By John Stein
John is a member of the goodenoughcaring Journal’s editorial group. He is the author of Residential Treatment of Adolescents and Children: Issues, Principals and Techniques. His essays, articles and papers have been published widely. He is a regular and generous contributor of articles to the goodenoughcaring Journal.
EDITORIAL 16 : Relationships in the development of children
By John Stein
We all know the importance of relationships in the development of children. It is largely through relationships that children develop their beliefs and values, their social behaviours, their confidence, their self-image and self-esteem, their identity and self-respect.
Most (if not all) of the children who come to the attention of helping professionals have experienced some challenges with relationships in their lives. For some, it may be just a lack of strong healthy relationships, perhaps some neglect. Single parents, too busy with work and finances and other matters of life. Or both parents, too busy with the same things. Rejection by peers in the neighborhood and school for whatever reasons. Siblings and birth order can also have an effect within the family. For other children, it may be the traumatic influence of unhealthy relationships on their development–psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse.
For younger children, relationships with adults, especially parents, are most important. But as children get older, relationships with peers increase in importance. Are they accepted by their peers, male or female, or rejected for some reason, name, religion, ethnicity, poverty, appearance, some disability? Or their behavior? Are they raised in a neighborhood dominated by a delinquent peer culture?
And then there are relationships among people of different races,religions, cultures, or political parties. Or lack there of. Here in America blacks and whites in some communities have few opportunities to have personal relationships with each other as segregation continues. Many white families seek homes in predominantly white communities and send their children to predominantly white private schools. Meanwhile, many black families are forced to live in communities that are predominantly black because of economics – poverty. Without personal relationships with others, stereotyping continues. Such segregation has an impact on the self-image and identity of developing children. Some blacks in these communities report that they may be challenged by their peers for being “too white’ if they do well in school. It can even be heard in the different way we hear each other speak the same language.
In other places in the world segregation may be cultural or religious, as for example with Sunni and Shia sects in some countries in the Middle East. When opportunities for interracial or intercultural personal relationships exist, such stereotyping diminishes along with its negative consequences for children.
Those who work with children know that they must develop strong relationships with the children in their care if they are to have any success in helping them to develop anywhere near to their potential. But developing strong relationships with children who have experienced challenges with relationships is, well, challenging. These children may find it difficult to trust adults, being more likely to form relationships with peers. Unfortunately, they are likely to gravitate towards peers who also have had challenges with relationships. Peers who are likely to have antisocial or deviant beliefs and values.
In this issue, we will explore the many aspects of relationships in a child’s development at various stages in life.