DISPLACED CHILD SYNDROME

As Mentor of the year, I get invited into certain delicate situations which require tact and gently guiding the family to apply wisdom in solving problems to overcome challenges. I joined a planned walkathon as part of family time away to interact and involve all to observe and lend a helping hand if necessary. Just a few minutes into the journey, Johnny, not his real name latched onto me and showed me a tiny scratch on his hands he made a big fuss about. I asked his mother what caused scratch which turned out to be from his own doing from falling down recklessly in one of his tantrum moments. Johnny was angry at his mother for telling me about attention seeking careless moments getting out of control. Consequently, Johnny stormed off so refused to continue with walkathon bonding experience after barely a mile. Later, we took a well deserved lunch break in a family friend’s home along the way. After lunch we had time to relax to enjoy me time and mother delved deeper into Johnny actions and behaviour. Mother revealed, soon after Johnny’s birth during a one year-long relationship, ‘Abi’ the mother was pregnant again with another child. So pressure mounted to care for Johnny and pregnant mother. So the grandparents stepped in to dote on Johnny and give him all the attention he needed. This eased the situation and became a win win situation for a season. After the birth of Johnny’s sibling ‘Sarah’ things continued to get worse with unresolved complicated issues of caring for two small children. Whenever Johnny came home after spending weekends and holidays away, he was restless so did not fit in. Johnny felt detached, isolated and treated by the grandparents as if real parents. The parents blamed the grand parents for indulging and babying him turning him into a brat by doting too much on him as their first grandchild. Instead of appreciating the help given by grandparents, Johnny was made to feel it was his fault the family did not get along. Eventually, unfortunately the grandparents passed away. Due to lack of bonding attachment to parents, Johnny felt lost without beloved grandparent’s input to play with cousin. School reports got worse with behavioural issues and lack of focus in the classroom. Johnny was disruptive at times affecting other children who copied him.

Things spiralled out of control with threats of permanent exclusion from school despite pastoral care support within school. This is when family got in touch through similar families I worked with in the past who recommended they get in touch. So journey continued with fun but with mixed feelings from Johnny’s mother concerned about Johnny’s lack of participation. We were reassured Johnny was alright by a family friend who offered to look after him. Father was on the journey but busy preoccupied helping siblings after a hard day’s work to let mother talk to me first about turn of events in the family. So after exploring deeper conversations, it was recognised by mother that Johnny was grieving loss of own family by displaced syndrome feelings replaced by siblings. Mother’s attitude was Johnny had his turn and full attention after birth so it was time for siblings to be given the exact same full attention he exclusively enjoyed with support of grand parents previously. This is when I gently pointed out responsibilities increased minus support of grandparents so they had to share time with siblings without insisting on repeating exact previous moments from the past. 

One can still love the siblings and help them learn to have consideration for others in the family. Secondly, Johnny grieved silently without dealing with the grandparent’s loss appropriately. Johnny internalized his grief and showed displacement syndrome caused by exclusive attention on his siblings. On return from the walkathon, I spoke to Johnny’s father to get his point of view on the matters at hand. He loves Johnny yet did not verbally express the love openly as showered on siblings. He felt he was compelled to become more involved after grandparents were unavailable. In the past he thought domestic matters were women’s roles so he focussed more on providing for the family. However, since he and his wife had the children too quickly in succession, she lost her job so they had less income with more mouths to feed, mortgage to pay, loans, credit card bills, 2 cars, medical insurance etc. so the list seems endless. Atmosphere in the home was tense with unpleasant arguments, shouting  fights and children crying all day long. If not content, unhappy, unable to express true feelings to stop implode of health symptoms, low immunity, to not eat properly if unwell or screaming in frustration help children stay calm  by giving them extra attention.

Meanwhile, ‘Peter,’ Johnny’s father was preoccupied with the family’s financial matters. In dealing with the family, he never had any personal interaction with Johnny except to discipline him when asked to do so. He felt responsible yet stressed by his inability to pay the on time so struggled within himself and though he let his family down. He felt overwhelmed and daunted by the bills by his inability to control the situation better. He was disappointed in himself for not taking time out carefully at the beginning to carefully plan better beforehand. He felt he run with his emotional feelings about love so had no idea the seriousness of life as a father. He felt he made it as he went along without input of family support he learnt to appreciate after it was too late. Overall, he is willing to make the necessary changes to maintain the family in better shape. Sometimes postpartum depression affects new mothers so husbands must help and not compare wife with his mother or call her lazy. Peter is doing well with his wife and the budget is on schedule for payments plus disciplined financial habits. So joined new role in training children, 1-2-1 interactive activities with Johnny plus encourages children bonding. 

Abi realised how she was in denial of the real situation so we prepared together a simple easy to follow plan to have fun but remain firm in the process. Children are really easy to deal with if you know how and willing to explore the child in you more. With reward points, good positive carrot method of raising children, discipline, correcting appropriately. The couple soon realised they inadvertently contributed to Johnny’s actions and behaviour. After, a few days of working together as a team, Johnny came aboard to join the family to feel valued and loved. It was tough at first to change the situation around as old habits die hard. However, by persistence resilience, things turned out better with structure, routine, more love, fun and laughter. I spoke again to Johnny before and after appropriate intervention, altogether Johnny is flourishing and happy. He wrote his memory book to commemorate grandparents with pictures, released balloons. Johnny’s behaviour, reading skills improved grammatically dramatically. He enjoys school, his grades are great, plays tennis, piano, has friends, joy to know and fun to be with. His school ranks him among best children for with God all things are possible.

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