October 4, 2007

Being Around Normal Children

I was born in 1945. In the world I grew up in, children were everywhere. Until I was 2, I lived in my grandma's house, enjoying the attentions of five uncles and an aunt. I have 5 younger brothers and 45 first cousins. I went to Catholic schools that had 60 kids in a class. My parents each had six siblings; their families all lived with a 30-minute drive. We had countless family parties--baptisms, Holy Communions, Confirmations, graduations. In addition to babysitting for my brothers, I began twice-weekly babysitting for other families when I was 12. In the summers I worked as a mother's helper and then as children's librarian.

My youngest brother was 15 when my oldest daughter was born in 1973. Raising four daughters, I encountered many hundreds of children in La Leche meetings, playgroups, babysitting coops, cooperative nursery schools, school libraries. For 20 years I have worked intermittently as a children's and young adult librarian, meeting countless more children. Since I started social work school in 1991, I have treated children, teens, and families.

I don't want to be grandiose for a social worker. But I don't necessarily need to memorize the DSM-IV to know when a kid and her family are in trouble. Even more important, I am much less likely to mistake difficult developmental periods for lifelong mental illness. Often children's problems result from family, school, social, and economic problems; they can't be medicated away. A meeting with a child's teacher or grandparents help clarify the problem. Shrinks should consider home visits.

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