Ava Parnass examines how the grief and pain Marcus Smart has been repressing are escaping a decade later in a messy way.
When Marcus Smart lost his brother at nine years old, he stopped being a kid and had to start acting like an adult. During this time of loss, he also lost an important psychological aspect of his childhood. How is a nine-year-old supposed to work through feelings of grief and loss when most adults don’t know how to do that? Grief causes many reactions in families but mostly everyone is grieving and the adults don’t have the emotional strength to deal with the children’s normal emotional responses.
Marcus stated “As a 9-year-old, that’s a lot of pressure that’s being put on you. You’re like, ‘What the heck?’ With that being said, I took it upon me to do whatever I could to help my family out, whatever we needed. I think I’ve been doing good at that so far.” His statement says nothing about his needs or how he felt. As a child psychotherapist for the last two decades I’ve seen many families who have lost a child. I have seen the lasting effects the loss has on the sibling survivor and how the survivor lives his life for both of them.
Many families have different types of reactions to loss but generally the surviving children don’t get a lot of their emotional needs met. The surviving children also put their needs aside to meet the families needs. Grief and chronic illness in a family always catches up to individuals; sometimes a decade or more down the road. Often times they don’t run into problems until a certain age where separation from the family occurs and it becomes an unconscious battle between their needs versus the family needs.
We need to give this great kid Marcus the skills he didn’t have when he was nine years old to cope with his moms illness and the loss of a sibling. As a child, he coped the best way he knew how: by becoming spectacular. However, in becoming spectacular he was not taught by his family how to work through feelings of loss, grief, independence, individuality. His buried feelings are escaping a decade later in a messy way.
Children and adults often do not choose the “right things to do” because they do not have the “feeling words” and behavioral skills to express what’s bothering them. When we as a society stop believing that punishing kids will change their behavior and we start identifying what feelings, words and actions are needed to make better choices, we will start raising a more competent, caring, and ethical generation.
What kind of world have we become that we don’t see the pain under the behavior? We are a world full of “quick to punish” despite the thousands of articles and research that shows punishment does not work. Punishment doesn’t teaches us new skills or good mood regulation. Punishment just teaches us to not get caught and here are 14 articles telling us why punishment doesn’t work. Sports teams would benefit much more from starting an empathy and compassion program instead of using suspension and punishment. (Feel free to call me for ideas).
When you begin to offer new feelings, new words and new actions, instead of punishment things will start to improve. Good kids should be supported during mistakes or outburst or addictions as they are all cries for help. We need to listen closely for the messages and look for the pain beneath the behavior. Then we need to translate it and find the right kind of emotional help for the person. We can’t expect a 19-year-old to have maturity in the face of everything that they have experienced. Their brain is still growing and maturing. They are still learning how to cope with feelings . He should be supported and shown compassion and empathy during this hard time. He needs support on how to learn to cope with the feelings that are coming out.
If more parents understood that a child’s behavior is a message of hidden feeling or parenting gone wrong we would have a much peaceful world. As a child psychotherapist, I have seen in the last two decades, well meaning parents that were not taught how to handle their feelings and therefore weren’t able to teach their kids about how they feel. Marcus’s family needs help as does Marcus. He didn’t have a chance to learn good emotional intelligence skills as everyone was grieving and his mom is chronically ill. Marcus also seems to be taking care of his family and honoring his brothers memory instead of also meeting his own needs.
When we start connecting our parenting actions to the way our children behave, their behavior will improve. For every misbehavior misdeed, we should ask ourself: What feelings is my behavior expressing, what feelings is my child’s behavior expressing, what parenting or adult action can I change so my child’s or my behavior improves?
As a child psychotherapist his behavior is neither selfish nor foolish. He’s 19 years old and in a lot of psychological pain that he’s been repressing for 10 years. Marcus needs to grieve the loss of his brother in individual therapy and he needs to figure out what he wants for himself versus what he’s doing for his family. Children and young adults can only suck it up for so long till they had enough and they break down. That’s what we are seeing with Marcus Smart. It’s too much of a burden and now we’re blaming him for his lack of coping skills and psychological education.
Photo: Ryan Dickey/Flickr