As we prepared to post this blog entry as a follow-up to our discussion of Dylann Roof there has been yet another mass shooting. Yesterday, a 20 year old opened fire at a community college in Oregon. What is even more tragic is the postings that occurred a day before on a website by the name of 4chan where an anonymous individual posted a warning for people in the Northwest not to go to school on the day of the shooting. Several others posted encouragements in the comments of this post. How do we begin to explain why aggressive impulses are so out of control.
First, it is important to understand developmentally appropriate aggression. Without some aggression children become passive and struggle to make decisions, form their own opinions, and do the work in order to be successful in life. Essentially, early aggression is the foundation for assertiveness.
Assertiveness is a mixture of love and aggression. Children need help to assert their own needs while keeping in mind the needs of others.
So how do we get there? When a child first experiences aggression (an energy that comes from discomfort) it can feel very big. Parents help the child become the boss of their aggression through their loving and neutral words. It can be difficult for parents. The primitive aggression of children can be overwhelming to even the most loving parent. When a child of three screams that they want you to die, do not be afraid. The child needs you to remain neutral. You can educate by reminding the child of the love between you and by using communicating a trust that angry feelings will pass. If parents overreact or meet aggression with anger, no one is in control.
Discipline practices also play a part in helping your child become the boss of their aggression. Punishment communicates to the child, “You hurt me so I am going to hurt you back.” Discipline teaches that there are natural consequences to behaviors. For example, when a child breaks another child’s toy, grounding or yelling may make your child fear you or the power of their own aggression. Having the child do a small chore to earn money to replace the toy teaches them that mistakes can be made better and that they are good fixers, not just breakers.
Anytime you feel your child is struggling to learn how to keep others in mind, it’s a good time to seek the advice of a child development professional. Together you will decide if parent guidance or individual therapy is the best way to help your child get unstuck and continue to mature.
Following the tragic events in South Carolina, the news and internet have been awash in questions and opinions about how Dylann Roof could become a young man with such deep seeded hate. The behavior of any one individual is multiply determined and there will never be just one thing to say about it. But looking at the internet discussions at least two central questions arise. How do we keep our kids from developing such a deep level of hate and how do we know when the behavior of our children should worry us? Every parent wants a successful future for their child, no one wishes for this kind of outcome. In today’s blog we will address the first question.
How do I ensure my child accepts and respects differences?
When someone has to hate that which they are not it is a reflection of a negative view of self. People with this trouble have not had enough good experiences to develop a sense of “me” that is lovable and likable. For example, as early as infancy parents protect their child from being overwhelmed by attending to their needs. Changing a wet diaper quickly or swaddling when the parent senses the child might be cold conveys they are worthy and loved. If these types of experiences happen daily, with parents slowly introducing delays in gratification and allowing small disappointments, the child learns to deal with frustration in bearable bits.
Hate begins when the world feels overwhelming. Negative feelings about the self are pushed out and put onto others who are different. They become targets for the things about the self that are hated. Essentially one unconsciously says, “I am not helpless, I make others helpless and then attack them for it.”
Children begin to notice differences around age three so it is important they go into this phase with a strong sense of being good and intact. Questions about differences are frequent and how a parent responds can help a child see they can still be good even when compared to others who are different and also good. When children point out differences they are asking a question, “Am I OK?” For example, children in preschool can often be heard saying things like, “Your skin is chocolate, mine is vanilla” This is a question hidden in a statement. How did I get to be the way I am? Am I going to stay this way? Is there anything wrong with who I am? When parents or teachers answer these questions and reassure children they are exactly as they need to be, a strong sense of self develops. In addition, answering children’s questions helps them become good thinkers who are less likely to go looking for answers online and more critical of the kinds of information predators provide them online.
While we don’t know the specifics of Dylann’s life, we can hypothesize from what we do know. We know he was alone. We know he lacked good enough feelings. We know he went looking for connection online. We know that when this group treated him nice, he was surprised and considered backing down. The loving behavior of the group knocked on some door inside that would have allowed him to see beyond his projections. But something bigger was missing that kept it from opening. He was too far down the road of projecting what he hated about himself and their contrary behavior would have been intolerable to his defense. He would have had to see that the negative was his, not theirs, and he could not tolerate that reality.
What can parents do?
No one looks forward to potty training. It can feel like a time consuming process and a task that has to be conquered by parent’s and caregivers. It is often a time of great insecurity for toddlers as well. Gaining a better understanding of this developmental step can help everyone relax and enjoy the wonders of child development. First, let’s stop calling it training. Instead let’s call it mastery. To gain mastery over one’s body is a skill that generalizes to all other areas of physical development. A parent’s feelingful understanding of how confusing body mastery can be for their toddler, is what makes it doable for the child.
There are a few simple steps that encourage the completion of this task:
• Allow the toddler to let you know when they are ready.
• Identify other areas of the toddler's life that can be clean and orderly such as: hand washing, bathing, putting toys away etc...
3) Begin with daytime mastery and then overnight mastery; limiting overwhelming feelings.
4) Help the toddler embrace "accidents" as learning opportunities rather than using discipline.
5) Use clothing and underwear that is manageable for the toddler, encouraging a "can do" feeling.
Staying true to these simple steps can make the mastery of elimination a joy for toddler and parents. For answers to these types of questions and more call the Cypress Family Center at 216-407-5993 or 216-280-2741.
In most toddlers fear represents healthy development. As toddlers learn to assert their will they often experience feelings as bigger than they really are. Parents can help by reminding children that they are bigger than their worries. On the other hand, repeatedly seeking out being scared by insisting on being tossed in the air, scaring others with a sudden "boo", rough housing with older peers is often mistaken for pleasure when it is really an attempt to conquer a fear. Minimizing over-excitement during this developmental phase helps toddlers progress through normal forms of fears and worries in bearable bits.
There can be many sources to sleep troubles in toddlers e.g. - sleeping without parents, sleeping in unfamiliar places, absence of routine, no ability to calm oneself, etc. The answer is associated with the source. Good detective work and a commitment to support what is helpful to developing adequate sleep routines for toddler and others in the home is needed. For example, toddlers sleeping with their parents may need to move in bearable bit toward their own bed. Having parents sit by their bed until they sleep is a good start to transitioning. Always let your child know that you will be leaving once they are asleep so they do not wake up to a surprise. For a child who struggles to calm themselves, something as simple as determining soothing sounds to play at bed time may be the fastest answer. If this does not work, then more investigation is needed to determine the reason for difficulty with self-soothing.
At the Cypress Family Center we believe that the foundations of success in adulthood are built during the earliest years of life. Our core program is the toddler enrichment class during which care givers are helped to support toddler independence and are educated in effective strategies for managing those behaviors that traditionally make the twos “terrible.” Changes in the demands of preschool have led children to have increasing difficulty with focus, attention and separation from parents. It has become important to address these issues in toddlers so that they can enter preschool with the ability to enjoy being school children. Our services, including our parent guidance and group discussions, are designed to support parents in being in “feeling touch” with their children. We believe that when parents see behavior as communication, the code is broken and everyone feels understood which makes the whole family happier.