A Child’s Heart of Sorrow
A 10-year-old girl by the name of Taylor, one of my long-term clients, regularly comes to my office to attend psychotherapy sessions. Taylor has been benefiting from these sessions for quite some time now and she has progressed immensely, both on an emotional and cognitive development level.
I still remember the gloomy, grey weather on the day that I met her for the first time. She was a small child, looking outside through the window, calm and composed with wet, reddish blond hair. Her carer accompanied her for the first session as she entered the door silently. She was referred to me so that she could work on her emotional regulation, as she was exposed to intimate parent violence. Research has shown that exposure to intimate parent violence is very distressing for children. This is often associated with mental health symptoms that manifest both during childhood and later in life. The best documented mental health effects often include symptoms like post-traumatic stress, violent behaviour, depression, and anxiety (Hawell, Miller-Graff, Martinez-Torteya, Napier & Carney, 2021; Melhlhausen-Hassoen & Winstok, 2019).
I invited the little child to take a seat and sit comfortably. From my assessment, I couldn’t help but notice that her language development was advanced for her age, as well as her emotional literacy. “What is emotional literacy?” you may ask. It’s what gives us the ability to recognise, understand, handle and appropriately express emotions. Some children like Taylor seem to be instinctively in tune with their emotions, and this was perceived through her creative play and imagination, which seem to help Taylor deal with challenging situations. Her carer was on the same wavelength, thus this positioned Taylor to further express her feelings and find creative ways of handling difficult situations.
During one particular session, the girl mentioned that her way of coping with violence was by entering a world of fairies and treasures. She recalled to me a poem that she held close to her heart and, when going through emotional turmoil, she closes her eyes, places her hand on her heart and silently recites a poem. Via this coping strategy, she is able to access her inner strength, and this helps her feel empowered and protected.
Deep, colourful, skilled Bubbles (the fairy), who owns art and nature
Do roam all my world and with your beauty
Please Bubbles, declare and condemn the wrongdoer of each situation
So that I can be safe.
The nature, situation, time and colours
Suddenly started to shift and change into different shades of colour
My world became inhabited; with serene and calmness
And the deep, sadness of my heart is lifted.
My heart started changing and from black it started to change into red
The climate of my spherule continued to evolve
The fairies along with my friend Bubbles, who honour the beauty of the place
Infiltrated my world with sincere love, safety and calmness.
Rules, love and protection took over
All this filled my heart with red and my mind with content
May these contents, fill other children’s minds and hearts
With the harmonious and pleasing fruits of protection and safety.
There are several different reactions and behaviours that children may display following abuse. Families should be supported and educated on what types of behaviours they can expect to see and how to respond to these behaviours which often emerge.
When the child has made a disclosure regarding abuse, if the reaction is calm and the child is believed, often this is further followed by other disclosures. Sometimes, caregivers would notice regression of behaviours to previous developmental stages, such as speech difficulties, thumb sucking or toileting issues like bedwetting. Other issues may include increased emotional needs like clinginess, separation anxiety or fearfulness, increased emotional outbursts and aggressive behaviour towards others. Children might also withdraw from others and have nightmares. It has also been observed that some children may complain about headaches and stomach pains.
One way to support children is by reading stories to them about resiliency and how to cope with difficult situations. Through story-telling and play, children can learn different behaviours and develop more successful strategies. They can be given support in developing new techniques and creative solutions for problems, having respect towards others, sharing and self-acceptance.
One of the main difficulties that I face as a psychotherapist is the frequent instance of a child or adolescent wanting to seek therapy. However, the parent(s) would disapprove, thus the minor cannot supersede their parents’ lack of consent. I have encountered clients who disclosed that they had to patiently wait until they became 18-years-old to finally move forward with therapy. This unfortunate situation limits many children from benefiting from psychological and mental health support during their most formative years. This is the sad reality that we face as professionals working with children and adolescents in need.
*This story is purely fictional
- Hawell, K.H., Miller-Graff, L.E., Martinez-Torteya, C., Napier, T.R., Carney, J.R. (2021). Charting a Course towards Resilience Following Adverse Childhood Experiences: Addressing Intergenerational Trauma via Strengths-Based Intervention.
- Melhlhausen-Hassoen, D., & Winstok, Z. (2019). The Association Between Family Violence in Childhood and Mental Health in Adulthood as Mediated by the Experience of Childhood.