“Most parents, grandparents and guardians have great hopes for their children, but they do not take seriously enough their role in creating an environment that truly empowers children to fulfill their fullest potential as human beings… We are not attending to their human needs beyond their survival. We are not attending to their needs as spiritual beings.” Rosie Kuhn, Ph.D.
Interview re-posted from Psychology Today.
Welcome to Childhood Made Crazy, an interview series that takes a critical look at the current “mental disorders of childhood” model. This series is comprised of interviews with practitioners, parents, and other children’s advocates as well as pieces that investigate fundamental questions in the mental health field. Visit the following page to learn more about the series, to see which interviews are coming, and to learn about the topics under discussion: http://ericmaisel.com/interview-series/
Rosie Kuhn, PhD, began her career over 30 years ago as a clinical therapist for addictionrecovery programs in Nova Scotia, Canada. In 1999 she founded The Paradigm Shifts Coaching Group and in 2001, she created the Transformational Coaching Training Program in Silicon Valley, where she facilitated the program for over a decade. She is currently a coach, author, and trainer.
EM: Your work as a Transpersonal and Transformational Life Coach embraces a much larger perspective of well-being than that of psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists. What contributed to you choosing such a different orientation to mental health and well-being?
RK: Initially, through my Masters degree in Marriage, Family and Child Therapist, I cultivated the foundational perspective that we are a member of many systems. An individual’s symptoms, especially a child’s symptoms, are indications of a breakdown within the family system, or any one of the primary systems within which a child interacts. This will lead to a breakdown within the individual member of the system.
Through a second Masters degree, in Social Work, I was exposed to patients within the mental health hospital system. All had been diagnosed and were being treated with medications. And from my humble experience, what contributed to their hospitalization was rarely acknowledged, nor were they given many opportunities to reveal that which triggered their mental health issues. They were learning to manage and cope with life and their diagnosis. Their identity became attached to their diagnosis, which limited their capacity to see themselves beyond the handicap and disabilities defined by their diagnosis.
I spent eight years in the field of addictions and recovery. Working with families dealing with addiction and recovery issues revealed to me the huge absence of support for spiritual crisis within the therapeutic model. And, with the incredibly positive influence that the 12-step program has on individuals who work with this programs, it made sense to me that I begin to find a program which allowed me to understand more fully the influence that spirituality has on our human experience.
Through my final degree, a Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology, I specialized in the field of spiritual guidance. After three masters degrees, a Ph.D., and 30 years of experience supporting and empowering all people, including children, I see each individual child and grown-up as whole and complete, and quite brilliant in how they come to create the myriad of strategies they use to survive their circumstances. My work empowers my client to see just how empowered they are to create these strategies and to survive. If they can empower themselves in the way they have so far survived, they certainly have the capacity to choose more self-fulfilling strategies.
EM: What is the single most common trigger for children seeking professional health assessments?
RK: Childhood is filled with firsts, presenting every one of us with so many moments of testing ourselves in an unknown world. Every child experiences anxieties as they continually enter realms of human experiences that are unfamiliar and perhaps challenging to comprehend. Each child assesses their situation from their own unique youthful orientation. Depending on the temperament of each child, they all confront anxiety to one degree or another. And, depending on the degree to which a child feels safe and secure in their environment, they handle the everyday stresses and anxiety with ease or with fear.
I see the most common trigger for children potentially requiring support from a health professional is a crisis of trust. Quite often, something happens; it could be something significant or something that, for many, could seem very mundane. But, in that moment, for that individual child, their reality is shattered. In their experience, what they believed was true, and the person they believed they could trust, was taken away, and their way of being required a shift. They begin finding patterns of thinking, feeling and acting that allowed them to compensate for any restlessness, irritableness and anxiety that arose. They create survival strategies in their logical, rational mind, which they believe will keep them invulnerable from ever experiencing that kind of shattering ever again.
The more distressed a child is, the more intense their survival strategies. When parents and other guardians ignore, deny or distract themselves from the child’s symptoms, perhaps hoping the symptoms will go away, the child is most likely going to intensify their symptoms until they are acknowledged. Good parenting requires intentional focus on what’s working, and what’s not.
In my work as a life coach, it is not uncommon for my adult clients to share that specific moment when their childhood innocence was shattered. They remember specifically how they began to think and act differently to assist them in not feeling the trauma of the shattering, or hiding it from others. Again, the degree to which a child feels safe being seen and heard within their family system is the degree to which they can share and perhaps be supported through these childhood crises.
EM: What treatment do you suggest?
RK: My suggestion is that the whole family enters into family therapy. A child’s world, the systems within which he operates, contributes to his or her way of being. The family system is the number one source of support and comfort, except when it isn’t. If the family doesn’t participate in treatment a huge component of the child’s reality is left out of the healing process.
EM: You wrote a book for parents called Cultivating Spirituality in Children: 101 Ways to Make Every Child’s Spirit Soar. Why did you write this book?
RK: I wrote Cultivating Spirituality in Children because I believe that though most parents, grandparents and guardians have great hopes for our children, we do not take seriously enough our role in creating an environment that truly empowers our children to fulfill their fullest potential as human beings.
We don’t take seriously our role in their development, on all levels. We are mostly concerned with making sure their survival needs are taken care of, and that they have the education required. By attending to survival needs, we teach our children to attend to their survival needs and not to the needs of their spirit-selves, that which inspires them to thrive beyond the limiting perspective of consensus reality. We are not attending to their human needs beyond their survival. We are not attending to their needs as spiritual beings.
In dysfunctional family systems (dysfunctional corporate, religious, and educational systems as well), individuals are not allowed to know what they think, feel, need or want. Given such circumstances where an individual’s creativity, imagination, and ability to express themselves fully is diminished, emotions and psychic energies build up and they have to be expressed in some way or another. Depression is caused through the process of self-deprecation. When deprived of the freedom to discover their own expression, children learn to deprive themselves of their own knowing of their own truths and natural exuberance. Again, they begin to suppress their natural exuberance, and develop strategies that will minimize the anxieties that arise. Anxiety arises when we feel unsafe.
EM: In your opinion, how does spirituality contribute to mental health and mental illness issues?
RK: I see spirituality as an essential component of mental health. We are born seeking love and expression of our whole self. We are trained to desire creative outlets, and ways to express ourselves – through language, affection, connection, activity, and our need to truly get to know who we are – as our essential self, intuitively.
We feel our heart’s desires and are inspired to fulfill those desires. We are encouraged to use our imagination to create – what we want to be when we grow up. We feel what is true in our hearts. We are perhaps taken to churches, synagogues, or mosques, so we can learn to believe in those who are unseen, cultivating faith, and a capacity to surrender our will to a higher power. Creation, love, connection, inspiration, faith, and intuition are all aspects of our spiritual selves.
At the same time, the majority of our family, educational, and religious systems provide conflicting messages. Children who are spontaneously singing, laughing or playing, are told to stop making so much noise. They are told that they are wrong or bad for being themselves. They are told they can’t have their dreams or their desires. Now, as a parent or teacher, these may be necessary tactics to control a child’s behavior, but for the child, it can be very confusing. This can trigger a crisis of trust. And, again, they begin to compensate by developing ways of being that is more acceptable to authorities but may wreak havoc with their spirit-self.
Every grown-up knows this spirit self exists. And, it is so understandable that with today’s stresses, it is so challenging to attend to our children’s spiritual development, let alone our own. That’s why I wrote – Cultivating Spirituality in Children.
EM: What is the role of a parent as an advocate for their child?
RK: The role of a parent is to be an advocate for their child. Too often, parents turn their power over to those who consider themselves authorities. The child often feels helpless, and so do the parents. It makes sense that parents look to experts in the field of mental health for support, however, turning their power over to anyone means that they often relinquish responsibility for the current circumstances. That means that they let other people make decisions that may not be in their child’s best interest, even though they are experts. From a child’s perspective, if a parent relinquishes control or responsibility, the child may feel abandoned or betrayed, which only exacerbates the situation for both parent and child.
Parent as advocate requires them to participate in every aspect of decision-making. It requires them to educate themselves on symptoms, medications and treatment modalities, both standard and alternative. Parents need to talk with their child, discuss what feels right for them – what are their ideas and thoughts. Too often those who we put in powerful positions don’t always act in the best interest of their clients or patients. They utilize standard procedures, and miss important personal aspects of a person’s reality – especially related to our human-spirit.
EM: What do you suggest parents do to prevent mental health issues?
RK: Attend to your children, give them quality time every day – even just 15 minutes a day will give your children a good sense of value and worthiness. Give them your presence – put away your iPhones, iPads, computers, and walk away from the television. A parent cannot be present to their children while on an electronic device.
Listen to your child as though what they have to say is important. Rather than tell them what to think or what to feel, ask them questions about what is happening for them. The sooner you begin cultivating a trusting open relationship with them, the sooner they will trust that they can come to you when life gets to be too much, too confusing, or when something is going on that they just don’t know how to deal with. If they learn to trust you at a younger age, you both can continue to cultivate and nurture that trusting relationship into adolescence, early adulthood and beyond.
Get to know who your child is, how they think and feel inside themselves. Ask questions that allow them to use their innate intelligence – stretching their intuition and imagination and to feel into what is true for them – not just mental constructs that are fed to them. This way of being with your child allows them to develop healthy interpretations about themselves – that they matter in your world, and in their own, no matter what.
Bottom line, when a child is having mental challenges, parents and guardians need to get therapy, education, and support for themselves. In essence the child may need rehabilitation, but the parents need some healing, support and training so as to advocate for and empower their children’s lives, so that their spirit is able to soar.
If this article touched you and you have a passion for teaching children, you can learn more about Sofia University’s Master of Education in Transformational Arts which can help you engage with your students in a more powerful and innately mindful way.
To learn more about this series of interviews please visit http://ericmaisel.com/interview-series/