Should we keep children away from a mental patient?

Grandpa: “My daughter gives riding lessons on our farm. One of her students is a woman (19) who is seriously traumatized. She suffers from anorexia and auto-mutilation, among other things. She is currently in a psychiatric center, but she is allowed to come to us because physical activity does her good. She likes to be with us because she feels that we are one of the few people who appreciate her. Still, it happens that I have to take her to the emergency room because she damages herself, for example by cutting herself.

“In the past we have not always had easy foster children, and we do not have the impression that this has been detrimental to our own children, but this is a different situation. While she does not harm others, is her self-harming behavior traumatic for other children? Should we prevent her from coming into contact with our two-year-old grandson or the other students (aged 6 to 16)? How should we as adults deal with this situation so that it does not have a negative effect on the other children and may even be positive for their development?”

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make it safe

Liesbeth Groenhuijsen: „How can you make the farm a safe and bright place for everyone? If the 19-year-old poses a danger to the children, you should inform the parents, but I don’t think that’s the case. Share your concerns with the young woman herself: how can she remain a part of this club in a nice way? Would she be able to report it as soon as she feels unwell, and feels the urge to harm herself, so that she can separate from the others for a while? Maybe it’s a good idea when she comes to talk briefly first: what are you going to do today, and how are you doing?

“Be actively open to the possible questions and the amazement of the children. This is a great opportunity to teach them that not everyone is the same. In this way they also see that people are more than a disease; that someone with major psychological problems can also love horseback riding just like her.”

be open

Annemiek Harder: “It’s great that this 19-year-old has a place where people appreciate her. Good relationships can make such a difference to someone so traumatized.

“It is understandable that you are mindful of the children on the farm, but I don’t think they are in any danger. It’s so obvious that this woman is directing the aggression toward herself, not others. The question is what the children get from her self-harming behaviour. I would recommend that you discuss your concerns with the young woman herself. How can you make sure that things continue to go well, that she can keep coming and the other children too? Can you create a workable situation together? Can you agree that if she feels the urge to hurt herself, she won’t do it in a place where the kids can see her?

“If the children do get something from it, be open about it. Explain that it is someone who has a lot of pain inside and is dealing with it in this way. The education of our youth should also be aimed at learning to relate to people who are damaged in life.”