children learn what they live

What if, as a child, you learn that people will hurt you and let you down? The best thing to do would then be to protect yourself, which might mean getting your retaliation in first, or never letting anyone get close.

adapted to adversity

When children have been exposed to danger early on, including neglect, fright/fight/flight responses will trigger at the first sign of danger. These danger triggers have been set early on and feel like life and death, which they were to begin with.

understanding children

At Understanding Children, we are interested in using what is now known about how children’s minds develop to help children and young people who have become adapted to adversity grow and develop in healthier ways. If their pattern of attachment is insecure or disorganised, this can mean troubled relationships in later life.

We would like to help form new patterns of attachment, through helping with new patterns of relating, which is how minds develop.

the science of relating

It has become increasingly clear over the past two decades of research that a child’s early relationships, essentially in the first two years, will establish the brain patterns that make a mind, and set up templates for understanding experience.

If these early relationships are troubled, they will set a troubled and troubling template. Unless challenged, this will have a life long effect; children in youth justice programmes and school exclusion centres have often had such childhoods. Freeing children to make new connections, to grow and develop in healthier ways, is therefore a long term task, which they cannot do alone. It needs to happen in relation to someone else.

adapted to adversity

Children are born ready to adapt to their circumstances. If life is difficult, children need to find ways of adapting to those difficulties in order to survive. They are thus adapted to adversity.

When they start school, though, or even have to move homes, they find that what works in one setting does not work in another. What started out as a survival strategy becomes problem behaviour.

At Understanding Children, we are interested in thinking with the adults in a child’s life about what the problem behaviour is telling us about the child’s experience of relationships. Together, we can then find ways of helping the child learn new ways of relating.

how to help

Neuroscience now confirms that the task is that of literally wiring in a new template for relating, in the context of a different relationship. This new relationship needs to work on the basis that behaviour is communication – especially when words are not available – and that children learn what they live.