Destruction of their clothes, toys and other belongings is not necessarily a sign of ingratitude or disrespect. Many children who are recovering from a tough start to life due to abuse and neglect are mistrustful of receiving nice things and experience them as incongruent with their perception of their own worth and deservedness. They are unsettled by inconsistency, including in their experience of adults in a caregiving role. They may break or damage their belongings in the pursuit of consistency and, also, to reduce the likelihood of them being taken by others. Their apparent lack of care for their belongings reflects a lack of attachment to them, in anticipation that they will be lost.
A mentioned in my previous post titled Why is my child’s room always messy?, the above paragraph reflects the importance of approaching the care of children and young people who have experienced a tough start to life in thoughtful and intentional manner. None of us do anything for no reason, and until we address a child or young person’s reasons we are likely to continue to see the behaviour.
The behaviours we are concerned about are generally the child or young persons way of satisfying a need that they are preoccupied with. A preoccupation with needs arises in (prior) caregiving arrangements where there has been inadequate needs provision, especially during the early developmental period. In the case of destroying their belongings, the child or young person is pursuing consistency in their experience; of themselves, of others, and their world.
A statement I often use is ‘needs trump reason‘, by which I mean the child or young person is more likely to satisfy a need ahead of thinking about their actions and consequences that flow from our disapproval. What looks unreasonable and self-defeating in our eyes is a source of comfort and reassurance for the child or young person. Consistency is calming, and this is especially important among children and young people who are prone to uncomfortable emotions and other sensations as a result of a history of recurrent and poorly relieved distress.
Successfully addressing behaviours of concern involves turning one’s mind to the reasons for the behaviour, responding to the reasons, and keeping an eye out for signs of success in your endeavours. In the case of destroying their belongings, this might be seen as part of a child or young person’s endeavour to achieve consistency in their experience. We can respond to this by enriching their experience of consistency through developing and maintaining routines and rituals, especially in relation to caregiving practices and one-to-one time. If you already have many routines and rituals and/or are having difficulty thinking about how to enrich the child or young person’s experience of consistency, make a list of all the things that happen sometimes in your home. Can any of these be turning into a consistent routine or ritual?
Success in your endeavours is likely to be reflected by the child or young person showing more care towards their belongings (and themselves).
If you took something useful away from this article, please consider liking it and making a comment. I am interested to read what other behaviours you would like me to turn my mind to.
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