That the first two years of our lives are incredibly important to the health of our relationships (and therefore our well-being) is true; but, though with decreasing influence on the development of our brains, the child and adolescent as well need to be nourished, educated and protected by the parent regarding the development of relationships with their siblings, their peers, their teachers and with authority.
Erik Erikson – whose work with the Sioux children in South Dakota and subsequent theory on psychological development made him one of the top psychologists of the 20th-century – proposed (and my opinion proved) that we continue to develop as humans right throughout our lives. From birth onwards, problems in our relationships continue wreaking damage with us reaching our full potential throughout our lives. For instance, in the period from 3 to 5 years old, how we interact with our parents, siblings and the significant other people in our lives serves to lead us to develop initiative. For the rest of our lives, impairment during this period leads to feeling of incompetence and guilt about that incompetence; provided therapeutic intervention does not take place. Similarly, problems with friends can lead the adolescent never to solidify our core identity (or, the answer to the question: “Who am I?”) in the adolescent’s quest of trying on many different selves to see which self fits best.
Why is this important?
If we fail to attain the needed development in any stage and no healing takes place, the subsequent injury is epigenetic, meaning that that harm continues to spread in usually enlarging fashion throughout the rest of our lives’ relationships.
The problem of faulty relationships during childhood and adolescence is expanding. A 2004 study revealed that 80% of 8 to 10-year-olds reported periods of significant loneliness and 68% reported being bullied. Similarly, 70% of adolescents have experienced recurring loneliness by age 18, whilst the percentage being involved in bullying worldwide ranges between 9 to 45% in adolescent boys, and 5 to 36% in adolescent girls. (The lowest rates, as usual, is in Sweden).
Nevertheless, we live in a wonderful age where we know increasingly how important it is to correct and heal the inevitable scrapes and bumps our children encounter in the journey (and often the maze) of finding their feet in relationships.
Therefore, as parents, we can do a great deal to prevent or reduce this injurious process.
As mentioned, aside from our parents, siblings play tremendously important roles in the development of the current healthy relationship of us as children, whilst friends, teachers and people in authority do the same throughout teenage years. As parents, we need to understand that our child’s position in the family influences our child deeply. It is imperative therefore to make sure that the oldest child understands that their more junior siblings are of equal worth as they are; that the middle child may also be a leader; and that the youngest child doesn’t necessarily require more pampering than the older children simply because they are the youngest.
In adolescence, we as parents need to comprehend that although it appears as if our children could not care less what we think, in fact they listen very carefully to what we say. At this stage of our children’s lives, it works best to listen deeply and attentively to everything they say (or don’t say), and if we have any concern, to make a formal date with them during which time we speak words of help and advice to solve the relationship problems that they are facing.
Societies also are jumping on the bandwagon, thank goodness.
Many wonderful initiatives are underway by society at large to minimize the havoc.
At elementary school, “buddy benches” are gaining traction: designating a bench on which a lonely kid can sit, as a signal to any kindhearted other child to join them there or invite them to play. In addition, the system also helps teachers to become aware of the child’s loneliness.
Although the “Circle of Friends” method was developed to increase the ability of a disabled person to socialize and be included in similar age adolescents, it is a very useful tool for parents to promote at our children’s secondary schools, if we are worried that our children are getting tossed about too much by life and are starting to get marginalized.
Life happens, and life is hard. It is very heartening to know that if we are aware, and we see trouble in the relationship life of our children we can intervene, and that such intervention can set our children back on a solid course of feeling beloved by and being able to love the important people around them.
Dr. Strauss l Wellness Lead
Follow me on Twitter @DrPieterStrauss