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.

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Whenever the brain registers threat, it organises the body to fight the danger, flee from it, or hide from it. 

Here’s the rub. ‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually dangerous, but about what the brain perceives. It also isn’t always obvious. For a strong, powerful, magnificent, protective brain, ‘threat’ might count as anything that comes with even the teeniest potential of making a mistake, failure, humiliation, judgement, shame, separation from important adults, exclusion, unfamiliarity, unpredictability. They’re the things that can make any of us feel vulnerable.

Once the brain registers threat the body will respond. This can drive all sorts of behaviour. Some will be obvious and some won’t be. The responses can be ones that make them bigger (aggression, tantrums) or ones that make them smaller (going quiet or still, shrinking, withdrawing). All are attempts to get the body to safety. None are about misbehaviour, misintent, or disrespect. 

One of the ways bodies stay safe is by hiding, or by getting small. When children are in distress, they might look calm, but unless there is a felt sense of safety, the body will be surging with neurochemicals that make it impossible for that young brain to learn or connect. 

We all have our things that can send us there. These things are different for all of us, and often below our awareness. The responses to these ‘things’ are automatic and instinctive, and we won’t always know what has sent us there. 

We just need to be mindful that sometimes it’s when children seem like no trouble at all that they need our help the most. The signs can include a wilted body, sad or distant eyes, making the body smaller, wriggly bodies, a heavy head. 

It can also look as though they are ignoring you or being quietly defiant. They aren’t - their bodies are trying to keep them safe. A  body in flight or flight can’t hear words as well as it can when it’s calm.

What they need (what all kids need) are big signs of safety from the adult in the room - loving, warm, voices and faces that are communicating clear intent: ‘I’m here, I see you and I’ve got you. You are safe, and you can do this. I’m with you.’♥️
I’d love to invite you to an online webinar:
‘Thriving in a Stressful World: Practical Ways to Help Ourselves and Our Children Feel Secure And Calm’

As we emerge from the pandemic, stressors are heightened, and anxiety is an ever more common experience. We know from research that the important adults in the life of a child or teen have enormous capacity to help their world feel again, and to bring a felt sense of calm and safety to those young ones. This felt sense of security is essential for learning, regulation, and general well-being. 

I’m thrilled to be joining @marc.brackett and Dr Farah Schroder to explore the role of emotion regulation and the function of anxiety in our lives. Participants will learn ways to help express and regulate their own, and their children’s, emotions, even when our world may feel a little scary and stressful. We will also share practical and holistic strategies that can be most effective in fostering well-being for both ourselves and children. 

In this webinar, hosted by @dalailamacenter you will have the opportunity to learn creative, evidence-informed takeaways to help you and the children in your care build resilience and foster a sense of security and calmness. Join us for this 1 ½ hour session, including a dynamic Q&A period.
 
Webinar Details:
Thursday, October 14, 2021
1:30 - 3:00 PM PST
 
Registrants will receive a Zoom link to attend the webinar live, as well as a private link to a recording of the webinar to watch if they cannot join in at the scheduled time.

Register here:
https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/thriving-in-a-stressful-world-a-heart-mind-live-webinar-tickets-170348045590

The link to register is in my story.♥️
So much of what our kids and teens are going through isn’t normal - online school, extended separation from their loved people, lockdowns, masks. Even if what they are going through isn’t ‘normal’, their response will be completely understandable. Not all children will respond the same way if course, but whatever they feel will be understandable, relatable, and ‘normal’. 

Whether they feel anxious, confused, frustrated, angry, or nothing at all, it’s important that their response is normalised. Research has found that children are more likely to struggle with traumatic events if they believe their response isn’t normal. This is because they tend to be more likely to interpret their response as a sign of breakage. 

Try, ‘What’s happening is scary. There’s no ‘right’ way to feel and different people will feel different things. It’s okay to feel whatever you feel.’

Any message you can give them that you can handle all their feelings and all their words will help them feel safer, and their world feel steadier.♥️
We need to change the way we think about discipline. It’s true that traditional ‘discipline’ (separation, shame, consequences/punishment that don’t make sense) might bring compliant children, but what happens when the fear of punishment or separation isn’t there? Or when they learn that the best way to avoid punishment is to keep you out of the loop?

Our greatest parenting ‘tool’ is our use of self - our wisdom, modelling, conversations, but for any of this to have influence we need access to their ‘thinking’ brain - the prefrontal cortex - the part that can learn, think through consequences, plan, make deliberate decisions. During stress this part switches off. It is this way for all of us. None of us are up for lectures or learning (or adorable behaviour) when we’re stressed.

The greatest stress for young brains is a felt sense of separation from their important people. It’s why time-outs, shame, calm down corners/chairs/spaces which insist on separation just don’t work. They create compliance, but a compliant child doesn’t mean a calm child. As long as a child doesn’t feel calm and safe, we have no access to the part of the brain that can learn and be influenced by us.

Behind all behaviour is a need - power,  influence, independence, attention (connection), to belong, sleep - to name a few). The need will be valid. Children are still figuring out the world (aren’t we all) and their way of meeting a need won’t always make sense. Sometimes it will make us furious. (And sometimes because of that we’ll also lose our thinking brains and say or do things that aren’t great.)

So what do we do when they get it wrong? The same thing we hope our people will do when we get things wrong. First, we recognise that the behaviour is not a sign of a bad child or a bad parent, but their best attempt to meet a need with limited available resources. Then we collect them - we calm ourselves so we can bring calm to them. Breathe, be with. Then we connect through validation. Finally, when their bodies are calm and their thinking brain is back, talk about what’s happened, what they can do differently next time, and how they can put things right. Collect, connect, redirect.
Our nervous systems are talking to each other every minute of every day. We will catch what our children are feeling and they will catch ours. We feel their distress, and this can feed their distress. Our capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

Children create their distress in us as a way to recruit support to help them carry the emotional load. It’s how it’s meant to be. Whatever you are feeling is likely to be a reflection what your children are feeling. If you are frustrated, angry, helpless, scared, it’s likely that they are feeling that way too. Every response in you and in them is relevant. 

You don’t need to fix their feelings. Let their feelings come, so they can go. The healing is in the happening. 

In that moment of big feelings it’s more about who you are than what you do. Feel what they feel with a strong, steady heart. They will feel you there with them. They will feel it in you that you get them, that you can handle whatever they are feeling, and that you are there. This will help calm them more than anything. We feel safest when we are ‘with’. Feel the feeling, breathe, and be with - and you don’t need to do more than that. 
There will be a time for teaching, learning, redirecting, but the middle of a storm is not that time.♥️

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