How Children Behave Tribally Within a Family

We are part of a culture who, for better or worse, is hard-wired to behave tribally.

Even though we navigate through a world of internet, electric cars and incredible scientific advancement, we do so “with the ingrained mentality of Stone Age hunter-gatherers,” as stated in this fascinating article delving into the topic of evolutionary psychology in the Harvard Business Review. Not that there aren’t few exceptions, the article explains, but it is worth exploring why human beings have so many similar patterns that seem universal.

Children need to feel like they are a useful part of their present-day tribe, i.e. their family. In the Stone Age, if you weren’t loved and accepted by your tribe, it meant, quite literally, that you were going to die. You needed to be part of a tribe to survive.

Today, in our modern world, this is still hard-wired into our minds. If a child isn’t feeling like they are an accepted part of the family, their tribal mind subconsciously comes up with ways in which to feel more included and loved. Here are 4 ways that children can behave to feel like an important part of their family:

1.     Be brilliant – at anything.

The tribe values someone that is the fastest at catching fish, or really good at building huts, etc. The subconscious belief is, “if I am amazing at something, I will be appreciated and loved.” These are the people who can become perfectionists later in life. They can also become workaholics; they are always needed at work, always on their phones with work, because that is the circumstance they have created for themselves and it’s how they feel significant like they matter.

 2.     Be a Carer. 

The tribe is very appreciative of the kids that are helping them take care of things. The children who make themselves useful by taking care of the younger kids, helping to keep the house tidy, etc. have the subconscious belief that “I am important and needed because I am helping to look after things.” As adults, these are the people who choose to become nurses and therapists, etc. They must be wary of burnout, because they are givers and can have trouble asking for help or allowing themselves to receive.

 3.     Be a nuisance.

This is the child who is banging on a table and disrupting a meal. They are throwing things around the house and making lots of noise and taking control of the family. The subconscious belief is, “If I take the power away, I get attention, which means I am important.” This can become the adult who behaves the same way, barking orders, indeed pounding the table and taking power away from other people.

 4.     Get sick.

I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but the mind can decide to make the body sick. This doesn't happen consciously, but it can happen because the logic is if you are sick, you will be looked after, showing that you are noticed and important. The mind decides to create an illness because the subconscious belief is, “if I am sick, I get tended to, which means I am significant and loved.”

That may seem strange, but “medically unexplained symptoms are extremely common,” according to this article by the American Psychological Association, otherwise known as having symptoms that are psychosomatic, i.e. “caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress.”

So, for example, let's say a little boy is feeling less important after a new baby is born into the family. He sees his mom and dad showering all of this affection on the baby, so with his child mind, that has only been on the planet for a few years, he makes a subconscious decision that because he wants to feel more loved, eczema starts appearing on his skin.

Of course, this is not a decision made consciously and I am not suggesting that a child knows what eczema is and wants it, but eczema is a condition like that requires attention, like the application of a soothing lotion by a parent, which allows the little boy to feel loved and nurtured. Despite the best efforts of his parents to make sure he feels included and loved, he feels unimportant and one way his mind could try to fix that is by creating eczema.

This feeling of "I am not important" can extend into adulthood, which can be the underlying reason for people who are sick a lot or people with hypochondria: They are looking to be loved and nurtured.

These are the 4 ways children subconsciously choose to behave to feel like they are an important part of their family. Sometimes the parents have their roles too, which can be any of the aforementioned behaviors; it is also possible to take on more than one role. But all of these inclinations harken back to the days of tribal survival that is still hard-wired in our minds today. If children weren’t loved and accepted, they wouldn’t survive and that's how it feels today for kids.

What roles did you take on as a child, or even continue to take on today?