Restoring the Essentials
“Consider these children to have fallen among thieves, the thieves of ignorance and sin, ill fate and loss. Their birthrights have been stolen. They have no belongings.” – Dr. Karl Menninger, psychiatrist and founder of the Menninger Clinic for Adolescents.
The child who has been victimized by child abuse and neglect can well identify with Dr. Menninger’s statement. He has suffered the loss of innocence, trust, self value and hope. In a society that values the rights of each person to have peace, justice and the pursuit of happiness, abuse and neglect are horrific thieves of a person’s sense of well-being.
Social scientists identify core needs for children to grow up healthy and into productivity --- values which families must pursue to raise healthy children. After meeting the physical needs for sustaining life - food, shelter, water, safety, etc. - these core values are essentials for healthy children.
Belonging – The child knows where she belongs in this world and who she belongs to. It is a sense of ‘home’, family and tribe. Attachment and connectedness to family, by blood or surrogacy, provides a foundation that allows the individual to try new things, trust the world around them and have the competence to move forward.
Achievement and Dignity – It is innate in each of us that we gain a sense of worth or dignity when we accomplish significant tasks. For a three-year-old, the significant task might be making it through the day with a dry pull-up. For the older child it might be doing well on a test, or accomplishing a challenging task that took some significant effort and diligence. Mastery and achievement lead to dignity, and dignity is a most valuable gift we parents can give our children.
Independence and Autonomy – A child has a natural drive to develop independence from his parents. Not separation from…but a sense of being able to navigate on his own. Autonomy requires an individual to make decisions based on what has been learned from parents and to safely and successfully navigate increasingly complex tasks. Just think about all the steps that must be accomplished prior to allowing a teen to obtain a driver’s license and drive off in the family car. Healthy independence and autonomy demand a sense of continuity and that feeling that it is safe to become independent because there are relationships that form safety nets if I fail.
Generosity and Fun – Play is the work of the younger child. It allows the child to build a sense of accomplishment and forms building blocks for work in later life. Responsible fun is as important as responsible work when it comes to good emotional health and bonding. Fun is not just silliness and childishness, but it incorporates finding satisfaction through responsible behavior.
Teaching a child to give or be altruistic is important in the overall development of sense of community. The healthy person is not a taker but rather is a doer and a giver. The happiest people I know give freely to others in all manner of ways, and this is a value instilled at childhood.
The work of restoring the essentials of childhood is harder than instilling the essentials of childhood from the beginning. Working with children of abuse and neglect, those children whom Menninger paints as having fallen among thieves, demands that we develop systems to restore the essentials. In essence, this is giving back to the children what has been ‘stolen’ from them through abuse and neglect. And giving children these essentials is every bit as important as providing the basics of life such as food and shelter.
-- Lynn R. Harms, President, The Children's Home of Lubbock