Childhood is protected space, a time of exploration, a place for joy and fun, and where we learn what it is to be human through our relationships. Children are special - they make us laugh and cry. They fill us with joy and can paralyse us with fear. We love them and this love makes them loving and lovable. Most of us continue to love our children regardless of the challenges as they grow up.
Yet not all children experience this. For a few, childhood is a time of terror and desolation. They learn that adults are dangerous, trust is a foolish fantasy and that people are objects to be used in a continuous battle for survival. For others their experiences of relationships leave them unsure that love can survive and uncertain about their own fundamental worth.
As our brains develop
Our brains develop to fit the environment we grow up in. The emotional atmosphere created by an adult caring for a child has a direct influence on the emotional capacity and behaviour that the child demonstrates. Love begets love, communication creates more communication and empathy enables the development of empathy. Conversely aggression promotes aggression, lack of sensitivity blunts sensitivity to others and unpredictable responses lead to unpredictable behaviour.
How children respond
When children who grow up in hostile or destructive spaces are removed for their own safety, their normal ways of relating and of understanding the world are challenged. Some children are able to respond to the changed emotional environment with relief and start to develop positive relationships, skills and behaviour. Ironically, however, some find their new homes and carers more frightening than those they left behind. Basic assumptions about the world and entrenched ways of relating no longer work. Surrounded by adults who insist on offering care and support, children may feel compelled to prove this is false by testing these relationships to the point of destruction. If they succeed in alienating the adults and are ultimately moved from the placement then their original view of the world is validated and they move on with an even greater mistrust in relationships and people.
Those who need love the most
Most of us come into this work because we are caring, trustworthy people who want to make children’s lives better. It can be almost intolerable to be faced with children that we want to help who, instead of responding to our love and care, abuse and attack our core sense of self. Perhaps even harder are those who are so disconnected that they barely notice we are there, we are so irrelevant in their world.
The truth is that these children who reject or ignore love are those who desperately need it the most. What is harmed through relationship must be healed through relationship. Helping adults stay connected to children in emotional pain by improving their understanding, providing emotional support and co-creating enabling organisations is fundamental to the work we do in CELCIS.
The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.
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