Only part of the solution

Terry Birchmore reviews 'Mind Kind – Your Child's Mental Health' by Joanna North.

This book is written for parents who may be experiencing difficulties in relation to parenting their children. There has been an explosion of 'self-help' books in the past few decades, perhaps particularly those focused on parenting. Common themes in most of them, including Mind Kind, are a focus on strategies to avoid conflict, decreasing negative interactions between parent and child and increasing positive interactions, and increasing the mentalization abilities of parents in order to help them to recognise the origins and causes of emotions in themselves and their children. Based on this understanding, we hope to help children to regulate their emotions successfully.

This book contains chapters devoted to behaviour management; helping children through difficult times; and developing what the author calls a 'Mind Kind' approach to emotional health problems such as stress, anxiety, eating disorders and depression. There are also chapters with a focus on family break-ups, divorce and step-parenting. There is an underpinning of attachment theory and early chapters focus on how children come to experience an internal sense of security and safety through parents understanding and managing emotion and associated behaviours.

There is a clear link with the literature on mentalization (Bateman & Fonagy, 2006) which shows that a caregiver's mentalizing capacities are critical and that the parent-child relationship lays the groundwork for the child's capacity to fully experience, regulate, and organize a wide range of affect and other mental states (Fearon et al., 2006). Data from a number of studies demonstrate that parental ability to make sense of their own and their child’s mental states plays a crucial role in helping the child develop flexible and adaptive methods of self-regulation and to establish productive and sustaining relationships (Fonagy, et al. 2002). Thus a parent’s capacity to tolerate, think about, and regulate their own affects will allow them to tolerate and regulate the emotions of their child (Meins, et al. 2001, Meins, et al. 2002) which will, in turn, help the child to regulate and control behaviour.

The above literature clearly supports the main thesis of this book that it is important for parents to relate to the internal worlds of their children, to understand and relate to the reasons for emotions and behaviour in their children and to contain these feelings and behaviours. Yet, as with so may of these self help books, I’m sceptical about their ability to help or advise other than those with mild to moderate problems and in that case this book will probably help in some way, or at least reinforce previous ideas and behaviours. However, where there is significant economic distress, severe emotional, personality, relationship and family difficulties, abuse, neglect, multiple event traumas, etc. and where the ability to mentalize may be modest parents will be unlikely to be helped in any significant way by reading any literature. Additionally, this is a book that is clearly written with a middle class voice and, like many other such publications, it may be experienced by potential readers from different backgrounds as a “telling off” of a “talking down to”, and may therefore be rejected. 

A solution would be for this type of self help book to be used in the context of a personal relationship with a therapist who is able to strike up a relationship with parents and to engage them in a therapeutic relationship. Even better would be participation in a parenting group in which participants could share experiences, histories, failings, and solutions with others in a safe learning environment.

Mind Kind - Your Child's Mental Health, by Joanna North, is published by Exisle Publishing (2019). ISBN1925335941 (ISBN13: 9781925335941).

- See also our interview with Joanna North.

References 

Bateman, A. & Fonagy, P. (2006) Mechanisms of change in Mentalization Based Therapy of borderline personality disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62, 411-430. 

Fearon, P., Target, M., Sargent, J. Williams, L. L., McGregor, J., Bleiberg, E., & Fonagy, P. (2006). Short-term mentalization and relational therapy (SMART): An integrative family for children and adolescents. In J. Allen et al. (Eds.), Handbook of mentalization-based treatment. Chichester, UK: Wiley. 

Fonagy, P. (1999). “Attachment, the development of the self and its pathology in personality disorders” in Derkson, J. et al (eds). Treatment of Personality Disorders. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic. 

Fonagy, P. et al. (2002). Affect Regulation, Mentalization, and the Development of the Self. Other Books.

Meins, E. et al. (2001). Rethinking Maternal Sensitivity: Mothers' Comments on Infants' Mental Processes Predict Security of Attachment at 12 Months. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42(5), pp. 637-648.

Meins, E. et al. (2002). Maternal mind-mindedness and attachment security as predictors of theory of mind understanding. Child Development, 73, 1715–1726.

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