Reflection: Dibs in Search of Self (Virginia M. Axline)

January 30, 2004 by  
Filed under News

by Kathryn Donev

According to the New International Version of the Bible, Psalms 127:3 states, “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.” A child is a precious gift directly from God and therefore should be greatly appreciated, cared for and helped in all ways possible. My philosophy on how to best help a child is as simple as remembering your “ABC’s”: “Admit”, “Believe” and “Care”.

1) Admit: a child is a real person with real problems and needs one on whom to depend.

In experiencing everyday life one needs to admit the reality that is at hand. By this I mean, be aware that we do not live in a make-believe fairytale that can be scripted to our liking. When considering the life of a child, facing reality is crucial. First, one must admit that a child does not have a choice of whether or not to enter the world or to whom or where to be born. Yet the fact remains that the birth of a child is a real occurrence. Be reminded that existence is not the fault of a child and blame of being born should not be placed upon a child. Beyond the fairytale, in the real world, a child will have real problems and these need real solutions. This brings me to my second point of admitting that a child can and will have problems. Never underestimate what a child is going through by considering it insignificant. To a child, even what may appear to be the smallest dilemma can be disturbing. Third, admit that, wanted or unwanted, pleasant or unpleasant, since a child is a real person with real problems he or she needs to have an individual upon whom to depend; a person to whom problems can be brought. A child needs this stability in order to have a feeling of security. Remember that you can be that special someone who can make a difference in the life of a child simply by being available; physically, as well as emotionally.

2) Believe: in a child and support him or her no matter how many imperfections are present.

When a person has someone to believe in him or her, this provides to that individual what I like to call a “reach the sky” potential. A feeling of self-worth is instilled within those who are believed in and supported. Therefore, it is important to believe in a child, whatever his or her potential may be. Believing must also involve acceptance. One must accept a child as a unique individual who is human. Being human involves imperfections and when evaluating a child we should not expect perfection. When dealing with a child, allow for failure with acceptance. This acceptance of imperfections needs to be followed by approval. Not approval of failing, but approval of the child. Accept the total child with flaws and all. Let the child know that even when failure comes about he or she is still supported and loved. Believe in a child even in the midst of failure. One must believe in a child’s capabilities and support his or her actions and decisions but this should be done with the child’s best interest at heart.

3) Care: for a child with genuine affection.

Finally, to best help a child, show genuine concern and affection. Show a child that you really care. As humans, we are emotional beings and each of us has a need for affection. According to Maslow, affection is the third level in his hierarchy of needs. The first level in Maslow’s hierarchy is physiological needs and the second is the need for safety. Although it is third on the list, I would argue that it is of no lesser value than the need for one’s physiological or safety needs to be met. The need for affection must be satisfied for an individual to feel content with him or herself and eventually in the words of Maslow to become “self-actualized”. It is in my opinion that the need for affection is one of humanities most important needs. It is very important in the early development of a child’s life that affection is given. Without this, development is hindered. If one does not receive affections from others as a child then that individual will not properly know how to give or receive affection. With affection, comes the sense of purpose. Without affection, the opposite is true, and this will result in the search for belongingness. The manner in which a child can be told that he or she is cared for can be done in many more ways than just words. Words must be followed by actions. Listening, being available, and paying attention to a child are all ways of saying “I care”.

So, in my opinion, ways to best help a child are among the simplest. I feel it is important to take preventative measure that aim to protect a child and allow that child to have the emotional strength to function. If we instill within a child positive investments, which are, found with in the “ABC’s” discussed above, as the child becomes an adult he or she can use these qualities to counterweigh the negative aspects that unfortunately exist.
Unfortunately, we cannot completely protect a child, and he or she will encounter hardships and emotional distress which can result in hurt and internal disruption. When this occurs, I feel that the manner in which to best produce positive change in a hurting or disturbed child would include the following three advices:
1) Allow a child to play.
2) Allow for a safe environment.
3) Allow a child to be him or herself.
Bill Geiss once said, “The sound of children at play is the closest thing to God’s own voice we shall ever hear.” A child’s natural expression and manner of communication is through play. A child uses play as a way to sort out problems. Due to the fact that play is what comes naturally to a child I feel that by simply allowing a child to play would be the most effective way to produce change in a hurting or disturbed child. Play is a method of escaping into a world that is created by the child to be exactly the type of environment which is needed at a particular point in that child’s development.

The world of play needs to be one where the child feels safe. When a child feels secure then he or she will feel free to explore in many areas and act out his or her feelings. As Dibs in Search of Self portrays, this is what the whole principle of play therapy is based. When a child feels safe to play, then this world of play is a place in which a child can be whomever he or she wants.

In order to be effective in producing change in a hurting or disturbed child, one must allow a child to be him or herself. This may sound simplistic, but allow a child to be a child. Do not place unrealistic or demanding expectations upon a child. Do not expect perfection. Most importantly do not live your life vicariously through a child. Let a child develop into whoever he or she wants to become. It is necessary for a child to have direction in his or her life, however do not do so to the extent that the child has no control over the outcome of the destination. So, by allowing a child to play in a safe environment where he or she feels comfortable to be one’s true self, in my opinion, would be the most effective way to produce change in a hurting or disturbed child.

Dibs in Search of Self is a highly inspirational and motivational reading. It provides the reader with a sense of hope that change can take place in a hurting child. What spoke the loudest was the power of play. For me personally, it was very emotional to read how a child could be so unloved and unwanted (p. 86) and have to exist in spite of the fact. Children are innocent realities and should not have to encounter such emotional hardship as Dibs did. I found Dibs’ emotional strength remarkable. Even the greatest emotional hardship, such as those that Dibs encountered, can be dealt with through play.

There were many factors that led to the change in Dibs. First and foremost was the emotional strength that Dibs possessed within. Also, among the top of the list were people such as Hedda who was “convinced he’s on the verge of coming through”(p. 19), Jake who gave Dibs a simple branch from a tree (p. 116) or Dibs’ Grandmother who was able to devote herself to spending time with him. Dibs had people who cared about him and took an interest in him even though his mother and father almost gave up hope completely and wanted to resort to placing a label on him. However, Dibs’ mother and father did not lose hope. Dibs had parents who were willing to change and admit their failures (p. 90). This was an essential element that was needed for the change in Dibs to occur. After Dibs’ mother allowed him to attend play therapy, he was introduced to a therapist that saw beyond the opinions of highly educated parents. The play therapy experience allowed Dibs to be introduced to a whole new type of environment in which he was able to take control and the environment was one in which he was not always expected to be perfect.

What allowed Dibs to change was this new world. This world was a safe world. One in which the doors were only locked if he locked them. It was a world where he was able to work through his problems with play. He could associate his feelings with colors (p. 128) and did not have to verbally work out his feelings. Dibs was able to change due to the change that came from within. This was accomplished through the unobtrusive, non probing, nondirective techniques of the author (p. 45).
Most significant to the process behind the change in Dibs, in my opinion, was that play therapy provided the means where Dibs could act through his real world in a safe environment where he was able to bury the old Dibs and allow the strong and brave Dibs to be resurrected (p. 200). Dibs learned to understand his feelings and the feelings of others. He was able to gain emotional independence, which was one of the main objectives of the author (p. 31). Most importantly Dibs gained confidence in himself. This confidence was what allowed the real self to emerge.

After reading the story of Dibs, I have gained a better appreciation for the use of nondirective therapy and the role of the therapist as a somewhat neutral party. The author was able to provide a place for exploration without instructions and without rules. This, I feel, allowed Dibs to be his true self and to work out his inner conflicts. By being a neutral party, the author allowed the opinion of Dibs to be most important. I feel that reading this book has allowed me to understand the importance of being unobtrusive and not being the therapist that has all the answers. I highly respect the author’s statement that therapy should not become the “predominant and controlling influence” in one’s life (p. 58). I feel that it is important as a child therapist that one learns how not to become over involved with the client so that the client does not begin to gain a dependency upon the therapist. This book has challenged me to be more nondirective and in using this approach I will be able to allow the child to find the solutions from within and not to become dependant upon others.

The first years of development are crucial to the proper development of a child. I feel that parents need to be educated concerning this fact and especially concerning the importance of a child’s need for affection. I feel that it is also crucial that parents understand the necessity of play in a child’s life, not only solitary play, but also interactive play between parent and child. Educating parents will hopefully serve as a preventive measure for social and emotional problems, which might arise during the development of a child. This could be a guide or roadmap for helping a child reach his or her greatest potential.