Dr John Watson

On Dr John Watson -Psychology’s Bad Boy and Founder of Behaviorism- and the Impact of Controversial Child Rearing Beliefs

Dr John Watson was an influential American psychologist, and editor of the Psychological Review from 1910 to 1915. In a 1913 article titled “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It”, he presented the foundations of his philosophy, which he termed “behaviorism”. He described psychology as

“a purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior.”

Child Rearing Beliefs of dr John Watson

Dr John Watson believed that nothing is instinctual, but that children develop through interaction with their environments, over which parents have complete control. He was one of the first to stand on the “new” side of the nature-nurture debate, namely the nurture side.

Children, he thought, are born with only three emotions which are not learned– fear, rage, and love. He believed that children naturally feared only two things, sudden noise and the loss of physical support, and that all other fears were the result of environmental conditioning. He believe that rage was a natural response to being physically restrained and that love was a conditioned response to being touched.

Although he wrote parenting columns for several magazines, he later said that he regretted having done so, as he did not feel that he knew “enough” to claim to be an expert on the subject of parenting. Despite the skeptical criticism of his interest in child psychology by some of his contemporaries in the field, the book quickly sold 100,000 copies.

In terms of the goal of controlling behavior, he viewed humans, and their conditioned responses, in much the same way as he viewed the animals upon which he conducted his experiments.

“The behaviorist, in his efforts to get a unitary scheme of animal response, recognizes no dividing line between man and brute.”

Charisma and Connections

Although Dr John Watson’s early academic performance was poor, his charisma and good looks, combined with his mother’s connections, made it possible for him to be admitted to Furman University. Making few friends while working his way through college, upon graduating he took a position in a one-room school in Greenville, South Carolina as both custodian and principal. While there, he wrote a successful appeal directly to the president of the University of Chicago for admittance into the PhD program.

There, he made many valuable connections, including James Rowland Angell and Jacques Loeb and became interested in the word of Ivan Pavlov. He graduated with a PhD in 1903. In 1908, almost immediately after accepting a position at Johns Hopkins University, he was promoted to chair of the psychology department.

Dr John Watson Ethics and Controversy

Dr John Watson is perhaps most well-known for his ethically controversial “Little Albert” experiment. In the experiment, a nine-month old baby was exposed to furry animals while demonstrating no fear. The baby was then exposed to the same animals while simultaneously having the fear response triggered by a loud sound. The results of the experiment showed that the baby formed an association between the sound and the furry animals. After such “conditioning” the baby then demonstrated fear when exposed to the same animals even when no accompanying sounds were present.

One of the points made by critics was that it was wrong to instill a phobia in a child, especially without removing it afterwards through a process of desensitization. Another ethical consideration was the use of a child too young to give informed consent. Further, the baby’s mother was thought to have been a wet-nurse at the hospital where the experiment was conducted, and was therefore in a position to be socially and financially coerced into giving permission for her child to be used in this way.

In 1920, Dr John Watson was asked to leave Johns Hopkins University as the result of a scandalous affair with Rosalie Rayner, his young assistant, who was also one of his students. His wife later used evidence of the affair to obtain a divorce, after which he married Ms. Rayner. Together, they wrote “Psychological Care of Infant and Child” which was published in 1928.

Dr John Watson: Advertising and Sexuality

Unable to find regular work in the academic world due to the scandal, through connections, he began working at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. He achieved great success in the advertising field as the result of using his knowledge of psychology to persuade consumers to buy products such as cigarettes and toothpaste, based on sex appeal. He worked in advertising until his retirement at age 65.

There are mixed reviews regarding the value of Dr John Watson’s contributions to psychology. For example, according to a survey published in the 2002 issue of the Review of General Psychology, he was ranked at #17 of the most cited psychologists of the century. However, his granddaughter, actress Mariette Hartley, has claimed to have suffered psychological damage as a result of having been raised according to his theories.

Impact of Dr John Watson on Motherhood Today

Watson established the psychological school of behaviorism and  recognized for the first time the importance of nurture in the nature versus nurture discussion. Through his behaviorist approach, Watson conducted research on child rearing, and indeed influenced our views on motherhood today. One of his (in)famous quotes on infants is

“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years.”

In his book, he warned against the inevitable dangers of a mother providing too much love and affection. Watson explained that love, along with everything else as the behaviorist saw the world, is conditioned. Dr John Watson believed that parents can shape a child’s behavior and development simply by a scheming control of all stimulus-response associations. Dr John Watson’s advice  has later been strongly criticized.

But … Dr John Watson’s views -controversially radical or not- garnered a lot of attention and were accepted as valuable in his time. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Dr John Watson as the 17th most cited psychologist of the 20th century.  This clearly shows how influential his beliefs still are. But many believe today that his experiments, as well as some of the uses to which he put the knowledge gained from them, were morally questionable at best.

Fortunately, as parents, we have the opportunity to use that knowledge to protect ourselves and our children from those who seek to profit by misusing it.

Dr John Watson
Waiting to see Doctor, December 1914
maternal and child health

Maternal and child health – A Histrionic, Crazy History of Women and Medical Care

On Experts in maternal and child health

Many throughout history have been considered “experts” in maternal and child health. Each of them have contributed to our understanding of how the human psyche, combined with culture, affect parenting. However, their often conflicting advice has caused some to question the value of adhering to cultural norms espoused by medical professionals when making parenting decisions. Author Lisa Appignanesi is of the opinion that

“Narrowing or medicalizing definitions too much limits the boundaries not only of so-called normality, but of human possibility.”

Her 2009 book, “Mad, Bad, and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors” provides an overview of the theories of maternal and child health care experts from 1800 to the present. The contents of the book were also transformed into an exhibition at the Freud Museum in London which ran from 10 October 2013 – 2 February 2014. The exhibition brought many of the fascinating case histories referred to in the book to life in the form of original documents, photographs, and paintings.

It is perhaps ironic that the book won a British Medical Association Award for contributing to the public’s understanding of science. According to a review of the book in the British Journal of Psychiatry,

“She implies that women (as reflectors of male-dominated society) are duped by mind doctors into beliefs about the consequences of their rotten lives, framing them as diagnoses in need of an ever-expanding lexicon of treatments.”

According to a review in The Independent, the author’s goal is

“to untwist the arguments about cures and causes for the madnesses that beset women (and men) today, from eating disorders to child abuse to depression in all its forms.”

Unlike many feminist writers, she does not base her arguments upon the premise of the existence of a conspiratorial patriarchy that subjugates women. She begins instead with the assumption that these influential professionals in the area of maternal and child health genuinely wanted to help the women they treated. She points to cases in which they succeeded in reducing their patients’ suffering, as well as to those in which they increased it.

This journey through the history of psychiatry takes readers from madhouses, where people were relegated for being problematic to society, to asylums, which focused more on the treatment of the individual. It also reveals the history of changing diagnoses, such as the diagnosis of “neurasthenia” to the modern-day diagnosis of “social anxiety”. Other diagnoses for which women are institutionalized and treated for in the book include

“frenzies, possessions, mania, melancholy, nerves, delusions, aberrant acts, dramatic tics, passionate loves and hates, sex, visual and auditory hallucinations, fears, phobias, fantasies, disturbances of sleep, dissociations, communion with spirits and imaginary friends, addictions, self-harm, self-starvation, depression”.

Insanity has historically been defined by comparing a subject’s behavior to what is considered “normal” within any social context. Rather than placing the blame for unjust institutionalization on an oppressive patriarchy, the author points out that women were, and are, often complicit in the creation and social enforcement of oppressive social norms. Girls throughout Western civilization are suffering from conditions like anorexia, PTSD, clinical depression and suicidal tendencies in greater numbers than ever before.

In a 2008 interview, Lisa partially attributed the rise in these disorders to the fact that in

“the West, the pursuit of happiness carries its own burden of guilt when you’re not happy, or experiencing dissatisfaction, because you haven’t attained the ideal of happiness. So it has played back on itself, and the pursuit of gladness drives people mad as well.”

Maternal and child health at top of the list

A high degree of maternal and child health is at the top of the list of criteria for achieving happiness. One of the concerns that prompted her to write the book was the fact that

“now we have over 950 pages of very specific diagnoses, which seem to handle every aspect of lived experience, and a lot of them seem to have pharmaceuticals attributed to their potential cure.”

Because of the rising incidences of these disorders, mothers are greatly in need of guidance and support. It may be, however, that they are more apt to find that guidance and support within their own ranks than within the psychiatric community. The book points out the extent to which, when it comes to overall maternal and child health, the psychiatric community has had a tendency to ignore social inequality and poverty as contributing factors to psychological disorders.

Increasingly, rather than the former social norm of competition, mothers are building their own cooperative support systems. Sometimes progress in raising the degree of maternal and child health means moving backwards, to the participation of a whole village in raising a child, rather than forward to the increasingly socially isolated nuclear family.

maternal and child health
Madame Cézanne (Hortense Fiquet, 1850–1922) in the Conservatory (and mother of their child), Paul Cézanne, 1891, Credit Line Bequest of Stephen C. Clark, 1960. I liked the picture and am not suggesting in any way she had mental health issues


educational psychologist

William James, A Far-Sighted Founding Father and Educational Psychologist, on Instincts and Stream of Consciousness

Inventing Psychology

Called the “father of American psychology”, William James was one of the most influential thinkers of the last century. His influence spanned generations through many of his students at Harvard University, where he spent the majority of his academic career.

Feminist Gertrude Stein, author W.E.B Du Bois, philosopher George Santayana and President Theodore Roosevelt were among some of his students who later became equally influential. Educated abroad and fluent in German and French, he was also the godson of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

He taught a variety of subjects including physiology, anatomy, and psychology. Perhaps the first pragmatist, and a founder of functional psychology, he developed the philosophical perspective of radical empiricism. His pragmatism was exemplified by his assertion that true beliefs are those that are most useful to those that believe them.

James’ form of empiricism was based on the reality that entirely objective analysis is not possible because life never stops. Rather, life perpetually provides more data to be incorporated, thereby constantly transforming our belief systems, making learning a never-ending process.

Principles of An Educational Psychologist

His writing, captured in the book “Writings 1902-1910” continue to inform those studying human behavior today. Chapter 24 of his classic book The Principles of Psychology is devoted to his theory of instincts.

“Every instinct is an impulse … sensation-impulses, perception-impulses, and idea-impulses… It is obvious that every act, in an animal with memory, must cease to be ‘blind’ after being once repeated , and must be accompanied with foresight of its ‘end’ just so far as that end may have fallen under the animal’s cognizance.”

For James, human emotion is tempered by prior experience and reason. He also classified emotions such as love and jealousy as instincts. Further, he believed that the following two principles could be applied to all human instincts.

  1. The principle of “the inhibition of instincts by habits”. He gives the following example of this principle at work:

    “when objects of a certain class elicit from an animal a certain sort of reaction, it often happens that the animal becomes partial to the first specimen of the class on which it has reacted, and will not afterward react on any other specimen”.

  2. The principle of “transitoriness” in which they are

    “implanted for the sake of giving rise to habits, and that, this purpose once accomplished, the instincts themselves, as such, have no raison d’être in the psychical economy, and consequently fade away”.

Influences and Opinions

Influenced by Charles Darwin’s theories, the educational psychologist believed that societies mutated over generations through acts of genius that successfully adapted to societal realities or that genius accidentally obtained positions of authority that enabled them to set examples or set behavioral social precedents. These acts might include the destruction of others who would potentially have set different precedents that would lead society in a different direction.

More respectful of genius than brute force, he joined the Anti-Imperialist League in 1898 to oppose U.S. foreign policy in the Philippines. His emphasis on the importance of diversity over duality strongly influenced American culture, and global art and literature as well. Author James Joyce became famous for incorporating “stream of consciousness” into his writing.

James and child development

James’ opinions as a educational psychologist, regarding child development remain relevant today in that James had a great deal of respect for the intellect of children.

“School children can enjoy abstractions, provided they be of the proper order; and it is a poor compliment to their rational appetite to think that anecdotes about little Tommies and little Jennies are the only kind of things their minds can digest.”

He believed that

“the native interests of children lie altogether in the sphere of sensation”

and recommended that children be taught kinesthetically, through objects and movement. According to him, the link between instincts, or emotions, and actions provided the best foundation for instruction.

Many of his theories were ahead of their time, in that many experts and educational psychologists today are in agreement with his opinion that optimum learning consists of doing rather than merely absorbing a rigid pre-determined collection of facts. His views on instincts were important here as well. He believed that teaching should entail helping children develop the power to control their “stream of consciousness”, and learn to sort, classify, observe and make meaningful associations while prioritizing conflicting emotions and information.

Perhaps as a result of rigid gender roles assigned by the division of labor, he believed that women had stronger parental emotions.

“Parental Love is an instinct stronger in woman than in man, at least in the early childhood of its object”.

However, rather than devaluing the role of motherhood, he spoke of a mother’s love as the height of nobility.

“…. the passionate devotion of a mother — in herself, perhaps — to a sick or dying child is perhaps the most simply beautiful moral spectacle that human life affords. Contemning every danger, triumphing over every difficulty, outlasting all fatigue, woman’s love is here invincibly superior to anything that man can show”.

In 1915 or 2015, learning to transform emotions into constructive habits remains one of the most important skills parents can model for their children.

educational psychologist

infant and baby care

Penelope Leach, Champion of Infant and Baby Care and Children’s Rights

“Whatever you are doing, however you are coping, if you listen to your child and to your own feelings, there will be something you can actually do to put things right or make the best of those that are wrong.”

While most people can probably agree with this statement from author Penelope Leach, her work on infant and baby care has been generating controversy for years. In a 1994 article in The Independent, she is referred to as both the “scourge of the guilty middle-class parent” and “Britain’s leading authority on child care”.

The Path to Authority

After graduating with honors from Newnham College in 1959, she earned her PhD in psychology from the London School of Economics in 1964. In addition to having held several prestigious positions in her field, she founded more than one organization herself, including The Association of Infant Mental Health and EPOCH, (End Physical Punishment of Children). Her philosophy regarding infant and baby care during and after divorce became a source of continuing public controversy. Leach, a child of divorce herself, became a passionate champion of infant and baby care and children’s rights, which many believed usurped parental authority.

Despite criticism, her steadfast belief that corporal punishment was detrimental to children’s mental and emotional health and development has since been supported by a number of scientific studies and is widely accepted as fact by nearly all infant and baby care experts today.

One of her primary goals was to reduce the degree of emotional suffering children experience through divorce by stressing the importance of parents recognizing their human rights throughout the process.

Influence on Infant and Baby Care Practices

The 2010 edition of her best-selling book on infant and baby care care, Your Baby and Child, originally published in 1977, is still selling today. In addition to proving it has staying power, it has also been translated into 28 languages, and millions of copies have been sold all over the world. Its popularity resulted in an award-winning cable television series of the same name, which she wrote and hosted.

Her stance has been described as “child-centered feminism“by Robert Manne, in that she recognized and acknowledged the difficulties women face when trying to combine motherhood with a career. However, her opinion that child, infant and baby care provided by family members was superior to that of paid professionals in a day care setting proved to be unpopular with working mothers, many of whom did not have the luxury of making that choice. Many feminists believed that her views hurt the cause of equal rights for women by inducing guilt in working mothers.

Child, Infant and Baby care and …. Fathers

Another area of controversy surrounding her book was the role of fathers in child, infant and baby care. She stressed the importance of the role of the primary care-giver, most often the mother. Her 2014 book, “Family Breakdown” received a great deal of criticism due to her claim that there was “undisputed evidence” that sleepovers with those not the child’s primary caregiver, including divorced fathers, could cause emotional damage in comparisons to regular nuclear families.

It was so controversial that a report disputing it, written by Professors Richard Warshak and Linda Nielsen and endorsed by 110 child care specialists, was published in the journal “Psychology, Public Policy and Law”.

In a recent article in the Guardian in which she is interviewed about “Family Breakdown” and the impact on infant and baby care, she answers critics who believe she doesn’t recognize the equal importance of fathers by saying:

“In the vast majority of cases, it’s the mother who is the primary attachment figure: young babies need a primary caregiver and being separated from that figure can cause them problems. If a father was the primary caregiver, I’d say the baby shouldn’t be staying overnight with the mother. But I believe fathers are just as important to a child’s life as mothers, though the timing is different. They tend to come into their own in the second year, rather than at birth, and children who have a close relationship with their fathers do better through life in every way.”

Current Contributions

Her current research at the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues at the University of London reveals her continued dedication and commitment to replacing opinions with scientific evidence. She recently authored a chapter of the “Handbook of Child Wellbeing” entitled “Infant Rearing in the Context of Contemporary Neuroscience” and continues to serve as a visiting professor at the University of Winchester.

The ever-increasing number of post-divorce parents and their specific concerns for their children’s well-being is just one of the reasons for the continued popularity of her books on child, infant and baby care. Her strong advocacy for children’s rights is another.

Despite her critics, given the most recent divorce statistics and the fact that parents continue to be parents after divorce, her research will continue to be present for a long time to come.

infant and baby care

Stages of Child development

Objects of Affection – The Humanizing Power of Love and Stages of Child development

Introducing the world to the concept of the “good enough” mother really took a lot of pressure off parenting. Pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott delivered over 50 BBC radio broadcasts from 1943 to 1962 on the stages of child development  and parenting.

His work as a pediatrician allowed him to observe children at all stages of child development. He wrote about his observations in great detail because he believed that the most subtle and intricate communications between mother and child often proved to be the most important. For example, emotions can be communicated through the quality of a touch or the tone of a voice even more effectively than through words.

While he viewed the relationship between mother and child to be of the utmost importance in the development of a healthy sense of self, mothers were not expected to be perfect. Rather, he considered it sufficient if a parent provided enough consistency to allow the child to work through conflicting feelings of anger and disappointment over (imperfectly) unmet needs. Successfully working through these feelings, the child would eventually reach the realistic conclusion that while people can be trusted to care for you, they are not able to provide for your every need.

Stages of Child Development —Undifferentiated Unity

During the first of the stages of child development which he called the “undifferentiated unity” he believed that the

“mother’s technique of holding, of bathing, of feeding, added up to the child’s first idea of the mother”.

The child’s first idea of the mother is then expanded to include the rest of the family and the outside world. He was the first to provide a detailed description of the physical process of picking up, holding, and gently putting a baby down, and stress the importance of that process in the healthy development of future relationships, including the relationship with the self.

When a parent responds to a baby’s expressions of feeling and self-motivated actions in a reassuring and welcoming way, the baby develops a healthy emotional confidence. As a result, the child doesn’t learn to view emotions as dangerous, to be controlled or avoided. Experiencing and expressing genuine emotion is one of the first stages of child development towards the creation of a healthy separate identity. It also contributes to a child experiencing its own body as a secure place in which to live.

Such expression contributes to a child’s feeling that they exist and that their actions can affect the world around them in meaningful ways. It also contributes to a child experiencing its own body as a secure place in which to live. For Winnicott, the role of the psychotherapist was that of creating a substitute “holding” environment that the patient may not have experienced as a child.

Separation and Disillusionment

Winnicott referred to the second stage (withing the stages of child development) as the “transition” stage, in which disillusionment takes place. The child recognizes both its own separateness and that the parent also has other duties and relationships. It is during this stage that the “good-enough” parent slowly moves away from the child in order to foster a sense of independence.

According to Winnicott, the role of the parent in this stage is to allow the child to express negative emotions without responding negatively. This encourages the child to trust the parent and learn to adapt to their true emotions. Part of this adaptation is the process of transferring their feelings for the parent onto an object that serves as an emotional substitute.

Unlike Freud, Winnicott believed that all humans have a true self and a false self, and that the false self is developed during the transition stage. The false self seeks to anticipate and comply with the needs and demands of others as a defense and survival mechanism. This self, though false, is viewed not as unhealthy, but as a necessary adaptation to society, since realistically, a high degree of economic inter-dependence makes true independence a rare occurrence.

When a child projects anger and frustration onto the parent, the parents’ response to those emotions determines whether the child will “introject” or accept those emotions as parts themselves or learn to deny them. In the third stage of child development, the “relative independence” stage, the child has a healthy sense of its true self, as well as a false self that it feels comfortable presenting to the world.

Playing and Reality

In one of his most popular books, “Playing and Reality” he explores the origins of creativity and ways to develop it. He asserts that play is crucial to developing an authentic self because play is when people do what they genuinely love. People feel most spontaneously alive and real when they’re participating in activities they’ve freely chosen and are keenly interested in.

Society has changed a great deal since his time, but for parents whose true selves want to provide their children with a safe place to become their true selves, his work remains timeless. While the perfect parent doesn’t exist, it’s a relief to know that playing can help make us good enough.

Stages of Child development
Objects of Affection Donald Winnicott Laura Dethiville, Winnicott Association



permissive parenting styles

How Dr. Benjamin Spock Invented Relaxed Common Sense Permissive Parenting Styles

When I try to think of the ultimate pop culture icon for modern day parenting, the image that instantly comes to my mind is a mother reading a worn-out paperback copy of Baby and Childcare by Dr. Benjamin Spock (probably given to her by her mother!).

Dr Benjamin Spock wrote a bestseller book in 1946, which is still bought today. Spock was the first pediatrician to study psychoanalysis to try to understand children’s needs and family dynamics. His ideas about childcare influenced several generations of parents to be more flexible and affectionate with their children, and to treat them as individuals, which later led to the more permissive parenting styles as we know them today.

Benjamin Spock: “Don’t be afraid to trust your own common sense”

Dr. Spock empowered parents to trust their instincts. Since his first book appeared more than half a century ago, over fifty million copies have been sold, and the book has been translated into forty-two languages. But what is the appeal of Benjamin Spock’s book and should parents still have a copy on their bookshelf? Or have we arrived at a different place than even Benjamin Spock could imagine?

It might seem crazy to us now, but Benjamin Spock grew up in an age where physicians told parents not to kiss their child, and to be careful not to hold your baby in your lap. Spock, in his career as a physician, realized that parents were their own best clinicians and the best parent was the parent who could think through issues on their own. A large part of permissive parenting styles  is to permit the parent to feel and act upon those feelings. This is a lasting legacy.

Dr. Benjamin Spock was born in 1903 in New Haven, Connecticut. He graduated from Yale (where he majored in English and History only gravitating to Medicine later on). He quickly became interested as a young doctor in bring together humanitarian ideals to parenting. He was also not afraid to speak his mind. Ideas on pediatrics often co-mingled with politics such as Benjamin Spock’s condemnation of Vietnam War when he said

“There’s no point in raising children if they’re going to be burned alive.”

He was not afraid of speaking out against oppression and was arrested at many demonstrations. In fact, Benjamin Spock was arrested in 1968 for allegedly conspiring to counsel young people to avoid the draft, but those charges were dropped in 1969 after a reversal from the United States Court of Appeal. Spock could have faced two years in jail and a fine of $5,000. Spock was not afraid to buck authority, and he filtered the theories of Sigmund Freud and John Dewey into tidbits that parents could use practically apply.

Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Critics and the Legacy of Baby and Childcare

When it comes to finding out tips from everything to bed wetting to when to start feeding a baby solid food, most parents have probably heard of Dr. Benjamin Spock even though 21st century moms and dads are also pretty adept at searching out tips on the Internet. If Dr. Spock was starting his career today he probably would have become famous by writing a blog rather than a book. Even so, people still think of parenting books as a sine qua non of a parents’ essential toolkit. And indeed, he pioneered the practical guide to parenting and more specifically permissive parenting styles and helped usher in an entirely new perspective on what it means to raise a child from birth to young adulthood.

Critics of Benjamin Spock and Permissive Parenting Styles

Since he died in 1998, Simon & Schuster has continued to keep his ideas in publication and in 2013 the 65th anniversary edition of Spock’s book was published. It’s the 9th edition of the book. Although not everyone has had the nicest things to say about Dr. Benjamin Spock. Norman Vincent Peale thought that Spock had raised a generation or two of permissive children. He said that maybe Dr. Spock had raised too many peace-niks and watered down Dr. Spock’s advice to:

“Feed ’em whenever they want, never let them cry, satisfy their every desire.”

He also had critics from feminist activist like Gloria Steinem who said that Spock was just as guilty for repression of women’s voices as the old vanguard of psychological science and he was remonstrated for the sexist language included in the first edition. But today’s readers will find references not only to “he” and the text no longer assumes certain pernicious gender stereotypes.

The ins and outs of parenthood have certainly been transformed since Dr. Spock admonished parents in 1946 to use their common sense, and it is this kernel of wisdom that makes him still relevant today and the reason his book is still in print.  We owe permissive parenting styles and methods to dr Spock. A new team of writers have taken the helm to keep the heart of Spock’s gentle pediatric advice alive. While certainly we have come a long way since Dr. Benjamin Spock’s relaxed words of wisdom, I realize I probably wouldn’t be writing this article if it weren’t for the way he first advocated for mothers more at a time when parents desired to be heard.

Here is more on permissive parenting.

permissive parenting styles
Benjamin Spock
Child Psychologist

Child Psychologist John Bowlby Presents: The Guilt Factor

Child psychologist John Bowlby

Bowlby is known primarily for his theories on bonding and attachment. For all working mothers consumed by guilt for leaving their children in the care of others, you now have a name to attach to that guilt. Child psychiatrists often hold differing opinions on children’s emotional development, which can be confusing for parents who want to raise their children in the way that will be most beneficial to them.

Learning about the differing views of a child psychologist can be helpful, if only to discover the few things upon which they can all agree.

The Development of Attachment Theory

To arrive at a universal truth regarding human development and behavior, Bowlby felt it was necessary to utilize several fields of scientific inquiry rather than rely on existing theories of psychoanalysis alone. Psychoanalysis focused on what it regarded as the resolution of childhood fantasies, which Bowlby regarded as real life experiences. His research methods included evolutionary biology, developmental psychology, cognitive science, control systems theory and ethology. Bowlby’s interest in ethology, the study of human behavior and social organization from a biological perspective, led to the development of evolutionary psychology.

As a child psychologist, Bowlby’s theory rests on the concept of monotropy, or attachment to a single individual, which he believed served as a prototype for all future interpersonal interactions. This prototype provides a model for trustworthiness, a sense of personal value and effectiveness in achieving mutually satisfying interactions. He called the lack of such a consistent attachment “maternal deprivation” which he believed could lead to cognitive, social, and emotional difficulties, and in extreme cases, affectionless psychopathy.

To test his theory, in 1944, he conducted a study in which he interviewed 44 adolescents remanded to a juvenile detention facility for stealing. His control group consisted of 44 other youths referred for emotional problems, but who had not yet committed any crimes. The study found that

  • over half of the first group had experienced a separation from their mothers of over six months before the age of 5,
  • 32% of them displayed affectionless psychopathy
  • only 2 percent of the control group had experienced such a separation and none displayed affectionless psychopathy

The study, however, relied primarily on the memories of those interviewed and did not take a number of other variables, such as into account, such as income, education, diet, and other social influences.

Zoologist Robert Hinde conducted several experiments with rhesus monkeys in which he studied their emotional and behavioural reactions to separation from their mothers, as well as their interactions with other monkeys.

In 1959, Harry Harlow, inspired by Bowlby’s attachment theory, conducted an experiment in which a group of rhesus monkeys were bottle-fed by surrogate mothers made of wire mesh covered with terrycloth. These monkeys, in contrast with monkeys that experienced meaningful interaction with their biological mothers during feeding, demonstrated aggressive, antisocial behaviors in adulthood. The results of these studies supported Bowlby’s hypothesis that

“the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.”

Critics of Attachment Theory—Nature Versus Nurture

Psychology researcher J.R. Harris, in her book “The Nurture Assumption”, asserts that genetics and peer interaction play a much larger role in a child’s emotional development than child psychologist Bowlby’s theory took into consideration. Using studies of twins who had been separated at birth, yet displayed remarkably similar characteristics of personality despite differences in environment, Harris demonstrated the importance of genetic predisposition as a factor in human development.

Tiffany Field, medical researcher and child psychologist, believes that Bowlby’s theory relied too heavily on behavior exhibited during stressful separation rather than on the quality of daily interactions. Like Harris, she also felt that his theory did not take into account the human ability to form multiple attachments over the course of a lifetime.

Social Context of Attachment Theory

When judging the merits of any theory regarding human development, it is important to consider the social context in which the theory gains wide acceptance. It is interesting to note that at the time that Bowlby’s theory gained wide acceptance, women were being discouraged from working in order to increase the number of jobs available for British soldiers returning home from war.

Any child psychologist agrees that it’s important for children to be able to successfully bond with others. However, human children, unlike the monkeys in the experiment, are not faced with the choice between their mothers or a lifeless wire mesh surrogate holding a bottle. Meaningful positive interaction in the form of eye contact, smiling, and physical affection can result in the child bonding with a variety of people, including fathers, grandparents, siblings, or even neighbours.

Mothers who must return to work almost immediately after giving birth rely on family, friends, or day-care providers to care for their babies. While Bowlby’s research focused on the potential harmful effects of separation, other research indicates that the more people a child feels safe and comfortable with, the less separation anxiety they will experience. Many children even develop emotional ties to a blanket or teddy bear which serves as a physical link between them and their emotional “homes”.

While there is still some disagreement about whether the modern nuclear family is the result of the industrial revolution, most people agree that it can isolate people from other family and relationships. This can result in more pressure placed on each family member, especially mothers. Isolation can also result in children learning fewer negotiation and conflict resolution skills, which are so necessary to successfully navigate within society as a whole.

Any child psychologist would agree that it is the pleasurable quality of interaction that is most conducive to children forming meaningful attachments. So rather than feeling guilty for those times when you’re too overwhelmed to radiate happiness during those interactions, view them as opportunities for your child to further develop other valuable emotional attachments.

Here you you will find more about attachment and bonding, and here are some extra sources:

Child Psychologist
Maternal Caress, Mary Cassatt, 1890–91, Credit Line Gift of Paul J. Sachs, 1916. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Baby Care Guide

Martha Sears, Co-creator of Baby Care Guide and Controversy

Martha Sears is an American Registered Nurse, an author, a wife, and most importantly, a mother of eight. When you google her name, it’s like being transported back to the 1950’s, where she (only) appears as the wife and co-author of Dr. William Sears. But we all know who does the majority of the actual work in hospitals, and most often it’s not who claims the most credit or gets paid the most.

However, the Sears’ co-authored books, or baby care guide and do a good job in leaving the one-size-fits-all authoritarian parenting methods of the 1950’s behind. Although she is the co-author of 25 books, Martha Sears often refers to herself as a “professional mother”.

Creating Controversy

The couple are perhaps most well-known for coining the phrase “attachment parenting” with their 2001 book The Attachment Parenting Book: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby. According to this baby care guide , the six B’s of parenting are bonding, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, bedding, belief in the communicative value of baby’s cry, and learning to beware “baby trainers”.

While their books and baby care guide (s) have become more secular in nature over the years, their 1997 book focused on parenting within the framework of the principles of Christianity. Because their methods focus more on respecting children than demanding respect from them, “The Discipline Book” stirred quite a lot of controversy, religious as well as philosophical.

In addition to coming under fire on religious grounds that their methods spared the proverbial rod, feminists have also taken issue with their methods. Feminist writer Erica Jong compared the Sears to

“condescending colonialists in love with noble savagery”,

and others have also voiced objections. Their claim is that because of the emphasis on breastfeeding until the child itself decides to stop, rather than being weaned by the mother, the majority of parental responsibility is assigned to women. Some have also questioned whether children raised according to this philosophy will be emotionally prepared to make autonomous decisions as adults.

A 2012 Time magazine cover of a picture of a mother breastfeeding a toddler fueled the controversy, as well as winning some converts.

Baby Care Guide and Methods

In the Sears’ method and baby care guide, belief in the communicative value of your baby’s cry is essential. Using the information communicated by their babies, parents then develop and maintain an individualized transition ritual which serves as the key to successful baby sleep training. Here’s a short video that encapsulates their view as well as offering a few suggestions. The controversial aspect of their baby care guide  and advice on sleep training is the suggestion that babies sleeping with their parents, or “co-sleeping” creates a sense of security and should be encouraged rather than forbidden.

One of the things that parents love most about their books is that no program is either proscribed or prescribed, but rather, parents are urged to develop their own routines based on their own family’s personalities and preferences. According to an article in the Guardian, Michelle Mattesini, a mother of two, set up the Attachment Parenting UK website and runs an AP support group. She says that

“We have single and married mothers. Our youngest member is 21 and we have women in their 40s. There are people who are unable to breastfeed or find co-sleeping doesn’t work for them.”

In answer to feminist objections, numerous studies have proven the benefits of breast milk over formula as well as the emotional and psychological benefits of physical closeness during the bonding process. However, that breast milk can be pumped and put into bottles so that fathers can play a more equal role in parental responsibilities. Fathers too, can carry babies in slings to the office and learn to “multi-task”.

Here is an article about parenting in the fifties.

Baby Care Guide

child psychotherapist

Childhood Disorders: How We Benefit Today from the Work of the Psychotherapist Emil Kraepelin

The phrase “motherhood” can evoke a wide range of mental images, many of which the popular media promote on a daily basis. Frequently, the images present completely opposite representations. One presents the ideal of motherhood that is unfailingly responsive to the child. The other presents a more negative picture that views the current trends towards single motherhood as a bastion of irresponsibility. The perfect, selfless mother lives up to pure love, while the other succumbs to her own selfish desires.

Both ends of the spectrum fail to present a balanced view, and in fact, leave out mothers who face rearing children with psychiatric disorders. With the expertise of a competent child psychotherapist, mothers in this situation can gain the knowledge and wisdom to address these issues, especially in light of the advances in modern psychiatry launched by Emil Kraepelin.

Innovative and Revolutionary Theories

Emil Kraepelin is commonly lauded as the founder of modern psychiatry, and a modern child psychotherapist can thank Kraepelin for his revolutionary work. Born in 1856 in Germany, he was the first doctor to offer theories that genetic mutations and biological abnormalities caused many psychiatric conditions. His contributions included a classification system of mental disorders that grouped the conditions based upon common, verifiable patterns of symptoms. Dr. Kraepelin also established that mental disorders demonstrated specific patterns in course, genetics and outcomes.

He published his innovative textbook, Lehrbuch der Psychiatrie, in 1883, and this study emphasized the significance of brain pathology in psychiatric disorders as well as his considerable observations in support of this theory.

The most critical contribution was his system of classification of psychiatric disorders, and this method later became the precursor to the DSM manuals. Kraepelin asserted the hypothesis that specific patterns of symptoms occurring on a regular basis must be classified apart from other disorders.

Later, he clarified and described these patterns, thus establishing the prototype of our current standards. Integrating all of the clinical data to produce this classification system was a large undertaking that represented a crucial contribution to modern psychopathology.

Dr. Kraepelin viewed each mental disorder as separate and distinct from others and proposed that the course of each could be predicted and predetermined just as any organic, medical disease. This revolutionary theory led to a profound interest in the precise description and classification of psychiatric disorders. One result today, in cases of childhood disorders, is that a child psychotherapist can envisage the ultimate conclusion and use appropriate treatments.

The education of the child psychotherapist

Dr. Kraepelin studied medicine in Leipzig and at the University of Wurzburg. Subsequent to earning his MD, Dr. Kraepelin practiced at the University of Munich with Bernhard von Gudden. He returned to Leipzig in 1882 and worked in the psychological research lab of Wilhelm Wundt. From 1885 to 1891, he worked at Dorpat, and later became a professor for the University of Heidelberg. In 1903, he founded the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Munich, and in 1917 he founded the German Research Institute of Psychiatry.

While at the University of Dorpat, he studied the clinical histories of specific patients and realized that identifying and delineating the patterns of symptoms created his organized method to categorize psychiatric disorders. This produced a clinical view of mental disorders, which challenged the traditional methods of symptomatic diagnoses. Prior to this new way of thinking, doctors had assumed that similar symptoms could come from a single illness.

Contribution to Psychology

Kraepelin’s most important achievements were the identification and classification of two separate psychiatric disorders. Kraepelin identified dementia praecox, later called schizophrenia, and manic depression as separate forms of psychosis. He presented ideas that manic depression was periodic, with specific episodes, whereas schizophrenia could result in permanent cognitive malfunction. His assertions focused on the pattern of symptoms rather than the similarity of them.

In contemporary society, very few people outside of the disciplines of psychiatry and psychology have heard of Kraepelin and understand the significance of his work. His work is used as the foundation of every diagnostic measurement used in these fields, including the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Personal and Societal Influences

Dr. Kraepelin excelled in empirical research and preferred experiment psychological approaches, and he did not follow or support psycho-analysis. In today’s society, he would be viewed as data-driven, and he taught his students to simply describe observable symptoms rather than try to interpret them.

He wrote that his 5th edition of Psychiatrie, was

“a decisive step from a symptomatic to a clinical view of insanity….The importance of external clinical signs has…been subordinated to consideration of the conditions of origin, the course, and the terminus which result from individual disorders. (…).”

Nonetheless, the era in which he worked, as a contemporary to Freud, influenced his work. In the same edition of Psychiatrie, he wrote about “the conditions of origin”, and regarding dementia praecox, he wrote that it was

“a disease process in the brain, involving the cortical neurones, brought about by an autointoxication … as a result of a disorder of metabolism.”(Kraepelin, 1907: 221–2; 1919: 244).

Moreover, regarding hysteria, Kraepelin wrote about “morbid” constitution, and “defective heredity.” In addition, he examined the possibility of uterine disturbances and the role of feminine sexual organs.

As modern society began to embrace feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, many of these views faced renewed analysis and criticism. Thus, even the greatest child psychotherapist could not escape influencing the definitions and societal views on womanhood and motherhood.

How a Child Psychotherapist Benefits from Kraepelin’s Work

What this means for mothers today is a systematic, objective approach used by a child psychotherapist to diagnose and treat children with disorders. Moreover, clearly classifying symptoms may lead a child psychotherapist to refer a child to a medical doctor when symptoms appear to overlap or present as a biological illness.

For mothers, this means they can get the help their child needs without the stigma that mental illness once sustained. This in turn, means that our contemporary reality of motherhood can be far more balanced between the extremes of perfection and imperfection.

child psychotherapist
Emil Kraepelin Wikimedia Commons CC2.0
parenting style

Schreber’s Parenting Style Was About Unconditional Obedience and Harsh Discipline

“You will be master of the child forever. From then on, a glance, a word, a single threatening gesture will be sufficient to control the child,”

said Dr. Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber, about mastering the crying baby through frightening it.

Parenting style

Schreber was not a madman who took pleasure in torturing babies. He was a world famous German pedagogue and child psychiatrist wrote many childcare books promoting his parenting style between 1850 and 1860. He was a physician, later a university teacher at the University of Leipzig and director of the Leipzig‘s sanatorium and was seen as a child psychiatrist. He was read widely in France, England, and America and his parenting style was very famous. He really became a rare authority on childcare in Germany which went through forty reprints of his books from 1858 till 1950’s. His success in giving advice on parenting style was unmatched for several decades, and it still has some ripple effect today.

The manuals on education and his parenting style explained in a step-by-step method how to create obedient children from day one, through a systematic approach close to torture. The method had to be applied with the newborn baby who should be drilled from the very first day to obey and refrain from crying.

Stroking, cuddling and kissing were forbidden and entire generations of Germans went without direct, loving contact with their parents. Today’s extensive research into attachment theory makes clear the damage done by such parenting style.

Unconditional obedience through harsh discipline

His own words, from his book Education towards Beauty by Natural and Balanced Furtherance of Normal Body Growth written in 1858 are the best ticket into his mind:

“Joined to the feeling of law, a feeling of impossibility of struggling against the law; a child’s obedience, the basic condition for all further education, is thus solidly founded for the time to come… The most generally necessary condition for moral will power and character is the unconditional obedience of the child.” (p. 135)

When the child psychiatrist talked about his parenting style and more particularly the caring for infants under five he uses words like law, control and will power. He was all about harsh discipline and for babies that would start with cold baths and constant discomfort.

“The noble seeds of human nature sprout upwards in their purity almost on their own if the ignoble ones, the weeds, are sought out and destroyed in time. This must be done ruthlessly and vigorously. It is a dangerous error to believe that flaws in a child’s character will disappear by themselves. (…) A child’s misbehaviour will become in the adult a serious fault in character and opens the way to vice and baseness.” (p. 140)

A child could not be the responsibility of a women

There were still many Schreberian children, as they were called, around by the 1920’s when Nazism came around. He was one of the many reasons why fascism was easier in Germany than in other countries. The time for sense and sensibility personified by women was over. In his totalitarian attitude and parenting style one could easily detect sexism.

“To form a protective wall against the unhealthy predominance of the emotional side against that feeble sensitiveness – the disease of our age, which must be recognized as the usual reason for the increasing frequency of depression, mental illness, and suicide.” (p. 281)

The father would be the absolute ruler, an open door to homemade and familiar despotism.

“No wife with common sense and good will want to oppose his decisive voice.”

A child could not be the responsibility of a women:

“If one wants a planned upbringing based on principles to flourish, the father above anyone else must hold the reins of upbringing in his hands…. The main responsibility for the whole result of upbringing always belongs to the father…” (p.32)

Schreber was a self-declared child psychiatrist  but above all a fine business man and along with his books and parenting style came a series of merchandise goodies. One could choose belts to tie children tightly in bed or a head holder with chin clamp to hold a head straight or straight holder to sit up in a chair or shoulder bands to keep the shoulders nicely back. Or you could buy the lot. Schreber opened gymnastics all over Germany and members had Schreber magazines to be kept up to date. That must have given him even a greater authority to speak so confidently on mothering and parenting style.

He was extremely successful and the approval of Freud of the appropriately called Schreber system from this child psychiatrist might have helped also. The fact that his two sons got insane and that one got therapy by Freud himself did not impress people much because by 1958 there were still two million people member of the Schreber association.

parenting style
The Daughters of Catulle Mendès, Auguste Renoir, 1888, Credit Line The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection 1998