Differentiation therapy was the first developed and was developed for young children (up to 5 years old) in a children’s home. Usually, after a period of behavioural regulation, a place in a foster home was found for them. More than once these children returned to the children’s home because the foster parents could no longer cope with their upbringing. In most of these cases the parents were competent foster parents. To gain insight into the behaviour of these children I spoke at length with foster parents and group leaders and observed the children. It turned out that the greatest problem was that the children were friendly to everyone and showed no specific preference for a particular adult.
Being everyone’s friend means that in approaching people, both strangers and people known to the child, no boundaries are maintained. The child walks up to a stranger and asks for whatever he needs at that moment. He leans against strangers, climbs on their laps, holds their hands according to his needs. With those familiar to him (group leaders, foster parents), this phenomenon is experienced as exceeding boundaries, as clinging: constantly leaning against the group leaders, touching them, holding their attention verbally by asking questions.
The child exhibits this behaviour when he needs something. When he has to do a task he ignores the group leaders, walks past them without a sign of recognition and hears nothing. Hart de Ruyter (1963) calls this behaviour “everyone’s friend when they need something, everyone’s enemy when they are frustrated” (p.94) . Being “everyone’s friend” can be construed as learned behaviour of a child that has experienced that no specific adult is available to him, so that he must do as much as possible himself and, when necessary, must make use of an adult.
Interchangeability of adults
The second phenomenon is called the interchangeability of adults for the child. Sometimes it seems that there is a bond between the group leader and the child, but if the group leader comes back after being away for a couple of days, the child’s attention is directed towards a colleague, for as long as that lasts. The child needs an adult and turns to whoever is there. Hereby the demands of the child means making use of an adult.
Being interchangeable, like being everyone’s friend, can be understood as being unfamiliar with the experience that there is an adult for whom you as a child are important, who takes care of you and gives you what you need. The adult who gives that to a child is unique to the child, thus not exchangeable.
Other phenomena that make life in a family difficult:
- The indifference towards people, both children and adults, and indifference about clothing and objects. In the relationship with people, no empathy is shown which is perceived as indifference. The child wants clothing very much but doesn’t take care of them. Objects, toys and such things are met with enthusiasm at first, but after a short time are not even looked at. The child shows by this behaviour what he has experienced, or rather: what he has not experienced. He has not experienced that an adult considers him to be so valuable that availability and continuity can be taken for granted.
- The short attention span of the child, during contact as well as during play, is striking and is often referred to as butterfly behaviour. They flutter from one person to the other and seem restless. Two factors are seen to be responsible for this behaviour: the lack of continuity and the lack of tranquillity in their lives. There is no constant adult and there is no continuity in care. I see the lack of tranquillity especially as a consequence of the lack of continuity. The child can only become tranquil in the proximity of an attachment figure; that is where he can repose.
- The last phenomenon is what I call fleeting playing behaviour, a difficulty for many foster parents because the child cannot amuse himself for five minutes. The manner in which the neglected child plays is consistent with what was said about butterfly behaviour. Playing behaviour is mentioned separately because of the importance attached to it.
These children were also behind in their in motor, cognitive and emotional development. The treatment was directed towards their being everyone’s friend because their not being attached is pivotal. Differentiation is considered to be a pre-condition for being able to become attached.