I am currently reading Henning Köhler's Difficult Children - there is no such thing. In the book, he explores (among other things) how our society and educational establishment today deal with children who fall outside the "norm" of behavior. In Chapter 6, Köhler talks about the debate of what is causing these differently wired children, and how it affects the way we view children. He addresses what the impulse of childhood means for our society today, and how we need to artistically help children find their way to who they are and what their mission is in this life. The sentence that sums it all up for me states:
"Wherever I do not approach the child by way of confirming his existence, I permit the feeling within me that he should not be allowed to exist the way he does, that, therefore, he ought to exist in a different way." He continues: "In so doing, I ruin his fundamental bodily security and reinforce the experiences of alienation... Wherever I do not summon an encouraging attitude, I lack confidence in the child's autonomous forces of development, and thereby undermine his sense of self-esteem, causing in him an underlying feeling of failure."
As the mother of a "difficult" child, this is deep food for thought. The question that arises is how do I identify the needs of a child who does not behave like most other children? When am I doing more harm and sending the message that my child ought to be different and when am I truly helpful? With all the dietary changes, supplementation etc. to address sensory issues and anxiety, not to mention all the physical, occupational and play therapy, am I ultimately helping the child become more "functional" in this world, or am I causing some level of harm? What is the price my child pays for all the good natured "behavior modifications" that have been drilled into us?
The answer of course is difficult. But I have tools: meditation, prayer, intuition. I usually know what is helping and what is hurting my child, which therapist is truly embracing who she is and which one is trying to "whip her into shape." Köhler speaks of "levels of love" that begin with a deep affirmation of the child's true nature deep within ourselves. Love as medicine, the most fundamental of all human truths.
I used to have a lot of trouble with this love. It was hard to love an infant who never seemed to sleep and spent most of her waking hours screaming and needing to be held. I always loved my child on some level, but there were periods of time when I didn't really like her, for she was so very hard to parent. I do see the effects of some of my feelings about her back then even today. But my child has taught me how to love her for who she is. One of the most effective therapies for both of us has been music therapy, in which we quickly learned how her intense noise sensitivity could blossom into a musical gift. Because so often we forget, don't we, that many of the behavioral "differences" we see in our children are the double of some deep and often hidden gift. Today, my "difficult" child (and she still has many challenges just to get through the day) is able to bring some of her gifts to the world. Her sweetness is healing to her teacher (and her mother!), her loving friendship supports a few other children (and adults) deeply, and her higher being shines through in so many ways every day that it is impossible not to see the spiritual being she is. She is a creator of beautiful artwork, and a loving sister. She deeply understands people and is an incredible listener.
In the end, I feel that Köhler is presenting me with a choice: do I want to see the "difficult" part of my child and focus merely on her less desirable behaviors, or do I want to affirm who my child is, and that these behaviors are caused by deep sensitivities, which can reveal a rare gift. I am so greatful that I have learned over time to affirm and let love shine a light on who this child really is.