“You know what I’d like you to address in your blog? That a kid’s very nature often prevents them from receiving the love and attention they very much need. An ODD kid, just by their very nature, is not open to suggestions, role playing etc which in turn leads to the consequence of isolating them thereby exacerbating the lack of social skills and relationships.”
How come the child who needs us most, is often the child who is most difficult to deal with?
While my friend is more specific in her description of a child, I want to make sure we know we are most likely talking about more than one type of child. With gross generalization, but an attempt to help teachers understand differing needs of children in the group, I will often categorize difficult kids for teachers I am working with this way;
- The wanderers...who are easy because they require little energy in terms of routine care and supervision, but attract limited meaningful interactions due to their distance from the core of activity.
- The buggers...(I know I am taming my use of language, I promise just this once) who just by the very nature of their oppositional or over-sensitive behavior take up so much time that there is little bandwidth left for meaningful interactions.
And please, don’t tell me this shouldn't or doesn’t happen, or tell me caregivers should just change their expectations. No matter how tolerant or patient or appropriate you are as a parent or professional… mismatches still exist. These examples are the extremes on purpose, but the point is, degrees of mismatches do occur, and even when there is not a definitive mismatch, there are children who are harder to like.
I can just imagine the collective inhale taking place from my last statement. However, I stand by what I just wrote; even the most well meaning teacher and parent can come across moments when they just don’t like the child they are dealing with. It is OKAY to have a mismatch. It isn’t the actual mismatch which matters in the end, it is what we do with the mismatch which matters.
I’d love to be the mentor with a magic wand, but we don’t have the saying ‘a worm in a teacher’s apple’, for nothing. So the first step is admitting the truth. Sometimes this is both the first and last step if as a caregiver you can give in to the realization; this child will be a challenge for me. I remember scheduling a whole facilitation appointment around one child, who by the end of his first day at my school, I was ready to strangle with the garden hose. Yes, I remember the exact moment clearly. While watering the snack garden at the very end of the day, I was going to lose my marbles, if my little follower stepped on the hose one more time (I had kindly asked him to watch out multiple times). I remember signaling to my coworker that it was time to relieve me and then, that evening, making a call to my Mentor. It is a crazy experience to explore as just 3 years later, he was one of my most beloved children of all time. This is one of those moments where pinpointing an issue and bringing it to my day to day attention during my practice, made the feelings dissipate.
Other times it is not so easy. Other times I have had to consciously seek out positives about a child in order to make it work. To really think deeply about the moments we connect and purposely create more and more of those moments.
And even still, there are times when the difficulty has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the child’s needs within the given environment. This is when, as caregivers, we need to reflect on what a child’s behavior is telling us.
Let’s step away from the traditional idea of ‘time out’ where we tell a child to “think about their behavior and come back to talk about it”. Ugh. Half of the adults I know can’t talk about or examine their own behavior, let alone a 3-5 year old child. Finding meaning includes naming exactly what is happening, thinking about time and place, other times and places it has happened, and who is there. The goal isn’t to jump right to the why… the goal is to take the most time on the what, the how, the when, the where… in fact, answering the why too quickly is one of our gravest mistakes when working with children. All too often if you answer the why first, it is a knee jerk, top of the iceberg, plain wrong answer. Remember, the top of the iceberg is merely the 10% which shows above the surface, below the surface is where we really want to be when finding meaning in behavior.
One of the main principles from pediatrician and my hero, *T. Berry Brazelton, is the idea that ‘all behavior has meaning’. Another important principle is ‘the Parent is the Expert’. Only through naming our children’s behaviors can we start to flush out the meanings and get to the expertise which lies within a caregiver's knowledge of their children.
Meanings are not the same as excuses because excuses don’t lead to solutions. Processing the meaning of behavior, even if sometimes inaccurate, opens us up to a bigger picture. The bigger picture takes us beyond words such as whiny, oppositional, controlling, bossy, bratty, difficult, shy, withdrawn, disconnected… etc… and into a realm of wondering about our children and a willingness to adjust, and ultimately, if not fully understand, at least find a space for compassion. Our own compassion often allows us to tweak the pieces we can tweak, and seek help for the pieces of our children needing more support than we ourselves can handle. Seeking support doesn’t mean handing over our expertise, it means sharing our expertise with someone who is able to join our journey in search of the meaning of behavior.
Gaining more understanding about the meaning of behavior opens our work with children up to so many different ways of being, including anticipation of how our children may react to future events, environments and circumstance. Instead of avoiding the real world, we can adjust our own expectations and be ready to provide our children and ourselves with the support we all deserve.
And lastly, when up against the very real conundrum of the difficult child, if all else fails remember what Urie Bronfenbrenner says; “Every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her.”
The child who has come to mind over the course of this blog needs some irrationally good crazy love.
So, ask yourself; if not you, then who? If not now, then when? If not known, then how? Then take a deep breath and go back to work.