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Psychological Considerations for Emotionally Healthy Children 20-618440 Back to Course Index

 

 

 

 

 

With advances in technology and social changes, every generation of children are exposed to a different world than what their parents experienced during their childhood.  As the United States becomes more culturally engaged with other nations it creates more diversified economic, environmental and cultural opportunities for the current and future generations.   

Most families cannot live the life they wish to live on one income.  Many families can’t survive on one income, despite giving up on “the life they wish to live”.  Recent economic strife has led to more financial challenges for the American family.  In the wake of the pandemic with daycare fees on the rise and unstable in-person school schedules, some have decided not to go back into the workforce. 

In 2020, 78% of parents living with children were married, compared to 77% in 2010. Adults living with an unmarried, cohabiting partner made up 7% of parents with co-resident children under 18 in both 2010 and 2020. Finally, parents living without a partner accounted for 16% of parents in 2010 and 15% of parents in 2020.

In 2020, 70% of mothers and 87% of fathers living with children under 18 were married. It was more common for mothers, however, to live without a partner — 23% of mothers and only 6% of fathers were living without a partner.  

Other highlights:

Households

  • There are 36.2 million one-person households, which is 28% of all households. In 1960, single-person households represented only 13% of all households.

Marriage

  • In 2020, 33% of adults ages 15 and over had never been married, up from 23% in 1950.
  • The estimated median age to marry for the first time is 30.5 for men and 28.1 for women, up from ages 23.7 and 20.5, respectively, in 1947.
  • One-quarter (25%) of children under age 15 living in married-couple families had a stay-at-home mother, compared to only 1% with a stay-at-home father.

Almost half of American families experience poverty following a divorce, and 75 percent of all women who apply for Welfare benefits do so because of a disrupted marriage or a disrupted relationship in which they live with a male outside of marriage.  

Some of the negative outcomes of divorce on children have been reduced by the commonality of it, but overall it is still can have a negative impact. 

While parental divorce is generally associated with unfavorable outcomes for children, it does not follow that every divorce is equally bad for the children it affected.  Experts also point to a number of negative effects on children raised in a family where parents in troubled relationships stayed together.  These children can be characterized by frequent anger, frustration, and pain.  

The world is smaller and more available to the children of today, as well.  Global travel is more possible which exposes them to exotic foods, toys, healthcare supplies, and many other items.  It also opens the door to a universal spread of illnesses and toxic merchandise, making it increasingly more difficult to control the safety of our children.  Economic swings, threats of terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction are all part of the catastrophic environment our children are being exposed to by the concerned adults around them and the mediums of television and the internet.  In 2019, some 95 percent of 3- to 18-year-olds had home internet access, according to the American Community Survey (ACS). Specifically, 88 percent had access through a computer, and 6 percent relied on a smartphone for home internet access.

Children today face perplexity over sexuality and gender. Between 2015 and 2019, the percentage of 15- to 17-year-olds who said they identified as “non-heterosexual” rose from 8.3% to 11.7%, according to nationwide surveys by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Although our analyses demonstrated that there has been a significant increase in the proportion of girls and boys that self-identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, we cannot be certain if this represents a true increase of this magnitude, or if it reflects at least in part, greater comfort by teens with acknowledging a non-heterosexual identity on an anonymous questionnaire,” said Dr. Andrew Adesman, who led an analysis of the findings.  

By the time a child is ready for kindergarten they already know not to talk to strangers, the difference between good touch and bad touch, and a list of foods that may cause allergies in themselves or their friends and that if you get to close you could get sick.  

How can we empower our children to believe they can have a great future with so many dangers?  How do we warn and inform them and still provide the emotional security, physical and mental health, and the courage to make this the safe world they need for healthy growth and maturity?

 

 

Growing up in the Neighborhood

During the World Wars, American communities unified in sacrifice and patriotism, growing victory gardens, rationing fuel and food, and waving flags while family members went overseas to fight for freedom and democracy. Children felt connected to their community and their country through school, religious centers, and the neighborhood. Children felt the security of knowing what the rules were in society, of knowing right from wrong. They were on the last wave of the Victorian principle that claimed children should be seen, not heard, a mindset that supported Freudian theory; claiming human beings can only become acceptable social animals when their ego is taught to control their raw passions. The eminent Chicago child psychiatrist Rudolf Dreikurs, M.D. noted the raising of this early twentieth-century generation in a book he co-authored with Vicki Soltz, R.N. entitled Children: The Challenge, (1964). Dreikurs writes that”in former times there were traditions for childraising which were upheld by society, as a whole. Every family followed a common scheme.” 

Although women worked outside the home during WWII, children frequently spent their time in their neighborhoods. Often homes included three generations, providing several adults to oversee the activities. Children in the first half of the twentieth century were expected to do what an adult told them to do, always use good manners, and be home when the street lights came on!

In 2021, the average child between 6 and 16 years old spent only an hour a day outside, playing video games over twice as long, sometimes much longer, a new study finds.

According to a survey in 2021, today’s children and teens prefer a whole host of activities over playing outside. These activities include gaming, watching TV, surfing the web, and listening to music. Believe it or not, some adolescents even preferred doing homework (10 percent) and completing chores (three percent) over enjoying the outdoors.

Parents, for their part, are concerned. Over two-thirds worry that their children spend too little time outdoors, and nearly four in ten struggle so much to get their kids to leave the house that they actually have to force them to do so.

Mom in the workplace

 

Mom in the Workplace

Following World War II many Americans assumed mothers would return to the home to be housewives raising the children while their returning husbands supported the family. But, with many families struggling financially, and many without a returning male breadwinner, an increasing number of mothers stayed in the workforce, and the American family was forever changed. Today mothers have permanently joined the workplace, creating new paradigms in family dynamics and the education system; adjusting the school day to encompass before and after school daycare, and social and extracurricular programs.  Some fathers are deciding to stay home and take care of the kids.  Many homes have two working parents.

According to John Santrock, Professor of Psychology and Human Development at the University of Texas and author of Life-Span Development(9th Ed.)  More than one of every two mothers with a child under the age of 5 is in the labor force, some by necessity and many by choice.  Santrock found a negative effect on the later development of children whose mothers work during the child’s first year of life. A longitudinal study found that 3-year-olds whose mothers returned to the workplace before their children were 9 months old demonstrated poorer cognitive outcomes than the same age child that had a stay-at-home mother for the first 9 months. The study did not include children whoes father stayed home.  The competence of the caregiver, and the number of hours the mother works away from their child, is a most critical decision within the first year of the child’s life according to the study. A more recent study in 2014, with two working parents becoming the norm highlighted that children of working mothers are more affected by personality than children of non-working mothers. Children of working and non-working mothers show no significant differences in health, routine work, cognitive ability, self-development, self-awareness, and integrity.  Again, their is a deficit in research factoring in stay at home dads.  

“American families today are living under circumstances much different than even a few years ago. Every income group and geographic region is affected,” stated Representative George Miller, former chairman of the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families.  He noted that most children aged 13 years and under live in a family in which either both parents or the only parent present are working. Whether this fact is good or bad is no longer an issue for discussion. The reality is that this trend will continue. Social changes over the years have opened up challenging career opportunities for both men and women. But, more importantly, changes in the economic structure now make it necessary for most adults to be gainfully employed in order to maintain their household. While the majority of people may be in the workforce because of economic necessity rather than career fulfillment, both reasons are equally valid.

 

The Changing Family

The “typical” American family has changed radically over the last 50 years.  Americans today are marrying later, divorcing sooner or avoiding marriage altogether.  Whereas married couples dominated the family structure in years past, only 30 percent of millennials feel that a successful marriage is an important part of life.

As a result of this institutional erosion, more and more children are being born out of wedlock.  In the 1960s, for example, nearly 95 percent of babies were born to couples who were married. Today, 40 percent are born to women who are either single or living with a non-married partner.  

Often lost in the discussion of marital decline is a simple fact. Marriage is good for children. At least, predominantly happy marriages are good for children.  In fact, countless studies have shown that children born to married parents enjoy a number of socioeconomic benefits over those born to single parents.  

With growing numbers of same-sex families, what makes up a family has changed, as well.  According to the researchers behind the longest-running study of same-sex couples raising kids, The National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), concluded that 25-year-olds who grew up with two moms have “no significant differences in measures of mental health” compared peers raised by heterosexual parents.

This follows another study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics which followed three groups of families in Italy: 70 gay fathers who had children through surrogacy, 125 lesbian mothers who had children through donor insemination, and 195 heterosexual couples who had children through spontaneous conception.

“When I began this study in 1986, there was considerable speculation about the future mental health of children conceived through donor insemination and raised by sexual minority parents,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Nanette Gartrell. “We have followed these families since the mothers were inseminating or pregnant and now find that their 25-year-old daughters and sons score as well on mental health as other adults of the same age.”

 

The Effects of Family Structure on Children

  • A solid, intact family structure can have a significantly positive impact on a child’s present and future wellbeing.
  • Family intactness increases high school and college graduation rates, as well as high employment rates.
  • Following divorce, children are 50 percent more likely to develop health problems than two parent families.
  • In homes with stepfathers, peers were more likely to have been suspended or expelled from school, more likely to have engaged in delinquent behavior, to have problems getting along with teachers, doing homework, paying attention in school, and have lower grade point averages than those living in intact homes.

Children do best in a stable family environment where well-adjusted parents have established consistent routines for the home. On the other hand, an environment of turmoil where continual conflict, multiple school or parental employment changes are linked to lower levels of child well-being.

 

 

Emotional Health and Environment

Teachers, parents, and behavioral therapists are discovering emotionally healthy children have experienced security, consistent attention when needed, and a safe environment during their childhood. Children who are placed in environments that are unstable or place them at risk more often enter their adolescence with emotional scars and personality disorders that may take years to undo. The National Mental Health Information Center estimates one in five children and adolescents may require treatment for mental health disorders that are caused by environment, biology, or both.

The mental health of parents has a significant effect on behavior problems among toddlers leading to differences in children’s social skills, such as self-control and cooperation, when the children reached fifth grade. 

 

Early Child Developmental Theories

Theorist

Early theorists in child psychology brought forth the idea of categorizing human development.The first theorists and clinicians were physicians who drew their insights from mentally ill patients. They based their theories of normal human development on observations of dysfunctional behavior and categorized their concept of healthy behavior according to an expected outcome of socially acceptable and presumably well balanced adults.

 

Psychoanalytic Theories

Sigmund Freud, (1856-1939) the founder of psychoanalysis, believed that the emerging individual is deeply affected by irrational unconscious thoughts. He was especially concerned with the emotion anxiety, which he felt was the central cause of mental problems. He also believed most of adults problems were the result of emotional trauma suffered in early childhood.Freuds psychoanalytic theories were divided into five stages of development. He called the primitive unconscious part of the mind the id.The id insists on gratification in what Freud called the pleasure principle.The conscious, logical area of thought he called the ego, and the part of the mind that struggles with values the superego.

 

Eriksons Psychosocial Stages of Development

In opposition to Freud, Erik Erikson introduced his theory of psychosocial stages of development in the 1950s. In Eriksons theory, the first year of an infants life is shaped by trust issues, only to spend the second year dealing with autonomy versus shame and doubt. In all, Erikson had a total of eight psychosocial stages of development.

 

Both Freud and Erikson developed culture and gender biased theories that cannot be adequately tested. They perpetuated the autocratic dominate-submissive relationship between parent and child.If children are acting out of instinct and unconscious thought reasoning and two way dialogue is not as useful as simply directing the child to acceptable behavior.

 

Jung: Emotion Shapes Behavior

One of the first to challenge Freuds theory was Carl Jung.Jung. Originally a colleague of Freud, Jung rejected the significance Freud placed on sexuality. Jung did not accept Freuds concept of a libido, aninstinctive sexual drive. Instead he gave the child credit for having a personality; charting children as either introvert or extrovert. It is significant that Jung regarded children as not just instinctive but feeling beings with emotions that shape behavior.

 

Adler: Individuals in the Community

Another early theorist who ultimately rejected Freuds psychoanalytic theories was the psychiatrist Alfred Adler (1870-1937). Adler recognized the interconnectedness between individuals and their community.He coined the term inferiority complex, believing a baby is overwhelmed with feelings of inferiority because he/she is born completely helpless and dependent upon others. Child psychology today is greatly influenced by Adlerian theory, especially the behavioral theories of Rudolf Dreikurs whose parent-child relationships are currently practiced by parents and child developmental specialists.

These pioneers set the stage for future psychological study; research that would discover that random actions can become learned behavior and, through motivation, become habits that develop personality.The next set of theorists recognized the effects of environment (stimulus) on behavior and opened the door to the shaping a personality through classical conditioning, developing habits, and conscious thought.

 

Conditioned Behavior

Watson, Skinner and a Russian named Pavlov: Behaviorism

In 1913 American psychologist John Watson founded a movement known as behaviorism. He believed animals and people behave in a certain manor as a result of a particular cue, or stimulation, called classical conditioning. His work was later refined by another American psychologist, B.F. Skinner, who coined the term operant behavior to refer to random behavior that is reinforced to become conditioned behavior.

During the 1930s the concept of conditional reflex (learned behavior that is generated by an external stimulus), was explored by Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov. Through controlled experiments, such as the bell rings and the dog eats the bell rings and the dog salivates and eats and observations Pavlov scientifically proved that learned behavior disappears if the reinforcement is withdrawn, but spontaneously returns after a period of rest. Principles of operant conditioning can be recognized in the developmental learning process of children today. Here are a few examples:

Reinforcing random movements creates conditioned behavior (The child babbles and eventually
says milk and immediately gets the milk.

Extinction happens if reinforcement is withdrawn (Saying milk does not bring milk, so the child eventually quits)

Spontaneous recovery (After a rest the child pipes up with milk again)

Randomly reinforced behavior is abandoned (Mother sometimes gives milk, sometimes not, but not
in association with the child’s verbalization. The connection is lost and the child stops)

Partial reinforcement is stronger than constant reinforcement (In response to the verbalization, milk
is offered on an intermittent basis instead of constantly. The verbal skill milk becomes stronger)

 

So, if you always tell a child good job the praise becomes devalued.If the good job is given intermittently, yet immediately after the behavior, the praise increases in value and the behavior may become a habit.

 

Cognitive Theories

Piaget, Vygotsky and Rogoff

French psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) recognized that developmental stages are age-related and connected to how a child understands the world. According to Piaget, we incorporate new information into existing knowledge in a process called assimilation and adjust new concepts by accommodation. Connecting new concepts to already developed ideas is a basic method of learning today. Piaget impacted early thinking in child psychology with four biological stages of cognitive development that stressed an internal process of adaptation to one’s environment.  

Russian developmental Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) believed that social interaction between a child and adults or older children is crucial for cognitive development. Vygotsky’s term The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) refers to tasks too difficult for a child to master alone, but with the assistance of adults and older children, the child persists and learns. Vygotsky stresses the social influences of cognitive development, especially in language and thought. Another contribution Vygotsky made to cognitive development is a concept called scaffolding, a term that refers to situations where the instructor adjusts the level of guidance to the child’s performance level.

Vygotsky believes children’s cognitive development is based on adaptations to their environment through cultural tools that are passed onto them by older more skilled individuals through the ZPD in social settings. Vygotsky agreed with a contemporary, Barbara Rogoff, who theorized that the discovery process of learning is social, not biological. In Adolescence (5th Ed.) ((2004) author Nancy J. Cobb extended Vygotsky’s theory of culture as a tool. Cobb explains:

Rogoff views development as multidirectional. Unlike Piaget, for instance, she does not see development as moving toward a single endpoint, toward a universal set of achievements, such as Piaget’s formal thought. Instead, the course of development can take any of a number of forms, depending on the types of skills that are valued in one’s culture. These skills, whether they be literacy or goat herding, establish the developmental goals that are local to each culture. 

Rogoff further developed Vygotskys concept of the zone of proximal development into what she termed guided participation, pointing out that Children see structure, and even demand the assistance of those around them in learning how to solve problems of all kinds.

 

Family Systems

Communication between parents and children is called reciprocal socialization because it is not simply one-sided, both child and parent participate in synchronistic behaviors. The interaction between the parent and child is bidirectional and mutually engaging. For instance, when an infant makes eye contact with a parent both are socializing. This same process repeats itself between siblings, grandparents, and others considered to be within the family constellation. Each family member is a part of a family subsystem. The way the child interacts with his/her family, and how their perceives their position in the family are necessary components to the child’s well-being: A problem that affects any member of the family affects the entire family.

 

Family Constellation

girl hiding face

Dreikurs recognized the significance of the relationship of family members to each other, referring to the interaction as the Family Constellation. Dreikurs theorizes that: Each person within the family constellation behaves according to the way he sees his position in the family. At the same time, his behavior has a subtle influence on the behavior of each other children.  In systems theory all members of a family are interconnected; consequently, systems therapists work with the entire family, believing the child’s behavior will change as a result of equilibrium within the family system.

 

Ginott and Gottman

Haim Ginott (1922-1973) a teacher, child psychologist, and psychotherapist, has been quoted as saying “children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.” Ginott taught adults to communicate with children through the following points:

  • Never deny or ignore a child’seelings.
  • Only behavior is treated as unacceptable, not the child.
  • Depersonalize negative interactions by mentioning only the problem.
  • Attach rules to things, e.g., Little sisters are not for hitting.
  • Dependence breeds hostility. Let children do for themselves what they can.
  • Children need to learn to choose but within the safety of limits. Would you like to wear this blue shirt or this red one?
  • Limit criticism to a specific event dont says never don’t in: You never listen, or you always manage to spill things, etc.
  • Refrain from using words that you would not want the child to repeat.

Gottman has researched family systems around the world, he stresses the impact of emotions on communication and warns parents to first show empathy, and then coach the child to manage emotions and resolve the situation. On his web page The Gottman Institute-Parenting-Research on Parenting (2009 para.3-4), Gottman shares his steps for Emotion Coaches [for children] as defined in his book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.

 

Five Elements of Emotion Coaching

  • Be aware of a child’s emotions
  • Recognize emotional expression as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching
  • Listen empathetically and validate a child’s feelings
  • Label emotions in words a child can understand
  • Help a child come up with an appropriate way to solve a problem or deal with an upsetting issue or situation.

 

Two Continuums of Parenting

Another pioneer in family systems, Psychologist Diana Baumrind (1971) divides parenting styles into four classifications that form two continuums:

Emotional Content

Emotionally warm * Emotionally cold


Environment

Strict/structured environment * Permissive/unstructured environment

The four combinations of these two continuums create varying behavioral responses.Baumrind believed the best results happen when parents develop rules but are affectionate (Authoritative). Bauminds four forms of parenting are:

  • Authoritative Parenting Warm/Strict: (best outcomes for children)

Children experiencing authoritative parenting have the highest self-esteem, are the most self-disciplined, and have the highest academic achievement.

  • Authoritarian Parenting (Cold/Strict) Children become either highly anxious about making mistakes or may rebel against parental authority.
  • Indulgent Parenting (Warm/Permissive) Children have low self-control and low academic performance, which results in low self-esteem.
  • Neglectful Parenting (Cold/Permissive) Children have very low self-esteem, low self-control and high anger.

Authoritative parenting encourages independence while setting limits on behavior.Parents are warm and nurturing, discussing possible options and results for behavior.Authoritative parents recognize and support constructive behavior.According to Santrock (2004) Children whose parents are authoritative are often cheerful, self-controlled and self-reliant, achievement-oriented, maintain friendly relations with peers, cooperate with adults, and cope well with stress. 

The following example of the four parenting styles shows how unsuccessful punitive or aloof responses to a child’s behavior is to adequately support the development of self-reliant and socially responsive individuals.

Case in Point: Sally’s Birthday

Sally Richards’s parents surprised her by inviting her best friend Ruth to join the family for a celebratory dinner in honor of Sally’s sixth birthday. Once in the restaurant, the girls found themselves sitting at a table with a tablecloth and several extra spoons and forks. The menu had only two children’s plates and Sally, suspicious of the Salisbury steak, begged her mother to order her a hamburger. Now the girls were getting bored and hungry. They solved their problem by taking turns dropping silverware on the floor and going under the table to retrieve it. Here are the four styles of parenting the Richards might have attempted in dealing with Sally’s behavior:

Authoritarian parenting: After the third time Mrs. Richards told Sally to sit up and behave or else (while shaking her shoulders). She informed her daughter that she was not acting like a six-year-old and she better straighten up or she would get a spanking. Sally dealt with the embarrassment of being singled out and reprimanded in front of her friend by getting sillier. She eventually did get a spanking, cried, and had a miserable birthday.

Neglectful parenting: Mr. and Mrs. Richards somehow developed some sort of deafness, seemingly unaware of the giggling under the table. The girls spent most of their time out of their chairs, even eating their fries, one at a time, under the table. The significance of the birthday was lost, as they were running around the porch of the restaurant when the waitress brought the cake with six candles to the table.

Indulgent parenting: The girls turned their attention to Mrs. Richards’s purse, pulling out her lipstick and playing with her iPod. Sally would not share the iPod with Ruth, so there was a lot of whining and some water was knocked over on the table. Mrs. Richards not only made sure the Salisbury steak was on a bun, but called it a hamburger repeatedly, scraping the unwanted sauce off while cutting it into quarters for her daughter. Sally got many gifts, but several, including the one Ruth gave her, were broken by the time dinner was over. By the time Sally was in first grade Ruth’s mother was encouraging her daughter to play with other children as she always returned from Sally’s upset with something broken.

Authoritative Parenting: When the girls began to get a little bored and tried to go under the table to retrieve the first dropped spoon Mrs. Richards explained that when a utensil drops it is supposed to be left on the floor because they were dirty. Once they realized the waitress would have to pick their spoons up later they stopped dropping them. Mrs. Richards talked with the girls about how pretty and grown up they looked and Mr. Richards made a point of telling the server how proud he was to have three lovely ladies at his table.

 

Nurturing Future Generations

Creative and Independent Thinkers

In his book On Becoming a Person (1961) Carl Rogers, a psychotherapist, and researcher who developed client-centered therapy wrote about his concerns that children were encouraged to develop convergent thinking. Rogers wrote that I believe that it is an increasingly common pattern in our culture for each one of us to believe, Every other person must feel and think and believe the same as I do.  Encouraging children to consider many possible answers to the same question, called divergent thinking, develops creative and independent thinkers. Peer pressure and cultural assimilation perpetuate convergent thinking.  

Belonging

According to Dreikurs (1964), children are primarily social beings. Their strongest motivation, acceptance within a group, constitutes what Dreikurs calls a child’s outer environment. The three primary forms of the outer environment are family atmosphere, family constellation, and prevalent methods of training.  Interaction between parents, family values, birth order, economic conditions, religion, competition, parental dominance, and patterns of interaction are all outer environmental factors. It is important to note that the outer environment is perceived by the child’s hereditary endowment or inner environment, which includes their body, perception of touch, smell, and taste. Dreikurs believe each member of the family constellation behaves in accordance to the way they believes their position is within the family. Unfortunately, children often misinterpret their observations about the family.

Dreikurs, a student of Adler, recognized that children need to develop social interests, a desire to help society, to develop into a healthy personality. Whenever possible, and safe, children should experience natural consequences for their actions. Taking responsibility for their actions builds confidence in children. Dreikurs believed in giving children chores and working out problems through a family council.

If children receive needed attention they will develop respect for their own autonomy. If however, the child does not receive what Dreikurs calls due attention they will feel discouraged with their self-worth.

 

Four Mistakes of the Discouraged Child

The four mistaken goals were outlined by Dreikurs in Children: The Challenge

The First Mistaken Goal: The desire for undue attention

The child mistakenly believes they are nothing unless they are the center of attention. This causes the child to exhibit attention-getting behavior instead of participating behavior. When parents respond to demanding behavior with punishment the child has his sense of belonging reinforced. Dreikurs advises the family to distinguish between due and undue attention. He notes each individual within the family will be situation-centered rather than self-centered.

The Second Mistaken Goal: The struggle for power

In this situation, the child feels empowered only when in charge. The mistaken belief is that I am nothing if not in charge. The child’s desire is to engage and win a power struggle. If the parent loses their temper or punishes them it is a victory for the child. The best way out of this trap is for the parent to disengage, removing the attention. If a parent does make a threat; i.e. “No T.V. all week if you don’t go the bed!” they must follow through with the threat.

The Third Mistaken Goal: Retaliation and Revenge

Dreikurs says that when the child’s discouragement intensifies they may use revenge to feel significant and important. At this point, the child no longer believes anyone can possibly like them. The only way to feel important is to hurt others. This is the emotional climate that produces a bully; a revenge-seeking person who was never given enough attention to believe in their acceptance and appreciation within the community.

As Dreikurs states, A bully is always a child who, as a result of initial discouragement, has assumed that one is big only when he can show his power. He is discouraged.

 

The Fourth Mistaken Goal: Complete Inadequacy

Even though the need for power can escalate to revenge it might also result in an emotionally exhausted child who is completely discouraged and has given in to helplessness. Dreikurs writes that it is as though the child said, If I do anything at all you will discover how worthless I am. So leave me alone.

 

Pivotal Points Experienced in Early Childhood

In Nancy J. Cobb’s fifth edition of Adolescence, the significance of earlier stages of development is discussed. Cobb draws on the work of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, who categorized human development into biological stages. Cobb refers to Piaget’s fourth stage of development, Formal Operational, which evolves during the adolescent years. This stage combines the maturing of the nervous system with the assimilation of the prior ages of childhood. According to Cobb, For Piaget, intelligence was a means of adapting to one’s environment, and only those forms of thought that promoted adaptation survived with increasing age. Therefore radical changes in the outer environment of a child’s community need to create adaptable life skills for a continually changing society. Severe emotional trauma experienced in early childhood, however, has residual effects on the development of a child’s identity and his ability to cope in later life.

 

Case in Point: The Story of Asriel

Adolescent Psychiatrist Lynn E. Ponton, M.D., records the risks adolescents take when childhood trauma interferes with development in her book The Romance of Risk (1997).In her story Ghosts from the past Ariel, Ponton outlines a personality profile of a fourteen-year-old adolescent whose adopted mother has taken her to the University of California Clinic because she is engaging in dangerous risk-taking behavior.

Dr. Ponton’s initial evaluation of the causes of Ariel’s behavior incorporates Ariel’s choice of friends, her interaction with her mother, overt behavior in the clinic (including provocative dress contrasted by polite and honest answers to the doctor’s questions), and the degree of dangerous risk-taking behaviors. Depression and poor self-worth were indicated in Ariel’s speech and her belief, as Ponton writes, . . . she did not believe that she would have any future at all.  She would be dead.

 

Through social services, Ponton learned that Ariel had experienced both neglect and severe emotional trauma in her early childhood. She had been left with her two younger siblings without parental care, sometimes locked in a closet. Her birth mother was verbally abusive to Ariel. Because her mother had a history of drug abuse, the possibility exists that Ariel could also have inherited some of the effects of the chemicals prior to birth. By understanding this childhood trauma, Dr. Ponton was able the understand Ariel’s need to act out with behavior that reflects the lack of nurturing Ariel received as a young child. Dr. Ponton connects the abuse Ariel received as a young child to her low self-esteem and depression as an adolescent. Both factors distort Ariel’s concept of identity at a critical point in her life. Ponton’s observations of Ariel’s possible inherited effects of chemicals before birth is an excellent example of Dreikurss conditions of the inner environment. The depression and low self-esteem is consistent with his observations of Ariel’s outer environment.

In Gerald Corey’s text, Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy (2005), the adolescent stages of development and the effects of prior stages are compared. Freud’s stages of childhood development, and their emotional impact from early childhood affecting youth in the Genital Stage (Puberty onward, sexual awakening, mature love), are compared to Ericksons’ Adolescence of Identity versus Role Confusion. Both views suggest that trauma experienced in a prior stage will affect later development. Erikson states that, . . . Major conflicts center on clarification of self-identity.

 

Complications in the Twenty-first Century

divorce heart cartoon

Divorce

While the US divorce rate has remained relatively stable over recent years, it has actually declined in the long-term. As the following stats show, however, the divorce rate in the United States in 2019 doesn’t necessarily provide the full picture of marital success, separations, and relationship breakdowns. 

  • The current divorce rate in the US is 2.9 persons per 1,000 people.
  • Overall, the rate of divorces in America is falling.
  • Divorces amongst people aged 50+ years is rising.
  • Fewer couples choose to marry than pre-1990.
  • The U.S. divorce rate is amongst one of the highest in the world.

According to the Census Bureau, the rate of divorce increases in relation to how many times you marry. This means, the more you marry, the more likely you are to divorce. 

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law did publish data which suggested that the same-sex divorce rate was approximately half of the different-sex divorce rate. However, this was later retracted due to an error in the calculation of the data. Revised figures showed the gay marriage divorce rate was broadly the same as the heterosexual marriage divorce rate, in that around 2% of the population get divorced each year. 

As same-sex marriages were only recognized on a federal level in the US in 2013, there is still a lack of data regarding the rate of same-sex divorces. Over the next 10-20 years, divorce rates amongst same-sex couples are likely to become easier to gather. 

Children of divorce statistics suggest that children whose parents divorce are four times more likely to get a divorce themselves in the future. Even though religious, moral, and socioeconomic factors play a role in this pattern, the statistics suggest that people are far more likely to obtain a divorce if their own parents were divorced.

Should parents stay together for the sake of the children? The answer lies in both the conflict between the parents and their ability to co-parent through the divorce process and afterward.  The effects of divorce on children are plentiful as we have already noted. The United States leads the world in the number of single-parent families. When divorced parents’ relationship with each other is harmonious and when they use authoritative parenting, the adjustment of children improves. In his article Research on Parenting, marital relationship analysis and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Washington John Gottman, Ph.D. addresses the value of parents’ emotional behavior whether together or apart as follows:

It isn’t so much about staying married for the sake of the kids. Couples need to stay happily married, if they can, in order to help their children. In families where the parents aren’t living with each other or are not going to stay married the parents can best help their children by minimizing their children’s exposure to destructive conflict. High levels of parental conflict create emotional distress in the children and decrease effective parenting skills.

 

Traditions, Beliefs and Family Truths

The significance of religion and the types of formal religions varies more in our culture today than perhaps at any other time in history. Still, children want answers to how they fit into the universe and what the universe will do with them. They need to know how their parents perceive the concept of a Higher Power, especially since the child will often find themselves in a community that emphatically expresses specific religious beliefs. Parents/caregivers can dispel the fear of the unknown and provide answers to questions that are too enormous for the young child by sharing their belief system in an age-appropriate manner. Family rituals in the form of prayer, meditation, and celebration can increase the intimacy of the family by creating a tradition and family history. 

 

Shared Knowledge

Tomorrow’s adults need the heritage of their unique family truths to provide guidance and resources for their own adulthood and parenting experience. The hours parents or caregivers are away from children should be balanced by the family time that teaches life skills by example; they include day-to-day events, not simply the pristine moments of quality time. How parents approach the small trials of life teaches family truths and acquired knowledge. Such transfer of awareness and life skills is what Vypotsky called cultural tools.

 

Feeding and Caring for our Future

Children learn by example, therefore healthy habits of hygiene, exercise, and diet first mirror parents’ behavior and availability. Preschool and elementary children, who typically experience a multitude of childhood diseases, often take their germs to school along with their lunch boxes. 

The challenges of parenting during a pandemic can’t be overstated. Remote workers with kids are seeing their workdays fractured by home schooling.  Those with essential jobs that require leaving the house live with the fear of bringing home covid-19. Other parents grapple with unemployment and uncertainty about what lay ahead. For kids, isolation can breed boredom, tantrums, bouts of restlessness.

Anxiety is normal and common among children and youth. It is a natural and normal part of development. “Anxiety is a normal and natural emotion and it is very important,” explains Dr. Bennett, director of psychology of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and clinical director for the Youth Anxiety Center. “It’s crucial that we experience anxiety and fear. If we didn’t, we would all run around doing really dangerous things.”  

“But,” she continued, “when the anxiety no longer matches the situation, then it can start to impair performance. It can steal our attention and concentration. It can keep us awake at night when it would be better for us to be sleeping. It can cause aches and pains and it can start to become more interfering. So anxiety is normal, but it can become out of proportion to the situation. At this point, it becomes overly distressing or overly interfering. And that’s the time when we might want to seek out a professional assessment or intervention.”  The pandemic brought this reality.  

Dreikurs says that a child is a social being, whose strongest motivation is the desire to belong to a group. The child learns from observations and the environment. When parents show concern for their own physical health and safety, they teach their children to value a healthy body. Three family activities that can make a major impact on teaching young people to value their body use both cultural tools and scaffolding.

 

Technology

In 1970 writer and Professor, Alvin Toffler, wrote a book titled Future Shock, illuminating the changes in emerging social patterns in this country. His evaluation of the effect of the technological age is consistent with the way children are connected to family and friends through the web and cell phones today. He wrote that we shall become the first culture in history to employ high technology to manufacture that most transient, yet lasting of products: the human experience. Young people need supporting and coaching leaders to help them sort out reality from cyberspace fantasy. The free exchange of information now enjoyed on a global level will only benefit our future generations if our children are supervised and protected from exploitation.

Television and internet accessibility have become entertainers and surrogate best friends, to under-supervised children. Some of the cognitive effects of children being raised with electronic buddies may include:

Withdrawal: Being connected to electronic equipment all the time may result in children being unable to sit quietly, relax or concentrate when not plugged in,

Cued behavior: Cyberspace and television drama cues listeners to experience emotions in programmed situations instead of exploring internal feelings sparked from creative dramatic play and real-lifeuations.

Confusion about reality: Confusion may arise between fantasy on the screen and factual events in real life.

Lost Communication: Children do not practice conversational speech when engaged in listening to a one-sided.

Loss of empathy: Children who repeatedly witness violence and mature themes may become desensitized to disturbing visual images and lose compassion for the people and animals in the event.

 

Fear and Trust

Carl Rogers mused about permitting a child to become whomever he/she desires; to trust the child to be himself without restraint or caution. This rather long quote is a significant end to this CEU; addressing the possibilities of our children to make a unique contribution of self to the world. In On Becoming a Person (1961)Dr. Rogers writes:

This concept of trusting the individual to be himself has come to have a great deal of meaning to me. I sometimes fantasize about what it would mean if a child were treated in this fashion from the first. Suppose a child was permitted to have his own unique feelings suppose he never had to disown his feelings in order to be loved. Suppose his parents were free to have and express their own unique feelings, which often would be different from his, and often different between themselves. I like to think of all the meanings that such an experience would have. It would mean that the child would grow up respecting himself as a unique person. It would mean that even when his behavior had to be thwarted, he could retain open ownership of his feelings. It would mean that his behavior would be a realistic balance, taking into account his own feelings and the known and open feelings of others. He would, I believe, be a responsible and self-directing individual, who would never need to conceal his feelings from himself, who would never need to live behind a facade.  He would be relatively free of the maladjustments which cripple so many of us.

Not any one generation can experience and learn everything. Family history is a fragile and necessary piece of human evolution. These are sacred gifts to be passed down to each new generation.

 

References

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