Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog

I'll begin this blog by sharing a book I'm currently reading. There are some pretty challenging stories in Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz's book. You have to grit your teeth in places, but a thirst for knowledge drives me to read on and discover new insights. It's well worth the journey!

Reading this book prompts questions - What is considered normal behaviour for a child? Why do some children never thrive? Why do some children grow up to be sociopaths? Can we prevent such a disastrous outcome simply by good parenting?

In the case studies Bruce Perry shares with his readers I am touched, horrified and ashamed at the injustices done to innocent children purely through ignorance and circumstance. Such as the four week old infant, Leon, who was left alone all day in his crib, every day, while his mother took her older child out to the zoo, the museum, the shops and finally came home to cook dinner. Baby Leon soon learned that when he cried, no one came. All his milestones, such as turning over, crawling, sitting up were witnessed by no one. And so he learned to be a self contained unit, needing no one. His mother thought he was fine, 'because he didn't cry anymore.' But Leon grew to be a troubled child, with many different diagnoses, entering the juvenile justice system by the time he was six until one day, he murdered and raped (in that order) two girls, aged 12 and 13. If you saw the monster he had become, you would not perhaps wonder at the infant he once was. But Dr Perry did. In all those years, no one thought to ask about the home life, the routines, of that child. Leon's ability to empathise never developed. He was switched off to the needs of those around him, concerned only with getting his own needs met, by whatever means necessary and subject to infantile rages when he didn't.

The boy who was raised as a dog lost both parents and his grandmother, who had taken over his care. He was raised by his step grandfather who knew nothing about children, so he kept the child in a cage outside with his dogs. He was fed, played with and returned to the cage when he misbehaved. He could not walk or talk.

So what do we learn from stories such as this? That children are resilient and can cope with trauma? That all parents understand the basics of child rearing? That 'the system' can help these kids with early intervention programs? What we learn is that a parent's love and attention, from day one, has enormous ramifications for that child's future life, physically, emotionally, cognitively.

There are other stories in this book which make you marvel at the ability of children to spring back when given the right homelife. One carer, Mama P., would take any child in her care, no matter how old, and cradle them, rock them, sing to them. She'd call them her 'babies' and believed in treating them not due to their age, but according to what they needed. Studies show that children remain, developmentally and emotionally speaking, at the level at which they were abandoned. To allow them to thrive, you have to go back to that stage and help them grow by fulfilling what they lacked, hence, the rocking and singing.

I'm starting this blog because I believe that parents struggle sometimes with guilt that they are not doing the best for their children. With over twenty years of experience working with children and their families I have seen it over and over. The parents who ask the questions tend to fall into two groups - they either want a quick fix and don't understand they are part of 'the problem' or blame themselves and don't listen to their intuition. In this modern age, where everything we do is influenced by the media and advertising, I want to provide something of value to parents, teachers and carers that reminds us that we are instinctive animals, with nurturing capabilities, who want the best for the little ones in our care. And that sharing what we've learned, even via the internet, is a way of bringing the village back into child rearing.


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