Find help and online resources for:

Mental health problems


There is really no more complicated task than raising children. We also do not receive instructions in advance of this job, and our instructions are largely stored in conscious and unconscious experiences that we have with us from our own childhood. Here we give you some current goals that you can in the task of raising your own children.

 Image: Istockphoto (with licence)


An inspiration for this article can be found on the website Break the cycle, created by Peter K. Gerlach. He is a family therapist with decades of experience in therapeutic work with children and adults who have lived under conditions that have led to severe trauma. He is a member of the National Center for Foster Parents in Australia (NSRC) located under the Center for Children, Adolescents and Families at the University of Auburn. 

In one of his teaching videos, he says the following:


Good parents teach their children ...


  1. Having self-respect, self-love, and self-care: having love for oneself, and having a desire to meet oneself with care and respect
  2. To be aware of oneself and the needs of others, to learn to have empathy with oneself and other people
  3. To be able to communicate with others in a good way.
  4. To be able to mourn in a healthy way; Your whole life is full of loss experiences that are necessary to have good strategies to face
  5. Dealing with feelings of guilt
  6. Dealing with anxiety and fear
  7. To learn from their mistakes instead of being ashamed of them
  8. Dealing with difficult people; including controlling, aggressive people
  9. To relate to one's own anger; to use frustration and anger in constructive, and not destructive, ways
  10. To have a positive view of learning; to make learning something enjoyable, stimulating and interesting
  11. To have respect for the world and the environment in which we live
  12. To have tolerance for other people with everything that separates us from them; to have good moral standards


Another way to answer the question of what needs the children have from their parents can be found in the rationale behind the Circle of Security (COS) methodology.

This methodology states that children need to be met by the following needs of their parents:


  1. That you take care of me when I need it
  2. That you help me when I need it
  3. That you rejoice over me when I seek it
  4. That you look forward to working with me
  5. That you protect me when I'm scared
  6. That you comfort me when I'm out of my mind
  7. That you help me organize my emotions when I can not handle it myself

In short, the child needs caregivers who can predominantly be perceived as bigger, stronger, wiser and good.

This may sound obvious - but only in theory. In practice, it can be far from self-evident. There are an infinite number of ways in which parents can overlook, misunderstand or distort the signals that the child sends out when it seeks to meet these needs from its parents.


  1. Example: "The Attentive Boy"

    Per (5 years) seeks a lot of contact with his mother, but every time he tries to make contact, he is rejected, or he receives moral remarks about being more independent. "Can't you play a little alone for once?" asks mother stated. It does not occur to her that Per often makes contact because he wants his mother to enjoy him, or to enjoy a pleasant activity with him. A mother who is completely hung up on the idea that his problematic behavior is mererly a problem with the boy, risks becoming more and more frustrated towards Per's approaches / attempts to interact. It may lead to the mother being increasingly strict with him, and that Per gets outbursts of rage. Then the mother becomes very unsure of what to do, and the concern rises: - What is wrong with my boy? 


When you as a parent constantly ignore the seven mentioned psychological needs of the child, there will eventually be difficulties in interaction between children and parents. The simplest way is to attribute these difficulties to the child, and to define the problem as "the child having a behavioral problem".

It will be completely different if we look at it all from the child's perspective: In the event of constant rejections when the child seeks contact with his parents in relation to having each of the seven needs mentioned above covered, the child will eventually either have to develop competent strategies:


  1. The child may stop trying to get in touch with their parents, or downplay their own needs so as not to attract much attention from their parents (usually with evasive attachment style)
  2. The child can learn to exaggerate their own feelings and maladaptation to be sure that the parents will see the child and meet the needs (usually with ambivalent attachment)
  3. The child may appear completely incomprehensible, chaotic and confusing to the parents (usually with disorganized attachment).

When the child constantly experiences that the parents do not meet his needs, it can develop an experience that "I am alone in the world", "no one understands me", "it is best not to show my needs", "I am little worth ", and so on ..


What can prevent these needs from being met?

Peter Gerlach claims that many children are not met at all in relation to the needs mentioned above. There can be several reasons for this. Some children live in conditions that seem traumatic and that instead of going to the children a healthy psychological development inflicts on them lasting psychological damage.

Three ways in which parents can harm their children's development are the following:


  1. Neglect

    This is about not meeting the children's basic needs. It may be that parents do not know the children's needs, and / or that they do not know how to meet these needs for the children, and / or that they do not want to meet these needs for the children.

  2. Rejection

    This can be about not spending time with the children, or about not being available to their children emotionally even if you spend time with them. Such forms of rejection are common in parents who carry with them psychological injuries from their childhood, and where one is not really able to empathize with, attach to, and to show genuine love for the children.

    It is a topic that may also be relevant in families where the parents are divorced, in the question of whether the children still get the experience of having contact with both their parents, or to what extent this life change leads the child into obvious forms of rejection.

  3. Abuse

    This can be defined as what happens when the child who is dependent on his or her caregiver is used by the caregiver to meet the adult's needs in a way that is harmful to the child and where the child has no real opportunity to escape.

    Variants of this can be that the adult uses the child to meet their own emotional needs for someone to confide in, to support themselves with their own emotional insecurity, or where the adult uses the child to meet their own sexual needs. Exposing the child to physical violence is another variant, where the adult covers his need for an outlet for aggression at the expense of the child's need for security and protection.


What injuries are common in severe childhood trauma?

Gerlach refers to experience that childhood trauma can roughly be said to lead to six main forms of psychological damage:


  1. Worn out, dissociated personality

    Children who experience trauma will have to develop strategies to protect themselves in order to survive in the face of the emotionally overwhelming experiences. One such strategy is for the child to split the personality into different parts, and where the "true self" (who one really is) is displaced, put on the sidelines, or comes into deep conflict with other "false" part personalities. 
  2. Shame and guilt

    Extreme degree of shame (self-esteem issues) and extreme degrees of guilt
  3. Anxiety

    Extreme degree of anxiety and fear of failure, of criticism, rejection, of being abandoned, of losing control, and of the unknown
  4. Confidence problems

    Difficulties in trusting oneself and other people
  5. Distortion of reality

      There are many ways to distort reality, and it spans a wide range from mild to severe forms. Some ways to distort reality can be:
      • Denial. For example, to deny that you have an addiction problem, to deny what you do yourself, to deny mistakes or bad behavior.
      • Illusions, to see something that is not there. This can be part of various psychotic states.
      • Idealization, which means seeing only the best in a situation: "we are just fine," "we have no problems." This is rarely true, as all people, all relationships and all life situations involve both positive and negative sides.
      • Disaster thinking, to only see the worst in a situation: "we are only in pain", "we are only in trouble." This is also a distortion of reality because all people, all relationships and all life situations involve both positive and negative sides
      • Projection, to transfer one's own to someone else. It can, for example, when you yourself are angry, but instead of acknowledging this, the others accuse me of being angry with me. It is a significant part of a paranoid behavior.
      • Various forms of numbness, such as derealization, depersonalization, and dissociation.
  6. The consequence of the difficulties

    The combination of these difficulties leads to: difficulties related to one's own feelings, to attaching to other people, to having empathy with others, and to loving / having love for other people


When the injured child himself becomes a parent

Maybe you are among those who have had an upbringing of the tough kind, an upbringing marked by neglect, rejection or abuse? Then you will probably also recognize yourself in some (not necessarily all) moments above. You often wonder if the care you give your children is good enough that you do not bring the same psychological damage that you received to the next generation?

It is important to point out that the vast majority of parents want the best for their children, but for various reasons it can be difficult to take care of their own children in a good enough way.

Treating yourself to help strengthen the interaction between you as a parent and your children can be tough, it can be perceived as a defeat, it can arouse anxiety, shame and insecurity - but it can also be an investment for life. Seek help if you want to become a better parent; it deserves both you and your child. The Circle of Security (COS) course for parents which can be especially useful if you want to further develop the relationship between you and your children. The courses are offers in family-based facilities internationally. There may also be other family-based services that may be relevant. 

Also read