When I was out the other day, I ended up hearing a child scream whilst I was reading a book. The child, along with both of their parents, was right behind me so I couldn’t help but hear.
At first, I started to wonder when the noise would stop as I was finding it hard to concentrate. Sooner or later, though, one of the child’s parents said, “what’s wrong with you?!” And this was something that was said a few times afterwards.
A Strong Reaction
When I heard this, I felt a lot of rage rise up inside me and I thought that I’m sure that I had been asked this on numerous occasions when I was a child. Part of me wanted to talk to the parent and ask them what they were doing.
Shortly after, one of their parents said that the man is trying to read and asked their child to be quiet. I then looked over and said that it was fine as I had finished; I had to take a break from reading.
The Next Part
After this, the parent who asked their child the question above said that the other parent needed to grow up and that their child has been copying their behaviour; this was then why their child was the way that they were. At this point, I thought it was clear that both of the child’s parents had a lot going on.
I ended up experiencing compassion for both of the child’s parents, in addition to the compassion I was already feeling for the child. To me, it was clear that the child was playing up due to what was taking place for their parents.
Now, based on what one of the child’s parents said to the other, it could be said that this was something that one of the child’s parents was at least partly aware of. As to how aware they truly were about the impact that their behaviour was having on their child and their relationship was anyone’s guess.
But, irrespective of how aware this or the other parent actually was, this whole dynamic is something that often takes place. A child automatically absorbs what is going on in their environment or family system and thereby becomes the repository of the family’s darkness.
Furthermore, the child can be ‘acting up’ due to the fact that they are being deprived of a lot of what they need. In other words, if their developmental needs are seldom being met and their parent or parents are rarely emotionally available, they are then forced to behave in ways that will hopefully allow them to gain their parent or parent’s attention and receive the love that they need in the process.
This, of course, can cause them to behave in ways that are labelled as being bad but they are not doing this to cause problems; they are doing it to receive love. The challenge is that due to their own level of development, they might not have the ability to articulate what is really going on for them and express what they need.
The Last Resort
Then again, if one or both of their parents are not emotionally available, they will have received the message, on numerous occasions, that certain needs won’t be met. Playing up, thanks to how powerless and dependent they are, is then their only way to hopefully receive what they need.
Now, a child in this position could simply give up and not do anything. They can then be seen as being ‘well-behaved’ and a good boy or girl, but their system will simply be in a state of total despair and loaded with shame and how they are behaving will have very little to do with being ‘good’.
However, if a child is seen as a calculated and manipulative being, then it will be normal for them to be seen as the problem and as someone who needs to be disciplined so that they will behave. In this instance, it could be said that this is what takes place when a parent is projecting their level of development and perhaps their own inclinations onto a child.
The child is then demonised for behaving in a way that will hopefully allow them to meet needs that they haven’t been able to meet in any other way. Therefore, a parent or parent's lack of presence and attunement causes their child to behave in a certain way and, without this understanding, the child is seen as the problem.
What this demonstrates is how important it is for a parent to have a good level of empathy and to be able to attune to their child’s needs. Without these abilities, or with them simply being lowered due to the stress, for instance, their child is likely to pay a price.
The child can then become the problem or the scapegoat in the family and grows up to be someone who has a number of issues that make it hard for them to function. And, if they are unable, for whatever reason, to start working through their own issues and end up having one or more children, the same dynamic can be played out all over again.
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Oliver JR Cooper
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 26 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
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That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.