By Esther Mann, LCSW
I’m writing to you about my eight-year-old daughter, Aliza. She’s a great girl. Smart, thoughtful, and even fun at times—when she isn’t being so serious. For as far back as I can remember, she has had the intensity of an adult. Even as a young child, she would get into these moods and brood. As soon as Aliza was old enough to communicate deep ideas, she would ask questions or make statements that would really shake me and my husband up.
I don’t remember too much about myself as a young child. I think for some reason I blocked a lot of my childhood out. I guess I wasn’t the happiest child in the world. We had our own situations at home. When I’ve questioned my mother about this, she told me I was a serious child, but has never told me that I asked the kind of deep or frightening questions that Aliza asks.
My husband’s mother is no longer alive, and his father has little or no recollection about the type of child he was. Not that Jake, my husband, is the most easygoing person around. Far from it. But I don’t know if he was a happy-go-lucky child or not.
It troubles me to see Aliza worried about such serious matters when she should be playing, having fun, and enjoying life. She has enough time to be deep and depressed when she gets older. I hate to think that she is already filling her head with dark thoughts at such a young age.
People don’t believe me, but Aliza’s already having an identity crisis of sorts. Contemplating her role in life, how she wants to dress, who she identifies with, etc. When I mention this to people, they think I’m exaggerating, that it’s not possible for such a young child to have such intensity and depth. But I’m not exaggerating. If anything, I hide some of the details so that she doesn’t sound completely different from other eight-year-olds.
My heart hurts for Aliza as I see her sometimes get into her funks, sitting in her room, not wanting to play with other children. I worry that if this is what she’s like at her age, what will her teenage years be like? What kind of adult will she be? I fear she will live a painful life. As an adult, I struggle with questions and moods and know how difficult that can be.
What can I do? How should I talk to her? Jake likes to “pooh-pooh” Aliza when she asks deep questions. He doesn’t want to take anything she says seriously and makes light of her questions or statements, which of course tends to frustrate Aliza terribly. I listen to her, but sometimes think that maybe I’m encouraging her to have these thoughts and conversations.
I’m really concerned and unsure what to do at this point. Should we be worried about her and fearful about what the future holds for her?
Dear Concerned Mother,
When any type of question comes up regarding children, my first questions of the parents always revolve around whether one or both of the parents share the same characteristics. Genes are so powerful and it is rare to not find a strong link between the personalities and moods of children and these same qualities in their parents. Clearly you were headed in the same direction by questioning your mother and your father-in-law about your behavior and your husband’s behavior as children. But parents often forget or even tune a lot out. Or maybe that generation was not as aware and concerned about children’s personalities and moods in the same way that parents are today. Your generation is far more tuned in and often on high alert.
But we don’t even have to go back to your childhood, or Jake’s for that matter. Clearly neither of you are particularly easygoing individuals as adults. Sounds like you both have plenty of intensity going on today. Why would it surprise you that Aliza is so intense? She’s clearly her mother and father’s daughter.
Since no one can give you an accurate account of how you behaved as a child, it’s hard to know to what level you took your thoughts as a child. But the world is different today. Children are exposed to so much more, whether through television, movies, the Internet, the news, and our crazy world! It’s scary out there, and it’s hard to shelter children. All they have to do is go to school and listen to the chatter. There’s always someone who’s up on all the latest news. And if you’re a worrywart, as Aliza seems to be, it could be hard to stay in a carefree zone.
I can understand why you are concerned about Aliza and worry about where this behavior will lead. If you want to have peace of mind that she’s an “OK, normal, nothing too out of the box” sort of child, then I would suggest you locate for her a highly recommended therapist who specializes in children. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out commitment. Maybe just a handful of sessions during which time the therapist can evaluate Aliza and comfort you that she’s a normal child with an active mind. More important, the therapist will use this opportunity to help Aliza learn how to manage her thoughts and even redirect them to happier places. Getting these tools now will not only help Aliza in the here and now, but give her a skill set that she can take through adulthood.
Furthermore, you and your husband would probably benefit from a session or two yourselves, so that the therapist could give you some worthwhile tips on the healthiest way to communicate with Aliza when she is going into her deep and dark place.
People can go through their tough times at very young ages, work things through, and reach adolescence or adulthood way ahead of the game, since they’ve already dealt with their issues. Some easygoing children become intense and difficult teenagers, and some happy adolescents hit adulthood and first deal with the heavy stuff and get overwhelmed. Life can hit you at any time.
I doubt that Aliza will ever be the most carefree person in the world. She is clearly a smart child and a deep thinker. She will probably always be that way. But that could be a good thing and not necessarily something that will bring her a life of sadness or depression. Hopefully she will use it to expand her awareness and ultimately come to a place of peace and harmony within, while still having tremendous compassion and empathy for others.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.