who were just beginning to consider these things, so it was not helpful at all. I guess we need a group led by an experienced professional. Please tell us where to find one.
A. How lucky you are to realize that you need a little help. Most parents would dismiss what sounds like fairly typical behavior for a 7-year-old: happy, but with a tinge of self-pity. He's a tentative sort of person now, on his way to the middle age of childhood and rather scared of it.
This is the start of a pivotal age, when he either becomes the outgoing, curious, daring person he was meant to be, or the one who feels so squelched that he becomes the loner, class clown, bully or even the super-good child--at least for a few more years.
Although you may be reading too much into his behavior now, you still have a problem if you think your own behavior is a little askew. If you don't do something about it, these overbearing touches can escalate as your child defines himself better and lets you know who he is and where he stands. In turn you may feel more anxious--and therefore more overbearing--as you try to hold on to the little boy he used to be.
It also can make you a little bit bored. While children are quite private about their real feelings at 7, 8 and 9, they also prattle on . . . and on . . . and on: a one-child talkathon. This might encourage you to say "run out and play, dear," a good deal more often than dear might like. It also could make you still more overbearing, for our bad habits usually get worse under stress.
Instead, he'll need the give-and-take of many conversations with you if he's to learn how to spin a yarn and negotiate a problem. The parents who help a child express himself in the middle years will have the teen-ager more open to their advice. For that's the crux: The early years may set the neuroses of a lifetime but it's the middle years that decide how adolescence will go.
That's why it's a good idea to shore the situation now. It's something every family needs to do sometimes and it's much easier in the beginning than after the trouble erupts. The book you mentioned by Elaine Faber and Elaine Mazlish (Avon paperback, $4.95) is an Almanac favorite. But you're right: A well-run, weekly exchange with other parents would help reinforce their advice.
There's nothing like a recitation of your own behavior to make you mind your manners, and manners is really what family life is all about. Somehow we forget that when we live with others--especially others who are much shorter than ourselves--we tend to order them about, and often unnecessarily.
It's especially hard to remember that a child of 7 has more sense than a child of 6, who in turn has more than a 5-year-old. The older he is, and the more responsibly he behaves, the more conscious he is of his dignity, his rights and the respect that he's due. Justice matters more and more to this child, especially when it affects him.
A good support group could help you bear your frustrations better. The groups, however, are a tricky lot, for they often change in structure and in teachers. On top of that, their slant may--or may not--please you. You seem to be looking for one that uses Parent Effectiveness Training, which is very good if well-taught. That's why you'll want to find out the person's training and number of groups he or she has led. The names of some parents who have taken the course recently could be your best references.
Although most groups have begun for the season, they will gear up again in summer and fall. Some of the best seem to be given by the adult-education programs in the county school systems; the county mental-health programs and by the more community-minded churches in the area. The Greater Washington Society of Clinical Social Workers is putting together a special list, available by calling their free referral system: 530-4765.
Questions may be sent to Parents' Almanac, Style Plus, The Washington Post.