I was stopped in my tracks today by a comment in a discussion on the Jeremy Vine Show about health service budgets which stated that 1 in 5 children starting nursery in South Manchester don’t know their own name (or that they have one)
On reading some news articles more carefully it seems that it may be a misleading statistic, or even just anecdotal evidence. The article in The Telegraph goes on to explain the link with problems in communication including children who then go on to have a diagnosis of autism. However, that seemed to be a minority of the number initially quoted.
In The Telegraph article, there is a lot of discussion about communication in families and subsequent performance at school. Many seem to be pointing the finger at our media habits – essentially watching telly instead of talking to each other at home, and to areas of deprivation.
But I think a big discussion is missing. Having a name, and knowing that that particular word means you, must surely be key to your identity. This article gives a more in depth discussion about the significance of a name. I wonder what effect it has on a child to be starting pre-school without having a solid foundation for knowing who they are? Without a name, it must be difficult to construct a core sense of self – opinions, wants, needs, relationship to others, and a sense of being a unique person separate from others around them. It’s a massive series of developmental tasks for a baby – knowing that they are a separate person, and that they have control over their bodies, and then developing a sense of self, including that stage of knowing that they are able to say “no”!
Many people come to counselling wanting to rediscover their identity. Particularly if they have grown up in a family where there is an emphasis on looking after other people to the detriment of their own wants and needs, they may have difficulty knowing exactly who they are. People may also rely on seeing what others reflect back at them – we are very quick to impose labels on those around us – “Oh, Sheila’s a grafter”, “Freda dances to her own tune”, “she’s always been a live wire”. Or identity might be tied to roles in society – a parent, a child, career choice etc. How often when we meet somebody do we ask “what they do” in order to get a handle of who they are? When that role changes or disappears through relationship breakdown, bereavement, redundancy or retirement, we can have problems if we’ve relied on that to inform us about who we are.
In Transactional Analysis, one of the things that we might address in therapy is a client’s relationship with themselves. We might examine the way that we speak to ourselves, whether we can identify our own wants and needs, and how we use these in relation to other people.