It can feel confusing, even bewildering, not to mention frustrating, for any parent wanting to make sense of their child’s problems and how to help them.
You may worry that it’s your parenting or family breakdown that’s at the root of it, and feel guilty or ashamed every time school calls you to discuss yet another bout of “bad” behaviour. You might even think their diet is wrong, or there’s too much time being spent playing computer games. You might read something in an article in a magazine that has you wondering if the problems are caused by ADHD, autism or childhood depression – all labels, that end up defining our kids all too quickly and easily – you then end up focusing your attention on the condition and not the child.
How do you make sense of your own particular, individual distress? How do you sift through all these different ideas to find the one that will be most useful to you and your family? The facts can cause much controversy and confusion, especially with so many “experts” giving their opinions.
To help guide us better, we need to move away from the empirical evidence for a moment and look at this from a humanitarian point of view. So, let me give you a simple example from everyday life.
As a child, I would watch my uncle snap open this thing called a pomegranate. I was fascinated by what I saw inside: hundreds and thousands of little red blobs, all looking at me with their single, Cyclops-like eyes! How weird and wonderful was this! Known as the fruit of the dead in Greek mythology, the pomegranate was said to have arisen from the blood of Adonis. ….and Hades, god of the underworld, used its seeds to trick Persephone into returning to the underworld for a few months every year, which is why we, apparently, have seasons throughout the year, with her absence representing the winter …..anyway, before I go on too long, continuing to wax lyrical about the classics, let’s get back to the point……
When we pick up a pomegranate, we can weigh it, measure the volume, the thickness of its skin, analyse the chemical constituents within it, the types of sugars, vitamins, minerals and relative amounts of each, and so on. If I really wanted to, I could carry out a full scientific study of the life cycle of a pomegranate, from seed to tree to flowering to pollination to the growth of the fruit and so on …..all of which is useful information, in terms of the natural world and how healthy (or not) it is for us to eat this fruit.
However, this objective approach can only take us so far in understanding the different inner worlds that we each occupy. I love pomegranates ….and the simple act of peeling the thin, rubbery lining dividing the seeds takes me back to being a kid – just remembering this brings a smile to my face – however, my little nephew hates them! He can’t stand the texture, or the taste, of a pomegranate and is more than happy to share his total disgust with the world in an academy award-winning display, by spewing every little morsel back out all over his plate!! Glorious!!
If we simply stick to the objective findings of the people, places, things, situations, encounters and events taking place in our lives, we miss a huge and important part of the very thing that makes us human – our subjective experience of them…… and one of the problems with seeing children as “suffering” from “conditions” is why we have the problem in the first place!
We are all different and are meant to be loved for those very differences, not mentally or emotionally shoehorned into somewhere so small that it feels almost like a physical confinement.
Science has its place, but please let’s see if we can go beyond the labels – we owe it to our kids, to make a genuine attempt to understand what’s going on for them, especially when they’re hurting.