A four-year-old boy has just started preschool. He is reticent to join in activities and defers to other children in decisions about what to play with and what toys. Other children can successfully bully and coerce him, as he does not protest and gives into them. He is intellectually normal and has no developmental problems. His teachers and parents are concerned about these behaviors.
I visit the boy and his parents at home to observe how they interact. The father is quiet, calm and nurturing to him, playing games, bathing and feeding the boy. They talk a lot and interact together well. Mom is louder, more high-strung and aloof from interacting with the boy. She is excitable and expects the boy to entertain himself quietly and to “stay out of her hair” so she can do other things around the home and at her work, as she works out of the house for a large corporation.
The boy follows her expectations. Also deferring to the mother is the father when she becomes loud and demanding. He gives in to her even when she is verbally abusive to him. The boy has learned the same way of dealing with Mom that Dad has. Only when the boy arrives at school — with a different set of expectations– do we see the home relationship problems. Mom is a bully to the father and the boy so the boy has learned to give in to bullies the way he does at home and at school.
Here, we have a three-way relationship problem that creates the boy’s problems. Important to see is that your, or your child’s, problems never occur in isolation from the people in their immediate environment.