Francoise Dolto: My Mentor (1)

November 14, 2018

In 1979, I accidentally came upon the book pictured below and it changed my whole life. Doctor Francoise Dolto had a very large chapter in that book. In that chapter, she invited parents to talk to their babies and children about everything going on around them, as all these things concerned them, too.

Here is an easy example: I am in a supermarket with my 6 months old and there is very loud noise which startles both of us. He starts crying. What do I do? I know the noise was not important — a warehouse door slamming very loudly. I could ignore my son since it is really not important. He’ll calm down on his own. I could pick him up and hold him, without saying anything. This would acknowledge him and probably slowly reassure him but offer no explanation. Maybe, it would reinforce his fear since he got so   much attention for his reaction.

Dr. Dolto would say to speak the truth to him. “Oh, that noise was really loud. It kinda startled both of us, but it’s really not important.” I decided to try that. He looks at me and immediately stops crying, reassured by the tone of my voice and the authentication of his feelings, plus the fact that I am ok with the noise.

Dolto wrote this half a century ago. Today, psychology calls this mentalization, the ability to relate to the other’s experience and reflect that to him or her.

Why am I writing about Dr. Dolto? Because her approach to raising children not only changed my own parenting but inspired me to become a psychologist. I use her very successful approach with all my clients. I have written this book for teenagers, using her approach. They were extremely receptive in workshops and this book is based on the workshops.

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