Here is a resource pamphlet I made for a school project, that I hope will help those who struggle with addiction or are recovering from addiction! Some information is Colorado-specific.
I was appalled to discover a few weeks ago the heart-wrenching story of my Great-Grandmother, who was admitted to a mental institution in the early 1930s while there was nothing apparently wrong with her. She died at the young age of 34, and was buried among the masses of other mistreated patients of the Central State Hospital in Norman, Oklahoma. We have no photos of her, no records of her…it is as if her memory was wiped from the planet.
We have come so far in the mental health field, yet have so far to go. In processing Great-Grandma Mabel’s story, I have become even more determined to see that those who struggle with real mental illness are treated rightly, that they are loved and cared for.
In Mabel’s time, mental health patients were treated almost worse than caged animals. They lacked proper care, living out their days in overcrowded concrete hallways with only a handful of doctors for every few hundred patients. One story says that in the hospital where Mabel passed away, patients had nothing to do but sit and stare at blank walls. They would be locked up for hours and hours, with no human interaction. The food was a joke, and the kitchen itself presented several health and safety issues which went unmet. Perhaps an early death was better for her than an estranged, lonely existence in such a dismal place.
As appalling as the story is, I feel it is important to preserve the memory of those who suffered unjustly in such a place. History can teach us many lessons. May we never allow others to suffer as these hundreds and thousands of patients suffered.
Please read the article, and let the dark past of humanity teach you the critical value of loving others, even those who are difficult to understand:
Kids are like sponges and mirrors at the same time. They will soak up their environment, and they will reflect the behaviors of those around them. They are pliable, elastic. They’re learning!
We teach our students about “big reactions vs. little reactions”. If someone is drowning in a pool, that deserves a big reaction. If you drop a book while walking down the hall, that really only needs a little reaction. A lot of times for kids, it is difficult to gauge how large or small of a reaction a given scenario deserves. My students in particular struggle with this. One difficult sentence in an assignment might throw them into a full-on temper tantrum, pencils flying, swear words echoing. They need help learning how to gauge their reaction size.
So, how is your reaction gauge?
When a child acts out…especially that one who ALWAYS seems to act out…what to you do? Thinking of children like mirrors, what are they learning to reflect?
I have had to master the art of ignoring, yet I still feel I have far to go. I can see my growth whenever I am standing on the opposite side of a door from a student who is throwing every object they can find at the window separating us–food being the least harmful of their ammunition. In those moments, I am able to ignore almost completely, giving absolutely no attention to the behavior that could otherwise be considered absolutely inappropriate and disrespectful. I am teaching my students how to gauge their reactions. While they are acting as if in a war zone, I am showing them that really there is nothing to fight about; my calmness invites them to breathe and calm as well.
When gauging your own reactions, consider the risks at hand. Usually risk is a good indicator of how much you should react. These potential risks invoke bigger reactions:
- Harm to self
- Harm to others
- Destruction of property
- A child putting themselves in a dangerous situation, such as running away
These risks may not need much of a reaction:
- Making a mess
- Distracting others
Now, at the same time, it’s important to think about how LIKELY a child is to act in a certain way. For example, I know children who could seriously harm me if they wanted to…but I do not think it very likely that they would, because their typical reaction is not to be violent. So, even though there is a risk of them harming me or another person, that risk is small because it is not very likely to happen.
A lot of kids react the same way to the same situation every single time. So you can know, this reaction will be very likely to happen.
When we as adults show big reactions to a child’s behavior, that behavior becomes a bigger problem than perhaps it was originally. And let’s be honest–a lot of the motivation in negative behavior is attempting to get a reaction out of someone.
One sure way to minimize negative behavior is to starve it of attention. Yes, some behavior requires a serious reaction. But sometimes, learning to ignore, breath, and stay calm, is the best way to influence a child’s behavior. Eventually, they may get bored with their acting-out because you don’t seem very excited by it. And then, that little human sponge will be ready to soak up all your positive attention and influence!
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in healing. Even though I had to watch my baby cousin lose a fight to cancer after we had prayed for over a year for her healing. Even though I laid hands on a woman just to hear that she lost her battle against drugs one week later.
I’ve witnessed healing. I watched a lame girl’s legs straighten and saw her walk across the room for the first time. I saw a deaf man’s ears open. I met a boy who was dying of Malaria one day and sitting up eating lunch, perfectly healthy, the next.
Let me explain a bit about the type of students I work with, and the world I have chosen to enter. These children are the ones who have been turned away by multiple schools. Many people have given up on them. They have endured traumas that I cannot imagine. It’s not uncommon for them to be hospitalized. Most days seem like one step forward, and two steps backward. They are abused, battered, bullied, anxious, depressed, angry, with little hope for a normal childhood, much less a normal adulthood.
The problem here is that their brokenness is not a bone that can be set. It is deep, much too deep to see or fully understand. Often they do not even understand it. Healing doesn’t work for these kids.
There is something stronger needed, it is needed desperately. It is called LOVE.
Love is more powerful than healing.
I don’t know that my students necessarily want all their problems to magically disappear. They simply want to know that I will love them from one day to the next. That they can punch me, kick me, spit on me, bite me, throw chairs and desks at me, call me names, run away from me–and that I will still want to play Checkers with them or read them stories. They want to know that I love them, even WITH their problems and struggles.
Sometimes I feel like praying for healing is a manifestation of our fear of pain. It’s easier to pray that the pain goes away, rather than love someone through it and stand with them, feel the pain with them. Stepping into the life of someone who is struggling, loving them whether they are healed or not, is where true healing comes from.
Love IS healing. The greatest healing: the healing of hearts and souls.
Despite my doubts, I know that physical healing is real. I’ve seen it happen. But I’ve seen far more beautiful healing come through simple, daily, practical love.
Each day, let us choose to love others, no matter their brokenness. Every soul is worth being loved.
Recently I had to explain the Civil Rights Movement to a student. “There was a time,” I began, “when black people were not allowed to go to certain schools. They were not allowed to ride certain buses. They couldn’t even use the drinking fountain.”
After laughing and then cracking a joke or two, the student asked, “Can I go get a drink now?”
I knew that this student was connecting with the emotions of those in the Civil Rights Movement. I knew at that moment, this was not just about being thirsty–this was about being thankful that drinking fountains were now open to every race and ethnicity.
Often students with emotional disorders–especially those who have gone through trauma–have trouble expressing their emotion properly. I can relate to them, because growing up I was slightly dissociative. I would laugh when someone got hurt, even though inside I felt awful. Some of my current students do this. They can also laugh when they feel overwhelmed or anxious. In fact, most of the time those students who goof off in class are struggling with some sort of anxiety or insecurity. Acting out is a coping mechanism.
I have been called too-sensitive and completely insensitive. In reality, I struggle to express my emotion at the appropriate time and level. Much of the way I react to situations now is learned from others. I have learned how to show the empathy that I always felt inside.
Now, what does “dissosiative” mean? It is amazing. It allows the brain to disconnect from an emotion when that emotion is too overwhelming. We all experience this phenomenon at times, but those with anxiety, trauma history, or an emotional disorder, tend to experience it more often. In my childhood, it was my coping mechanism against anxiety.
I see this phenomenon in my students all the time. And a big part of my job is actually to help them understand and embrace their own emotions.
So what do you do when a kid laughs at an inappropriate time? Or when they say something rude in a serious moment?
As with most behavioral issues, the best thing to do is ask a question. Not a leading question, not a “what-do-you-think-you’re-doing” question, but something like this:
“How do you feel right now?”
Or, if you know the child well enough, something I often say is: “You seem uncomfortable/upset/irritated/tired. What’s going on?”
I like guessing their emotion, because if I am wrong they will usually open up to tell me so, and then I can know what they are feeling. And if I am right, it reassures them that I care and I notice the subtle hints they drop for me. However, you must know the child. Some of my students DO NOT like to be asked questions like this because they feel singled-out or accused. For those students, I try to keep things as open-ended as possible, or simply start talking about my own feelings, as these students also are expert eaves-droppers and may feel comfortable opening up if I do.
After getting to know why the student is acting in whatever odd manner that they are, you can then explain to them with kindness that there are more appropriate ways to respond. Be sure to include why–a lot of kids don’t know.
“I know that you laughed because you were starting to feel stressed out. But sometimes when we laugh during a serious conversation, other people think we are making fun of them. I know that you didn’t mean to make fun of anyone. So let’s brainstorm some other options for the next time you feel stressed out. Maybe you can take space from the group, or you can hold a fidget in your hand to play with.”
And of course, ending with:
“I’m really glad you told me how you felt. Now I know that whenever you act like that, you are feeling this way. Next time I will be able to help you communicate that to everyone.”
The bottom line is, kids feel emotion. They feel empathy and compassion. They just may not know how to express it. These feelings might make them uncomfortable or even anxious. But you can gently help them put words to the things they cannot explain, and show them by example that sharing emotion is a perfectly normal and human act. Get to know the sometimes odd ways that emotion is expressed, and learn to love these extremely loving beauties like I do!