Is It Good for Children?
A talk given by Ron Kurtz (founder of Hakomi Therapy), June 2000

For more info and other articles see: http://www.ronkurtz.com

I’ve been reading this morning and my reading reminded me of why we do this work.
During the Viet Nam war, I went to hear some speeches in San Francisco’s beautiful
Grace Cathedral, a very large, impressive church. It was the right setting for what was
taking place there: protest against the war. Though I’m not particularly religious, I felt
awe inspired by both the setting and the topic. The people who spoke were also of a
grand scale, the head of the church, Norman Vincent Peale, was a famous man who had
written several popular books. Two other speakers were Nobel prize winners. One was a
physicist. The other, neurophysiologist George Wald, argued eloquently, “We can ask a
very simple question about this war: Is it good for children?“ The answer was obvious.
War is not good for children. He went on to name other things, like atomic weapons, air
pollution, the destruction of the environment and of each he asked, ”Is it good for
children?” To me it seems a very sensible criterion, that clear and simple question: Is it
good for children?

I remembered that speech this morning. I asked myself, “What is good for children?”
Here’s my answer. I’ve been reading a book called, The Developing Mind, by Daniel J.
Siegal. The chapter that came to mind is about attachment. It’s about patterns of
emotional connections that children develop as a result of the kind of parenting they
receive. These attachment patterns are the primary determiners of the kind of
personalities and relationships the child will grow up to have. They shape the child’s
whole life.

One of the things Siegal stated was this: if a parent has unresolved trauma or grief, it
will negatively effect the children. In other words, it’s not good for children. Unresolved
trauma or grief creates pain and suffering not only in these distressed individuals, but for
their children as well. Siegel says, “... lack of resolution can permit dysfunction to
continue across the generations...” These children have a marked inability to regulate
emotional responses and the flow of states of mind. It’s important to remember that this
results from unresolved trauma or grief. If these things are resolved, they don’t effect the
children.

When the parent’s issues are unresolved and the parent cannot regulate his or her
emotional responses, the parent is unpredictable for the child. The parent has
unpredictable mood swings and the child cannot find a secure way to be with that parent.
Because the child is so dependent, it’s primary need is for a parent it can depend upon. If
the parent is unreliable, the child cannot create a reliable world for itself. The child forms
what is called a disorganized/disoriented attachment pattern. This is a disturbance of a
basic kind, a painful deficiency in the development of the self, a defect in the ability to
control (regulate) emotions that places gross limitations on all relationships. If and when
the disturbed child later becomes a parent, the unresolved disturbance gets passed to his
or her children.

So, when we ask, “what’s good for children?” the answer is clear. Whats good for
children is that its caregivers are reliable. Reliable in this way: the caregivers can form a
relationship with the child in which the child can rely upon its needs being consistently
recognized and met. Among these needs is the need to live in a world that fits together
and makes sense. If the parents’ world fits together and makes sense, that helps the child
to create a world for itself that fits together and makes sense. That’s not all though. The
child needs to learn to regulate his or her emotions. Consistent affect regulation on the
part of the caregiver makes that possible. So, we know what is good for children. It is
good for children, if the parents are reliably calm, reliably available, reliably sensitive to
the child’s needs, and reliable providers.

In therapy, when trauma and grief issues need to be resolved, the therapist must have
exactly these same qualities: calm, presence, sensitivity, availability, and the skills to help
the client create a world that fits together and makes sense, a world where we can find
safety, comfort and meaning. These are basic to psychological health and therefore, to
good caregiving. And, it needs to be said, psychotherapy is caregiving. One or all of
these basic experiences—safety, comfort, meaning—are missing for disturbed people.
Providing these things for them is how the chain of grief and trauma and unfulfilled lives
can be broken.

Not just in therapy and not just between children and their parents, but in all our daily
interactions, something of this availability and kindness can be present. In all our
relationships, where we are reliably calm, sensitive and available, we help create a better
world, not only for our children who especially need that, but for everybody. Kindness
and availability— its good for you, good for me and it’s good for children."

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