Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Q&A with Ronald Ruff




Ronald Ruff is the author of the new book Raising Children to Thrive: Affect Hunger and Responsive, Sensitive Parenting. A clinical psychologist, he started working with children and parents in 1969. 


Q: What inspired you to write Raising Children to Thrive?


A: There are several reasons why I wrote this book.


First and foremost, after retiring, I wanted to find a way to continue to help others. The majority of parents whom I treated had only good intentions for their children. Their main problem was that they didn’t know where to turn for help.


Second, today we possess the scientific knowledge to help parents and caregivers know better and do better.


Major breakthroughs in neuroscience and the integration of these revolutionary findings with theoretical psychological formulations give us a comprehensive understanding of the newborn infant. Previous long-held beliefs have been discarded, and the account of the human infant’s development based on philosophy and medical and psychological sciences has been rewritten. We now know that a newborn has innate mental capacities.


I wanted to provide these dramatic, ground-breaking findings in a manner to positively influence parenting and child development.


Third, after 50 years of listening to thousands of people, it was finally time for me to speak in my own voice. This book is synthesis of pioneering scientific findings with my own five decades of professional experiences and evidence-based practice as a clinical psychologist.

Q: How would you define thriving?


A: After five decades of treating and formally evaluating children, adolescents, and adults, I’ve come to identify a set of personality features associated with thriving people.


Such individuals have energy and are empathic, compassionate, emotionally spontaneous, self-revealing, and generous. They’ve individuated—that is, they’re self-reliant, responsible, motivated, and compassionate to others.


They possess a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives and a feeling of wholeness or congruency, and they easily engage in genuine dialogue and emotionally intimate I-Thou relationships.


They are actively involved in their communities and show concern for the common good and welfare of others. They have significantly achieved their innate potential for healthy social, emotional, and cognitive functioning.


Q:  In addition to the book, there's an accompanying workbook--why did you decide to include that?


A: My workbook is a companion to my book, Raising Children to Thrive: Affect Hunger and Responsive, Sensitive Parenting. It serves as a user-friendly guide for parents, grandparents, and caregivers to practice, transform, impart, and translate the concepts, research, best-practice models, professional experiences, and material found in my book.

This book will further assist parents to enhance their child’s healthy social, emotional, and overall psychological development.


My goal is to help parents and caregivers to understand how to use responsive, sensitive parenting in a comfortable, effective manner in their daily interactions with their children.  


The exercises will help parents to practice the essential core attributes and parent-child interactions that children need to satiate their affect hunger for affect, stimulate their brain cells, and develop the necessary attachment bond.


Q: What do you hope parents and guardians take away from your book?


A: I want parents to realize that there is a book, and accompanying workbook, to help them to understand and practice Responsive, Sensitive Parenting.


I want them to know that Responsive, Sensitive Parenting is an evidence-based model which applies the latest scientific findings in developmental psychology and affective neuroscience.


Teaching caretaking skills is far less important than helping mothers and fathers understand the meaning of the child’s behavior and how to respond to it.


I want parents to know that they can significantly increase their potential for a nurturing, genuine, mutual attachment.


I want parents to learn to apply the latest science of child development to raise children who are socially, emotionally, and psychologically healthy.


No one should understand their child better than their parent. In this sense, I want parents to take away from my book that they are the “experts.” They will learn to read their child’s cues by treating their child as having a mind of his or her own.


Parents who read my book will realize that children receiving responsive, sensitive care will form more secure attachment relationships and have a greater capacity to handle stress.  


Parents who engage their child with responsive, sensitive parenting will greatly improve their child's capacity to thrive as a socially, emotionally, and overall, psychologically healthy child— and later, adult.


This occurs for two primary reasons:


Responsive, sensitive parenting is the best practice model to satiate your child's affect hunger. My book is the first to feature affect hunger as a core concept in healthy child development. 


The term affect hunger is used to mean an emotional hunger for maternal love and those other feelings of protection and care implied in the mother-child relationship.


Responsive, sensitive parenting is the best practice model to ensure that your child internalizes the essential psychological resources of empathy, develops a capacity to play, develops a conscience, and receives significant brain stimulation.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I was asked by Psychology Today to write a blog. It is entitled “Psychologically Healthy and Thriving: Cutting-edge Science.” I am working on articles about my book to post.


My book will publish on Amazon on June 11. I will be scheduling speaking engagements to publicize my book.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Parenting a psychologically healthy child is an arduous process--the most difficult human endeavor. Neglect is the most prevalent form of child maltreatment at 78 percent. The second most? Physical abuse at 18 percent. 


There is a youth mental health crisis in America. There is a high incidence of depression, suicide, and addiction to drugs, alcohol, and electronic devices. Our schools require a minimum of 100,000 additional behavioral health staff.


I assessed and treated thousands of children and adolescents who had experienced severe neglect, abuse and trauma. I know that responsive, sensitive parenting, occurring at birth and throughout the formative years, significantly increases the potential for happy, socially, emotionally and overall psychologically well-functioning children and later adults.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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