(TDC) How does disrupted Object Relations impact a traumatized child’s return to school?

As children go back to school, we wanted to review the TDC: Object Relations and offer a few ideas of how it impacts a child in the classroom. At the age of five or six, we assume a level of mastery in the area of object relations. Children are expected to be able to hold internal pictures of their parents as permanent and constant authority figures who provide safety and security. These internal pictures are used to calm themselves (self-regulate) and to make decisions. For example; though the children are in a new environment, surrounded by new people, and responding to new demands, they feel safer remembering that their mothers said they were ready for school. Their moms checked things out ahead of time, was excited to help them prepare for new experiences, put them on the bus, and will be there at the end of the day. Additionally, that internal picture of mom functions as a guide. “Mom said I can do this.” “What would mom think?” “How would mom expect me to behave?” “Will mom be happy with my choices?” Notice, how in both self-calming and decision making, that internal picture is used.

Drawing on that internal image occurs very quickly and without intention. Children with a TDC in object relations cannot hold an internal picture of the parent when separated during a school day. The result is increased fear, an inability to self-regulate, and a less intuitive decision-making process when compared to a child with a fully developed object relations competency. While separated from the parent, a child may have an emotional response of fight, flight, freeze, or fold behaviors. Without the safety and security of a parent, their brains are wired to return to old survival skills, one without that perceived parental safety and security. Their emotionally driven intent will be to take control of the environment.

Note: A TDC in object relations is not the source of problematic behaviors that result from a child internalizing a picture of a fearful, angry, oppositional, or dysregulated parent. A child who has internalized this parental picture will try to mimic those strategies. This can create a landscape of problematic behaviors that may overlap or seem similar to a child with poor object relations. However, the interventions will be completely different.

Classroom/bus: Possible problematic behaviors

  1. Calming: Inability to self-regulate
    1. Exaggerated responses to perceive threats
    2. Increased attempts to control others and communication
    3. Inability to restrain voice and physical actions
    4. Inability to maintain focus, attend to work or task
    5. Inability to transition smoothly
    6. Increased hiding, running away (may include hiding face, avoiding eye contact)
  2. Decision making
    1. Inability to remember (adhere to) rules outside of perception
    2. Inability to inhibit problematic emotional reactions
    3. Increased impulsivity
    4. Decisions may not seem reasonable
    5. Inability to be responsible or vulnerable, with increased opposition and aggression

Authorities

  1. Calming: Inability to self-regulate
    1. Exaggerated responses to perceive threats from authorities
    2. Increased attempts to control others and communication
    3. Increased attempts to disrupt communication (lies, blame, changing the subject)
    4. Inability to restrain voice and physical actions
    5. Inability to maintain focus, attend to work or task
    6. Inability to transition smoothly
    7. Increased include hiding face, avoiding eye contact or the opposite-being charming and agreeable
    8. May disassociate, appear as if absent or not listening
  2. Decision making
    1. Inability to remember (adhere to) rules outside of perception
    2. Inability to inhibit problematic emotional reactions
    3. Increased impulsivity
    4. Decisions may not seem reasonable
    5. May appear being charming and agreeable without follow through
    6. Inability to be responsible or vulnerable, with increased opposition and aggression

Peers

  1. Calming: Inability to self-regulate
    1. Exaggerated responses to perceive threats from peers
    2. Increased attempts to control others and communication
    3. Increased attempts to disrupt communication (lies, blame, changing the subject)
    4. Inability to restrain voice and physical actions
    5. Inability to maintain focus, attend to projects, games, play
    6. Inability to transition smoothly from one game or activity to another
    7. Increased include hiding face, avoiding eye contact or the opposite-being charming and agreeable
    8. May disassociate, appear as if absent or not listening
    9. Inability to be reciprocal or have continued relationships
  2. Decision making
    1. Inability to remember (adhere to) rules outside of perception
    2. Inability to inhibit problematic emotional reactions
    3. Increased impulsivity
    4. Decisions may not seem reasonable
    5. May appear being charming and agreeable without follow through
    6. Inability to be responsible or vulnerable, with increased opposition and aggression

© 2022, Jeff and Faye. All rights reserved.

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