Tantrums, Anxiety and Understanding "Other"

Therapy with children (under 16 years of age) can be a tricky business. Generally, a family-based therapy is the best approach to gain a broad understanding of "the problem". Is it temperament? Is it parenting? Is it peers? Is it teachers? If you've read any of my other blogs you can probably guess my answer... it's a mixture of all of these things. Regardless of the child and regardless of the circumstances. One point of influence may be stronger in one case over another but approaching that aspect on its own only ignores how entwined relationships are in a family. To be vigilant of all contributing factors releases the idea of one party's fault and replaces it with everyone's responsibility. Obviously some parties may have more work to do than others.

Today however I wanted to talk about the importance of promoting a child's ability to understand "other". The concept of "other" is developed from an early age. Children learn that what they do can cause another person to feel a way that they also would not like. This is a skill learnt from a variety of means, but today I wanted to focus on differing children's innate ability to understand the "other". There are different causes for this inability but today I will be focussing on the psychological techniques that can be used to foster a child's ability to sympathise.

One of the first steps is to assist a child with articulating their own emotions. Talk to them about a difficult time in their lives and ask them how they felt physically, or perhaps they wanted to "do" something about the feeling such as leaving the room. Maybe their thoughts started racing, or perhaps they couldn't think at all.

Try having the child project himself into the shoes of another. While this is something that most parents do, perhaps the following can help clarify how to make this conversation more detailed. The "other" can not only be conceived in interpersonal terms but also in temporal and spatial. Now, for the english version; you can break down how a child perceives of the "other" by using the terms, Here vs. There, Then vs. Now, and Me vs. You. It helps you get a better idea of exactly what concepts your child might be struggling with, but also how they might be manipulating what they are saying to fit their own understanding.

Along the lines of the above, games can be very helpful. Try a simple game in the car, as: "If I were you, and you were me, and backwards were forwards, and forwards were backwards, what should you do at the next green light?" These riddles really give the child a playful sense of other. The answer for that riddle suggests that the child would be driving and at a green light the child would go backwards to travel forwards! As you can imagine there is an infinite number of combinations of this kind of game. Give it a try... and check out the link for a far more articulate description of the benefits of such perspective taking: