There’s a phenomenon with young people with insecure attachment that has baffled me for years now. It all centres around the ability to learn new things. Mine are all teenagers and there are certain things I expect them to already know – how to tell the time, basics of money, what certain words might mean and how to use them in a sentence. But they don’t seem to have learnt these things, and many more, that other young people their age seem to know.
Of course that’s not their fault. When they were younger and their parents should have been teaching them things they weren’t. Children who have had chaotic starts learn other things – like how to be hypervigilant and make sure you’re safe, like how to get what you need from others, like how to survive on little food or affection from adults around you. This all leads to a topsy turvy existence where the ‘normal’ milestones and developmental stages have not been met or experienced.
In teenage years that means they don’t know the basics but the added challenge is that they are often too young to learn the things other teenagers are learning. They are emotionally younger than their peers and so learning new things such as healthy independence or healthy friendships is difficult. It is like nature has conspired against them. They have missed out on early development, but also due to those early experiences that have impacted their brain development, they find learning at a later stage difficult too!
Who would have thought those first early years of life could have such a long term impact on people? Of course it’s too late to go back and change that for our children (makes me more determined to get the message out earlier to parents about Attachment), but we can try and help them to learn at the pace they can.
For schools this is an essential lesson to learn. To know that children who’ve experienced early trauma will not only be delayed in their development but may be all over the place in terms of their ability to learn. Sometimes they seem too young to learn what you’re trying to teach them and other times too old to not know something. It’s a constant battle and one which schools often don’t have the time or awareness to fight.
My concern, as a parent, is that my children will be able to grow up and know how to function in life; to build relationships, to hold down a job, to manage a place to live and a life. It’s hard to know sometimes what they need to learn to do that. It’s sad to say but not much of what they learn at school will help them to do that. Learning about money, budgeting, mortgages etc would be helpful, but we don’t seem to do that. Learning how to make and keep friends would be good but again we don’t do that. Learning to express and deal with your intense emotions appropriately would save dangerous situations in the future but again we don’t seem to do that. In most cases what they actually need we don’t provide. I guess schools assume those kind of lessons are taught and learned in the home. It may be the case for lots of children but for many, many children those aren’t the lessons they learn at home.
One of the quotes I use often is by Nicholas A Ferroni which says,
“Students who are loved at home come to school to learn, and students who aren’t come to school to be loved”.
I know for lots of children it’s not a question of being loved or not at home but of that love being expressed in a safe and healthy way. There aren’t many parents who would say they don’t love their children, but there are many who don’t have the capacity or capability to raise children well, maybe due to their own terrible starts in life.
So we may assume children and young people know what they should to function in life because they’ve learnt those lessons at home, but for some they haven’t. We need to recognise this at school and, whenever we can, help them to learn those important life lessons.
For adoptive parents like us it’s a constant fight to help our children unlearn bad habits and reteach them what they should have already learnt. We need many things to do that. Patience, self-control, compassion, knowledge, expertise, support, friendships, laughter, wine and much more. I hope, whether you work in school, or are an adoptive parent yourself, that you find what you need to help and support those children and young people around you to grow into functioning, healthy adults. And remember above all else they need to learn that they are accepted, valuable and loved.