Dolores Tunnecliffe – Children in Distress – Approaches and Challenges to Psychoanalysis with Children in the School Setting

THE LETTER 30 (Spring 2004) pages 62-76

Troubled children who are unable to speak about their suffering because it is too painful will unconsciously express their trauma by impulsive acting-out behaviour. The ‘acting-out’ is a message to another who is refusing to listen or who is unable to decipher the message conveyed in their actions. It is crucial that we provide children with the opportunity to speak their truth to an Other who listens or they may continue to live in confusion and repeat the cycles of violence that have been part of their early history and socialization.

When an eight-year-old child jumps through a window smashing his life away in a last attempt to escape from a situation of ongoing abuse, the crisis for children at risk becomes blatantly poignant. At the inquest into this “accidental death” the deceased child’s ten-year-old brother, who witnessed the tragedy, spoke about how they had been subjected to years of abuse from infancy. This was not the deceased child’s only suicidal attempt. Both children had been involved in dangerous behaviours and juvenile offences on several occasions. Their actions were their only way of being able to communicate their distress which, tragically, had always gone unheard.

This is only one of many instances of children living in distress today. We are constantly confronted with a world which neglects children by allowing child slaves, child soldiers, child labourers, starving children, abused children, children left orphaned by or dying from AIDS, children uncared for in overcrowded institutions… and so it continues. …

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