A closer look at attachment.
As we slide into Children’s Mental Health Week from the Charity Place2Be, we can feel that the ongoing situation is storing up serious emotional issues for the current younger generation. On the whole, lots of our primary aged children have displayed extraordinary resilience and kindness in the last year: although there is concern, teachers are also full of praise for how well their youngest cohorts have coped with successive lockdowns.
But what about the younger and older teens, those already jarred by transition, who are made additionally vulnerable by the current emotional storms. Many of this age-group are grappling with key academic transitions, changing schools and are expected to make decisions that will impact most of their early career. They have missed their GCSEs, ‘A’ levels, BTECs, key school milestones, such as proms and leaving assemblies. What of those in another ‘risk’ category, who are autistic or have another neurodivergent profile?
The difficulty with child and adolescent mental health (and there are many) is that the young person’s primary carer (their reaction, response and understanding of the young person’s mental health) has a direct baring on how well the young person will cope during their period of difficulty. Depending on the attachment style between the young person and the primary carer, there may be some ‘collusion’, blame, narcissism, jealousy, gaslighting, disinterest, disappointment, as well as negative verbal and body language that will increase the young person’s level of mental discomfort.
Now, before you jump up and down in frustration reading this, I am also one of those primary carers. As adults, we need to be truthful about how our own behaviours can impact those we live with and we need to acknowledge that we don’t always set the best example for the young people we are responsible for. Lockdown hasn’t been easy on the working mothers, single mothers, mothers in the middle of divorce, grieving mothers, mothers whose children have additional needs, mothers who are trying to hold down a job, put food on the table and not drown in their own mental health difficulties. I include fathers in this but I’m also using real talk. The data is there if you want to know who still does the majority of work within the home, even if she also is a full-time employee.
This is just a reminder that a good parent is a good person first and foremost. Read that again. A person who is rested, emotionally well-nourished, who feels appreciated and valued. If there is nothing left in the tank for us, the prognosis for our child will be poorer. This is not to pile on the blame, this is a wake up call for all of us to take stock of what is actually possible and what level of stress is harmful to us as well as those who depend on us. Many of us also have adult dependants to consider as well as younger ones.
I took part in a live discussion with Kingston Chamber of Commerce in 2020 you can check it out here, and we discussed the strange drift back to old gender inequalities during lockdown, in terms of who is responsible for household chores, earning money and raising the children (which currently means educating them too). The debate was fascinating and in many cases, we all felt that the government had fallen short in terms of understanding the realities and challenges are for so many families.
It’s true, the vaccine is here and more people are being vaccinated, which affords us all a higher level of protection, but the vaccine is not a magic pill. We’ve already heard of mutating viruses; that is what viruses have been doing for millions of years. Even as the main danger seems to subside and our instinct is to relax, travel more, socialise more, there will also continue to be serious threats to humanity. Thankfully, many of us have never lived through one!
There are many children whose sense of safety and security about the outside world has been severely rocked. Maslow’s triangle is broken. For some, the inner sanctuary of their home is also no longer a safe space – so where can these children and young people go to be heard and feel safe? Many of them will seek out their peers for comfort and assurance. Whenever they are at home, I will think about what we can give our young people in terms of time, attention and reciprocity, to make up for the huge amount of Resilience Cake they will need to eat to navigate an uncertain future. I hope, it will be enough.
© Suzy Rowland, Child & Adolescent Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, autism & ADHD and family coach, author S.E.N.D. in the Clowns, Founder #happyinschool project. Do get in touch if there is something I may be able to help with.