Emotional First Aid Kit: Q&A With Gerald Koocher, PhD

Filed under: Behavior, Books for Parents

Parents guide to psychological first aid

Don't forget to stock your emotional first aid kit. Credit: Ciano Design

Most parents have Band-Aids at the ready for the inevitable scrapes of childhood, but what about the inevitable emotional scrapes like a first crush, cyberbullying, step-sibling rivalry? Good news: Two highly revered psychologists have created a psychological first-aid kit.

Gerald Koocher, PhD, and Annette M. La Greca, PhD, compiled a list of the 48 most common stressors today's parents will encounter and solicited those topics' foremost experts to write about them for their new book, "The Parents' Guide to Psychological First Aid: Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Predictable Life Crises."

ParentDish recently spoke with Koocher about the book. An edited version of the conversation follows:

ParentDish: Why did you decide to write this book?
Gerald Koocher: A lot of times today parents need to find one place to go for psychological advice. They can sit around and try to Google it or what we hoped to do is put all this in one place. It [is] an easy read. [Topics] range from toilet training to your kid's college application and teaching your kid to drive. We tried to cover these key stress points so parents will feel, if you will, armed with a first aid kit.

Author Gerald Koocher, PhD

PD: What are some of the stressors that are unique to today's parents?
GK:
For one thing, divorce was less prevalent when you were growing up. Another big issue is that there were lots of things that just weren't talked about in families. Things like, for example, having a child who's gay, coming out.

Another, [from] one of my favorite chapters is the one by Carolyn Schroeder, who wrote on "your toddler's masturbation when the neighbors come over." This is something you wouldn't talk about in your mom's generation [and] you certainly didn't talk about it with people outside the family. So that's one of the big differences: raising topics that are OK to talk about now.

PD: You have a chapter on bullying, and I've heard stories about "mean girls" on the kindergarten playground. Is bullying starting even younger now?
GK:
I don't think human beings have changed that much. But what I do think has happened is we are now more sensitive to the issue.

We're now calling out socially inappropriate behavior earlier. A generation ago it was just, "Oh, he's just being a boy" when he's bossy or aggressive. Now we can say, "OK, but that's not acceptable behavior in the classroom," or "We expect you to show respect for other people," even in kindergarten and first grade.

PD: Do you think it's harder to raise children now, or is it just the way it's portrayed in the media? Are things more stressful today?
GK:
I don't think that it's so much that things are more stressful as it is that people are much more aware of things. One really good example is looking at child abuse. The whole recognition of what was initially known as battered children's syndrome and has come to be known as child abuse. And even child sexual abuse, if you look at the priesthood stories that have come out recently, it's not that abuse didn't exist in the past -- it's that it was covered, it was hidden.

Today, psychological services are much more widely accepted. Getting help for family problems from professionals outside the home has become the norm in many places. You're not stigmatized because you get help, whether it's help in parenting or help for your kid who has a problem.

PD: How can parents tell the difference between normal growing pains or if their child needs professional help?
GK:
One of the questions people are always asking themselves is, "Am I normal?" [or] "Is my kid normal?"

Annette and I wrote the chapter ["How to Recognize When Your Child May Need Professional Help"] and we tried to give parents warning signs in terms of things they can recognize and spot and respond to. We also tried to call out signals, like when you have a child who is abusing animals or is getting into trouble on a frequent basis or has suffered a significant weight loss or is engaged in intense social withdrawal. We tried to highlight all of those as kinds of signals so you can at least get a consult from someone.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.