Meet Dr. Neha Navsaria, the resident child psychologist at ParentLab. As a preschool mental health therapist and an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, she spends her days doing everything from training budding therapists to offering parenting interventions that involve video feedback and other innovative approaches – and of course, contributing her expertise to your favorite HelloJoey kits.
She’s also the mother of two kids, ages two and four – but she finds that her professional work has enhanced her own interactions with her children, not the other way around. “There is both an art and a science to parenting. Believe me, you don’t want my guidance and advice to be solely based on my experience with my own children; you want it to be based on the many behavioral observations I have made with my patients! It’s not about my experience; it’s about helping parents navigate theirs.”
Dr. Navsaria found her way to ParentLab after searching for a forum where she could share her knowledge with parents beyond the walls of academia and specialty clinics. “I knew I was working with the right group when I read CEO Jill Li’s vision: If we, as parents, could know better to do better, we could raise happier children who become happier adults.” Now, along with being a HelloJoey contributor, she’s also a HelloJoey user herself. “I am so impressed at the tremendous amount of work and collaboration from different areas of study that goes into each kit. As a mom of two young children, I’m learning too!”
To help you get to know Dr. Navsaria a little better, we turned the tables and put her in the hot seat to answer some serious – and not so serious – questions. Here, she shares some of the best ways to support your child’s development, how you might be able to prevent a major meltdown in a matter of minutes, and why her office doesn’t actually include a toddler-sized couch.
What is the most common question you’re asked about kids –and how do you answer it?
“How can my child be that upset over something so little?”
Parents are often confused and overwhelmed by the seemingly small things that trigger their children to have big reactions. For a child, in that moment, that “small” item or experience that they are upset about means the world to them. Parents need to make space for these feelings. In these moments, it is crucial for parents to get down to their child’s level, get into their world and understand their child’s priorities in that situation, and validate their child’s thoughts and feelings. It’s about teaching them how to transition and cope in what is a difficult situation for them. Investing extra minutes engaging kids in this way can prevent an outburst that could last much longer.
Is there one surprising or funny “quirk” you’ve noticed most kids experience as they develop?
I love when children enter the stage where play imitates life. Play shows us how they make sense of the world around them. In a play observation with this little girl, she was moving quickly around the play kitchen, pulling out pots and pans, busy with her cooking. She picked up the toy cell phone, nestled it between her shoulder and ear so her hands could be free to cook and then proceeded to have a conversation. She said, “Hi, so I’m busy, but I can talk for a little bit,” while using both hands to stir food in a bowl and check on items cooking in the oven. You immediately gained a window into her world. It was such a delight to see her emulate the multi-tasking mom in the kitchen!
Is there any specific behavior you recommend parents adopt to help children become healthy, functional adults?
It’s hard to think of one, but here are the important ones that come to mind:
Be present for your child, whether it is in play or in a conversation.
Think about whether interactions with your children are about avoidance of an issue or teaching them a life skill. Teach them how to tackle a situation and problem-solve. The more you do this, the more they will do this for themselves and be prepared for the adult world.
Learn about Growth Mindset (vs. Fixed Mindset) and help your children develop this way of thinking.
Remember to take care of yourself. It’s hard to be present for your child when you are not nourishing your own mental health.
What’s your proudest professional moment?
It’s the moment when a parent realizes that they are in control of a parenting situation, not burdened or overwhelmed by a child. They feel like they worked hard to get their child to a healthy place, and there is this sense of relief that their entire family is in a better place. That beautiful moment with every family never gets old.
Will you share a funny misconception involving you and psychology?
When I tell people that I am a psychologist, the responses are, “I better be careful what I say, you might be analyzing me,” or “Oh, are you reading my mind?” It would be great to be able to read minds. I’d be a super effective therapist if I could do that! When I add that I work with preschoolers, there is a look of confusion and a question about whether preschoolers have problems. It seems to bring up an image of a young child lying down on a couch in therapy and telling me about their life problems!
What discovery do you think will have the biggest impact on improving the lives of kids?
We already know a lot about what works for children.
Learning social and emotional skills produces positive outcomes for children – right into adulthood.
Guiding and supporting parents promotes improved family well-being.
Doing these things early is better for brain development.
Making these discoveries more accessible to everyone – putting them in the hands of parents, teachers, pediatricians, and communities to put them into action, especially at the early years – is what needs to happen to positively impact children and produce great benefits for our society.