The imago: How our past can influence our choices

art of parenting

A large body of research shows that the home environment, particularly the quality of the relationship between the primary caregivers in the home, has a powerful influence on how we grow up. As children, we watch our parents closely, looking for clues about how adults are supposed to act. We pick up on signals about what a man is supposed to look like, what a woman is supposed to look like, and how a man and a woman are supposed to interact with one another. According to some psychoanalysts, those screenshots we take about how romantic relationships are supposed to play out create an unconscious image in our minds, called the imago.

Unless you’re a hermit, you are going to enter into relationships with others. Some of those relationships will be romantic. Romantic relationships, because they entail so much vulnerability, carry with them the potential for self-growth, but also the potential for great emotional harm. Whenever we open ourselves up to someone, we take a risk that that opening will be abused. On the other side, if we open up to someone, and they return the favor, what joy there is in being truly open and available to someone else!

What is the imago?

Our ability to open up like that, and the people we tend to attract, are heavily influenced by this imago. Essentially, the imago is a representation of our parents that forms the basis for how we have learned a relationship is supposed to look. If our parents spoke kindly and respectfully to one another, at an unconscious level, we find ourselves attracted to people whom our “antennae” pick up as being the kind of people who are kind and respectful.

[for an excellent guide to the imago and how to use it to improve your existing relationship, I highly recommend this book]

Continue reading “The imago: How our past can influence our choices”

Welcome to my site about effective parenting

Welcome to my new website about effective parenting! I am so excited to be living in a time when the technology available can allow anyone to share ideas with the world. Recently, I was given the opportunity to syndicate this site, and write a regular column for a prestigious New Hampshire news site. In addition to following me here, you can also read and comment on my posts at

Applying research to the practice of teaching and parenting

When I was 4, 5 and 6 years old, my father’s mother came to live with us. I don’t remember much of anything about her, except for what she did when my parents went out, and I was left alone in her care. She would be perfectly pleasant while I was awake, but then, after I had fallen asleep, she would come quickly into the room and start hitting me with a belt. Sometimes, I would wake up from a sound sleep to the stinging feeling of that belt. Other times, some part of my subconscious would hear the turn of the bedroom doorknob, and wake me up to prepare me for what I knew was coming. Most of the time, I would go into my room to sleep, but I just lay there awake, terrified. Continue reading “Welcome to my site about effective parenting”

Teaching students skills, rather than merely facts

On Saturday, October 12, 2013, Jeff Bezos, founder of, and his wife MacKensie Bezos, helped to launch the Center for Innovation at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle. The Museum’s website introduces the Center in this way:

What does innovation look like? Who innovates, where does it happen, and how do great ideas evolve? To find out more, tackle a challenge in the Idea Lab, discover a Seattle-made invention in the Patent Tree, and check out cutting-edge concepts in What’s Next. Through lectures, special programs and changing displays, Seattle innovators will share their latest projects and invite you to take a look at the future as it unfolds. – See more at:

As an educational psychologist, I cannot help but admire this effort that models the very best practices in teaching and learning. For years now, academic research has been urging the education system to incorporate strategies that we know improve student learning. For too long, education has relied on a “top-down” approach, where experts fill the empty minds of students through lecture, and then ask those students to regurgitate those facts back on exams.

What educational researchers have found is that this model is fundamentally flawed in a number of ways. First, students do not enter the school situation with a blank slate. Rather, by the time teachers see their students, they have already developed conceptions of the world, pragmatic schemas for interacting with new information. A teacher’s job is not to spew facts, but to challenge students to question their constructed ideas, and to create progressively more complicated strategies for taking new information and integrating it with their prior knowledge.

Second, the secret to giving students the tools they need to succeed and remember the information we want them to have over the long term is to focus our energies not just on facts, but on skills. What our students need in the real world is not to become repositories of information, or to be good test takers. Students need great teachers to strengthen them into thinkers who can brainstorm, solve problems, and collaborate with others. Those are the skills that matter in real life. The Bezos Center for Innovation is providing a platform for visitors to interact with exhibits in ways that could inspire the highest forms of cognitive processing; namely, creativity and synthesis.

The days of stale lectures and memorization, when they finally disappear from the training programs our educators must complete to become teachers, will usher in a welcome phase of instruction that centers on helping our students be nimble of mind, and able to move our species forward with zest. The Bezos Center is a big step in that direction.

Inspiring critical thinking in classrooms

In 2015, I co-wrote an article for the Psychology Today blog (click here to read it in its entirety). In that article, we focused our attention on the characteristics of classrooms which inspire critical thinking in classrooms.

Those characteristics include: 1) using frequent evaluative questions to simultaneously gauge student learning and foster deeper engagement with material; 2) the encouragement of active learning, through the use of small group discussion; and 3) the creation of developmental tension. As one author cited in the article stated, “…all conscious thought has its beginning in uncertainty.”

Therefore, the use of controversial topics, and the introduction of novel ways of thinking, requires students to engage with the material in an effort to incorporate the discomfort into pre-existing knowlege. Continue reading “Inspiring critical thinking in classrooms”

Using your reflections about teaching to become a better teacher

One of the things I love about psychology is that it encourages people to be courageous about looking inward and evaluating self honestly. This kind of thinking, in my opinion, should extend to your teaching practice. If you think honestly about “how things are going,” in the classroom or in the home, or inside your own motivations (i.e. are you bored with your teaching?), it provides you with an opportunity to think about what you can do differently to produce a different outcome. Be brutally honest about where the gaps are between what you want from your students, and what you are getting, and then, use those reflections about teaching to craft new approaches. When working with (or parenting) children, it is important to remember that you are in control. While there are certainly a lot of other influences on children’s behavior, while a child is in your care, you have the authority to dictate the climate and the rules in that situation.

In short, teaching and parenting is most usefully thought of as a connection between inputs and outputs. The inputs are your behaviors and decisions, and the outputs are the responses of the children. For me, the essence of being a good parent and teacher is a matter of intentionality. Think about what you intend to teach, what lesson you intend to communicate, and what type of learning you intend to inspire, and then intentionally craft lessons and practices that are most likely to produce those intended results. I wish to provide you with a quick overview of how I used this focus on my reflections about teaching and intentionality in my own teaching practice. Continue reading “Using your reflections about teaching to become a better teacher”