The Conflicted Child
The behavior of the difficult child has long been debated in the infamous “nature vs nurture” arguments—everyone chimes in with opinions; but fact and statistics do not
squarely fall on one or the other as having the answer. We are a divided mind much in the same way that we possess divided cells.
Our cellular makeup can be measured as a wave or as a particle. In a similar fashion our difficult children must be looked at as well from both perspectives. Frequently our investment in one or the other comes from a personal interaction with the parents of the child and with the child itself. But, when we view an insecurely attached child we are pretty sure that we are witnessing a cry for help, be that a cry that suggests help my parents to bring me up, or help me to be more attentive to the wishes of other.
Out of this simple paradigm we can see the conflict forming. With a wild need on the part of the child or the parent to be accepted and to feel connected to something secure, we see fears conducting both sides of the equation. It is difficult for us to conceive that a child of two or three years old can engage in a drama that is primarily reserved for adults. It is hard to comprehend that the instincts of the child may be reacting not only to what is being done or not done to help the child to be conflict avoiding, but to how the parents themselves are reacting to each other.
In describing transference and the repetition compulsion Freud discovered that we humans tend to have an unconscious memory of early interactions and we will use those old patterns in regression (reverting to an earlier pattern of feeling or behavior)
in order to make sense out of our current world.
The addiction to old patterns is a well documented story, but nonetheless needs to be repeated for we adults of difficult kids to understand that the difficult behavior that we are witnessing is a survival mechanism that arose as a means of dealing with an early conflict.
Don’t we all wish it were that easy–”Oh, I know where my last “asshole” behavior came from, so now I am cured.”
No! It will not work like that. A behavior that has its antecedents in early childhood development will have consequences beyond our conscious mind. The repetitions will emerge in a time of stress. Stress in a young child can be as simple as the child not getting his or her way in the cocoa puff aisle of the supermarket. The parents know it is not a good source of food, but the child reacts as if it will not survive if it does not get what it wants.
In this scenario it is not the content (box of sugar cereal) that is the problem, it is the lack of understanding on the part of the parent that the cereal represents a perceived need that appears to the child as if it is life threatening. This deeply seeded transference can emerge over nothing at all if the child is tired enough. Children often do not appear as if they need more sleep, but in reality most children need a lot more sleep than they want to get. And with our school schedules that meet the needs of the corporation first, children are not getting the sleep they need. This is pretty much true across the board for children of any age.
Once again the parental ambivalence is at work if both parents are not on the same page with regard to helping the child to calmly learn how to sooth themselves and put themselves to sleep.
The child who does not experience a secure connection to the parents is often feeling that not because the parents are not trying to do what is best for the child, but rather they are negatively engaged with each other over any variety of things that a young couple can begin to have differences….money, how the house should look, free time, who has it and who does not, work, who does too much and who is perceived as having it cushy, sex, we are having too much or not enough….the list goes on, and on, and on.
The position of the child who is brought up within the context of an insecurely attached relationship, can adopt the behaviors that the parents have to each other rather that to what we are generally accustomed to seeing as a transference, that is, how the child is attached to the parent.
This “adopted transference” as I might like to call it is as prevalent and as decisively dysfunctional as a direct transference might be. If the parents are unhappy with themselves and by extension with each other the child being brought up by this bond will feel insecure about the bond because the bond that the child is attached to is, indeed, insecure.
Since the 1950’s we have been avalanched with advise from physicians, psychologists, talk show hosts, and new age realism. In the process we hear at best confusing, if not conflicting messages about what is needed. We hear a great deal about nature and nurture and as we listen to one side it sounds reasonable and then we listen to the other side and it too appears reasonable.
But most often we are hearing about the attachment to the child….The real hidden problem in our age of anxiety and multi-media bombardment is the lack of conversation that we are having about the impact of a dysfunctional marriage at the helm of the home ship. If we are conducting our lives within conflict that conflict by contagion will impact the children.
Because every child possesses his or her own unique share of DNA and genetic history, we find it difficult to pose the question to parents. “Is your dysfunctional marriage influencing the baby in such a way that he or she is picking up on conflict and descent
and using that conflict as a manner of relating to the world.
One of the methods of treating child hood mis-behaviors is called the child-guidance model. That model has the parents or parent being the object of the therapy. The resistances to change are addressed in the parents and in the process of doing so, the parent is brought into a more direct attunement with the child.
The bulk of the problem for the discontent and disobeying child is in the lack of consistent boundaries. It is frequently difficult for a parent to be as attuned as is needed to bring about a slow and steady sense of consistency. We live in a world where the corporate mandate asks of us that if we want to keep our jobs we must make it the main priority in our lives. That does not square with what a family needs and it certainly does not square with what a child needs.
Bed times are a major cause of protest from the child and if the parents are exhausted
by two long days at respective offices, the child’s need for a boundary may be too exhausting to execute….In this example the child “winning” the boundary skirmish would have the effect of exacerbating the insecurity of the child. Further if one parent gives in and the other becomes angry, that will further increase the anxiety and boundary attachment.
The one answer that remains consistent is the need for a couple with a dysfunctional child to get family help. Once a family is taken hostage by an unattached or a ambivalently attached child, the road is a slippery slope. As the child ages the consequences become more and more dire to the child’s well-being.
If we want to teach well-being to our children we need to be in a state of well-being ourselves. If the marriage or coupling relationship we are in is one of negativity, the child risks the chance of becoming not like either parent, but like the relationship that the parents have and are displaying in front of the child…..
If this article resonates, find a way to become engaged with a professional who is able to see this paradigm as a possible cause and therefore a possible solution to the problems of a conflicted child..