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Motherwit: Child Psychology 101

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By Sue Sanders

Parenthood introduces us to a rich new vocabulary. To help make better sense of it all, here is a glossary of psychological terms for parenting:

abnormal – the state of a parent’s stomach before spending years helpfully polishing off a finicky toddler’s dinner.

adolescence see antisocial behavior

anal-retentive – at a bathroom stop on a long family trip, the three-year-old firmly declares that she doesn’t have to go, that she won’t go and that no one can make her. In the car, twenty minutes later she becomes anal-expulsive. And there isn’t a change of clothes.

antisocial behavior see adolescence

closure – realizing lazy Sunday mornings, filled with nothing but New York Times reading and coffee drinking are over for good.

collective unconscious – what parents fall into at night after a hard day of child wrangling and a night of companionate love.

confirmation bias – what religious grandparents accuse new parent of when told that, no, family will not have child baptized, confirmed, or attend church. (see also conversion disorder)

countertransference – what a parent needs to do when the grocery clerk puts out her light and slaps a “closed” sign on her lane after parent has taken out of the cart a week’s worth of groceries, some of which have been carefully selected by three-year-old who is beginning to show signs of divergent thinking.

denial – when parent is certain he/she will have enough money saved to send child to college in three years.

depressive realism – what life sometimes seems when parent has had little/no sleep because infant wanted to play all night and parent now has an entire day of meetings.

ego – what toddler boldly announces (usually followed by the simple, declarative demand: “Now!”) as soon as parents enter the children’s concert they’ve just spent $50 on. Parents just want child to cut id out.

explicit memory – what thirteen-year-old shows no signs of when reminded tonight was the night that her grandparents are coming over for dinner and she promised to stay and be social, but she’s already made plans with her friends. (see recovered memory, retroactive amnesia, selective attention)

gender role – delicious with cheese and mayo.

hierarchy of needs – there is no hierarchy, all needs are equal: everyone needs something at the exact same time.

hindsight bias – what a parent feel when he/she sees it in the mirror so he/she decides yet again to start running. (see denial, negative afterimage, procrastination)

inferiority complex – develops when visiting new mom friend who has written three books, has a beautiful, organized house, and clean laundry put away. For a mother with i.c. reality is vastly different. (see also depressive realism)

long-term memory – forgot about it.

libido – forgot about it.

motivated forgetting – something sixteen-year-olds excel at.

nervous system – often first located when parent gazes into infant’s eyes and realizes he/she don’t know what he/she is doing.(see night terrors, panic attack)

observer bias – when total strangers tell mother to put socks on that baby, his feet are cold, what are you? a total idiot? Often cause of defiant disorder in new mothers.

paradoxical sleep – before parenthood, one slept during the night.

psychobabble – when a shrink’s child is beginning to speak.

recall – call again and again for preschool packets; why the redial button was invented. (see reflex)

rooting reflex – the “hooray!” a mother feels when she finally sees her infant latch on for the first time.

secondary sex characteristics – unimportant when exhausted parents have forgotten what their primary ones are.

self absorption – to get psyche-d about really good diapers.

sex roles – vowed never fall into before had a child. (see short term memory)

Skinner Box – at times, it actually sounds pretty good.

stranger anxiety – what many parents feel when seeing another adult approach their child.

working memory – although it seems as if it’s often on strike, it comes roaring back when a parent looks at their sleeping child and their unconditional response is unconditional love.

Sue Sanders’ essays have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Brain, Child, Real Simple, Islands, Parents, the Rumpus and others. She’s the author of the parenting memoir, Mom, I’m Not a Kid Anymore.

Return to the October 2015 Issue





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