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Brenner, N. (1985). Adaptive Parents. Bul. Anna Freud Centre, 8(1):63-68.

(1985). Bulletin of the Anna Freud Centre, 8(1):63-68

Adaptive Parents

Nancy Brenner

In the Nursery we often think about ways in which we can help and support the parents of the children who come to us, and we feel this to be an important aspect of our work. All too rarely do we consider how those same parents can be helpful to us. A few years ago one special set of parents taught me a great deal about such co-operation, and I learned many valuable things from them.

Mr and Mrs W were an unlikely-looking couple, in that she was tall and thin and he was short and stocky. Their children were small-sized replicas of them. Melissa, when we met her, was a tall, wiry three-year-old with facial features much like those of her mother. And her 15-month-old brother Edward was rounded, content and quiet, much like his father. I quickly appreciated that as a family the Ws were very accepting of each family member just as he or she was, and very soon forgot that I had ever found them unlikely-looking as a match.

Melissa was born 9 weeks prematurely, weighing 3 ¼ lb. at birth. She was in an incubator for four to five weeks and was discharged from the hospital at 9 weeks. Her mother established breastfeeding at 6 weeks and continued this until Melissa was 8 or 9 months old. Melissa was a restless baby with exaggerated movements, although she ate and slept quite well. She walked at 15 months, most often on her toes.

When we met three-year-old Melissa, we suspected early on that she had some minimal neurological disorder. Although she was an extremely verbal little girl with excellent language development, she had a short attention-span and seemed overexcited by the stimulation of so many activities and children. She ran about restlessly on tiptoe and needed a great deal of adult support in all her activities. It was noticeable that she had easy and difficult days, when she was more or less restless and more or less relaxed and content. In addition, she had at times an hysterical quality. This was expressed either in tears or in laughter which she often could not control.

Our concern about Melissa's difficulty in controlling her expressions of feeling led us at one stage to refer her for a diagnostic assessment.

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