An equation that parents and grandparents may find useful: B = f (P x S)

The arrival of our two grandchildren last year has meant a steep learning curve for everyone involved.   I may be an educational psychologist who has learnt about child psychology and worked with numerous children but I definitely include myself in this new development.  Sometimes I’m cited in my media work as an expert in child psychology, which makes me slightly uncomfortable as I genuinely believe that I may be well informed and experienced about the average child but the real experts in each individual child are their primary careers, usually the parents. 

I think this is an important distinction to make because the last thing any professional should be doing is disempowering and de-skilling the people who do the real ‘on the ground’ relational work with their children over time, i.e. the parents/carers.   Over the years the art and science of parenting has become big business and I meet a lot of new mums and dads who can be quite mesmerised by the seeming authority of a particular programme or approach. The best of these are informed by large-scale; longitudinal empirically based research that is done with sufficient validity and reliability for the population under examination.  In addition they will not claim to have identified the absolute truth regarding the complex processes of parenting and childcare. Also, the advice regarding ‘normal’ milestones of development will always refer to expected age ranges rather than specific ages.

This subject reminds me of a rich theory of human behaviour, described first by Kurt Lewin in 1936 in his book about Field theory, ‘Principles of Topological Psychology’ . It applies as much to learning and development as anything else. It offers, as would be expected, a complicated set of ideas represented in the equation:

B = f (P x S)

B stands for Behaviour arising from the function (f) of the person (p) in interaction with the situation (s) in which they behave.  This is a flexible and broad theory with huge real-world applicability.  It allows for present individual and contextual factors as well as events from the past as internalised by the person or manifest in the situation and possibly the future in terms of the person’s expectations.  Lewin developed his theory in an effort to unify different branches of psychology, for example, child psychology, animal psychology and psychopathology.  

Returning to the subject of child development and learning; Lewin’s theory supports the argument that nature and nurture are completely intertwined and that to separate the two is implausible.  As an applied psychologist who worked in education for several decades this makes sense and it is also very hopeful in that it recognises the crucial difference a supportive learning and development context can make. It doesn’t answer all the questions and uncertainties that new parents and new grandparents like myself inevitably have but then that is real and the continuous solution-finding that we must all do with our own expert knowledge and experience can be done with optimism and creativity.  

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