Dr. Hershberg has been helping parents with their kids (and vice versa) for more than a decade, through her extensive and varied clinical work, her interactive workshops, and, since 2013, her private practice, Little House Calls.
Love & Limits
Decades of research demonstrate that “good enough” parenting – the kind that most frequently leads to the development of healthy, well-adjusted children – involves two equally important dimensions: warmth and structure. We think of them as “love and limits.”
Young children not only need to be loved, but also to feel loved. Part of feeling loved is feeling safe, knowing that the grown-ups in their lives are making the rules and calling the shots in predictable, consistent ways. So, while love and limits may feel like conflicting priorities, the latter is in fact part of how we demonstrate the former.
Children who grow up in homes with high levels of both warmth and structure tend to fare best in the world that awaits them. Those whose early childhoods lack one or both of these dimensions are likely to face additional challenges later on. The good news: if our parenting involves equal and abundant measures of love and limits, then we’re doing better than OK.
It is important for parents to understand that early child development is often uneven. Some children walk at nine months but develop language much more slowly. Some children become overwhelmed in groups, while others thrive in the middle of a noisy birthday party. Part of understanding our children is recognizing and respecting who they are. Sometimes, though, it can be hard for parents to make sense of what’s temperament and what’s cause for concern.
Babies, Toddlers, and Young Children are (Small, curious) People
Even though they may sometimes seem more like alien beings intent on wreaking havoc, we have to recognize that infants and toddlers are people (albeit small ones!) with their own emotional lives. They have very little experience of the world, and are trying to make sense of the strangeness and novelty they find at every turn. Their job is to explore and test limits, and ours is to stay steady and to help them feel safe as they go. This is often easier said than done! We encourage parents to put themselves in their child’s shoes (and to breathe for a moment), because understanding our children’s perspectives helps us respond in a way that truly meets their needs. This continues to be true as children adjust to school and become socialized beings in the world.
Parents are (tired, imperfect) People
It’s all too easy to forget about the “parent” that’s doing all this “parenting.” We often think of parents in the abstract, as dispassionate, omnipotent actors rather than as human beings with their own complicated histories and emotional lives. We’re all trying to raise our infants and toddlers in the best way we know how. It’s difficult work, and a lot of our own “stuff” gets dredged up along the way. Unless we’re careful, that “stuff” can intrude on our parenting and have a negative impact on the relationships we are building with our kids.
In our years of professional experience, we have found that there is no way to navigate parenting without diving deep, where things inevitably get a bit muddy. We all have emotional blind spots; our job is to shine a light on these blind spots so that parents can stay attuned and connected to their children.
In 2013, a friend asked me to give a talk for the Parents’ Association of the preschool she directs just a few blocks from where I grew up, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. At the time, I was working full-time at Healthy Steps for Montefiore, an infant and toddler mental health promotion program integrated within a variety of outpatient pediatric practices in the Bronx. “I’ve heard you describe what you do,” she explained, “and I think that our parents could really benefit.” I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant. In the Bronx, I worked with parents and children in highly stressed, resource-poor communities, many of whom had been exposed to trauma. And my friend wanted me to come speak to parents on the Upper West Side?
I’m glad I decided to trust her. The talk I gave to the Parents’ Association at my friend’s school was the day that Little House Calls was born. As I spoke — about infant brain development, toddlers’ social-emotional skills and ways to promote positive behavior in preschoolers — parents began raising their hands — and asking really good questions. Some furiously scribbled notes; others intently nodded their heads. Was my talk good? I mean, sure, it was fine. More than that, though, it drove home to me the fact that these parents were starving for advice about their little ones — eager for someone to help them wade through numerous, often conflicting, parenting tips found in countless blogs, Facebook status updates and mother-in-law side comments (solicited or otherwise).
Several parents approached me afterward: “Do you have a card?” They asked. At the time, I didn’t. And then one mother laughed; “Can’t you just come to our house during bath time one day,” she joked, “and see our daughter in action?” Unfortunately, of course, I couldn’t. But then, why not?
The first of my two sons was born the following March. And despite all my experience with parents and their kids, being a first-time parent was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I couldn’t imagine becoming a mom without all of the training I’ve had, and yet the training had all been for professional, not personal, reasons. Most new parents are, obviously, not early childhood psychologists; somehow, though, they’re expected to know how to handle every unexpected curveball they’ll be thrown simply by virtue of their decision to have a baby. And if they can’t, or if they need some extra support, then reading a book, or a few articles, is supposed to do the trick. Except it rarely works out that way. Because our children and our parenting — let’s face it, our lives — are complicated. There’s no such thing as one size fits all.
And thus was born Little House Calls.
Dr. Hershberg is a clinical psychologist who specializes in early childhood social-emotional development and mental health, and the founder of Little House Calls Psychological Services, PLLC. Prior to her current work, Dr. Hershberg was most recently the Director of Early Childhood at Ramapo for Children (to which she remains a consultant), and the Director of Training and Quality for Healthy Steps at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, an infant and toddler preventive mental health program that gained national and international attention for its integration of early childhood mental health professionals within primary care pediatrics. While at Montefiore, Dr. Hershberg held an Assistant Professorship in the Department of Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, through which she taught both pediatric residents and medical students.
Dr. Hershberg grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where she attended Trinity School (K-12), and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree at Yale University, from which she graduated summa cum laude. She obtained her PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Virginia, where she was a fellow of the Center for Children, Families and the Law, and was the recipient of the Buffett Fellowship for Applied Work in the area of Children and Families in Need. She completed her pre-doctoral internship at Bellevue Hospital Center and the New York University Child Study Center, following which she worked as a child psychologist at Bellevue Hospital Center and New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). During this time, she was also a Clinical Instructor of Psychology in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine.
Dr. Hershberg has written several articles for Big City Moms (an online destination for mothers, mothers-to-be, and families), presented seminars and workshops at numerous preschools and pediatric practices in and around New York City, conducted seminars for Six Degrees of Mom (a NYC-based private playgroup community), authored book chapters, and been published in multiple peer-reviewed journals. She lives in Dobbs Ferry, NY with her husband and two young sons, who both keep her busier – though also smiling! – more than any of the above.
- Stopping the Preschool-to-Prison Pipeline from Black Enterprise
- Here’s Expert Advice on How to Handle Pre-K Behavior Problems from DNAinfo
- Helping Babies Deal with Toxic Stress from NPR Marketplace
- 50 Things You Should Never, Ever Say to Your Kids from Redbook
- 9 Things You Should Never Say to Your Kids (whoops) from Chicago Tribune
- How to Prepare the Family (and Yourself) for a Move from Brick Underground
- How Social Media Overstimulation is Affecting Our Kids from allParenting
- How Mental Health Disorders Are Diagnosed from Mom.me
- Study Spots Where Humor Tickles Kids’ Brains from ABC News
- Beyond Mom Interviews: Dr. Rebecca Schrag Hershberg from BeyondMom.com
- Mom Crush: Dr. Rebecca Hershberg, PhD from Six Degrees of Mom