Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Tuesday Tidbits #2

Running Through My Head Today:

Weird. I'm not sure that I have a song running through my head this morning.

Grateful For:


Gus and Ria at Mirror Lake in Yosemite

Homeschooling.  No, it's not perfect. Nor are any of the other options. And I question myself all the time about it. But the answer keeps coming up that it's been very good for us in many ways and my kids have always thrived with it and been pretty happy with it.

I love the closeness and camaraderie and interconnectedness it allows for.

Frank, Terri and Kate do science


Ria and Gus in college together!
 I love how much freedom it gives us to hang out with friends and family of all ages.

Frank and a little cousin
Michelangelo puzzle success with our friend, Joe.


I also love how much space it gives the kids for creativity and developing deep interests and talents.

They love making Halloween costumes!


Easter Cake by Terri, Bernie and Ria (with some help from Tolkien!)
Gus singing with an acapella group in college.


I love the ability to take the family on a three or four week road trip and see a bunch of amazing things in person, like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Pacific Ocean and Meteor Crater. I love that we can pick some of the sites based on the Percy Jackson stories and Pixar's Cars.





We love our homeschool community in which we have found many fast friends and kindred spirits over the years and with whom we have enjoyed many activities, such as singing, group classes, park days, dramatic performances, spiritual activities and lots of just plain fun.









And we love our parish community, with whom we have many close connections, especially because of how they have welcomed us as homeschoolers and fellow Catholics. Besides Mass and the Sacraments and many friendships, we have done lots and lots of choirs and sports (mostly basketball and track) alongside our wonderful parish family. God has blessed us in so many ways!

Kate and her wonderful parish basketball team

Everything Keeps Coming Up...

Theology of the Body. Our youngest two are just finishing up the Theology of the Body for Middle School, which is being taught by my brother-in-law at our local parish. One of the incentives I've given my kids for taking this class (which is eight Friday nights in a row - not the most fun option in the world) is that there are certain movies they are allowed to watch with us after they take the class. Not ones with lurid sex scenes, of course, but certainly ones that get into complex issues relating to marriage and family, such as living together before marriage. The Theology of the Body background plus the opportunities for discussion brought about by some of these movies (which we really like, by the way) help us provide the kids with a wholistic understanding of the Catholic Church's teachings on marriage and the family without a judgmental attitude towards those who make decisions that we would disagree with.

For example, we watched Steve Martin's Cheaper by the Dozen this past week. One of themes present in the story is the oldest daughter living with her boyfriend, against the wishes of her parents. We had a great discussion about why the Church teaches against this partly because of the way they value marriage - to the point that they want each person to enter it in complete freedom, which is compromised by the commitments already present in cohabitation. It bears some similarities to why the Church won't let you get married while you are pregnant - because the expected baby can put extra pressure on the decision to get married. We also talked about how many couples who live together before marriage do so because they came from families that suffered from divorce and believe it will help prevent that kind of relationship (and how, unfortunately, the statistics indicate  that this is in fact unhelpful).

Playing:

Still lots of Scrabble around here, of course, but I a great deal of our playing of late has been with the dogs. Did I mention that we have a puppy? Zita is her name (named after Ben Hatke's Zita the Space Girl series, which my kids love). She is a black lab mix and about four months old.  She really keeps us hopping but (and perhaps partly because of that) we have no regrets. We had to put our cat down last fall and our older dog is 11 and we have a LOT of energetic kid years left, so we decided it was time for another pet. We got her from our local humane society and were very impressed with the services offered there.



Reading:


I am working my way through the 33 Days to Morning Glory Marian Consecration for my second time. I will be finishing up on May 13th, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, which also happens to be the anniversary of my first communion.

I just started reading a new book by Bishop Barron called Vibrant Paradoxes: The Both/And of Catholicism. It's a lovely book so far and I particularly enjoy that the essays are substantial, but short.

And after almost ten years (here is my last post on it from our previous reading) we are once again reading Pope Benedict's Sacramentum Caritatis with our homeschool high school catechism class. It an apostholic exhortation on the Eucharist and it is wonderful. It seems like the perfect way to wrap up our year of studying the Mass (we used Ascension Press's Altarations program, which we enjoyed very much).


Watching:

Last night we re-watched Yours, Mine and Ours with Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo. Now, I know that this is a corny movie in some ways and the acting is not always the greatest, but I really love this movie. Yeah, it's partly that it's about large families and that it's so gloriously positive about having kids. But that's not really why I love it so much. It has this wonderful irony, which we spent a bit of time discussion during my college years about how someone can intend something for evil but that God can use it for good (or if you're more comfortable with it, it can turn out for the good). In this case, two large families are suddenly thrown together when their parents (both widowed, but had been high school sweethearts) reconnect at a high school reunion and get married before the families have even met. After lots of conflict and angst between the kids of each of the families (who are raised with extremely different styles of parenting), the kids finally get together and scheme to split the parents up. They do terrible (and in some ways funny) things to covertly cause tension in the marriage, but end up coming to a double conversion. 1. Once the kids stop fighting with each other and start working together to a common purpose, they actually start to like each other. 2. They feel remorse for the pain they have caused their parents. So, enough spoilers, but it's a movie I actually end up liking better each time I watch it.

Quote I'm Pondering:

"Mary, lend us your Heart. Bring us the Spirit. Pray that our hardened hearts would burn with love for Jesus. Help set our hearts on fire with love for him." (from 33 Days to Morning Glory)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tuesday Tidbits #1

Running Through My Head Today:  
Gone, Gone, Gone by Phillip Phillips

Grateful For:
How the value of stories has played out in our family over the years. This is especially obvious with Ria, who wrote her senior thesis on the connection between stories and Salvation History and is now using stories and parts of stories (like movie clips) in her work as a Catholic campus missionary at a state university, and especially in her one-on-one spiritual mentoring of students. Stories are so universal, so applicable, so amazing, so true. 

Everything Keeps Coming Up...

Baseball/Jackie Robinson  We really enjoy baseball in our family. Though I have assimilated to Wisconsin football-wise (it's hard not to become a Packers fan after living here for more than 20 years), I will never give up my San Francisco Giants. The kids have inherited their baseball loyalties from me, which have certainly been helped along by the Giants' three-time World Series wins in six years! We try to get tickets to see the Giants when they come to Milwaukee (which we manage to pull off about every other year). We were thrilled to get tickets to one of the Giants-Brewers games a few years ago. Before the game, we were trying to make out which player was which when we realized that all of them were wearing the number 42 - it was Jackie Robinson day! We enjoyed how they introduced each player as number 42 throughout the game and it happened to be soon afterwards that the movie 42 was released. It soon became one of our favorite movies.

A few weeks ago, we made it to another Giants-Brewers game, which was a real treat. I told the kids I would pay for my ticket and parking if they paid for their own tickets. Three of them took me up on it and we got a great deal through a community fundraiser. Angel Pagan threw a ball to Frank, who, I'm sure, will remember it for the rest of his life.

Since I was in a baseball mood, I read a lovely children's story, written by Jackie Robinson's daughter, Sharon, called The Hero Two Doors Down, which is the true story of Jackie's friendship with a young neighbor. Then we watched the first half (so far) of Ken Burns' documentary on Jackie Robinson, which worked almost as a special features to the movie 42. My younger kids, who may have had just a little bit too much of the documentary genre in general, were quite engrossed. I especially enjoyed the interviews with Jackie Robinson's wife, Rachel, who seems even more lovely in real life than she was portrayed in the movie.  

And we are just about to start Little League season around here. We have two kids who play baseball (and yes, one of them is a girl, who plays mostly with boys - and she is good!) and are looking forward to the upcoming season. As much as I enjoy having my kids play basketball, the intensity of the game, especially since it's indoors and all of the noise and whistles and all bounce off the walls, makes me not entirely unhappy when the season is over. In contrast, I relish the baseball season (well, aside from the mosquitoes). It's really more my speed and it's a wonderful thing to spend all of that time outdoors.

Playing:

Bernie and I have been playing a lot of Scrabble lately. I try not to get involved in computer games because they can be very addictive for me (I seriously need to keep Solitaire off of my computer!), but Scrabble works out pretty well. I play it through Facebook and usually have about a dozen games going. Because I have to wait for the other players, it's a reasonably limited amount of time at each sitting and it's good fun. I especially enjoy kibitzing with Bernie. I also learn a lot from the teacher. We also discovered that the British dictionary is a lot of fun to play with. Bernie takes it to another level entirely, but playing some games in languages she doesn't speak, like French.

Reading:

I recently finished Miracles from Heaven by Christy Todd Beam. I got interested in the story after reading the movie review by Bishop Robert Barron: "Miracles from Heaven" and the Problem of Theodicy. I really enjoyed the book. The adjective that keeps coming back to me with regard to the book is genuine. Though I do believe the miracle to be genuine, I'm thinking of this terms especially with regards to how this mother shares the most intimate story of the suffering of her child (as well as the whole family) and their relationship with God. I especially appreciate that they aren't trying to put on a show or clean things up to improve the story. The little details of real family life in an imperfect world are poignant and much appreciated. I have not yet seen the movie, but am very much looking forward to it.

I also just finished (well, unless you count all the Appendices!) Fr. Michael Gaitley's The Second Greatest Story Ever Told: Now is the Time of Mercy. He interweaves the stories (and highlights the connectedness) of the apparitions of Fatima, St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy Devotion, St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. John Paul the Great.  It encourages devotion to both Divine Mercy and the Blessed Mother as the double-solution for bringing ourselves and the world to Christ. It makes especially great background reading for the 33 Days to Morning Glory Marian Consecration (by the same author). Though I was generally familiar with all of the stories, there were a lot of interesting pieces that I had never heard before.

Though I enjoyed the casual, conversational tone of the text, I especially appreciated the numerous quotes from the key players in the story.

Watching:

X-Men: The kids got us a set of four of the X-Men movies for Easter. (And we have since borrowed or bought several more.) None of us had watched any of them previously. On the whole, we are really enjoying them, with Days of Future Past a clear favorite, probably followed by X-2. We especially enjoyed the interplay of personalities, the batting around of philosophical concepts, the playfulness and the character development in Days of Future Past. I believe all of the movies have been rated PG-13, with some a little heavier on the violence and mature content than others. Wolverine was particularly violent.

Cutthroat Kitchen: We have long been fans of Alton Brown, since being introduced many years ago by Karen Edmisten. Since we don't have cable, it was only during a hotel stay a few months ago that we discovered Alton's newer cooking game show (which has apparently been out for quite awhile). We've never really gotten into the chef reality shows with all their drama and angst, though we've seen a few bits here and there. Despite the name, this is more light-hearted, interesting and, believe it or not, inspiring. Each show starts with four chefs. There are three rounds of cooking and one chef gets eliminated in each round. Alton Brown names a dish (which are mostly very familiar dishes, some of them surprisingly so, for example: taquitos, lobster roll, chocolate cake, chili cheese dog and breakfast sandwich), they have one minute to shop in a special "pantry" and then a limited amount of time to cook. Chefs get to bid on sabotages to inflict on each other and a food critic decides which chef to eliminate at the end of each round without knowing anything of the sabotages.

This is a very engrossing show and interesting for a lot of reasons. First of all, the chefs are of a very high caliber, so their creativity in working around the sabotages is really quite fascinating. Just watching them cook tends to inspire us to try new dishes and more interesting (and real!) ingredients and generally spend more time in the kitchen.

The human nature element of the show is really interesting too. First of all, it's rather amusing at how
An example of a sabotage: making crepes on a seriously warped pan.
the chefs who brag the most not only attract a lot of the sabotages, but often end up self-sabotaging by forgetting key ingredients in the pantry. It's also rather amazing at how often sabotages seem to backfire against the one who inflicted them.

Finally, Alton Brown is a really interesting and funny guy. His little comments and antics keep the show funny and light and we really enjoy his side comments about what good and bad ideas the chefs are trying out. We've been watching this on Netflix, but have also very much enjoyed the after shows on You Tube in which Alton and various judges try out some of the sabotages.

Quote I'm Pondering:

Suffering, pain, sorrow, humiliation, feelings of loneliness, are nothing but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close that he can kiss you. Do you understand, brothers, sisters, or whoever you may be? Suffering, pain, humiliation - this is the kiss of Jesus. At times you come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss you. I once told this to a lady who was suffering very much. She answered, "Tell Jesus not to kiss me - to stop kissing me." That suffering has to come that came in the life of Our Lady, that came in the life of Jesus - it has to come in our life also. Only never put on a long face. Suffering is a gift from God. It is between you and Jesus alone inside. -  Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta as quoted in 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael Gaitley

Enjoy your day!






Wednesday, February 10, 2016

On Living Differently today, a guest essay by Karen Edmisten and a book giveaway!


I highly recommend this terrific little book for those who wish to share their faith with others – especially with their family and friends. Karen is an atheist-turned-Catholic who shares in this book many common aspects of the conversion journey through her own experiences and those of a number of her friends. These stories are organized around a very practical set of “do’s” and “don’ts” that will help readers be better prepared to witness to and support those who are being drawn to the faith. Karen’s tone is gentle and friendly (and prayerful!), but not at all timid about tackling many important issues, concepts, teachings, relationships and potential misunderstandings. The end result is a very great set of connections to help believers be more loving, patient, understanding and supportive of others. - AVH

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Dawn Treader by Bernie

Yesterday morning, Bernie (age 15) asked if she could use some leftover paint from the girls' room for a painting. I consented. I didn't really understand what she wanted it for, nor why she painted the top portion of the canvas black and the bottom portion "room" color to start with. This morning she and Kate hung the finished canvas above the bunk bed and called me in to see it. I feel pretty confident that C.S. Lewis would approve. ;)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Some Science of Gratitude

I enjoy finding science-based information that confirms things I already subscribe to because of my religious beliefs. The intersections and commonality are fascinating and they help me understand a concept better and reinforce its importance to me. Today I was trying to learn more about gratitude when I stumbled upon this article.

Gratitude doesn’t make problems and threats disappear. We can lose jobs, we can be attacked on the street, we can get sick. I’ve experienced all of those things. I remember those harrowing times at unexpected moments: My heart beats faster, my throat constricts. My body wants to hit something or run away, one or the other. But there’s nothing to hit, nowhere to run. The threats are indeed real, but at that moment, they exist only in memory or imagination. I am the threat; it is me who is wearing myself out with worry.
That’s when I need to turn on the gratitude. If I do that enough, suggests the psychological research, gratitude might just become a habit. What will that mean for me? It means, says the research, that I increase my chances of psychologically surviving hard times, that I stand a chance to be happier in the good times. I’m not ignoring the threats; I’m appreciating the resources and people that might help me face those threats.

Read the rest here... The Six Habits of Highly Grateful People by Jeremy Adam Smith 

I enjoyed this one too: Gratitude Practice Explained, from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Inside Out!


I finally got a chance to see Inside Out a few days ago. Wow, great movie but very intense in some ways. I wondered how much the younger side of Pixar fans would "get" it. There's so much to process from the movie that I almost feel like I have to watch it a second time before blogging on it properly.

I will say that I really, really liked it. So many great concepts, illustrations that line up well with our understanding of the brain and thoughtful, clever details in an engaging and believable story. Do watch it if you get a chance.

Three Books I'm Excited About Right Now...

 I haven't finished reading any of the following books yet, but felt ready to start talking about them anyway.


Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential - and Endangered, is written by the same team as The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog.
It follows the brain science, interwoven with many personal stories, about how people learn and develop the essential trait of empathy.  Empathy is woven into the very fabric of our being, but basically, we learn empathy by being loved by our parents (and other caregivers) from the time we are tiny infants. This tends to happen naturally, as our responses as parents are also practically automatic. The consequences of not receiving this normal loving care (such as those raised in orphanages in Russia and Romania) are serious, but can be addressed to some extent. (Not only empathy, but also things like IQ, immunity to disease and physical balance are related to the nurturing most babies receive at a very young age.)

One part of the book I particularly enjoyed was about a woman who founded an organization that helps schoolchildren learn empathy. Just hearing about how this woman grew up was fascinating.

If we are all born for love, Roots of Empathy founder Mary Gordon was delivered into some of the most fertile ground imaginable. She grew up in Newfoundland, in a multigenerational  household that included her three brothers and one sister, both of her grandmothers, and an uncle who was intellectually disabled. Her parents also often took in "strays." Unmarried women who'd gotten pregnant would live with them during their pregnancies, men leaving prison would visit nightly for a free meal. Gordon's father eventually served as the Canadian minister of labor,a dn her mother was an artist. The Catholic family was deeply committed to social justice. AT the dinner table, the rule was that the conversation must focus on ideas - literature, policy, religion, philosophy - not gossip or mundane events. But the table rang out with laughter and spirited debate: this didn't produce sullen resentment.



How to Raise an Adult:  Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott Haims has been a wonderful read so far. The author is a former Stanford dean who has also experienced the challenges of today's parenting norms from raising her own children. This has led to a easy-to-read (with lots of laugh-out-loud and ah-ha moments) practical guide to what's wrong with parenting (and related issues such as the "College Admissions Arms Race"), how it's affecting our children and what we can do about it.

Her suggestions seem much more manageable than overwhelming. To give you a sense of it, here is a list of "How to Let Your Kid Play" (though, in the book, each item is detailed with information and suggestions):

  • Value free play. 
  • Know your kid. 
  • Create agreements with other parents. 
  • Offer materials and equipment that foster imaginative play. 
  • Let your kid decide how and what to play. 
  • Work on creating space between you and your kid.
  • Develop a capacity to wince but not to pounce.
  • Create a culture of free outdoor play. 
  • Get inspired. 
  • Encourage change in your community. 
  • Model play. 

I figured that even reading some of the crazy helicopter-parenting stories aloud to my kids would help ensure that I wouldn't imitate such behavior. ;)

I am also looking forward to reading her suggestions in upcoming chapters (I'm about half-way through) on teaching life skills, teaching them to think, preparing them for hard work, letting them chart their own path and listening to them. Good stuff!


Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein's Letters to and from Children just arrived in the mail yesterday.  Looking forward to having a little downtime for savoring it. (A girl can dream, right?)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Few Great Quotes (and pictures of pretty notebooks) for Your Day


I've been collecting quotes in a lovely commonplace book (from Paperblanks, pictured above on the left) for a number of years now (and collecting quotes in places all over for many years before that). I enjoy both collecting them and reading over them occasionally. The first book contains a variety of quotes, including a lot of spiritual ones.

Recently I decided to start a separate commonplace book for quotes having to do with education, people, culture, etc. (it's a pretty wide field). That's the one pictured above on the right and in the open book picture below.

I really love these beautiful books and find that the beauty itself motivates me to write in them and read through them more often.


So I've been piecing these quotes together from all over, especially in preparation for my trip to Denver this weekend (and for use with some of my talks at the Rocky Mountain Catholic Home Educator's Conference there). Thought I'd share a few of the quotes here...

Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.

- Pope Benedict XVI, Madrid, August 2011

The sacramental imagination gets the world into proper focus... G.K. Chesterton insisted that Catholicism was about thick steaks, cigars, pubs, and laughter. Catholicism is more than that, of course. but it's also that and to miss that is to miss something crucial in the Catholic world. The Catholic world isn't nervous about is legitimate pleasures. In fact, it's a world in which those pleasures can be fully enjoyed because they're understood for what they really are - anticipations of the joy that awaits us in the kingdom of God. And that, I suggest, is a lot more appealing than granola-and-Corona-Lite gnosticism.

- George Weigel

The most influential of all educational factors is the conversation in a child's home. - William Temple

If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money. - Abigail Van Buren

Education should no longer be mostly imparting knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentials. - Maria Montessori

For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain. - Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning

In the absence of any other proof, my thumb alone would convince me of God's existence. - Sir Isaac Newton

Children trying out new things are like plants putting out little green shoots. We must be careful not to cut them off. - John Holt

In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the creator may, as He freely wills use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show forth His power: we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass. - St. Albert the Great

With loving regard, the divine Artist passes on to the human artist a spark of His own surpassing wisdom, calling him to share in His creative power. - Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists

It is important for us to live Christianity and to think as Christians in such a way that it incorporates what is good and right about modernity - and at the same time separates and distinguishes itself from what is becoming a counter-religion. - Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World

Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to  let him know that you trust him. - Booker T. Washington

Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas... We must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food.  Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children

The virtue of truth gives another his just due. Truthfulness keeps to the just mean between what ought to be expressed and what ought to be kept secret: it entails honesty and discretion. – Catechism of the Catholic Church #2469

Respect all reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them. - Maria Montessori

To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else. - Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Thinking and Reading

Wow, it's been awhile since I've had a chance to post here. We took a three week road trip out to California for Ria's college graduation, which was a lovely event and really a great, but crazy trip. More about that later.

I am preparing to give a couple of talks at the Rocky Mountain Catholic Home Educator's Conference next month. I am excited about the opportunity and grateful to Mary Machado for her gracious invitation.

Besides taking out old notes and compiling new ones, I like to do some reading to prepare for these talks and figured it would be good to come back and do the "Studeo" thing here as a way of processing what I've been reading. So here goes...


The Boy who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry

I picked up this book on a whim after noticing it at Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago. I have always been fascinated by psychology, brain science, and parenting/educational theory.

This book is a little harrowing in places because the author has worked with children who have gone through some really terrible situations, but there is an awful lot to love about the book, including many stories that turned out quite well through some surprisingly simple, and at least common sense, solutions.

Possibly my favorite part was just getting a glimpse into the value of the ordinary things that most parents automatically do and give to their infants and young children, things so ordinary that we tend to not even think of them as important - such as cuddling, rocking, and talking to an infant. It is fascinating (though sad!) to see how critical this is in a child's development, through stories of children who, for one reason or another, missed out on these essential parts of growing up.

Don't have a lot of time to overview all of the individual stories present in this book (which include some high-profile cases, such as the surviving children of the Branch Davidians) but would like to pull out a few worthwhile and interesting quotes.

It's hard to imagine today, but when I was in medical school in the early 1980s researchers didn't pay much attention to the lasting damage that psychological trauma can produce. Even less consideration was given to how trauma might harm children. It wasn't considered relevant. Children were believed to be naturally "resilient," with an innate ability to "bounce back."


Our work brings us into peoples' lives when they are most despertae, alone, sad, afraid and wounded, but for the most part the stories you'll read here are success stories - stories of hope, survival, triumph. Surprisingly, it is often when wandering through the emotional carnage left by the worst of humankind that we find the best of humanity as well.


Ultimately, what determines how children survive trauma, physically, emotionally, or psychologically, is whether the people around them - particularly the adults they should be able to trust and rely upon - stand by them with love, support and encouragement.


The responses of traumatized children are often misinterpreted. This even happened to Sandy at some points in foster care. Because new situations are inherently stressful, and because youth who have been through trauma often come from homes in which chaos and unpredictability appear "normal" to them, they may respond with fear to what is actually a calm and safe situation.


The fact that the brain develops sequentially - and also so rapidly in the first years of lie - explains why extremely young children are at such great risk of suffering lasting effects of trauma: their brains are still developing. The same miraculous plasticity that allows young brains to quickly learn love and language, unfortunately, also makes them highly susceptible to negative experiences as well.


Our group and others had observed that the nature of a child's relationships - both before and after trauma - seemed to play a critical role in shaping their response to it. If safe, familiar and capable caregivers were available to children, they tended to recover more easily, often showing no enduring negative effects of the traumatic events.


In the beginning there was a push by some in our group to start "therapy" with the children. I felt it was more important at this time to restore order and be available to support, interact with, nurture, respect, listen to, play with and generally "be present"... Some studies, in fact, find a doubling of the odds of post-traumatic stress disorder following such "treatment." In some of our own work we've also found that the most effective interventions involve educating and supporting the existing social support network, particularly the family, about the known and predictable effects of acute trauma and offering access to more therapeutic support if- and only if - the family sees extreme or prolonged post-traumatic symptoms.


As a child grows, many systems of the brain require stimulation if they are to develop. Furthermore, this use-dependent development must occur at specific times in order for these systems to function at their best. If this "sensitive period" is missed, some systems may never be able to reach their full potential.

If their parents feed them when they are hungry, calm them when they are frightened and are generally responsive to their emotional and physical needs, they ultimately build the baby's capacity to soothe and comfort themselves, a skill that serves them well later when they face life's ordinary ups and downs.


Over the years Mama P. continued to bring her foster children to our clinic. And we continued to learn from her. Mama P. discovered, long before we did, that many young victims of abuse and neglect need physical stimulation, like being rocked and gently held, comfort seemingly appropriate to far younger children. She knew that you don't interact with these children based on their age, but based on what they need, what they may have missed during "sensitive periods" of development.

Fortunately, the virtuous cycle is every bit as cascading and self-amplifying as the vicious cycle.

To help create a biologically respectful home environment, parents can also do simple things like setting boundaries on media and technology - for example, having regular family meals when all phones, televisions and computers are off. In addition they can model behaviors that emphasize the importance of relationships, empathy and kindness in their interactions with people, whether they be relatives, neighbors, shopkeepers or others they encounter in their daily lives.

Schools, too, need to change. Our educational system has focused nearly obsessively on cognitive development and almost completely ignored children's emotional and physical needs... In our rush to be sure our children have an environment as "enriched" as that of the neighbors' children, we are actually emotionally impoverishing them. A child's brain needs more than words  and lessons and organized activities: it needs love and friendship and the freedom to play and daydream.

We also need to recognize that not all stress is bad, that children require challenges and risk as well as safety.

There really is a great deal more, but I think I've quoted enough already. :) It's a very good read, and a fast one, especially important for those who work with troubled children. I am looking forward to reading his other book, which is on the importance of empathy.