Learning about Mentalizing and More

by Polly Jirkovsky Gual

PEPS staff were excited to attend the Infant and Early Childhood Conference held in Tacoma on May 3rd and 4th. While the conference focuses on Early Children Special Needs providers, it brings together a wide variety of parents, health professionals, educators and government and nonprofit workers. Topics such as the importance of music and art for young children reinforce the developmental moment in PEPS groups, where parents have a chance to focus on their babies learning and development through music and play.

Other workshops discussing responses to adverse childhood experiences, or ACES, connected with some of the staff learning that we have been doing around resiliency and the ways in which stress can impact growth and development for a lifetime. It’s good to be reminded again of how important support is, especially in the critical early years.

Another highlight was Friday’s keynote speech by Dr. Barbara Stroud. Dr. Stroud, a psychologist and the co-organizing founder and inaugural president of the California Association for Infant Mental Health, presented her work on Mentalizing, a process used in culturally-informed work. Mentalizing is a term used in the psychology field for the ability to understand a mental state, either of oneself or another person. Dr. Stroud spoke about the importance of using this awareness to step outside of our cultural lenses and try to see the world from other person’s point of view. This awareness can also help us be mindful of our own values around culture and families and examine them. By being able to listen with openness and non-judgement, we can, as she says, “align science with cultural values to find mutual success.”

This idea of mentalizing ties in directly with the value we hold at PEPS for open, nonjudgmental listening from our PEPS group leaders and from each other in groups. It was interesting to think about how taking a step to examine and think about others worldviews can also help us understand our own internalized values more deeply. As we continue our work on equity and inclusion in PEPS groups, we can continue to build on emerging research that help us focus on listening, validating and reflecting  the stories and experiences each parent brings.


About the Author

Polly Jirkovsky Gual is Community Connector for PEPS. Polly has worked at a variety of nonprofits in the Seattle area, working on issues of homelessness and harm reduction. She has led over 20 PEPS groups including Newborn, Baby Peppers and Little Peppers. Polly lives in the Central District with her husband, two kids and one rambunctious puppy. She is a voracious reader, an active member of her Quaker Meeting and listens to way too many podcasts.

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