Re: Occupy the Classroom


As the occupy movement occupying the historic scene of present U.S., I start to inquire as a global citizen “what can be done to promote equity? and what Early Childhood Educators and Mental Health Professionals can do to contribute to this cause?”

There are a couple of attributes can help one to be a qualified global citizen and as a relatively healthy and happy person in our time– grounded in one’s being, able to identify resources to support one’s growth and transformation, able to integrate difference and resolve conflicts, able to regulate one’s affect and tolerate challenging feelings.

YES, we become more and more demanding of our children. Besides being academically successful and have some specialty in art or music, parents start to pay attention to social/emotional skills in educating their children. What is the point of bring up children who can make a fortunate but rely on substance stimulation or cannot connect with another being? Don’t we want our children to be happy and healthy first, then successful in whatever they are doing?

The trend in today’s Early Childhood Education facilities is — bilingual, multi-cultural, social/emotional skills, and multiple ways of learning. And unfortunately, it takes a fortune to send kids to school like this. A Mandarin Immersion preschool in San Francisco charges over $ 8000 for a child for one semester. How many parents can afford that? Parents sending their children to Head Start probably had never thought about their children may learn another language and become someone who can communicate and do business with Chinese. They are more worried about if their children can keep up with school and not get into gangs when they grow up.

Here is the inequity and diversion– early childhood education and mental health.

And that is why we need more non-profit organizations or government funded early childhood mental health programs to shrink this gap. Fu Yau project, funded by SFDPH and RAMS, is reaching out to Asian Immigrant community. And we need more program like that to reach out to various low-income under-served population.


On Validation and Boundary setting


I recently read this article online, called “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy”.

To be honest, I did not understand the conclusion of that article after reading it.  but I do find the examples the author cited quite interesting and relevant to early childhood mental health.

In one example, the author stated the parent did too much validation and not enough boundary setting when interacting with her preschooler.  The parent took time to negotiate with the preschooler whether they should have ice cream on the way home even though it was not ice cream Friday.  The result is the parent was persuaded by the child that they would have ice cream that day but not the next day.  The conclusion of this story in the article is that parents are pushovers nowadays, they are too soft to their children and have a hard time saying no from their young children’s demands.

I disagree with the author’s conclusion, and do not want to comment whether this parent was right or wrong in submitting to his or her preschooler’s demands.  Who am I to judge his or her parenting.  The fact is that there are so many ways of parenting.  If you Wikipedia “parenting styles,” there are two major styles and various minor styles.  Authoritarian and authoritative are the two main parenting styles that we are familiar with.  Both of them demand compliance from children.  The difference is authoritarian parents are not responsive to children’s emotional needs but the authoritative ones are quite responsive and attuned.  Different culture and class may tend to adopt various parenting styles.  According to my knowledge, Chinese parents, even Chinese American parents are traditionally authoritarian, which means they do not listen to children’s feelings much.  Nowadays, according to my observation, in the Bay Area, young parents, especially those well educated, financially secured ones are more sensitive to their children’s emotional needs and opinions.  They listen to children more, validate their opinions and feelings more and relatively more flexible when it comes to rule setting.

What are the benefits of validating your children?

If you are familiar with Kohut, or Self-Psychology, or Narcissistic injury, then this may be quite obvious.  In case you are not.  Let me explain this.  In Heinz Kohut’s book The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Analysis of the Treatment of the Narcissistic Personality Disorders, he extended Freud’s theory of narcissism and coined the concept of ‘selfobject transference’.  His idea is that young children do not have the skills to handle their feelings yet and they rely on a caregiver to assume this function for them.  The process of the caregiver to be used as  the extended self of the child is called selfobject transference.  Thurs in this narcissistic developmental stage, young children need to be mirrored and they also need to learn how to soothe themselves when they are overly aroused.  When the caregivers mirror children’s feelings and emotions and model how to appease these arousal, the children understand it as coming from themselves instead of from the idealized competent figures- caregivers.  If these developmental needs are not met, there is a high chance that they will have difficulties in handling feelings in the future.  This challenge can result in substance abuse, eating disorders, and other personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder that are unconsciously developed to defend against painful feelings.

When adopting this self psychology theory in early childhood education, as caregivers and mental health provider, we want to validate young children’s thinking process and emotional states as much as possible.  Validation and mirroring helps to build secure attachment bond between young children and caregivers.  When the child is securely attached to the caregiver and has learned some self-soothing techniques, like thumb sucking, cuddling with a toy bear, some insignificant failure in attunement and validation can help them to build tolerance to uncomfortable feelings and sensations.  Thus, young children learn from experiences when caregivers’ validate their feelings, modeling affect regulation techniques.  Through this repeated process, young children gain a sense of empowerment and master the skills to deal with difficult feelings and uncomfortable experiences on their own.

Validation is not in conflict with limit/boundary setting.  Let’s use the example earlier.  The ice cream case.  The parent listens to the child’s reasoning on whether they should have ice cream that day or not, and lets the child knows if he or she is convinced.  This process is validation itself.  The message it sends to the child is “what you think matters, even though it does not change my decision”.  If the parent decides not to have ice cream and the child is upset.  There is a greater chance to validate the child’s feelings and letting him or her know that they are healthy and normal.  What is most important is that feelings come and go and they do not change the result of their discussion.  If the parent decides to get ice cream based on the child’s tantrum, then the boundary is broken and it will be hard to keep the line in the future, since the child may think by acting out emotions he or she can have his or her way.  See the trick is to “validate children’s thoughts and feelings, but know where your line is and hold it.”  Especially for young children, they need to know what they think and feel matters to you, but they also need to know that you make the final decision so they can trust you and feel safe.

Starting fresh- Why Early Childhood Mental Health?


Some mental health professionals claim that young children are not fit to be clients in psychotherapy.  They reason that human brain is not fully grown till one becomes 18 year old.  They also believe that whatever issue arises in young children can be addressed through their parents.  Is that so?

Well, this argument seems reasonable but its flaws are revealed under scrutiny.  Dartmouth researchers have found that the human brain does not stop maturing at the age of 18.  If one finds that the client’s prefrontal cortex, the logical reasoning part of the brain, is not sophisticated enough for a talk therapy session, then shall we require a brain scan before admit any new client?

And if we rely fully on parents’ influence on the psychological and emotional development of young children, we probably have too much faith on the mental health status of the parents.  One out of four Americans has some form of mental health problem according to the statics in 2005.  And I assume almost every American has at least one young child involved in their lives.  So we do need professional support for parents who are raising young children when it comes to the little one’s emotional well being.

Then who can help?  Early Childhood Educators?  Some of them, yes.  Early Childhood Mental Health Professionals?  With qualification, yes.  In my opinion, the qualified professionals should have training in psychology (clinical or counseling) specializing in child therapy and family therapy, trainings in early childhood education, and experiences working with young children individually and in groups.

Why so complicated?  Cannot early childhood educators suffice?

No.  According to my life experience.  Many early childhood educators lack awareness of their own emotional state.  Under their care, young children sometimes become the object of the educator’s unconscious projection, and their unstable emotional state set a poor example for children handling their own moods.  In these cases, how can \young children learn age appropriate social emotional skills?

Therefore, early childhood educators need to have ongoing psychoeducation.  We cannot expect them all go through graduate school and individual psychotherapy.   But at least some form of self-reflective skill building and self-care capacities to are needed for our burnt out preschool teachers.

So young children may suffer from inapproprate supervision and guidance when parents and teachers are incapable of providing appropriate psychotherapeutic support  Next time, I will chat about how young children may benefit from psychotherapy and the forms of therapy.

Hello world!


Welcome to After you read this, you should delete and write your own post, with a new title above. Or hit Add New on the left (of the admin dashboard) to start a fresh post.

Here are some suggestions for your first post.

  1. You can find new ideas for what to blog about by reading the Daily Post.
  2. Add PressThis to your browser. It creates a new blog post for you about any interesting  page you read on the web.
  3. Make some changes to this page, and then hit preview on the right. You can alway preview any post or edit you before you share it to the world.