Mothers Can Turn Kids from Bad to Glad
This little book introduces readers to mothers who, under the guidance of Aaron Lederer a pioneering psychoanalyst and his team of counselors, have been helping their children reverse ingrained habits of extreme negativity. Lederer's approach is unique in that it empowers the mother to be the agent of therapeutic change. Her role makes complete sense: as the child's main caregiver, the mother comes with a ready-made influence on the child. She also has an innate passion for and commitment to helping the child make positive changes. Lederer's approach is also unique in its convenience: there is no need for face-to-face meetings, as the counselors give all their advice in sessions over the phone.
Aaron Lederer's success with difficult children may stem from the devastating traumas in his own early childhood. Because of the insights he gained from his own experiences, it's as if he can project himself into the minds of difficult children and know what help they need. His many years of training and practice as a psychotherapist have been devoted to repairing damaged relationships caused by neglect or abuse in early childhood, and Lederer has developed a treatment that lets him tell mothers what to do moment by moment, day by day. In a relatively short time, generally within the first four to six weeks of treatment the child begins to show signs of becoming a lovable and responsible family member, a mother's dream come true.
Aaron Lederer and his team instruct the mothers in weekly phone meetings supplemented by e-mail contact as needed. He instructs each mother to talk to her child only in ways that develop the child's desire to cooperate. He is interested in cooperation driven by a child's inner desire to do the right thing rather than by obedience. The idea is for each child to develop his social compass, his lifelong guide for living a good life, through his relationship with his mother.
The first phase of Lederer's program is intended to give the child a period free from the pressure to change. The purpose is to give the child a chance to rework the traumas he experienced in his early years, the time when his mother was (or should have been) the center of his world. Disruptions during this vulnerable period are often what cause a child to develop attachment disorders or other developmental problems that manifest in a destructive, negative response to the world or in withdrawal from it altogether.
Lederer teaches that threatening, punishing, scolding, and the like often backfire. We might be able to scare a child into doing something if our threat is dire enough, but we would merely get resentful compliance, not cheerful cooperation. Furthermore, rubbing a child's nose in his powerlessness in the face of our threats can contribute to his developing depression, thereby making the problem worse. Lecturing has a similar effect. The child can feel as though he has been called stupid and told that he cannot think for himself.
When the initial period, during which the mother suspends her usual responses to the difficult child, has succeeded, Lederer introduces additional tactics that are aimed at "socializing" the child. Lederer defines a "socialized" child as one who is willing to do what's required even when he doesn't feel like doing so, is willing to expend the necessary effort even if the reward isn't immediate, and is willing to take other people's feelings into account.
Lederer often says, 'If you want to change a child, change the way you talk to him," so he introduces what he calls ?corrective communications.? Each corrective communication targets a specific behavior. For example, he instructs each mother to ask her child to begin doing something or stop doing something regularly as a 'favor' to her. Notice that favors are voluntary, not forced. The child is free to be cooperative or not. He can choose. If he refuses or fails to follow through, the mother is then instructed to give the child a scripted communication that resolves the child's resistance without struggle, always without a hint of negativity or an ''or else" attitude. The point is to nudge the child gently toward an understanding that in a loving relationship, people do favors for one another.
Another of Lederer's tactics is to have a mother turn her child into a consultant on himself. After all, all of us are the best experts on ourselves; who knows better how to motivate us? The mother asks her child for advice about a problem she has with him, and her questions are worded in such a way that presents the mother as the one with the problem, not the child. These requests are also scripted as corrective communications. Usually, being given the important role of adviser touches the child. Whatever answer he gives, he is likely to become far more cooperative simply because he is helping his mother, not being controlled by her.
The success of the mother's approach also lies in what she does not do. She learns to give mild reminders instead of orders. For example, a mother might say 'It?s bedtime' in place of "Go to bed now"; "The garbage is overflowing" can replace "Please take out the garbage"; and "Women are attracted to men who hold down jobs" may produce better results than "You're 28 years old, and you still can't pay your own bills." Through corrective communications, children can become willing to take responsibility for what goes on outside of the home and at school.
Mothers tell Lederer that through working with him or a member of his team, they have learned new ways of communicating with their children. These methods work not only with the designated child suffering from oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) or reactive attachment disorder (RAD) but also with other children, family members, and the world at large. Most human beings do their best when they feel understood and appreciated as opposed to ruled, controlled, or bullied. Lederer's approach fosters mutual respect, interest, and appreciation, the feelings that underlie the best things in civilization.
Sheila Zaretsky, Ph.D.
Dr. Zaretsky, a psychoanalyst, is the founding director and a supervising analyst at the Academy of Clinical and Applied Psychoanalysis and at the New Jersey Center for Modern Psychoanalysis. The author of many well-received clinical papers, Dr. Zaretsky has also been a sought-after speaker at clinical presentations since 1989.