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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 25, Issue 4

Readers Respond to "How to Raise a Happy Child"

Letters to the editor from the March/April 2014 issue of Scientific American MIND


March/April 2014


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EASING KIDS' STRESS
Kudos for the special report on “How to Raise a Happy Child.” Authors Jerry Bubrick, Ingrid Wickelgren and Emily Laber-Warren do an excellent job of explaining the intrapersonal and interpersonal dynamics between parents and children with fragile emotions and challenging behaviors. I plan to use these articles to jump-start discussions among school psychologists in various programs for which I consult.

As a pediatric clinical neuropsychologist who has written about the impact of stress on learning (in particular, for kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and learning disorders), I believe that most, if not all, of the behaviors addressed in the programs described are caused by the predictable reaction of a child who is under stress.

When kids are feeling out of control (which is true in all the cases presented in your articles), their behaviors are, at the most basic level, protective reactions to the stress generated by not knowing how to react or respond in a positive way that quells their fears. When the primitive fear centers of the brain are on high alert, the prefrontal cortex (essential for self-control) virtually shuts down in the service of survival. From a neurobiological point of view, a cycle of fear, avoidance, stress and escape is neutralized by all the programs reviewed here because these programs focus on consistency, calmness, competence, positive feedback and success—things that are sorely lacking in the lives of little kids who live in the shadow of fear and the clamor of chaos.

Jerome Schultz
Department of Psychiatry
Harvard Medical School

I very much appreciated the article “Concentrate,” by Laber-Warren. I am wondering if the positive effects from the studies cited aren't in part the result of involving the parents in working directly with their children. Good preschools already do many things that should help kids with attention, working memory and the ability to switch gears. The missing piece may be to get parents on the same page.

I also wonder whether old-fashioned advice is also effective for helping with concentration—such as asking parents to read to their children and (when possible) having a dinner hour where family members sit down together and interact. I would be interested in a control group that encouraged simple interactions between parents and children and suggested a reduction in media exposure. Lots of outdoor play may also be helpful. These things are difficult to achieve, I know, but they might get at the root of the problem.

Emily Silliman
via e-mail

UNIQUE AMONG THE UNIQUE
I was quite surprised by the results of the survey reported in “Uniquely You,” by Hans-Peter Erb and Susanne Gebert. Although I am now much older, even as a college student I had a great need for uniqueness, but I am not extroverted or sociable. I am indeed optimistic about life, but I am only moderately open to new experiences, and I score high on neuroticism. Either the survey's sample population was too small and limited, or I am indeed as unique as I have always aspired to be.

Naomi Goldblum
via e-mail

MENTALLY ILL CRIMINALS
Great article by Robert Byron: “Criminals Need Mental Health Care.” Those of us who are sane and unimprisoned can be grateful for our genetics and upbringing. We can also contribute to the prevention of the great injustice Byron describes. Supporting families at risk so that children do not develop these disorders would be significantly cheaper than the $500,000 per annum to treat the mentally ill or even the $33,000 to keep them in jail. It's an economic and moral imperative.

Carol Braunack
Graceville, Australia

Thanks for Byron's excellent article about the cruelty and ineffectiveness of imprisoning mentally ill people. I only wish the media would stress this issue more.

Nancy Lingo
via e-mail

As a teacher of elementary school students with autism and other behavioral disorders, I applaud Byron's article. I see students before they develop full-blown conduct disorders. The sad fact is there are no resources for these kids. I can assess them, psychologists can diagnose them, parents can beg for help, but to no avail. Students with mental illness don't have a “place” anymore! In Washington State there is a 16-month-long waiting list for one hospital. A student identified as dangerous and possibly bipolar was turned away from a so-called crisis response center. It's disgusting and shameful.

Would the cost of psychiatric treatment for adults in prisons (after a crime) be lessened considerably simply by early identification and available treatment for young people with mental illnesses? Of course, it would—and the point might even be moot because many of those adults would never see prison as a result of not offending. Remember, the “cost” we pay for criminals and crimes, especially the violent ones, is more than financial—it's literally life and death.

Name withheld
West Richland, Wash.

NAMED AND TAMED
Trypophobia—now I know. The nausea I get from certain images has a name, and even more astonishing, other people experience it, too. This article by William Skaggs, “Fear of Holes” [Head Lines], is the first I've heard of it. It's liberating to understand that this reaction is neurological and that there's a scientific explanation.

“mpuckette”
commenting at
Mind.ScientificAmerican.com

REGARDING BIAS
Oh, how I love this magazine for its informative, scientific articles! But never did I think I would be as amused or saddened as I was by the two readers who wrote in about the front cover of the “Seven Deadly Sins” issue. I think it is interesting that both readers would have preferred to have seen a “white male devil” or a “young white man” on the cover rather than a dark-skinned female. While they emotionally try to point the finger at the publishers for not making “more enlightened artwork selections,” it appears to me that they are, in fact, the ones who harbor unconscious bias or, dare I say, racism. To suggest that using a picture of a white man would have been better plunges their logic into the dark abyss.

I am biracial. I thought the cover model was beautiful and was immediately intrigued by the perfect genetic combination from different ethnic backgrounds that created such beautiful bone structure and flawless skin. Her beauty may well have brought out a slight envy in me, which is one of the seven deadly sins. How clever you are, Scientific American Mind! The thought makes me chuckle at myself.

I think the unconscious bias those two readers displayed is a sad thing. If I ever begin to connect all things to skin color, I will be a sad thing myself on that day.

Beth Ferguson
via e-mail

ERRATUM
In “Science as Faith” [Head Lines], by Tori Rodriguez, the study by Miguel Farias and his colleagues is incorrectly cited as from the Journal of Experimental Psychology. The study appeared in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in November 2013.

This article was originally published with the title "March/April 2014 Issue."

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