Keeping families in synch

The relationship between parent and child is like a dance, says Lorenzo Azzi, Ph.D., a psychologist for the Good Fit Counseling Center in Phoenix. “Both partners move in step with the other, following each others’ cues and trying to stay in synch.” It is, at times, a difficult dynamic to maintain.

“Infants come into this world with different temperaments,” he says. “They might be colicky, disabled, have a sensitivity to light, sound or touch; they bring different things to the table…to the dance.” And parents bring their own baggage into the relationship. The way they were parented, the history of their relationships, postpartum depression or other mental health issues—all are factors that influence the ability to reach balance in this emotion-laden partnership.

When the rhythm is disrupted and the partners fall out of step, they are usually able to find their way back. But occasionally the relationship deteriorates to the point that intervention is necessary.

The Good Fit Counseling Center in Phoenix is a unique facility that works with infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families to solve behavior problems such as excessive crying, fussiness, tantrums, eating and sleeping issues and other concerns. The center is one of the services offered by Southwest Human Development at the Arizona Institute for Early Childhood Development in Phoenix.

“As parents, a lot of times we operate on instinct,” notes Doug Albrecht, Ph.D., director of the center. “What works for us may not be what works for our child.”

Psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists (speech, occupational and physical), registered nurses and nutritionists on staff at the center focus on the parent-child relationship—helping parents read their baby’s cues or hone in on what their toddler is trying to say. Sometimes parents don’t realize how their children perceive them and therefore can’t communicate effectively.

At the high-tech center, cutting-edge observation rooms equipped with two-way mirrors, hidden cameras and microphones allow parents to see and hear interactions with their kids, and watch in detail the children’s reactions. Distinguishing between a baby’s hungry or sleepy cues and spotting signs of an impending tantrum or argument with a toddler is much easier in slow-motion replay.

“A lot of times when parents watch themselves on the video they will ask, ‘I sounded like that?’” says Albrecht.

Good Fit counselors can meet with families in their homes or in a caregiver’s home. Counselors are even available for bedtime troubleshooting. Dr. Albrecht recalls one situation where two exhausted new parents came to him for help getting their infant to sleep. They had read conflicting information and received contradictory advice from friends and family. The infant’s pediatrician advised them to just give it time but they were frustrated and the tension was mounting. After staff met with the parents, discussed their goals and made a few bedtime visits, the family was well on their way to establishing sleep patterns that worked for everyone.

“If an issue is pushing parents’ buttons and affecting the relationship, it doesn’t matter if the child is going to grow out of it in six months. They need help,” says Azzi. “If and when the relationship with a young child starts to feel dissatisfying to a parent that is a good sign that they are pretty out of step with their child and may need help. This is the beginning of [your child’s] story and their experiences now will affect their life, their relationships and how they parent.”

It’s important, however, to realize that “it’s impossible for parents to read and respond to every one of baby’s cues,” he says. “If you get it right most of the time, you’re doing a pretty tremendous job.”

Kids are resilient. But if you’re feeling stuck and out-of-step in your own parent-child dance, it’s good to know that supportive choreographers are available to help.

The Good Fit Counseling Center is located at Southwest Human Development, 2850 N. 24th St. in Phoenix. The center works with families on a variety of payment options including a sliding fee scale, insurance reimbursement and AHCCS/KidsCare eligibility. Children from birth to age 5 and their families are eligible for services. Call to schedule a consultation, 602-200-0434 or go online and learn more.