Disturbing behaviour in young children

As human animals we are born into a social structure that requires us to develop accordingly. We normally form patterns of behaviour that facilitate communication and interaction with our family and peers. Some people however display behaviour that is out-with the realms of normality. This behaviour, if it is sustained and/or is particularly damaging and disruptive, is deemed to be socially unacceptable. For the most part such behaviour is temporary and through proper socialisation continuation is normally averted. However for some, such actions can be permanent causing further disruption to the life of the individual and to those around them. It is when this happens that individuals are considered to be displaying problem behaviour.

It is difficult to determine what is at the root of problematic behaviour in children. Some argue from a nativist perspective that that there is a genetic predisposition towards deviant behaviour. Others attribute such behaviour to the failure of the parents and the social system in general for failing to socialise children in the appropriate manner. This of course can be the result of a variety of factors including school, economic disadvantage, disruptive home life etc. In any case disturbing behaviour in children is an important and arguably topical subject for debate.

Social development for the most part begins with the very first bond the child makes with their primary caregiver, which is normally the mother. Perhaps unsurprisingly disruptions to this “natural” relationship are regarded by many authors as being detrimental to the wellbeing and development of the child. For example John Bowlby (1973) suggests that; “No variables have more of a far reaching effect on a personality development than a child’s experiences with his/her family and his/her relations with his/her mother figure.”

Baring in mind the tremendous impact that the primary care giver has on the child it is worth remembering that it is not only the presence of the mother that is of importance but of equal significance is the quality of the relationship. As such the attitude of the mother to her child and her sensitivity to its needs has profound implications for development. For example Murray (1991) suggests that; “A mothers mental state will have influence on their child’s development.”

The role of the father as a socialising agent has until recently been overlooked and as such the attachment that children have to their fathers has been understated. However Lamb (1997) has argued that fathers provide a different form of support one, which is equally important in the social development of children. For example in the first instance the father can be viewed as hierarchical authoritative figure. Perhaps more importantly fathers are more likely it seems to engage in concentrated play with their children than their mothers. As suggested by Lamb; “By the time children are toddlers two out of three pick the father as the one they want to play with. The overall pattern is clear, mother is security father is fun.”3 In addition Scott (1998) found that; “Absence or low involvement of fathers has been shown to be associated with poor outcomes for children.”

A disrupted relationship with ones parents it seems also has a reasonably significant effect on the development of individuals. If we consider for a moment the effect that little or no parental contact has on subjects, then it is possible to gauge how crucial a socialisation agent the parents and in particular the mother can be. For example Harlow (1958) based a series of experiment on the relationship between a rhesus monkeys and a surrogate mother. Perhaps unsurprisingly Harlow found that the subjects failed to develop properly and as such they displayed dysfunctional behaviour. For instance Harlow noted that monkeys could not interact with other monkeys and were never really able to reach full maturity. In fact Harlow noted that; “they were rarely able to mate successfully.”

It would be unethical of course to conduct a similar experiment using human subjects. However we can draw some comparisons with children raised in inadequate institutions. For example Yarrow (1961) found that a number of children raised in orphanages displayed a number of intellectual deficits. There is also it seems evidence of long-term social and emotional effects including physical aggression, delinquency and indifference.

Similarly Goldfarb (1943) discovered that those raised in some institutions were likely to display impaired development. For example in one such institution the infants were kept in separate cubicles for the first eight months and consequently lacked human contact. Such scant attention from carers was a continued feature throughout the children’s upbringing. As a consequence Goldfarb found that; “the IQ of these children was 72 compared with 95 for the control. These children also displayed problems with social maturity, speech and lacked the ability to form relationships.”

Divorce is of course a very distressing form of separation, which is endured by an increasing amount of children. Children of divorced parents are often required to move house, change schools and even break contact with a notable adult figure in their lives. Furthermore children whose parents have divorced have also had to endure considerable domestic strife such as hostile atmosphere and even violence. According to Hetherington et al; “Children of divorced parents may suffer form a variety of emotional difficulties in later life including, disruptive behaviour, depression, anti-social behaviour and are less likely to do well in school.”7 In fact Hetherington concludes that; “Even 10 years after, young people typically perceived divorce as the most stressful event in their lives.

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A similar case study was done on two Czechoslovakian twins who underwent similar experiences to Genie, being locked in a cellar for five-and-a-half years. Unlike Genie once they had received special treatment for their under development they developed normally and …

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