Monday, October 25, 2010

Trauma

We had a presentation on the effects of trauma on a child's brain today and wow... portions of it hit home and hit my classroom.

Early in the presentation, a recording of a 911 call was played. It was a small child, watching his mommy and daddy fight, and this child was terrified. I couldn't tell who was beating up who but I don't think it mattered. What mattered is that the sound of pure fright in that child's voice made my stomach turn, and then sink. I immediately thought of my own child and that my own personal nightmare would be his voice sounding like that. She also spent extensive time talking about how infants' neurons grow rapidly with love and attention, and do just the opposite when those things are absent. Again, it brought me right to my son and how the sound of any stress from him, from day one, caused me to want to soothe him immediately. I've never been a "let him cry it out" kind of mom and I'm happy to report I have a kiddo who can soothe himself when needed but also goes to sleep at a regular bedtime with rarely a tear.

So that was the home.... and then I began chewing on thoughts of my classroom.

I began to think of the struggles many of my kids have experienced at a very young age and my heart began to ache a bit. It's not often that I look at a five year old in my classroom and try to see them in their 10 month old selves, but when I stepped back to try to do that, I became very sad. A baby who might not get picked up when she cries, not because she's not loved, but because the caregiver is watching five other babies while parent(s) are working long shifts. A baby who isn't spoken to simply because mom or dad might be so exhausted that being physically home is all that can be managed. And worse, a baby or a young child who routinely sees a mom beat up, or hears a neighbor screaming, or sees a fight outside their window. I've always been aware of the realities of the children I teach, but today I tried to put myself in their baby shoes, and it blew me away.

As these babies grow up, they lack coping mechanisms that resilient children have -- those pesky neurons again, and they have high stress levels. These children come into my classroom and seek out the negative, because that's what they know. They prefer an angry voice or an angry face because that's what they're used to. It's my job to show them that there's another world. There's a world with love, patience, and calm.

I do my best. Some days better than others, but in general, I approach my class with calm, patience and the understanding that consistency in routine and reaction in imperative. This isn't enough for everyone, but is certainly my base-line.

I also realized today that I am truly failing two of my students. Two students who I have been looking at as true behavior problems. Nothing specific like inability to pay attention, or trouble controlling their body, just annoying irritating behavior. Two students who are always in trouble, always being spoken to, always asked to change their card, basically always dumped on. Not from day one, but as the weeks went by and my usual bag of tricks failed at every turn, my patience withered and my calm even tone was replaced with bugged eyes, sarcasm, and short snippy tones.

The presenter referred to this as our "shark voice." She pleaded with us to approach every child, every day, with calm, with even tone, with a soft face. She said, "be aware of your shark voice." I looked down at the floor, slightly ashamed. I can admit it.

So tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow I will brainstorm individual behavior plans for these two, a device I usually reserve for specific behavior problems. Who knows, maybe they just need some positive love many times throughout the day. Won't I be the jerk if that's the case?

1 comment:

Alicia said...

I admire your honesty - you made me truly take a look at myself. I try to give my best everyday but sometimes the shark voice does come out. Thanks for helping me look at my little ones in another way. Thanks for writing this entry.