The Quiet Abuse of our Modern Children

In the grand scheme of things I have not been working in the education profession for long. I am not a ‘seasoned’ teacher with a significant number of years under my belt. In the time I have worked in education, however, I have worked primarily in an area where one would see the very worst in child behaviour and emotional well being. I have met children with lives outside of school filled with violence, neglect and poverty. Children who, as a direct result of their parents actions, have been traumatised to where their lives will never be the same again. This level of abuse against children has always captured the eye of the media, for its shock and stun factor with the general public. As a society, it is agreed without doubt that this is a completely unacceptable way in which children should experience their childhood years. And so the big sweeping statements from central government are made, the policies are created, the government agencies are sent out in troops and these offenders (where possible) are rounded up with children relocated…..often into equally unsuitable home settings.

But there is a quiet and subtle abuse that  appears to be significantly increasing yet to capture media (and therefore government) attention. Neglectful Parenting will also have life-long, and inter-generational impacts on society that we are yet to fully comprehend. But neglectful parenting does not seem to be understood in its entirety. Neglect comes to the attention of our government agency charged with child safety when children’s basic human needs are not being met. Primarily food, shelter and supervision from adults. What does not seem to be considered as neglectful within these categories is the inability of adults to love and give attention to the children they are responsible for. Yet, anecdotally, there would seem to be an ever increasing number of children walking through the school gates who are experiencing a level of neglect that is having a detrimental effect to their emotional and social well being. They come from a home where they have food, are clean, and have basic clothing requirements (mostly) met. But they do not have an emotional connection to a significant parent. As a teacher, this is by far the hardest level of neglect to address in a classroom.

20130630-093025.jpg

Children from these home environments typically struggle to manage themselves socially and emotionally on a daily basis. They are anxious, defensive, reactive and can display what seems to be an overreaction to minor issues. They do not have the resilience that a child from an emotionally-secure background would have. Simply, they are lost. Lost in a world in which adults are not there to provide calm and comfort, love and care. For some, they learn that when they demonstrate a need for comfort (such as crying, or raging) an adult is not there to respond to them and keep them emotionally safe. For others, they may have had this initially, but as they lose the ‘cute-factor’ of babyhood, they have to ‘toughen up’ and ‘harden up’ and so subsequently lose a model of appropriate emotional response to the trials and tribulations of life ahead. Some children are simply so tired because their lives outside of school are either rushed with parents juggling from one job/event/appointment to the next, or because parents are so unpredictable and have little routines at home to communicate a sense of order for their children. And there are a growing majority of children coping with the emotional burden of adult worries, particularly where relationships have broken down and separations have occurred. For these children, their childhood is not only impacted with the loss of their two-parent family structure, but they are then burdened with the care of their (usually) Mum and her emotional needs of company and companionship.

What is of most concern is that there would appear to be a generation of children growing up that simply do not have the skills to cope with the rigors of adult life. As a result of these types of neglectful parenting, they will enter adulthood without a secure emotional foundation on which to build positive and fulfilling relationships with others. They will have needs that will go unmet. And this will then begin to impact on their ability to appropriately parent the next generation. Thus the snow-ball effect will continue. Predictably there may be far reaching effects into areas such as adolescent and adult mental health, crime rates, rates of teenage pregnancy, divorce statistics and so on. If we do not meet the emotional needs of our young, the problem will become society’s as they reach adulthood.

20130630-093207.jpg

There does not appear to be an easy answer. It does appear that the snowball has already begun its alpine descent, and is quickly gathering momentum (and size). What would slow its pace somewhat would be a nationwide focus on preventative, rather than reactive care for parents and their families. Making it acceptable for parents to acknowledge that this job is horrendously complicated, complex and damn hard work. Allowing parents to share their struggles without judgment of their abilities. Having a government department not focused just on the bottom of the cliff, but getting in early and providing parents with education around the fundamental emotional needs of children in the first few years of their lives. Providing families in the midst of separation with education around how to not burden their children with the adult problems going on around them. In short, protecting children from adulthood and all that it comes with for just that little bit longer. Allowing children to experience a pure childhood……with a sense of emotional security that ultimately builds resilience and self-identity. All while modelling to children a pattern of responsive parenting that they can then adopt in adulthood as they become parents themselves.

It is time parents were given the opportunity to reflect on the quiet form of abuse that is neglectful parenting. Parenting is so much more than feeding, clothing and sheltering children. It is so much harder than that. It is about stepping outside of yourself and putting your children first. In every part of your day.

20130630-093341.jpg

Advertisements

Piggy-In-The-Middle

As a mother, I am most likely not alone in feeling there are never enough hours in the day to give my children the individual attention they need. In having three children, I find the juggling act at times can be a little uneven. Furthermore having the types of personalities innate in my children makes it inevitable that I spend my days and weeks constantly feeling guilty that I am not doing the perfect job of connecting with my children as individuals in every moment that they ask of me. I have recently struggled in particular with my daughter and my ability to spend time and connect with her the most for all of these reasons.

My daughter is my middle child. She, in many ways is a lot like me. And in as just as many ways (as I am learning) she is the opposite of me. In trying to connect with her and understand her individual needs I often make the mistake of applying my experiences as the sister in the family to her own experiences. I see her world through my eyes and what I saw growing up. However I was the first born, of only two children. I was the more dominant personality and was not necessarily comfortable with my own company. In attributing my childhood experience of being the eldest sister I am assuming this is a childhood she is also experiencing. An ongoing error that I am forever correcting, as she quickly teaches me that she is absolutely her own person in her own right and that she is so very different to me. But because of her nature, and because she has on either side of her two boys who have their own set of needs, she is often misred and misunderstood.

She has inherited her creative flair from her father, an artist by occupation. She enjoys sitting quietly, drawing and coloring and entering into her own world of fantasy and imagination. She withdraws to her room and unless we go looking we often will not engage with her for a length of time. Given the rather loud and boisterous nature of her younger brother, her withdrawal can be met with some relief as we are freed up to get other things done as a result of having one-child entertaining herself. But this is perhaps our biggest mistake. Reading her withdrawal, or happiness in her own company as her not having a need for our attention. While she is happy in her own company, she still very much needs our attention, cuddles, laughter and care in those quiet moments. Where her brother is literally all over us demanding our undivided attention, his sister requests our time through sitting alongside her, drawing or coloring, dressing her dolls or painting her toe nails.

Because of her differing personality, my husband and I have had to become much more conscious of the time we spend with her. We have also had to be very reflective around how we manage any rivalry or conflict between her and her brothers. It is too easy to jump to the defense of the youngest child when body language tells us our daughter has wound him up or has been ignoring his incessant badgering to get her attention. At other times, we are drawn into reprimand when her words get too loud out of sheer frustration with her brother’s actions. It has taken a great deal of reflection and distance at times in order for us to look for other ways to connect with our daughter in order to give her the attention she truly deserves. ‘Dates’ with Mum and Dad are a regular fixture now. Toe-nail painting sessions are booked with Mum in the bedroom behind a closed door and away from little brothers. Holding hands in the front seat when out and about in the car. Sitting down alongside a coloring activity and accepting the invitation to join in. Most importantly, erring on the side of caution when it comes to addressing conflict between siblings. Looking to empower her, rather than reprimand, in turn elevating her status in the eyes of her brother. Complimenting her for her maturity, responsibility and specific skills in those moments when we are caught up with managing her younger brother. Telling her every night before the lights go out how much she is loved, how proud we are to be her parents and most importantly how just wonderful we think she is.

Its difficult being a middle child. My husband attests to this having been one himself. It is yet another challenge for parents to reflect upon when being responsive to the individual needs of each of their children. There is a number of schools of research around the impact family placement has on personality and temperament development. Whatever this development is, parents owe it to all their children to recognise their unique qualities and do their very best to connect with their children on an individual level. But, perhaps for those parents who have ‘middle’ children in their families – consider how this placement impacts on a parent’s ability to be able to connect in these ways with their middle child. It may require more considerate and careful planning in order to have that special and important time so as to mitigate the ongoing and life-long side-effects of being ‘Piggy-In-The-Middle’.

20130524-172049.jpg

Family Traditions

Our family are probably representative of most these days in the little time we actually have to spend together. For the most part, my husband and I are ships in the night. He’s on morning family shift and I am on the nights. I start work at 8am, finish in time (usually) to tend to homework, dinner, bath time etc. He starts after lunch and can work through late into the night, depending on his customers requirements. Add into this a teenage son who has rugby practice, kick boxing training, not to mention the brief notion of a blossoming social life. As a result our family work in ‘departments’….Mum and the little ones…..Dad and teenage son. Because of this, Sundays have become our most precious day of the week. It is the one day where both my husband and I aren’t working, and we as a family can all enjoy each others company. It is also the one day of the week when we are all home at the same time for dinner.

Because of this, I have been on a crusade in establishing a new tradition for our family to adhere to. Our family Sunday lunch. While this may sound a little simplistic, it rarely is not. I first started the idea of a Sunday dinner. The one time when we are all sitting formally at our dining table, rather than up at the kitchen bench, or in front of the TV. But, because my children are early risers, this meant we were having to sit down at 5pm for the evening meal. If not, the point of a relaxing, enjoyable family meal was lost in the midst of fussy, tired, grumpy children.

So the idea was tweaked to that of a lunchtime sit down meal. I even had the wild idea of opening up to anyone in the house at the time….(teenagers friends usually leftover from a Saturday night social event). We have had a few successful meals since the tweak…..but to really establish the ‘tradition’ takes an awful lot of commitment. And buy in from those involved. Which at the moment I am yet to get from both children and husband. Life is so busy that I seem to be the only one concerned with the lack of time we have together solely to enjoy each others’ company.

To me the idea of traditions offer so many more benefits than just the focus, such as mine, of spending time together. They are occasions fondly recalled as adults. They are events where new and specific social learning may occur in a realistic context. They provide self-identity and a sense of belonging to the family unit. They give children something to stand for…..because there is something of importance upheld by the adults in their lives. These traditions can be as simple as Sunday lunches or as complex as which presents are given and received at Christmas time. The point is there is something there for children to identify as theirs. Something they can say happens predictably in their family, that has a feel good factor or a real point to why it happens. And something they can say is important to their family……and is therefore important to them.

Which makes the idea of my Sunday lunches all the more important. I haven’t the answer to its success yet….but I’m working on it. I think the fact it’s on my radar must give it a much higher chance of success than if it were not!