Not the type of title you may expect from someone promoting their business as a child psychologist. But it’s the truth – too many children are in ‘therapy’ for simple and common issues that are best dealt with by parents.
A few weeks ago I remember seeing a story on prime time news. A car (driven by a man of questionable mental capacity) rammed into a bus full of school aged children. Needless to say I believe there were no injuries sustained by anybody on board. The camera then cut to frantic parents standing with their children at the scene reporting that “counselling had been arranged for all children involved”.
Way to make a minor incident a big deal.
Way to induce anxiety and fear in innocent minds that would otherwise have had a “cool” story to tell at school.
This was in complete juxtaposition to a caller I heard less than 24 hours later on talk back radio detailing that as a child during WW2 he was a student at Petersham Public. On an ordinary day he recalls a helicopter crashing into the playground immediately outside the window out of which he was daydreaming. He recalled vividly the pilot’s body that was covered by school staff members with his ineffective parachute. The response from the school? The children were instructed to line up in an orderly fashion in two lines, marched outside of the school gate and then given leeway for the afternoon off, and told to return the following morning.
Now, I can hear my critics cry out, are you suggesting we teach children to bury feelings and trauma as we did in years gone past?! No I’m not. What I’m suggesting is that we pause for a moment. Pause after these events to observe, reflect and intervene as necessary. In a world where ‘negative feelings’ are still all too uncomfortable to face there is a rush to shove kids in front on someone to deal with them. Quick! Purge the grief, the trauma and the fear so we can all move on knowing that in a world flooded with political correctness we have all “done the right thing”. At a time when much talk is made of bringing up resilient children, we fail to remember that resiliency is not avoiding feelings, it is facing them, experiencing them, coming through it, and realising that you can survive.
Like I often say to clients in my practice, parents are often the best therapists for children. At times of trauma, uncertainty and family change your children will look to you for guidance, reassurance and consistency. If you are ok, they will invariably be ok. There are of course exceptional circumstances to this, but I am not referring to the exceptional. I am referring to the times when parents pre-emptively book children in for counselling because they are about to separate from their spouse next week, or the times that I am requested to see children because they are struggling with not being a winner all the time, or the child who is in weekly sessions with their counsellor because they refuse to eat breakfast and ‘are not like the other kids’ that can sit quietly in the classroom.
Somewhere in the advancement of our knowledge and increasing concern over children’s rights and welfare we have forgotten the art of ‘downplaying’, of reassuring a kid all is ok, and we move on. Certainly there are times when professionals are called for – long term distress that does not seem to ease over time is a key marker. But in our effort to teach our children that they should be open to talking about their feelings at the first sign of a problem are we in fact stripping away their own inner capacity for building resilience and self healing? And at worst, at times creating issues in the minds of children when there was no issue there to begin with…