For Children Who Fear Growing Up
by Dale Fink, MSW, LCSW
“Ah, the good old days.” As adults we all know what this means: remembering and wishing for a time when things were easier and more carefree. Children typically have this longing as well but when this feeling becomes entrenched as a fear of growing up, it can evolve into a serious problem which is typically revealed through choices and actions. In some cases, it seems that no amount of enticement or consequence can get a child back on track. Do any of these reflections from Sage Alliance parents sound familiar to you?
“My child gets along great with younger children and adults but not with peers”
“My child is athletic but won’t participate in sports anymore”
“My child is smart but won’t do his homework”
“My child has so much insight but shuts down and never opens up to anyone”
Our experiences at Sage Alliance tell us that when children consistently reject the encouragement, support and discipline meant to help them grow, it is often their way of showing us that they fear the future and long too much for their preschool years when they remember feeling safer, happier and more carefree. We know that as children mature, they typically enjoy increased socializing with and reliance on peers, joining groups, competing, and achieving academic success. In contrast, children who are unable or unwilling to embrace these developmental tasks seek to remain firmly attached to childhood and tend to become isolated from their peers. This only reinforces the fearful and anxious feelings for both the child and his parents.
The question of why and how this wish has become too powerful is complex and unique to each child. Answering this question is the job of the child’s therapist at Sage Alliance. Clinicians help children first become interested and curious as to why they make the choices they do. Later clinician and child work together to understand how these choices serve to protect the child from painful and frightening feeling states such as jealousy, anger, feeling unlovable, abandoned or alone, or feeling anxious and guilty about emerging sexual feelings. Ultimately, therapy becomes the place to explore the reality that there can be comfort and happiness in fulfilling responsibilities and becoming age appropriately involved at home and school. In other words, therapy helps us to let go of the good old days and replace them with the good new days.
It is hard to watch your child hold himself or herself back from growing up and we know how eager parents are to see rapid progress. It is helpful to keep in mind that the persistent and powerful desire to remain a child requires an equally persistent and sustained therapeutic approach to understand, clarify and interrupt the process. Sage Alliance can help to move your child toward a sense of security, self-esteem, motivation and optimism in the present so he can remember the past fondly but not need to stay there.
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