Emotional unavailability is a common experience for most individuals growing up within Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. Parent’s attempt to exert respect often becomes a demand for authority which in turn causes fear among their children. Children should not be afraid of their parents but rather safe, loved and supported.
I love you, I am proud of you, well done are often words that are not expressed within some BAME homes. Stupid girl, foolish boy, you are just like your father, “oh okay” are words that majority of children from BAME communities might recognise.
Children from BAME homes do not often see affection between their parents or receive affections from their parents. Yet it is evident that affection and emotional availability is a vital part of development.
“Affirmation and affection in the early years are crucial for healthy patterns of behaviour and emotional stability”. Children who grow up in cold environments often experience psychological distressing conditions such as emotional neglect, humiliation and ridicule which often, transpires to low self-esteem, angry outburst, and depression in their adult lives. As adults they often do not know how to receive love, affirmation and affection without questioning intentions.
Affection, touch, rewards for good deeds and compliments exerts confidence, security and a secure attachment. John Bowlby’s “attachment theory” discusses a deep emotional connection with a caregiver. “Attachment behaviour in adults towards the child includes responding sensitively and appropriately to the child’s needs” Attachment, whether good or bad can impact social, cognitive, and sometimes physical development. Children growing up in homes with poor attachment may lack social skills, may present as timid/angry and may have difficulties with self-expression (often seen as being disrespectful or disengaged within BAME homes).
The listed difficulties among BAME children are also linked with the lack of rewarding good behaviours and accomplishments. Punishment (sometimes extreme forms of punishment) is much more prevalent within our communities in comparison to rewarding good behaviours.
Passing exams, completing a degree in higher education, passing a driving test, getting a promotion at work are not common accomplishments, yet being complimented for such great achievements by a care giver or, a parent from an ethnic community can be challenging. Good behaviour that is not rewarded might lead to a child displaying challenging behaviour to get attention and the recognition they deserve (B.F Skinner).
Despite evidence promoting the importance of positive attachment and affection among the human species, why do some parents from BME communities find it difficult to exercise this?
- Mentality of gaining respect which often emerges to fear, control and authority.
- Lack of Education
- Not receiving or observing affection themselves.
This issue of emotional unavailability is of great concern due to the negative impact it is having on individuals growing up within BAME communities. To promote positive developmental growth, we must change our mentality and come to the understanding that, affection and affirmation does not mean losing control or authority as a parent. But rather a way of supporting our children with reaching their maximum potential.
Hugging, cuddling, kissing, supportive touch, compliments instead of “tough love” are some ways of showing affection, this shows your child that he/she is loved, supported and safe to express themselves.
If children do not feel a secure attachment with their care giver, they might seek for this from others who at times are inappropriate and pose a risk to our children.
Subsequently it must be acknowledge that this issue cannot be resolved overnight. An individual cannot be expected to exhibit something they have not experienced or learnt themselves. If an individual has no knowledge about the benefits of certain actions they do not have a reason to practice it.
Just like learning a new skill, it might take time however, the long term benefits will include a holistic, fulfilling, secure attachment which will positively influence our children’s development.
Affection, compliments, positive rewards and secure attachment contributes to self-confidence, high self-esteem and confidence in one’s own ability and skill set. This will translate into how a person responds and how they are affected when faced with challenges in their daily lives.
References and Further Reading