Amina Diab is a child psychologist and parent coach – and that’s just her career. She is also a loving mother of two. eniGma Magazine talked to her about all things children, both personal and professional, which she is completely passionate about.
Diab has always had an interest in understanding children. When she was a college student, a chance encounter with a developmentally disabled child, while volunteering at an orphanage, motivated her to pursue a career in child psychology. The boy’s caregivers didn’t know how to deal with him and placed him in a room by himself as punishment for his behaviour. Diab realized that the boy was trying to say something and he wasn’t being understood. The solution couldn’t have been to just lock him up. This inspired Diab to change her business major and to specialize in child psychology instead.
Diab, who is among the youngest in her field, faces various challenges. The first challenge is her young age, which comes as a surprise to many parents. However, she is pleased to notice a vast difference between when parents first meet her and their satisfaction after their first session ends. Another challenge is the fact that, in our culture, we are not accustomed to positive reinforcement as a discipline technique. Instead, parents resort to “old school” methods, such as corporal punishment and bribery. Diab aims to change all of that. “In the long run, a child’s personality is better developed through positive discipline. Parents should learn to raise their kids in a way that allows them to develop characteristics they would like them to exhibit,” she explains.
According to Diab, the most common issue parents have with raising kids is the failure to understand behaviour. A child’s behaviour is always a reaction that stems from an inner thought or feeling, so parents need to dig deep into the cause in order to understand what their child is trying to say. She also believes that, while each family is different when it comes to parent roles, when both parents show love, support and care, they are sure to promote the healthy wellbeing of their child.
Diab’s patients range in ages from 2 to 15 years. Some cases can be especially challenging, but being a consummate professional, Diab chooses to view difficult cases as experiences that advance her learning. Seeing an improvement in her patients and observing children’s excitement when they are able to communicate and speak better, makes any difficulty worthwhile to Diab. Her advice to parents is, “When signs are visible, the earlier you intervene, the better.”
The most common signs that should alert parents to the possibility that their child may need to see a psychologist are delays in development, such as the inability to meet developmental milestones in speech, the lack of a social smile, the absence of eye contact, or an obsession with one type of toy or action. The most important thing is for parents to ask for help if things are getting out of control. Yet, Diab notes that parents should also take care of themselves so as to be a calming influence on their children. “It’s okay not to be okay. Moms are very hard on themselves, and they feel like they are 100% responsible for everything. But, they will never be able to give their all if they don’t take care of themselves first,” says Diab. She explains that children absorb all the emotions that parents radiate, both positive and negative; they feel the same emotions. They also pick up on body language, tone of voice and actions. When parents feel stressed or agitated, they may unintentionally take it out on their kids. Diab emphasizes that parents should prioritize themselves and their wellbeing, so that they are happy and calm enough to deal with their children. “Parenting is very hard, and you need to take it on when you’re okay,” she cautions.
Diab’s therapy methods aim to help both the child and the parent. Her advice to parents, when dealing with their children’s misbehaviour, consists of 3 steps:
First, get down to their eyelevel when speaking to them, so that you are not acting superior. This makes the child more comfortable.
Second, show some sort of compassion through touch, like a simple hug or your hand on their shoulder, while maintaining eye contact.
Third, validate their feelings by saying phrases like “I understand…but. I know you want…but. I know you feel frustrated that…but.” This way, they feel understood and that they are being heard, especially kids between the ages of 2 and 6, who don’t know how to verbalize their feelings.
“It’s always good to put yourself in your child’s shoes, and try to understand your child’s world,” advises Diab. Parents should understand that discipline is a much bigger deal than mere shouting. To the child, it’s their idol, the person they literally look up to, who is scolding them for behaviour that may not have been intentional.
Diab insists that understanding children fully and communicating with them is imperative so that they grow up to be happy individuals. “Parenting is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done; I’m doing my PhD now, and I’ve already done my master’s, but parenting trumps it all,” she emphasizes, “and I wouldn’t be where I am today without my husband’s support.”
Amina Diab’s philosophy of positive discipline is slowly, but surely influencing the field of child psychology in Egypt. Many parents already have her to thank for helping them hone their parenting skills and raise happy, well-adjusted children.