A type of experience that is crucial yet somewhat invisible is the nature of our social life. The first ones a child is exposed to and that are vital to self formation are the relationships to the immediate family. One of the hidden sources of distress of our highly sensitive children can be ourselves. Indeed, the source of our children’s problems can come from the harshness of our own emotions, due to economic or social stressors, which are affecting a child’s empathy. As Family Therapist Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D writes:
“Turning to medication when a child is having trouble at school or feeling sad has become as American as apple pie.(…)
Lately, however, an alternative point of view has been gaining more acceptance. This is the notion that family stress — marital problems, financial issues, illness or injury of a parent, and so forth — can be toxic to children and is at the root of many childhood emotional and behavioral problems. Family therapists have been working with this idea for half of century. But now, many people who are not family therapists but who are concerned with the well-being of children are taking this view seriously. Huffington Post writer Lisa Belkin, for example, discussed this topic in a recent Parentlode column.
Instead of viewing a child’s problem as strictly a biological disorder — whether genetic, epigenetic or biochemical — family therapists find that they can help children best by looking at the child’s nurturing environment. A family is a complex system and, as in all complex systems, a change in one part of the system affects the other parts. For example, a few weeks ago, 4-year-old boy Paulie was in my office because his preschool teacher thought he had ADHD. Paulie had had a personality change seemingly overnight. From a sweet well-behaved child, he changed into to a little monster who wouldn’t obey his teacher’s simplest request. When I asked Paulie what was troubling him, he said he was worried about his father because his father had lost his job and cried all day.
Some people may be amazed that a 4-year old child could be so tuned in to his father and have behavior problems because of a father losing his job. To a family therapist, however, this kind of situation is business as usual. We see it every day. “(Wedge, 2011)[i]
This suggests that our own self-reflection and self-awareness is essential to our highly sensitive children’s well being. Here lies another difficulty, it is much harder to look at ourselves and deal with our own stressors and toxic behaviors than to look at those of another. Yet, without this work, we may continue to unintentionally harm our children despite medications, therapies, etc. But, besides social lives, the environment must also be considered, the world having a very large importance on the senses.
Next: A Child’s Sensorial Experience of The World
[i] Wedge, Marilyn (2011).“Could Stress Cause an ADHD Diagnosis?”. Huffingtonpost. Nov. 13, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marilyn-wedge-phd/protecting-a-child-from-f_b_1084421.html