Emotional intimacy with parents and conduct disorder

Emotional intimacy with parents and conduct disorder

Whether children do something good or bad, mostly parents are credited to their actions. Therefore, raising a child not only involves feeding the child and giving financial support but also requires emotional intimacy from the parents because how a child is raised determines how he/she will behave and become successful and happy later in life.

Emotional intimacy: A connection with emotion

Emotional intimacy refers to a psychological bonding, which involves closeness and openness at emotional level. Confidence, trust and acceptance are some salient features of such association. As per Bowlby (1969), a child forms a psychological connection with mother/caregiver in order to satisfy his/ her needs and with everyday interactions gradually this attachment becomes stronger. Therefore, emotional intimacy between the child and parents provide a firm foundation to the child for exploring the world and gain experiences.

Ainsworth (1971, 1978) has argued that there are different styles that the child and primary caregiver/ parent follow to relate with each other. When the child does have confidence that the caregiver would be available in need, then there is a secure attachment. So this consistent attachment builds trust in people around. However, if the child has this constant fear of abandonment from the parents, the attachment is called insecure. This insecure attachment develops when the parents fail to be emotionally present during the child’s time of distress. With this insecure attachment, the child might become clingy or indifferent to parents. Those children who are clingy, during their adolescence, they crave for closeness of their parents and require constant reassurance of their love and care. On the other hand, those indifferent children become avoidant of their parents and seem emotionally distant when they are adolescents.

In the line of these attachment researches, Karlen Lyons-Ruth (2003) refers attachment as psychological immunity which defends the child against the negative emotions. When the parents do not understand their child’s affection needs, they might not able to protect the child when he/ she is faced with any danger or threat. Parents might react disruptively or inadequately, which in turn intensifies child’s fear. This emotional communication gap is called disorganized attachment. These children, who got punished or rejected, they might psychologically assume the role of their parents over time and treat others as they were treated like in a hostile, violent and punitive manner.

Conduct disorder and role of parenting

Conduct is an important phenomenon from a social point of view and any problem in conduct poses serious threat to the social order. Moreover, children and youth with conduct symptoms are most likely to become anti-social adults. Globally, conduct disorder is one of the most commonly found mental illnesses among children and adolescents. Prevalence of conduct disorder is increasing in Western counties, and thus, becoming a major health and social problem. In India, the prevalence estimation of conduct disorder is 4.58% (Sarkhel, 2006). However, in recent years an increase in crime and violent behavior among children and youths has been observed. Every day there are reports of vandalizing school property, raping girl classmate or murdering peer over trivial matters in the newspapers or social media. The condition is alarming for our society because it places a large personal and economic burden on individuals and society, involving not just healthcare agencies and social care services but all sectors of the society including the family, schools, police and criminal justice agencies.

Issues related to conduct or conduct disorder is a psychiatric condition which is usually found among children and higher prevalence in adolescents (Searight, Rottnek & Abby, 2001). It includes repetitive violation of societal rules and problem in behaving in a manner which is socially acceptable. Aggression and violence towards people and animals, destruction of property and vandalism, theft and showing no regard for others are some of the behavioral characteristics of conduct disorder. There are several factors that contribute in the development of conduct disorder:

The under arousal of autonomic nervous system is linked with conduct disorder in children and adolescents (Beauchaine, Gatzke-Kopp & Mead, 2007). Several studies have found poor socio-economic status, dysfunctional interpersonal relationship among family members, substance use and violence in home, adverse life events as the causal factors (Flouri & Midouhas, 2017). However, lower quality of parenting i.e., low care and harsh disciplining of children moderated the negative effects of family adversity and fostered the development of conduct disorder (Flouri, Midouhas, Ruddy & Moulton, 2017).

Numerous studies have suggested that faulty parent-child relationship may cause many psychological problems in children. When parents are affectionless or provide disproportional care (low caring mother and overprotective father) to their children, with such bonding children are at great risk for developing conduct disorder (Freeze, Burke & Vorster, 2014). In such family parents are more controlling, extremely demanding and rarely express their emotions and lack of healthy involvement with children (Baumrind, 1991). It has been found that many youth and children with conduct disorder may find difficulty in interpreting social cues and feeling and expressing empathy or remorse. They often misunderstood others action as being aggressive or hostile so they react aggressively and get into conflict situation. Other associated difficulties with conduct disorder may include such as bullying, physical fights, frequent absence from school and substance use etc.

Parental psychopathology has been found closely associated with child’s emotional and conduct problems. If the mother is psychiatrically ill, she does not understand the psychological needs of the child and, therefore, fails to form an emotional connection with the child, which subsequently lowers child’s resiliency against conduct problems (Wan & Green, 2009). Similarly, the parents having conduct disorder lack parental sensitivity and ability to provide nurture and care which is required for a healthy development and overall well-being of the child. So the child would come out GOOD or BAD largely depends upon how close and secure a child feels with his/ her parents and how much accepting and caring an adolescent finds his/ her parents.

Emotional intimacy as a cure

In a family, which lacks good social skills, if a child with an irritable temperament is raised, he/ she may learn that one can get things done by behaving hostilely. At school, the child may fall into the company of deviant peers, where violence and other antisocial acts are encouraged and being associated with sense of self- esteem. Poor academic ability and difficult classroom behavior make the child to skip class frequently and ultimately leaving the school without completing education. In later years, with no qualification, he/ she may left with no job so may take refuge in drugs. For funding drugs, he/ she may resort to crime and, once convicted, it becomes more difficult to get a job. From this example, it can be seen that there is a cycle of adverse experiences that turns early anger issues into conduct disorder in later years. However, in the presence of supportive family atmosphere and caring parents such cycle could be broken.

It has been clarified that a nurturing parent-child relationship characterized with emotional intimacy not only determines healthy growth of but also buffers against emotional problems and conduct problems even if there are environmental adversities. In the current scenario, where children are exposed to so much violence and hostility, parents’ nurturance provide them a ‘safe heaven’ where they feel secure calm down their anxieties. Several studies have suggested that parents of children with conduct symptoms irregularly check child’s whereabouts and do not care about how child behaves in a social context (Smith et, al., 2014). Moreover, they are less likely to respond according to child’s action and mostly react to their mood (for example, beating child due to bad mood). Therefore, nurturance, acceptance and openness for psychological needs of the child ensure emotional intimacy and good parent-child relationship, thereby lower child’s susceptibility for developing conduct symptoms.

With troubled children, parents should try to instill some positive experiences in them. They may learn to, how to interact with the child in a non-hostile and constructive way. It helps them to recognize child’s needs and respond them with sensitivity. The child, in turn, starts liking and respecting his/ her parents and gradually feel secure with them. In addition, they should try to be more encouraging for child’s positive behavior rather than being critical for unwanted behavior. For example, instead of shouting at the child’s running, parents should praise when the child walks quietly. It not only increases the frequency of desired behaviors but also makes the disciplining of behavior less aversive for the child. Therefore, it lowers the chances that the child would feel any hatred or disliking towards parents and makes it easier for the child to develop an emotional connection with them. The constant support and love of the parents can accelerate the process of removing defiant behavior and instilling those behaviors which contributes in the welfare of the society as well as aid in the overall psychological functioning of the child.

About the Author

Kriti Gupta
Assistant Professor.

Ms Kriti Gupta is an Assistant Professor at Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University and RCI registered Clinical Psychologist.  

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