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The 7 Emotional Needs of Children
All children are born with emotional needs. These needs must be met by the adults in their life if they’re to grow into confident and independent adults. The acronym PARENTS summarises children’s needs (Protection, Acceptance, Recognition, Enforced limits, Nearness, Time and Support).
Protection: It’s crucial that all children feel safe and secure. This is essential for their very survival – and all children fear rejection and abandonment. They need a sense of order and predictability, routine, peace and stability – so they can learn to trust others, and build relationships. However, if trust is absent, and they feel insecure, they’ll start to put up walls to keep other people out, and they’ll find it hard to trust and get close to anyone.
Acceptance: All children need to feel that they are loved and accepted - for who and what they are – without any strings attached. They so desperately want to be worthy of acceptance, and cherished and loved despite their limits and their failings. This is crucial information - for their parent is a mirror who reflects back to them the world’s perception of the child. It should tell them they are valuable and worthy of love – so the child learns to value and believe in themselves. However, if a parent is demanding, harsh or critical then the child will develop chronic low self-esteem.
Recognition: Children have an innate need to make their parents happy, and are desperate for praise, and to hear their parents say: “I’m so proud of you. You did a fabulous job.” But if approval is withheld, so the child feels they are worthless, they’ll likely give up hope, and they will lose the will to try. This may show itself in angry, acting out behaviour … or the child may withdraw, and expect little in life.
Enforced Limits: Children need a sense of predictability. They need to see that rules are followed, so life is NOT chaotic. For the world feels scary and doesn’t make much sense if boundaries are fluid and “just anything goes”.
Nearness: Expressing love is crucial for communicating love - so children need to be held and be hugged by their parents. In a very concrete way, this sends the powerful message that the child’s needs matter, and their parents care for them.
Time: Children don’t distinguish between quality time and just hanging out, and spending lots of time with parents. They need to be in their presence, and to have their full attention, as that sends the message “I like being with you.” They then believe that others will like and want them, too.
Support: The outside world is a scary place for children. It’s full of unknown dangers and unmet challenges. Thus, to launch out and discover they can cope and survive, children need to be certain that their parents’ will be there. That is, they need their encouragement, their affirmation, their constant support and their belief in the child. That helps the child to venture into and explore the outside world, so they develop independence and increased autonomy.
More on Healthy and Unhealthy Attachment Relationships
In my previous article I talked about the key conditions for developing a healthy attachment in infants and children. Below I discuss the qualities and traits that define a healthy attachment bond (secure attachment) and those which define unhealthy attachments (anxious resistant/ambivalent or avoidant attachment relationships).
If the relationship between the parent and child has been stable, healthy and fulfilling, the growing child and adolescent will display the following qualities and characteristics:
- The child will be able to separate from her parent without displaying significant distress
- She will turn to her parent for comfort and support when feeling anxious or afraid
- She will we welcoming / happy to see her parents after a period of separation
- Given a choice, she will prefer being with her parents than being with strangers
- She will play well with/ relate well to other children or adolescents
- Securely attached children are generally viewed as being as less disruptive, less aggressive, and more mature than children with other attachment styles.
As an adult, the person with a secure attachment will be:
- Secure and self-reliant
- Accepting of herself and others (and therefore able to form and maintain mutually rewarding relationships)
- Willing to seek out support from others when she needs it
- Guided by a healthy conscience rather than being driven by a guilt-ridden, over scrupulous or over-anxious conscience.
Unfortunately, this ideal cannot always be provided. Parents are human and may have received inadequate parenting themselves. In addition, there are circumstances that are unavoidable, such as the unexpected death of a parent, or the necessity for hospitalisation. Economic hardship and social pressures may also take their toll on family life. Therefore, although it is regrettable, there will be instances where parenting has been inconsistent, insensitive or simply inadequate. As a result, unhealthy rather than healthy attachment bonds may have developed. These will be either:
- Anxious resistant /ambivalent attachment relationships, or
- Avoidant Attachment
1. Anxious resistant /ambivalent attachments
This occurs where a mother has been inattentive to her child’s needs, and unpredictable in her response. Therefore, the child concludes that her mother cannot, or will not, reliably provide the love, understanding and emotional support she craves. On some occasions her mother is available, accepting and willing to help; at other times, she is either absent or dismissive of the child and her needs. It is likely, too, that the child will have tried different strategies to secure her mother’s attention - but to no real avail.
The growing child is likely to display the following qualities and characteristics:
- Insecurity which causes the child to be both clingy and anxious
- Separation anxiety
- Responds with intense distress when separated from her parent, and is not easily comforted by others
- Not easily consoled when reunited with her parent, and may act aggressively towards the parent
- Lacks confidence in herself and her ability to influence others
- Suffers from low self-esteem
- May be overly dependent on others for help and attention
- At risk of being bullied or becoming a victim
- Has poorer peer relationships.
As an adolescent and adult, the person with an anxious resistant/ ambivalent attachment:
- Is likely to develop anxiety-related problems
- Tends to be easily frustrated – and give up easily
- Fears commitment and intimacy as she expects, ultimately, to be rejected.
- Her need for love may find expression through attention-seeking behaviours such as anorexia nervosa or half-hearted suicide attempts
- Is in danger of developing obsessive-compulsive, dependent borderline or histrionic personality disorders
- Feels anger towards her parent. This is usually inhibited or repressed. However, it may surface in adult life as unconscious resentment towards her husband, or a child.
2. Avoidant attachments
This occurs where a mother has been cold, rejecting, intrusive or overly-controlling. It is likely she ignored the child’s cries for help or responded in ways which were harsh, dismissive or insensitive.
The growing child is likely to display the following qualities and characteristics
- Does not appear to be overly distressed when her parent leaves
- Ignores or avoids her parent when she returns
- Does not seek contact with, or comfort from, her parent
- Shows little preference between her parent or a stranger
- Has problems with anger and hostility
- Is impulsive and lacks self-control
- Is often disobedient at school
- Prefers to play alone, is very independent and pulls back from friendships with peers
- When a peer is upset, is likely to be rude, mocking or hurtful rather than caring and sensitive
- Is often unpopular with other children (Pushes others away through their challenging behaviours).
As an adolescent and adult, the person with an avoidant attachment will likely:
- Have problems with intimacy and show little interest in romantic relationships.
- Be terrified of close relationships (because of their intense fear of rejection)
- Refuse to “let down their guard” and confide in or rely on others
- Be scathing of others who connect in this way
- Insist on doing everything for, and by, themselves
- Have problems with hostile anger
- Lack empathy
- Be in danger of developing antisocial, narcissistic or paranoid personality disorders.
“Repetition, broadly construed, is in everything. It’s in our breath, and our pulse. It’s sunrise, sunset. It’s spring summer fall winter. The tides, cell division. Bad habits, and good ones. The daily grind. Annoyingly repetitive thoughts. It’s in music, art, dance, architecture. Religion, history. Doodling, nail-biting, toe-tapping, smoking. Menstruation, masturbation, sex. Rhythm is repetition. Rhyme is repetition.”—Elizabeth Giddens on the value of repetition
Children’s brain processing speed indicates risk of psychosis
New research from Bristol and Cardiff universities shows that children whose brains process information more slowly than their peers are at greater risk of psychotic experiences.
These can include hearing voices, seeing things that are not present or holding unrealistic beliefs that other people don’t share. These experiences can often be distressing and frightening and interfere with their everyday life.
Children with psychotic experiences are more likely to develop psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia later in life.
Using data gathered from 6,784 participants in Children of the 90s, researchers from the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics in Cardiff University and the School of Social and Community Medicine in the University of Bristol examined whether performance in a number of cognitive tests conducted at ages 8, 10 and 11 was related to the risk of having psychotic experiences at age 12.
The tests assessed how quickly the children could process information, as well as their attention, memory, reasoning, and ability to solve problems.
Among those interviewed, 787 (11.6 per cent) had suspected or definite psychotic experiences at age 12. Children that scored less well in the various tests at the ages of 8, 10 and 11 were more likely to have psychotic experiences at age 12.
This was particularly the case for the test that assessed how quickly the children processed information. Furthermore, children whose speed of processing information became slower between ages 8 and 11 had greater risk of having psychotic experiences at age 12.
These findings did not change when other factors, including the parent’s psychiatric history and the children’s own developmental delay, were taken into account. The study’s findings could have important implications for identifying children at risk of psychosis, with the benefit of early treatment.
Speaking about the findings, lead author and PhD student, Miss Maria Niarchou from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, said:
‘Previous research has shown a link between the slowing down of information processing and schizophrenia and this was found to be at least in part the result of anti-psychotic medication.
‘However, this study shows that impaired information processing speed can already be present in childhood and associated with higher risk of psychotic experiences, irrespective of medication.
‘Our findings improve our understanding of the brain processes that are associated with high risk of psychotic experiences in childhood and in turn high risk of psychotic disorder later in life.’
Senior author, Dr Marianne van den Bree of Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, said:
‘Schizophrenia is a complex and relatively rare mental health condition, occurring at a rate of 1 per cent in the general population. Not every child with impaired information processing speed is at risk of psychosis later in life. Further research is needed to determine whether interventions to improve processing speed in at-risk children can lead to decreased transition to psychotic disorders.’
Ruth Coombs, Manager for Influence and Change at Mind Cymru, said:
‘This is a very interesting piece of research, which could help young people at risk of developing mental health problems in later life build resilience and benefit from early intervention. It is important to remember that people can and do recover from mental health problems and we also welcome further research which supports resilience building in young people.’
How do we develop a healthy sense of pride?
A healthy sense of pride in ourselves and our achievements is crucial for developing a healthy self esteem. It first develops in our childhood and is based upon the way we are treated by our parents – then our teachers and our peers. In summary:
1. Parents need to provide their child with a sense of total acceptance and unconditional love. The child needs to know deep down inside that no matter what they do, their parents will love them, and will be there for them.
2. Parents need to give their child their undivided attention so the child knows their achievements are recognised and prized. This is crucial as a child cannot take pride in themselves. They need an audience to show them they are doing well in life. (Note:They need to know that they’re successful in all kinds of things from reading to swimming to riding their bike). Also, simply being willing to spend time with the child conveys the powerful message that they matter to their parent, that their company is wanted, and they’re seen as valuable.
3. Parents need to praise their child for working hard on a task, for making the effort, and finishing the job. This develops inner pride for showing perseverance and being committed – regardless of the cost. Thus, it’s not just our successes or the end results that matter – it’s taking on a challenge and working towards goals.
4. Children need to be given some responsibilities that are age appropriate – and which they’re able to fulfill. For example, small children can help parents to tidy up their toys, or to set the table, or to help sort out the laundry. Older children can be asked to make their bed and clean their room, or do some extra chores, or to get a part-time job. It sends the message “you are capable and competent”; as well as “you contribute to our family”. These both help to develop a sense of inner pride.
5. Those who live and work with children must offer empathy so the child feels they are able to talk about their problems. As they do this, they will learn that we all struggle and we fail, but there are others who’ll support us and encourage us to try.
Let your child get hurt.
“If you’re over 20, you probably walked to school, played on the monkey bars, and learned to high-dive at the public pool. If you’re younger, it’s unlikely you did any of these things. Yet, has the world become that much more dangerous? Statistically, no. But our society has created pervasive fears about letting kids be independent—and the consequences for our kids are serious.”
- Gerver Tully, author
“Children of risk-averse parents have lower test scores and are slightly less likely to attend college than offspring of parents with more tolerant attitudes toward risk,” says a team led by Sarah Brown of the University of Sheffield in the UK. Aversion to risk may prevent parents from making inherently uncertain investments in their children’s human capital; it’s also possible that risk attitudes reflect cognitive ability, researchers say.” Sadly, this Scottish Journal of Political Economy report won’t help us unless we do something about it. Adults continue to vote to remove playground equipment from parks so kids won’t have accidents; to request teachers stop using red ink as they grade papers and even cease from using the word “no” in class. It’s all too negative. I’m sorry—but while I understand the intent to protect students, we are failing miserably at preparing them for a world that will not be risk-free.
Psychologists in Europe have discovered that if a child doesn’t play outside and is never allowed to experience a skinned knee or a broken bone, they frequently have phobias as adults. Interviews with young adults who never played on jungle gyms reveal they’re fearful of normal risks and commitment. The truth is, kids need to fall a few times to learn it is normal; teens likely need to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend to appreciate the emotional maturity that lasting relationships require. Pain is actually a necessary teacher. Consider your body for a moment. If you didn’t feel pain, you could burn yourself or step on a nail and never do something about the damage and infection until it was too late. Pain is a part of health and maturity.
Similarly, taking calculated risks is all a part of growing up. In fact, it plays a huge role. Childhood may be about safety and self-esteem, but as a student matures, risk and achievement are necessities in forming their identity and confidence. Because parents have removed “risk” from children’s lives, psychologists are discovering a syndrome as they counsel teens: High Arrogance, Low Self-Esteem. They’re cocky, but deep down their confidence is hollow, because it’s built off of watching YouTube videos, and perhaps not achieving something meaningful.