The literal definition of containment is ‘to keep something harmful under control or within limits’. Although this is rather vague it is sensible to use containment to describe a therapeutic tool. Containment is usually thought of in physical terms, for example walls and fences etc. however it is also possible to consider how containment can occur through behaviour and psychological means.

In order to effectively ‘contain’ the person must gain their trust otherwise the feeling of sanctuary will not be forthcoming. Usually as a child grows and develops, their parents or carers will establish containment without actively realising it. This could take the form of setting ground rules in relation to behaviour, or restricting liberties when these behaviours are not met. Parents or carers will also generally endeavour to establish a safe and secure environment for their child to grow in. This can also be attributed to containment as the parent or carer is attempting to ensure coherence to the child’s environment in order to protect them.

Although containment can usually be seen in an ‘average’ child’s upbringing, it can also be used as a therapeutic tool to assist a child who has not had the ideal start in life. In certain circumstances containment could be used where a child is deemed ‘troubled’ or has experienced a significant amount of stress. In these circumstances, although each child would need to be assessed individually, it may be fair to analyse a child as being ‘out of control’, displaying irrational and impulsive traits and appearing anxious. In order to assist a child in this situation the containment method allows a parent or carer to create a physical or mental structure to relieve the child of the stress or anxiety.

Containment can be implemented in various different ways and generally depends on the reason why the child would benefit from it. Sometimes small changes, for example (depending on the anxiety) ensuring the child has a room of his/her own to retire to, or indeed a room whereby he can be in the company of others, can be deemed a method of containment. Such room would allow the client to feel safe and secure and allow them to build their confidence. Similarly, a well managed and implemented routine may assist the child by way of containment, being another way to manage the stressors the child encounters.

In addition to the above ways of managing the child’s whereabouts, physical containment can take the shape of the parent or carer embracing the child. This again, may make the child feel safe and secure whilst being reassured. Another containment method could be verbal communication, arguably through reinforcing rules and praise etc. but also through discussing the child’s concerns with them. The child may be more responsive to a parent or carer who shows empathy and caring, and again this would be able to reassure the child, and ease the child’s anxieties.

In relation to child protection, it can be said that containment is a term used to describe how an external person can work with a child by establishing a rigid framework within which to allow the child to feel safe and secure. This framework can protect from external or internal factors depending on how the containment is implemented. Once this feeling or sanctuary and safety is established the child will be able to rebuild their confidence and be able to address any anxieties, or concerns they have individually.


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