Blog 7: A Child living Today

Before I begin, I want to thank Clara Ferry, aged 16 and from Arranmore Island off Donegal, for composing the artwork inspired by the words in this blog. 

How is the child today different from previous generations?  They are similar in their core needs:; they ask the same questions as children in every generation:  Am I loved and cared for; Do I belong;  Do I make a difference?

The world around them though is hugely changed.  Everything is in free flow: how they communicate and relate with peers and adults, how they play and learn, even what parts of their brain are more in demand. 

Most children are adapting well with changes in family systems where adults can appear and disappear as primary carers.  Boys can struggle when no adult male is daily involved in modelling for them what guys do, how they talk, resolve conflict and handle strong emotions.  Single Mums are heroic in juggling the dual tasks of nurturing and setting boundaries for their children.  Add holding down a job and Mum becomes exhausted.  So a therapist is sometimes called upon to relieve the pressure off Mum or Dad, giving the child / teenager a safe, skilled and neutral zone to blow steam and express pain.

I love working with children.  They enter the therapy room somewhat anxious but curiosity on what’s available gets the better of them.  These children deep down possess a ‘hard-drive’ screaming inside, wanting to get out and express itself.  They are innately programmed to live and love in their unique way - but something or somebody has cast a shadow and blocks their way in living their dream.  In the room with a ‘skilled stranger’ they discover that they are brave and honest, eager and able to work their way through the ‘crap inside’.  They absolutely need to bond with and like the therapist.  Why should they risk bringing their inmost secrets to someone they can’t connect with and trust. 

There are often rocky starts in the therapy journey – the child or teenager is angry that life has treated them badly.  As a 15 year old exclaimed, ‘Life fucked me over so I fuck life back’.  They may have tried escaping into bedroom isolation through the avenues of gaming, self-harming, violent power struggles with the adult world: ‘text me when my dinner is ready and leave it at the top of the stairs!’ So when they are ‘brought’ into my adult zone, the negativity can fill the room. 

Young clients present with a welcome clarity in how something in their brain is interfering with how they would prefer to be living. Their brains are plastic and malleable, not burdened with the baggage of living that older clients carry, layer on layer.  I say to the child: ‘let’s be 2 detectives and track down where the sadness and hurt began’.  This exploring leads to the womb, birth, child and teenage experience at home, in school and community.  I believe as a therapist that working with the sensations the client experiences in their body is a good place to start: the concrete block in the pit of the stomach, the brain resembling a lightning storm, the feet that never feel the solidity of ground and soil.  Much of the process is through play.  Why? This is a comfortable zone for children who engage naturally with metaphors and symbols.  For example, a 5 year old child working with story-cubes linked:

2 masks – sadness. 

Fork of lightning – the superhero ‘Flash’

Dragon figure – fright at night.

Abacus - Loves counting as it represents certainty. 

Clock – very slow at night.

The child issue centred on difficulty sleeping with his little brother in the same room.  A highly intelligent child, his thinking was ‘if I make the slightest sound, I will awake and disturb my little brother’.  This was ultimately tracked to a post-natal experience of being rendered immobile in the incubator with steel / plastic/ tubing, a million miles away from the mother’s soft and reassuring touch. 

The effects of trauma resides in the nervous system and remains dormant for months and years until a current issue triggers all the sensory memory of the original event.  Fortunately, the therapist can accompany the child back to the source of the pain / sadness / loss / anger / depression to allow new neural connections to occur.  As the child has less ‘baggage’ to sift through, it is quicker for the therapist to refine the search and arrange a healing pathway for the child to follow.

Parents desperate for their child’s return to a healthy, balanced life are often torn between difficult options: medication or not, what therapy among the many on offer do we choose?  My own view is that medication is a last resort.  It treats and manages the symptoms so ‘life calms down for the family’ but it is not healing the source of the issue.  I have treated 11 year old children suffering psychosis without the need to resort to medication.  This is great news for the child as his own healing capacity has naturally achieved what medication can only subdue. 

The question of which therapist will best help my child can be resolved on the basis of whether the child trusts and bonds with the therapist.  Ninety per cent of the child’s healing or managing a condition is down to the relationship.  The other ten per cent is the skills and resources the therapist uses and which benefit the child.  Why is the relationship vital?  Because the child is seeking a rebuilding of those key elements which we all need in order to thrive.  They are connection, attunement, trust, autonomy and love /sexuality.  These I will explain in part 2 of ‘A child Living Today’.

Presentations on the 4 zones are also available on video and podcast through the website – see

If you enjoy the material, please get the word out there among those you care for.  You can contact me with comment or suggestion via Facebook at Jim Sheehy Therapy and on Twitter @jimsheehy2017

Take care,

Clarifying Disclaimer:  While the material I am presenting is well-researched and suitable for the general population, I believe each person’s issues and needs are unique.  I encourage you to seek medical and/or therapeutic support if you struggle with an issue or condition that negatively and seriously impacts your life.






Contact me:

Jim Sheehy M.Ed. MIACP
Co Donegal 
F94 WV99

087 2137922


Message Me

Welcome to Really Human