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April 29th, 2009
Early Intervention

Although they might protest it, kids need good, old-fashioned, unstructured “family time.” Why? Because it can help to stave off emotional problems later in life, according to the findings of a Columbia University study.

The study notes: “It turns out that one of the worst things for kids is to be physically and emotionally separated from the adults in their lives.”

It might sound simple, but according to Jim Mason, President of a parenting center in Cincinnati, Ohio, it’s not something all parents are aware of. Beech Acres works to strengthen communication between parents and children from their very earliest years, often once behavior problems have started, but before serious mental illness, violence or self-harm has occurred.

“By engaging parents with their child early on and by intentionally building a relationship one step at a time…we help to create an environment where a child feels safer, more able to express himself and have a means, a place to deal with the pains of childhood,” says Mason.

During play sessions, counselors at Beech Acres coach parents on how to encourage and reinforce good behavior, discourage bad behavior and let their children know they are there for them. These counselors sit out of the view of both parent and child. They watch from behind a one-way mirror and speak to the parent through a hidden earpiece – literally giving them words to say to navigate different moments with their children. Mason calls this “intentional parenting” because the idea is to show parents how to be as self-conscious about the words they choose, and the quality of their interactions, as they are in other areas of their lives.

Elizabeth Flowers regularly visits Beech Acres with her son, Joseph. Flowers says Joseph has problems with impulsivity and that the sessions have helped her and her husband communicate with him when he acts up.

“We can get through the day now,” she says.

It is all intended to establish a bond that can be drawn upon later in life. Not all depression or anxiety in our teenagers can be headed off in this way; But Mason believes this connection sustains kids as they go through their often difficult teenage years.

“The building blocks of a relationship between a child and the parent are the key elements to help…a child to be able to cope with the myriad pressures,” Mason says. “Kids get many, many different messages. So the parent’s job has to be how do I help that child discover his/her core, nurture that core…and teach the skills that they will need to be successful adults.”

For more information on Beech Acres Parenting Center, log onto their Web site.

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