Child and Family – The Importance of Our Early Life Experiences

Child and Family - The Importance of Our Early Life Experiences

When psychological needs are met healthily we develop the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that enable us to feel CONNECTED, that we belong and have a bond with others. When we are born we have this need in order to survive, later this need connects us to our family and wider society giving us a sense of how we fit in and of our self-worth.

We need to feel CAPABLE, that we are competent. It is an important part of parenting to help a child feel they can do something, to build on their confidence, enabling the child to take responsibility for both their achievements and failings. We need also to feel that we COUNT, that we have value and that we can and do make a difference, we are significant!

Finally, perhaps the most important psychological need is our ability to develop COURAGE. When people encourage us we learn to be hopeful, resilient and willing to try and yet have the “courage to be imperfect”* when things are difficult and don’t go right for us. With the right encouragement we can build the ability to handle difficult situations and overcome our fears.

Dr Betty Lou Bettner and Amy Lew (1990), simplified the basics of Alfred Adler’s Individual Psychology into these CRUCIAL C’s that I have just described.

They sound so simple, and yet as parents we struggle sometimes to impart these gifts of living on to our children. We may not have received them all ourselves or we are desperately trying to survive in our adult lives that we miss our own children’s needs. No one expects parents to be encouraging and imparting these things all the time, indeed, children need to know that their parents are not perfect. As children and young adults we develop our own ways of behaving in our efforts to find a role and feel secure within our group or any that we join. We strive to feel that we belong and in this sense of belonging we can develop a good, healthy sense of self and can co- operate and contribute in a positive way to the good of others also.

So you see, when a child perceives their world where one or more of the “crucial c’s” are lacking, it can affect their long-term view of themselves, others and the world around them. This naturally affects a child’s behaviour. Lew and Bettner spoke about the

Lew and Bettner spoke about the goals of misbehaviour or patterns of behaviour likely to be displayed when the Crucial C’s are unmet or even when they are felt to be unmet. When we feel we cannot connect, we are likely to engage in attention seeking; when we don’t feel capable, we are likely to seek power; when we do not feel that we count, we may seek revenge and hurt others in the ways we’ve been hurt; when we feel discouraged, we assume disability and seek to avoid life’s demands.

Misbehaviour is a child’s solution to their feelings of inadequacy and insignificance. They come from the disparity between the striving to belong and early life experiences. It is never too late to encourage a child or adult. In later life we can still develop our feelings of self-worth and belonging through the genuine friends and people we engage with who encourage us to be ourselves.


About the Author: Isobel Harries (BSc(Hons) Psych(Open))

 

Isobel is a qualified and experienced psychotherapeutic counsellor. Her work with clients mental health problems spans many therapeutic areas. She works in a holistic way, looking at clients physical symptoms alongside facilitating exploration of their early life experiences that have gone to form the ‘blue print’ of the beliefs they hold about themselves, others and the world.

Given the difficulties people have accessing counselling in her rural area, Isobel decided to address this issue and created her on-line counselling service ‘Mind Wellbeing

She divides her time between administering her on-line service, fund-raising for The Mind Wellbeing Charitable Trust and caring for her family in rural Wales in the UK. She also loves hill walking with her dog Diesel, the sea, reading, gardening, cooking and meeting new people.

Find out more about Isobel on her website www.mindwellbeing.co.uk or on  Facebook.

6 Comments

Abiodun

i just got to see what you wrote, but to be honest, this is amazing, i would like to be a writer too, would you like to put me through

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Isobel Harries

Hello, thank you for your message.
I think if you have an article to put forward, you just need to contact Karen Young directly on this website. I hope this is helpful?

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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