Having the opportunity to work around a school and “school children” has really put me in touch with a lot of my own adolescent school memories! Because of the circumstances of my own education I have a real soft spot for special needs kids or kids who just seem to fall through the cracks of the system. Based on my own life experience it’s my opinion that children’s behavioral issues (beyond simple boundary testing) are outward manifestations of the circumstances in their lives that they have no other way to express than to “act out” what they’re feeling. They engage in these behaviors in the fervent hope that someone will understand and help them deal with the “situation” they’re unable to express in a more verbal fashion. When a four year old bites and hits and causes chaos we discipline them with swats on the butt or time outs expecting that to be more formidable or threatening to them than the scary stuff that’s already in their heads.
I think in many cases that’s exactly what we do…and it doesn’t work,at least not for the child! It may bring them into compliance in the moment which is seen as a victory of sorts for the caregiver but I see it as a temporary symptom based treatment of much deeper issues.
Years later, When this same child who has now been labeled a “discipline problem” and who’s outgrown the previous approaches exhibits new symptoms of conditions with names like “oppositional defiant disorder” or “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” we scratch our heads and send them off to the psychiatrist for evaluations. Some get the help they need and others don’t . Its those kids that don’t whom oftentimes, in an attempt to get a need met, become involved with substance abuse, gang’s, teen sex, or even just good old fashioned stuff like being disruptive and talking back to teachers.
Sadly, conventional wisdom says that the these new problems are best handled by suspensions, expulsions, or other “bullying” techniques. Of course I’ll admit that those techniques are effective on some students, however the ones I’m referring to who have what I consider to be “special needs” are kids who have 55 gallon drums of industrial strength pain constantly leaking into their psyche to whom the idea of being suspended as punishment seems laughable or absurd, or even a relief from the daily bludgeoning they receive from peers, principals, and worst of all themselves…It is indeed a very dark place.
Lets fast forward to the rest of their lives…
Looking into the face of this young girl we quickly remind ourselves that her circumstances don’t absolutely have the last word on her life and that they can and do prepare us for life in some very special ways. Also that we can either let our circumstances get in the way of what we want in life or choose not to which is of course true, but how many of us could summon up the necessary tenacity to see this through without a lot of VERY special help?
In this life, no one succeeds or fails alone…
There is a much more typical result for children who’ve been mishandled by the people in their lives who’s charge it was to help guide them into becoming a successfully functioning adult. You can expect them to become chronically underachieving adults whose life challenges include the inability to maintain long term relationships with people or hold steady jobs. They’re alcoholics, drug addicts,or maybe in prison…why? One reason is because when you’re young and cute and so vulnerable it’s easier to garner compassion and perhaps understanding from people, but as you grow older peoples perception is basically that you ARE your behavior which is patently false.
They may be much older but their techniques of self expression are at times much the same as a small child’s…logically it also makes sense that the actual solution would also be the same. In the life of a child or a young adult the positive influence of even one person in they’re lives can have a profound impact. When we practice “understanding” people we validate their feelings instead of beating them up for having them. Learning new and more positively functional ways to get our needs met in this life is what it’s all about!
it’s irrelevant how old they are or…who’s child is this?