I went to the waiting room to fetch my new clients, Chloe and her mum, but instead saw a teenager and what seemed to be her younger sister. There was no one else there so I asked ‘Mrs Ingle?’ and the teenager got up with the about-nine-year-old. Either the two girls were not Mother and daughter, or the Mother was less young than she seemed. Or, I suppose, Mrs Ingle had given birth at something like 7. We discounted the last idea when she started speaking about her older daughter, aged 11 and wearing Size 16 clothes. And so began talking about looking young. It turned out that Mum was 30 but one of those unusual people who genuinely look much younger. It ‘s the third time I have come across this, so it can’t be very common. In some families, people look very youthful. Mrs Ingle talked about having to take her passport to the pub, of her mum being asked for her pass when she took her three children on the bus. And of being asked again and again when she answered the door – Is your mum in dear? It can be very wearing. Another lady I met had been stopped by police while driving somewhere with her children, as they thought she was too young to have a license. There was research on this years and years ago. David Weeks, a neuro-psychologist in Edinburgh researched families who were youthful. This was in about the mid-nineties and what I most remember is that the trait ran in families. Certainly, in my families, it worked like that. I saw one Mum’s father. At that time he was in his late forties and looked just about thirty so that it was strange to hear him called Grand-father. I’ve tried to trace this research on Google, but the only significant thing that remains is the detail that people who have lots of sex – four times a week or more – tend to look younger. The stories mention people like Goldie Hawn, Helen Mirren and Joan Collins and make the assumption that they have healthy sex lives. They neither mention, nor show pictures of the men involved!!! This is actually one of the minor and less interesting parts of the story – all three women whom I knew were single and not in any sort of relationship. They looked young because their family had genes that made that happen. And it was a blessing and a curse: it was lovely to look youthful but a nuisance to have to explain yourself in all sorts of different circumstances
One of my lovely boys came this morning. He has Tourettes and had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder though he appears to be largely growing out of the latter. I have been seeing him for several years at about two monthly intervals both to help with coping with his Tourettes but also to help him deal with a rather stressed family life. Tourettes is a tic disorder and for him means involuntary body movements particularly when stressed or tired. This can be seriously embarrassing in school – even though it was well managed by medication. When I first met him – he was referred by his paediatrician at 12– he was a timid, rather wimpy boy who was anxious about school, largely friendless and totally dependent on his father, who, amongst other things, ensured that C.J. took his medication. His father was wonderful but highly protective of his son. Over time, C.J. has learned to trust me, as has his father. We reached the point where I was advising Father that he must help his son towards independence and planning how they could organise trips to town, how C.J could learn about going on buses and how to ask for help when he was lost. Father was persuaded to allow C.J. out for bike rides with his friends. We talked about him making his own mind up about friendships and ethical issues, we encouraged him to think about a future. Last year after exams he left school for College – and blossomed immediately. I am not sure this was despite or because he was placed in a group for slower learners. Normally we don’t really offer appointments to children after they leave school, but we do see them through the transition period, and, in this case, I wanted to continue working with the paediatrician. He had always largely disliked school and although he was nervous about the new setting, timetables etc, he began to thrive. There was a minor hiccup when C.J. decided that College didn’t suit him either but that was easily overcome. This morning C.J. came clutching a gift that he has bought for his girl-friend’s mother. The relationship is several months old now and he is proud and happy. He was much more keen to talk about his music. Last year he decided he wanted to learn to play the guitar, bought one and practised. He sounds super – in October he brought the guitar in to play to me, today he showed me clips on his phone. Not only does he now play pop songs I recognise, but it sounds like music, it flows. And he is part of a group with plans to play in public and an understanding and acceptance that his voice is not good enough for him to lead the band. He has grown-up well. He came by himself and was going on to meet friends. He is confident about his present – although he has not made plans for a future-, plays football for a team, and is looking forward to starting a music course in September. He seems to have adjusted to the vagaries of his particular family, his tics are largely under control. Talking to him was a pleasure, and I’m looking forward to seeing him again.
So what happened to the boys? These boys arrived with ghastly memories of vicious unpleasantness at home, a horrendous journey to an unknown destination, bereavement issues, no english and no family or friends. Their shared language was Arabic, but the three boys spoke two other languages as a mother tongue.
They were the wrong age to really benefit from help locally. Too old to get help from school, too young to access College courses.
It was all very strange initially – first electricity and then magic lights that turn on when you touch them. Food that looked different for boys who had never cooked, BOGOF !!!!! They began to learn English but it was hard to find the right type of support, and inevitably they enjoyed speaking normally with their friends.
They acquired bikes and discovered an independence, they tried new foods and chocolate, they found people who shared their culture and made friends with people who did not. One of them tried Beer [his face was a picture].
It was fascinating to watch them try and accept or discard new experiences. But they tried. And I took them to the Sculpture Park and to the seaside – Sudan has a tiny coast line a long way from Darfur – and to the theatre and cinema. They learned so easily, and then tried for themselves.
They also discovered their own ways forward and became political – people who might really bring about change in their country. One travelled to Holland and to France to meet with activists, another became part of a local refugee group to help newcomers. They speak to their families on Skype – not surprisingly the mobile phone is endemic in a country with little electricity, let alone telegraph poles.
These were three very different people. After a couple of years, we have all lost touch with one of them. The word is that he might have mental health problems and be living in a town about an hou away. The other two have attended College and got some exams. Both have english girlfriends – but there are very few Sudanese girls available. Both are parts of larger groups of escapees and spend time with them too. One already has his driving license, has worked night after night as a security guard and has his own insured car. The other plays basketball for a team, has had trouble finding work, but has gone to extra courses in IT, and has been on holiday with his friends.
I am very proud of them both. Both would go home on a heartbeat if it were safe, but it isn’t. So they stay here and work towards the day when…..
This from five years ago: it came back into my mind as I read today that in Sudan , children are being injured and sometimes slaughtered despite the agreement that the south can secede.
Three asylum seeking African boys have been referred. They have been sent here by their mothers to avoid near-certain death, speak so little English as to be totally dislocated from everything said to them, come from villages where the main problem is lack of rain, and find themselves in a damp town full of lights and traffic. They seem awfully young though they are tall and good-looking and now smile sometimes. I have two concerns for them. One is obviously the trauma they have experienced. The other is the total lack of fun and teenage-boy-things in their lives. My daughter was suggesting that a big loss in the lives of unaccompanied child refugees is that safe feeling you have when you are with a parent who takes over. As a child, you can relax, let go, sleep if you want to – in the secure knowledge that someone else will keep you safe. These boys have no longer got that safety. They are housed in a large former council home, with families and single people all en route to some other accommodation. The three share a room, and all stretch just a little beyond their bed length. The room is impersonal, naturally, and the boys have few belongings. Food is provided but they have been unable so far to attend English classes and can only ask questions when they have a native speaker available to translate for them. Most of the staff only speak english although they are kind and well-intentioned. No pets are allowed, and football is unwelcome because the ball breaks windows. They are full of energy and depression. Perhaps the first aggravates the second. I decided to offer to take them swimming, and when it was deemed acceptable by the powers that are, bought them trunks and collected them at teatime. They were nicely dressed and looked excited. We drove some distance to the Leisure Centre and I paid for them to go in. Then what? There were no men on duty but I was lucky enough to find a male cleaner who could speak with them and he took them to the changing rooms and showed them how the lockers worked, where the facilities were etc. I watched them come into the pool, duck under the water, stand under the water feature, swirl again and again down the lazy river, and just enjoy the power of their bodies. It was good. Afterwards we went for an Indian meal. I used animal noises to identify the meat and other sounds to indicate spicy food. They seemed to enjoy the different tastes. One of the boys laughed and said ‘This good. At home, we sit together with mother and eat.’ Later I saw another boy smiling. Why? I asked, and he smiled again and said ‘swimming’. We drove home in a companionable silence, admiring the house and street lights and the fuzzy edges that rain leaves on lampposts. And when we got back, they said Thank you again and again and again. This was such a normal part of my son’s life, and should be the normal entitlement of any child. The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child clarifies this and we still allow awful things to happen to too many children.
Next time I shall post the update.
‘Today I was speaking to a colleague who works with young adults. She was talking of a particular client who had very much liked her and had, eventually, copied everything my colleague did. She did as suggested, dressed similarly and wanted to call her boy baby after my colleague Dawn. She was eventually persuaded that this was not a good idea, and called him Don, as close as she could get. This total dependence on the therapist is not unusual. Many years ago I remember a friend who was taking a Psychotherapy course. This involved undergoing Psychotherapy herself and she became highly dependent on the therapist. So dependent, in fact, that when her car broke down, she had to be dissuaded from buying a new car in order to get to her appointment. This happens less often with children who are brought by their parents to appointments and can, therefore, remain primarily attached to them. But when things are going wrong, it might be a very different matter. So children and adults become very concerned about when their appointment is, how soon it might be and when will be th eone after that. Both child and parents can become very dependent on the sort of support and guidance the therapist is offering, constantly seeking approval for their actions and advice on what to do next. I tend to see this sort of relationship as a ‘normal curve’. So that, in the beginning, therapist and clients are forming a relationship. In the middle, as things are starting to clarify but still need a lot of work, clients can be very needy and dependent, phoning between appointments and arriving early. And as matters resolve, the appointments are offered further and further apart, and finally the client may miss an appointment, or phone with some sort of reason for not attending. Eventually, if things have gone well, the client parent may think appreciatively, but very rarely of the therapist. And the child might forget altogether that he ever needed help. Unless his name is Don, of course. p.s just to show off: last week I received a text from a Dad who said that I had said that they would not remember me, but they did – and Thankyou, Elliott was doing brilliantly still. I have saved it, and feel proud and pleased!
My mobile rang today just after lunch. It was a journalist – they always start by giving their name and then explaining that they got my name from the British Psychological Society media list. I used to assume that they phoned me because I was near the top of the list, but apparently that’s not true, and I have often been actually chosen for being ‘media friendly’. I think that means that I am not prone to use long words, or lots of psychological jargon – probably because I don’t think like that. I do, however, read a lot, and am generally up-to-date. The phone calls from journalists are always interesting and often exciting. Sometimes they are asking for advice, sometimes for my involvement in a phone-in [The Asian Network is the most difficult with a number of highly articulate, highly intelligent participants] sometimes asking for an interview by phone or in the studio, They are interesting because they always ask for a new slant on something, and I am obliged to think and look-up and consider something I haven’t usually thought about before. Last year, for example, I was contacted about a cuddly bear that could transmit messages to children whose parents were not able to talk to them directly for some reason. At first sight this seemed bizarre – the parent had to phone and leave a message with the bear who would then give it to the child. I was particularly unimpressed by the managing director who said that it meant you didn’t have to have those boring conversations with your four year old!! But I could eventually see some merit in, perhaps, the bear storing messages from daddy who was serving overseas so that the child had her own collection of stories from daddy. There seems little point in having a bear to do this, however, some sort of recording device would do as well, and it could be confusing to visit a friend’s house and see the same bear there, giving different messages to your friend. It was stimulating to be made to think about the issues involved. As it was today. The journalist was planning an article on older parents. What did I see as the merits and difficulties posed by men becoming fathers in their fifties plus? [There was a necessary slant to this as the article was for a magazine for the over-fifties…, positive would be helpful!!] We talked about the negatives first. Obviously there would be usually some considerable discrepancy in age between the parents – most fertile women are in their early forties at the oldest. [Older fathers are more likely to have children on the autistic spectrum, with Down's Syndrome, and their babies' intellectual development may be slower]. And older men are probably less able to become involved in physical play, less able to toss a toddler in the air or play football for hours at a time. They are probably out of touch with present day cartoons, games, catch phrases, baby clothes etc. They might be less tolerant, more impatient, more inclined to be irritable, more tired. Their memories of being a child date from a different generation with all that that involves. But they probably have more to offer in terms of their emotional maturity, they have [or have not] achieved ambitions but are likely to have come to terms with this. And they are probably more financially secure and to be time-rich and therefore to be able to spend lots of time with their children. The marriage might also be more secure at this stage. More negatives came to mind however. Older men are more likely to become physically unwell or die. While young men do die, it is statistically more likely that a man in his fifties or sixties will have a stroke or heart attack, or be otherwise incapacitated. Older men can become grouchy, and are more inclined to hark back to an adolescence from a bygone era, with little hope of understanding the experiences of their own children. They are often significantly less willing to tolerate piercings or bad language, and are certainly less familiar with the expectations of modern society, and mix less with people from whom they might learn. We discuss the issues for some time. Children may not notice that their parents are old, but adolescents then worry about them dying. Furthermore, older fathers are less likely to have parents living still, and less likely to be around as grandparents too. On balance I believe that older fathers have a lot to offer, but that this may be outweighed by the disadvantages. She mentioned some older fathers and their status as symbols of virility – John Humphries, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Rupert Murdoch. We talk about the meaning of babies for these fathers. And then I must go. In my experience, journalists are usually pretty good at condensing what I say to give a fairly accurate representation of what I intend. They challenge some of my preconceptions and allow me to think about peripheral but significant issues. I am so glad I don’t have to write the article but it has been fascinating to consider the issues involved; she has promised to send me a copy when it is published.
One of the girls I see is awfully pretty and having a lot of trouble at school. She has a successful younger sister and a mum and dad who love her very much. And to say she has trouble at school is misleading – her big problem is with home.
At home she has been rather horrible, she screamed if asked to do something she doesn’t want to, she literally dug her heels in if she didn’t want to go somewhere, she would or would not eat what she was given, she did an awful lot of what she wanted, and not so much for other people. We have been working on this and now her mother is much more in charge. Unfortunately, and not uncommonly, her father finds it harder to be firm and, although he often says ‘No’, and means it, he then changes his mind. However, as time goes on, he is getting crosser and crosser when she is being annoying. [And in all fairness, I should point out that it turns out that she is not academically bright and that she is in a school which is probably quite unpleasant for her]
Like many parents, the father physically pushed [pushed as in manoeuvred, nut shoved] his daughter when she wouldn’t co-operate and he recently has left a mark on her wrist. School noticed and parents explained what had happened. Last week, though, the girl went in to school and said that her parents had punched her in the nose and took in a bloodied shirt to prove it. I don’t believe it for a moment, and was pleased that school phoned me to ask what I thought.
Unfortunately, but understandably, school felt the need to advise Child Protection and contacted them. They phoned to talk to parents and twice the girl said that Mum was out [she wasn’t]. So the Child Protection officer came round, and was told that Mum was having her hair done [she wasn’t]. She left a paper with her phone number on it, but the girl did not give it to Mum and it was only when they phoned again on Monday, when the girl was at school, that there was ‘the’ conversation.
It seems that Mum had asked her daughter to wipe the toothpaste from round her mouth, and the girl had refused. Mum wiped it with a flannel and the girl wriggled and banged her nose against Mum’s hand. Child Protection are inclined to believe Mum, especially after the girl’s wilful fibbing earlier.
The difficulty is now that Mum is anxious, even to tell her daughter off – what will she do if the girl goes back to school claiming….. And yet this girl is highly vulnerable, socially very immature and very much at risk. It’s important that she learns to do as she is told, and who better to teach her than parents who love her very much indeed.
I did an interview on a radio station last week about diaries. It seems that a mum had deliberately but with some misgivings, read her six year old daughter’s diary. And had read the child describing herself as fat and ugly and stupit and no wonder no-one likes her. She’s actually a pretty little girl and – as you might imagine from the diary, not stupid at all. And mother and daughter talked about it, and helped the girl to rearrange her ideas, her values and her thoughts about herself….
But the interview was less about this particular incident than about the ethics of reading diaries at all [or checking up on Facebook etc].Up to a certain age – say 9 or 10, a child tends to feel that it is OK to share with parents. It is more common for parents to want to insist on rules of privacy and to avoid children discovering stuff they shouldn’t and subsequently asking awkward questions. Soon after, children can be seen jealously guarding their diaries, letters and emails. And I tend to agree that it is important to teach the concept of privacy.
But what to do when you are worried, or even accidentally come across your child’s diary?
If you are worried, you will probably still agonise for ages about whether or not you should look at a diary – especially one with ‘Keep Out, That Means You’ on the cover. But if you have a genuine worry, you can probably justify reading the diary on need to know grounds. What if you have no excuse at all , other than genuine nosiness?
I think in the second case, that is something you need to square with your conscience.
In either case, if you read your child’s diary when you have been preaching the value of privacy, the cardinal rule is NOT TO TELL. Use the information if that is useful [you discover a party is planned when you are away for a weekend, your son is having sex, your daughter has been shop-lifting] but [if you have to] explain that you gained the knowledge some other way. A neighbour mentioned the party…… , someone else’s son is having sex and you want to talk about keeping safe, shop-lifting is something you did when you were young – others were arrested and now you feel the need to return the oxo cubes anonymously.
It is very tempting to tell your child that you know this or that is a problem, but that would be fatal to a positive relationship. Let them assume you are all-knowing, and that you respect their private thoughts!!!!!
I had a phone call out of the blue today from a boy I saw when he was in Year 11. It was just before Christmas and he was very worried that he was increasingly struggling with crowds or groups of people. He found it very hard to go into Assembly, had had to walk miles because he couldnt cope with the school bus, had long hair because the barber’s had clients when he went etc. He was a very nice boy, bright, alert, curious about his problems and very distressed by the limitations he was finding in his life. Ben was an only child with supportive parents and had no idea why this had started. All he knew was that it was ruining his life and he could see no way out. So we sorted it.
It was actually quite easy. We practised a number of techniques at the same time. We discussed the actual problem and the mechanics of it so that Ben understood precisely what was happening. Then we practised relaxation techniques and enabled Ben to experience and overcome the situation theoretically. then we gave him various empowering techniques to give him the strength to deal with situations that occurred Hey presto, after four sessions, all was well. Anyway, Ben had phoned to let me know how comfortable he felt about his AS levels. At present he would like to study medicine and has plans about how and where and how and why. It should be possible. We talked also about trips he had taken abroad with friends, in trains and planes. I was interested but not surprised. And then Ben explained that he had thought his problem was so awful he would never overcome it. He had thought he would have to go through life like that, and it just wouldnt have been worth it. I hadn’t realised how fearful he had been – he had seemed such an ordinary sensible-boy-with-a-problem. I had lost sight of the fact that many people suffer for ages before coming for help. And many never quite get here. There are many reasons why people don’t come for help – often they feel that no-one has ever had a problem like this before. Not true. If you have a friend like that, remember: there is nothing new under the sun. Variations, perhaps, but nothing new.’
Sally is tall and well-built, facially unprepossessing with hair that is not quite short, glasses, and pudgy features. She goes to her local Comprehensive school and seems to be bright, with no trouble with her school work and a number of interests outside school like Kung Fu and Conservation Work. Her parents love her dearly but are in despair. She is miserable, constantly complains and lies to her friends to make herself more interesting. I’ve seen Sally four times so far, and spoken at length with her Mum – as with some other families, Father tends to leave this sort of stuff to his wife. Sally is unhappy. Her size makes it hard to remember that she is only in Y8 but she talks like someone of that age. Except she also shows some insight. Sally is friends with a group of three girls, but feels she is always the optional add-on, the one the others don’t always tell things to, the one sometimes not invited to sleep-overs. She doesn’t share their musical taste, though she tries, and they don’t make fashionable clothes in her size which she knows makes her different. Being cleverer than most of the others in her class seems to be isolating too. We have tried a number of strategies to help develop her self-esteem, and at times, things have seemed better. Sally was filling in a diary of Things to be Glad About every evening, to remind her of all the things that go right in her life. She took more of an interest in her appearance and put a mild colour on her hair which looked better. Sally began to tell me of how she was trying to eat differently in order to lose weight and it seemed sensible. We talked about her Mum too and she complained that her Mum was always having ‘that time of the month’. She claimed that her mum was always ‘in a mood’. Obviously this is only one side of the story, but Sally’s perception is a very important starting point. She feels that her mother constantly interferes – a common complaint at 13 – that when she is trying to not eat because she is not hungry [and there is no suggestion that she has any signs of an eating disorder] her mother insists that she eat and usually gives her crisps and chocolate. Similarly, her mother complains that she is insolent particularly in front of other girls, and Sally feels that she tries hard not to be, pointing out that one of the other girls has cat fights with her mother. Sally loves her Dad, but he seems to leave it all to his wife. Any attempt to talk with Mother privately and suggest that she tries a slightly different tack, has failed. Mum seems determined that the problem lies within Sally – had there been more paternal involvement, I would have tried to encourage him to give Mum the confidence to let go a little. There is a younger girl, and she is sociable and popular, not like Sally at all. In many ways, Mum seems very like this older daughter, constantly complaining and miserable. I don’t feel very successful with Sally. She appears to try many of the suggestions I make but says the efforts she makes are generally not supported by Mum. Today, Mum said she could see very little point in Sally coming back since things weren’t changing sufficiently quickly. If she did as we agreed, it is much more likely that things would improve. Sally cried a lot during our session and she needs some sort of emotional outlet. Perhaps I need to talk to Mum without Sally and see what we can come up with. Ultimately, Mum is with her for much of the time, I am not.