Embedded problems in younger children

It is not unusual for younger children to present embedded problems in the form of phobias and high levels of anxiety. The focus on adolescent embedded problems referred to the ways in which these problems represent at least in part unresolved difficult earlier infantile and later childhood experiences. For younger children we may hypothesise that we are able to see these problems in the making, which gives us greater opportunities to intervene before they become encapsulated for the child and the parents.

The interactive nature of some of the more phobic elements of the behaviour of younger children with their parents is often visibly apparent. For example, an eight-year-old boy had developed a fear of death and had become convinced that his parents would die. He was worried about them when they went out and preferred that they all stayed at home. His interest in school and friendships had become affected. In this particular time-limited therapy, it was striking to hear from the meeting with the parents, how sudden shocking death and loss had permeated the mother’s own life growing up. Her father had died suddenly without warning from a heart attack and following the funeral no more was spoken about him. His death was followed by two further accidental deaths of family members which were also never referred to. The mother’s unresolved experience of mourning appeared to have become transmitted into her son as a petrified state of mind. We may speculate that the mother had made some mention of this without assuming that her son had actually heard what she said. However, this kind of intergenerational transmission of traumatic experience is not uncommon in families where the parents have not been able to mourn the loss of family members or metabolise the experience. In this case the validation for the mother in allowing her to acknowledge her traumatic history had the almost immediate effect of lifting the burden of responsibility from her son.

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