Spring has sprung and, as always, it is jam packed full! We've been busy bees these days! As a matter of fact, when I sat down to write out my timeline of everything we've done, I was surprised to see just how much we've shoved into the last three months! But why?
The answer is quite simple. We saw a need and we thought we could help. Actually, I always hear the quote from the movie, "Robot's," in my head. "See a need, fill a need." The movie came out in 2005. I had never heard of it but purchased it used after Drew was born because I thought he'd like the robots in it. Turns out, he loved it. It's a classic underdog story with some great messages and quite a bit of humor. I had no idea when I bought the movie that I'd use it as a point of reference again and again to share the, see-a-need-fill-it concept with Drew.
By now you're probably wondering how anything we do fills a need. That's because the need we attempt to fill is invisible. After 15 years in child advocacy, working within the child welfare system, you see need after need, day after day. While the physical needs were most often fairly easy to fill, the invisible, unspoken needs were not. On a daily basis I saw hurt, disappointment, anger, confusion, sadness...deep, deep sadness. I saw hopelessness. I saw children who felt hopeless. Those words: children and hopeless, simply do not belong in the same sentence. Some children even tried to take their own lives. I saw over and over again the sorrow in the hearts of children who had no choice, no say and zero control over their situation. I also saw how this impacted their ability to function in everyday life.
The quote by Ian Maclaren, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about," eloquently sums up what I'm trying to say except, in this case, it is applied to children. Every day I saw kids who were trying to process and simply survive so much 'stuff' that it was virtually impossible for them to function. I saw some very resilient children who overcame obstacles I cannot imagine; obstacles most adults could not overcome. I also saw children whose hearts and spirits were simply broken beyond repair. These kids and thousands just like them are not in some alternate reality. There is no, we are here and they are there. These kids go to school with our kids. These kids are out there navigating this world right alongside us. Many are navigating, not only with a broken heart, but also with a broken compass. Their compasses, their guides, are not able to show them the way and this alone is sometimes enough to break their hearts...and if not their hearts then, at the very least, their spirit.
Imagine a time when your heart was broken. We have all been there. Remember, for just one second, how hard it was to do your daily tasks. Remember how hard it was to get through the day. When you are using all of your energy just to survive, being kind, doing the right thing or even smiling can seem impossible. Now imagine being a child with a broken compass, an incomplete map not yet written, trying to navigate this world...with a broken heart. Throw in negative peer experiences, peer pressure, homework, testing and the thousands of other factors youth face. I am never surprised when kids are, "mean."
I know you're thinking, but....and I get it, there is always a but. (No pun intended!) There's always a, "bad kid," in your child's class, right? Always that one kid who is mean to your kid or disrespectful to the teacher. That, "bad kid," is heartbroken. Sometimes the kids realize they are hurting and sometimes they don't. Being in touch with your feelings and why you have those feelings is hard to decipher for most adults. Imagine being nine and trying to decipher, process and then articulate the way you feel. It's pretty much not happening.
Remember the invisible, unspoken needs I mentioned? Remember the hurt, disappointment, anger, confusion, sadness...deep, deep sadness and even hopelessness that I saw? You're seeing it, too. It's just harder to recognize because you aren't privy to what's going on behind the scenes. You don't have case files and reports that tell you their story. You are not able to read pages and pages about their situation. Pages and pages that will cause a pit in your stomach and make your heart ache for them. While most times you could probably guess some of the things these kids may be going through, or maybe you've heard other moms talk, the bottom line is, you just don't know the extent of it. They're like walking icebergs, there is so much hidden underneath that we don't see.
And no, this isn't about making excuses for them or accepting their behavior. Rather, it's about recognizing that their behavior is a battle cry. They are telling us without words that they are fighting, struggling and they need help. It is a battle cry that they do out of survival instincts, not fully knowing or even understanding why they
are doing what they're doing. I'm pretty sure you've asked your own kid why they did something and gotten the answer, "I don't know," a time or two....and yes, I'm being facetious, it's probably more like a few thousand times. Most times, though, they really don't know...even though we think they should because it seems obvious to us. And even though they probably recognize they shouldn't have done it.
This cry for help can also be a warning sign. When these invisible needs go unmet it can be disastrous. You might see self-destructive behaviors that escalate to self-injury or worse, attempts at taking their own life. Or you might see lashing out, disruptive behaviors and bullying type behaviors that escalate into physically harming others.
So, what do we do about it? I believe that one person can make a difference. I actually believe that sometimes one person can make THE difference. It only takes one. It might be a teacher, a friend...it might be Drew, it might be your kid, you never know. So we started by working with Drew on how to deal with these kids and their behavior.
Before I go on, I want to share Alton Carter's website with you. I had the pleasure of working with Alton when we lived in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Alton is the author of a book called, "The Boy Who Caried Bricks." It's available on Smile Amazon. I highly recommend this book. It is a rare opportunity to get a glimpse into the thought process of a child experiencing confusion, hurt, anger and fear. You won't want to put it down.
OK, so back to our dear Drew who is just your average kid. He has strengths and weaknesses just like every kid, just like every person. And his experience with bullying type behaviors, teasing and taunting are essentially every kid's story. I have yet to find a single kid or adult who has not encountered bullying type behaviors in some way. People can be very mean, there are no ifs, ands or buts (ha, there's that but, again!) about it. I found that we are always so focused on how we deal with these people, these kids. What about how we see them?
Drew has had a hard time processing when kids are, "mean," just like most kids do. I was still working in child advocacy and child welfare when a little girl was, "mean," to Drew on his very first day of Kindergarten. Neither of us were ready for it and little did we know it was only the beginning.
I knew from my experiences that kids exhibiting such behaviors were most likely having a hard time. Couple that with the fact that Drew is one of those needs-to-know kids. He needs to know WHY. I told him that their hearts must hurt for them to feel the need to try to hurt someone else. If you're happy you don't usually go around trying to make others feel bad. I tried to help him recognize that the problem was not his. It was not his hair or what color he wore or how good he was something, but rather, the problem was theirs. They were sad. They were mad. Something was wrong. It changed the way he looked at these kids. He looked at them with sympathy and empathy instead of anger...it was process each time but, it changed the way he saw them.
So, do we have all the answers? Of course we do! You mean, you don't? RIIIGHT. As if! NO ONE has all the answers. We don't have this mastered even though we've been at it awhile now. Each situation is different, each child is different. If I could chart what our process looks like when dealing with kids being, "mean," it would, ironically, look like Drew's heartbeat on an EKG. It's an emotional rollercoaster filled with sharp ups and downs, over and over. But it's not always a bad thing. I consider it hands on learning of life skills. And boy do we ever get our hands dirty during this rigorous training. Just like all of us, Drew will always have to deal with people who are not nice, people who are selfish, people who are dishonest and so on. This is life and I see each of these as teachable moments...and I usually learn from them, too.
As Drew got older it didn't get easier, because it's ever changing. When someone isn't nice we almost always react emotionally. We're humans. Those pesky things we call, "feelings," have a tendency to get in the way. So even though Drew has several tools he knows how to use, he still starts out getting hurt feelings, getting mad or both and we work our way through...again....and again....remember the heartbeat? Yeah. It really does look like that. It feels like that, too.
These days, he tries to talk to kids about what's wrong. I mean, hey, his mom said, if you're not being nice then your heart must hurt, and he needs to know WHY! When he talks to these kids they usually tell him what they're upset about. (Sadly, it almost always has something to do with one or both parents and something they are doing or not doing.) After their conversation Drew sees the kids differently. They lose the power he thought they had because they became vulnerable, even if for a moment. He usually expresses sympathy and empathy that sometimes turns to anger over what is happening to them. He's also a fixer, but that's another post! Ha! And while this doesn't make rainbows shoot from the sky or herds of unicorns appear, it does, in most cases, diffuse the situation enough that he has a much easier time processing when it happens again...because it does and it always will.
So, as we're riding this 'heartbeat' like a bucking bull we realize that maybe we can do more. Maybe we can help more kids than just those that end up targeting Drew.
We've been doing random acts of kindness with Drew since he was five. Apparently five was our magic number. By the time he was in the first grade we had