Thursday, 2 February 2012

Scary Child


There is certainly a trend of parents seeking help with what one author called ‘explosive’ children… while discussing the subject on a mom’s forum, I wrote this:

“Did you notice the creepy smile on his face? Doesn't that just scare the hair off you?
“Only their diligence and creativity in ensuring they find a way to get attention is more amazing than the emotional flatness and the smile. this child is certainly exhibiting diligence and creativity. The hyper-focus and flatness is the diligence (he's really working hard at this problem) and the smile or giggliness is just the relief in having succeeded.”

Harkening back to Don C. Dinkmeyer’s inimitable STEP –Systematic Training for Effective Parenting, I remind parents: all behaviour has goals.

Those goals are noble, upstanding and decent. No matter what the resulting behaviour looks like.

In STEP, Dinkmeyer points out that the ‘goal’ of behaviour that irritates parents is always attention. When parents want revenge, it’s power.  When a parent feels hurt, the goal is revenge for hurts the child’s experienced. When parents feel like giving up, the child needs to feel like he measures up. I think he missed one, though: when a child’s behaviour scares parents –in its intensity, its diligence, its incredible focus – that’s the one that gets trotted off to the child psychologist for a round of tests and a collection of labels.

But there is a way of dealing with this, without the experts and without the labels and programs and dietary changes and supplements and coloured chairs and tinted glasses…

Parents often ask ‘why is my child so angry?’ I think this is the best of all possible questions, but the answer is unwelcome. It’s unflattering, insulting and cruel:

… because our culture is vicious to children, dismisses their needs and generally treats them in a completely reprehensible manner, which understandably makes them mad.

A few examples:

  • what possible difference can it make to anything in a child’s care or life, how many times the planet has gone around the sun?
  • what possible relevance is the hour on the clock to any bodily function –from eating to sleeping, if the body needs it what has the time to do with it?
  • when did humans become machines, required to withstand scheduled repetition regardless of their individual pace, needs or growth patterns?
  • when did a child’s need for parents get replaced with ‘anyone’ who was ‘qualified’ to care for them?
  • where did the idea of ‘fun’ or ‘kids’ food come from, and why is it always the least nutritious of any possible option?
  • why are children required to make adult decisions, or deal with adult situations alone, but not held capable of being children without direction?
  • when even the slow-moving, inherently-dense laws recognize the developmental inability of children to understand things like contract law and the intent to harm required for legal culpability, why is it we still think a 3-year-old (or even a 9 year old) needs to participate in negotiations, and suffer imposed, artificial ‘consequences’ for their actions?
  • when did nurturing our families go out of style –and why is it the mantra of every sophisticated adult in the Western world ‘me time’ and ‘getting away from the kids’? Do we think they’re deaf, or just stupid?

But What to Do?!?

The answer is simple (which is not to say, or imply, ‘easy’) – back up the bus.

Eliminate a lot of the schedule, even while saying ‘all our other kids had no trouble handling this much’ –because this child is not coping with it.

Slow down. One outing a day… or less. One visitor a day… or less. Select a school with smaller class sizes… or skip it entirely. Yes, some children thrive on lots. This is not that child.

Was there a time in this child’s life when s/he thrived? What was different about that? Was it outdoors? Was it summer holidays? Was it a small, cooperative preschool? Was it life at home with mom and siblings only?

For some people, getting up early and having to be somewhere on time and not having their loving people around them for a sense of security through a long day or sitting still indoors and  being in a crowd of 24 or 31 other kids who all want and need a variety of things and the terrors of the schoolyard and the demands of the classwork that may be completely misunderstood, too early, too late or just in a room filled with distractions and the teacher’s changing mood, impatience, shouting, confusing mixed messages even when directed at someone else in the room and the stress of waiting a few extra minutes to be picked up when someone’s running late and a different collection of kids and adults at afterschool care or activities and homework demanding they sit still indoors some more, or work some more on work that is too challenging or too easy and having to go to bed ‘on time’ after having had no liberty, no pause, no free time… maybe after a tense dinner of unfamiliar flavours, or demands to eat unpalatable food, or feeling kind of ill from being over-hungry or overtired or having too much sugar earlier…

We think all of that is ‘normal’ for kids to be able to just buck up and deal with… and for a lot of children, it may even seem completely fine (regardless of how common nervous habits are in 8 year olds, or how many resistant, rebellious teens it seems to create).

These ‘explosive’ children are not those children.

Nor should they be.


Photo ‘Concentrado’ by Eduardo Mueses Used with permission Creative Commons Attrib/Comm