To the editors:

I am writing in reply to questions directed to me in the letter “Inquiring Moms Want to Know” (December 8).

My criticism in the article “Tot Control” by Robert McClory (November 13) was not directed toward parents in their daily interactions with their children. It was directed toward a program, “Tuesday’s Child,” which endorses systematic, unquestioning rejection by parents of the program-created noncompliant behaviors in their eighteen-month- to five-year-old children. This age group is in a critical process of attachment, and I do believe the program can create long-term problems. In this program parents are taught to manipulate children in their most vulnerable area–their need for secure attachment. Taking advantage of a child’s vulnerability in this manner may teach them to relate that way to others, and most people find manipulative relationships (in any context) intolerable. It is possible for most parents to respect children, create an atmosphere that meets their needs for structure, and convey that what parents really want is to help their children learn self-control.

Because each child and his/her parents are unique, I can’t comment on how to help your child, but I can tell the story of another three-year-old I know, to give you an idea of another approach.

J. is a curious three-year-old boy. His parents came to talk about their concerns about the many negative, angry interactions between J. and his parents. He was active and sensitive from birth. Lately, he refuses to go to bed, cries and sometimes has tantrums when his parents go out. He has resisted all efforts to get him to use the toilet. He is becoming more aggressive with his parents and with other children. Often he wakes at night with nightmares. He does not listen when his parents request that he get ready for anything, and he will not sit at the table for meals. He wants to be boss, and his parents feel they are in a power struggle with him all the time.

I had one play interview to get to know J., in which I found him to be a bright, normal, but very anxious child struggling to master age-appropriate tasks. He teased me, often getting into slightly dangerous positions, eagerly awaiting the fight he was provoking. I talked with J. about his parents bringing him to see me because they were not sure he is as happy as he can be. They wonder about that because of all the fights at home and they really want to make it better. They don’t like the fights any more than he does.

Over the next few months I met with J.’s parents once a week. We discussed J.’s need for his parents to help him feel safe and to calm down. We talked about an age-appropriate structure for bedtime and meals. We talked about where J. was in mastering the use of the toilet, his fears of separation from his parents, and his self-concept of being a bad boy. Each week we tried to understand J.’s behavior, and discussed how plans from the week before were working. As J. and his parents became more confident in their capacity to solve difficulties, we met less often. J.’s parents check in with me now only when they feel overwhelmed by a new development in their curious, sensitive, normal youngster.

Laya Frischer, M.A., C.T.P.