Updated: Aug 31, 2022
Really quick about kids…
There are hella different things going on with kids developmentally that, if disrupted, can hinder their emotional, social and intellectual growth. Every step of the way, kids are observing, learning and internalizing – all of which are directly affected by their environment. At their earliest stages, kids depend entirely on their caretakers for all of their needs. During this time, kids are already learning about trust, security and communication. A child’s sense of safety is built around knowing their basic needs (eating, bathing, etc.) and their emotional needs will be met and they depend exclusively on their caretakers to fulfill them. At this stage, basic and emotional needs overlap heightening the need for attentive and attuned caregivers.
Babies rely entirely on their caregivers to develop healthy self-regulation and a sense of safety. Let’s be clear here: “sense of safety” is magnified beyond how we as adults conceptualize “safety.” This is less about wondering if the front door is locked, for instance, and more about the concept of existing – unharmed, protected, cared for, etc. combined with basic needs like being fed (as to not experience hunger). This is less of a conscious concept of safety and more of an interior and inherent sense of well-being. Additionally, healthy attachments with caregivers inform a baby’s ability to become self-reliant and emotionally well-adjusted. Often times, children who fail to experience a sense of safety in their earliest stages, have difficulty developing other skills and go on to have issues with trust, impulse control and optimism.
Emotionally, kids are consciously and unconsciously looking to caregivers to learn self-soothing techniques – if caregivers are in a constant state of stress, children pick-up on that heightened state of arousal and often have a difficult time calming themselves.
As kids get older and learn how to function on their own, children notice whether or not they’re being encouraged or discouraged from making autonomous decisions. If caretakers consistently scold, harm or are compulsively fearful of children making autonomous decisions, they become discouraged from functioning independently. This affects their ability to develop confidence and to express themselves separate from others. If you desire self-sufficient children, this is the time to encourage children to function independently and reward autonomous decision-making
It’s important to also note children who are introduced to concepts of “good” and “bad” typically begin to function from that perspective. Meaning, they begin to react or behave within the framework that they will either be rewarded or punished (not so much because they understand the concepts of what’s actually “good” or “bad”). This, combined with consistent punishment, can be counterproductive if you expect your child to confide in you (or others) or understand the concept of honesty. A child who is used to spankings, for instance, may withhold information as not to be punished – even if it’s information unrelated to “good” or “bad.” What’s worse is, spankings do not actually explain why behavior is “bad.” So, there is evidence that they might be punished and perhaps there was no clear explanation as to why so, there is no incentive, space or understanding for literally anything else to exist (i.e. a child trusting or confiding in you). Children at this age also lack the complex ability to think critically or logically – what seems like a basic concept to adults, may be beyond their scope of reasoning.
Kids are constantly receiving messages and assigning meaning to them, as well. This directly contributes to how they see themselves and the development of their self-concept. Typically, self-concept starts with obvious behaviors or observable qualities (ex. “I run fast”) and move into more specific and distinguished statements as they age. Kids tend to focus on what is being encouraged or discouraged. If a child’s environment consists of constant reminders about how inadequate they are, that may be their focus and, in turn, affect their sense of self. Further, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy where children who think negatively about themselves, begin to interpret things negatively because they do not have the skills yet to consider alternative options.
Children who are encouraged and affirmed tend to see themselves in a positive light which typically has a positive effect on their functioning, development and self-concept.
I’m writing about this mostly because I keep seeing videos of children being hit and, subsequently, arguments around whether or not hitting children is traumatic, if it affects the child long-term and/or if it affected them long-term (as adults who were hit as children). And I want to start by saying: (many) people who were hit, who refuse to recognize that hitting children is violent, are examples of trauma at work, or rather, unresolved trauma at work. Walking around with unresolved trauma doesn’t make you an expert on trauma or more well-adjusted at dealing with it – literally the fucking opposite. It keeps you in a constant state of fight/flight, decreases your ability to discern what is safe and what isn’t and gets you so comfortable living with trauma that familiarity with it becomes safer and easier than attempting to process the trauma and living less reactively.
And I refuse to differentiate popping your kid in the mouth from what most people would consider “full-on abuse” – neither need to exist when there are other options that don’t involve physically harming your child. Part of this requires caretakers to unpack their own shit, which many of us do not do for many reasons whether it be lack of access, the refusal to do so because doing the work is fucking hard or a number of other things. In many cases, trauma becomes the biggest tradition within family structures. The reality is, if we want to raise children who don’t need therapy, we need therapy first. Therapy defined broadly as doing some type of healing work and education and potentially attending therapy sessions. We need to sit and reflect on our little selves and what could have been different had we felt seen, held, affirmed, loved, supported and valued…
How much of your shit stems from your parents and could have been avoided had they done some healing work?
We are doing our babies a disservice when we hit them and berate them. We are teaching them we are not patient enough to parent, that they are deserving of violence, that their safety is not a priority and that they are not (autonomous) little humans who we value.
They deserve better and so did we.