The Importance of Being Useful


All people need to feel useful in this life.  The sense of belonging with others and being important to them is the primary need that we have as human beings.  Beginning with the preschool years, children need to be channeled and encouraged to participate with the family in the maintenance of the household and in thinking of the needs of others. Parents are effective with children when they adopt an attitude that conveys that they believe their children are capable of contributing and, in fact, want to.

Anyone who has raised a toddler knows that they are all about learning and participating.  Whether it is vacuuming, dusting, watering plants, or turning on the washing machine, they are eager.  The mistake people make with little kids is that they thwart this natural prediliction and take over the child’s efforts.  Adults are, of course, more able to complete a task correctly and quickly….but this is not the issue.  The issue is that parents and others must stand back, give small amounts of guidance and let the child do it.  Building on their natural desire and having the patience to stand back and let them” try to do”  is a gift to children. 

Trouble is we are all so busy and would rather not bother with letting the child do the dishes or whatever.  Our standards are high and we are tired.  But when a child is not allowed to find a place through contribution, he or she will find it somewhere – and it will most likely be through attention getting, power, and revenge.  It is my opinion that these negative or “antisocial” ways of belonging can blossom into all kinds of problems as the child grows.  Rather than realizing that something can be done about the child’s behaviors, current mental health practice labels and medicates the child.  Training parents to more effectively react to negative behaviors and encourage beneficial ways of belonging is the purpose of this blog and I hope it will be helpful.

I teach the Adlerian model of discipline.  I will try to include an easy- to- remember maxim each time. :  Maxim #1.  Never do for a child what she can do for herself.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. Hey Carolyn,

    Great to see you doing this. You are one of the world’s great assets, and I am pleased that so many people will be able to share thoughts with you. Your three books on parenting are still used a lot here. And your leadership in removing psychotropic drugs from the lives of children in America is so important. Keep up the great work.

    Jim Bitter

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