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Young People … Our Greatest Resource

Working with the Child Who Minimizes

“IT DOESN’T BOTHER ME THAT MUCH.” Minimization is “leaky” denial. In many ways, minimization is more difficult to deal with than denial because a youngster can minimize for 50 years. There could be a couple of reasons why a student or client would minimize the impact of an emotional event. It could be a way to avoid looking at or discussing painful stuff.

If a counselor puts off discussing the issue because the youngster minimizes it, the issue could eat the child alive. There is another possibility.

Youngsters who feel they must remain tough and bulletproof (difficult and defiant youngsters often fall into this category) feel they can’t afford any emotional baggage that pulls them down. Denial and minimization are their handiest defense against what they perceive as yet more pain and vulnerability. They feel that even quality suffering and getting through the issues are luxuries they can’t afford. It has always amazed me at just how surprised these youngsters are when they get an authentic glimpse of the power of what bothers them.

An example. I was doing group therapy at a residential treatment center one day. In the circle with me were about a dozen emotionally disturbed adolescent females. One girl was asked if it bothered her that her mother refused to keep her shortly after adopting her. (The girl tried to burn the house down, not exactly a way to show gratitude to a new parent.) “Not really,” she replied. “It doesn’t bother me much at all.”

“Sandy,” I said (not her real name), “does it bother you this much?” (I patted the empty seat next to me.) “Or does it bother you THIS MUCH?” (I screamed it out and hit the chair with both hands, full force.)

After we all recovered our wits, and after I assured the secretarial staff in the other room that they didn’t have to call in the National Guard, we discussed minimization. That remains one of my best therapy sessions ever.

(This intervention on minimization came from Dr. Sutton’s book, 60 Ways to Reach a Difficult and Defiant Child. This publication is also available in ebook (pdf) format at a very nominal cost. Go to his website,, for more information.)


James Sutton, Psychologist


September 17, 2009 - Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child | , , , , ,

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