In the line of work that I do, many frustrations when working with children who present with behavioral concerns almost always lead back to the parents. It’s common that parents will send their kids to therapists thinking their children are the ones who need to be “fixed” while they, the parents, don’t have to do anything to modify their behaviors. “My kid is behaving poorly and that’s my kid’s behavior, not mine.” Trying to help parents understand that their behaviors and actions greatly impact how their child behaves sometimes can feel like trying to teach my cats to give me hugs. Not impossible, but very challenging.
But once in a while, you get parents who totally get it. They understand access to mental health interventions is as important as modifications to their behaviors as a parent. Those parents are awesome. And parents who can respectfully and calmly advocate for their kids? Even better!
A few years ago, I had my first dose of working with young school-aged children. When I think back on how I behaved as an “adult,” I am quite embarrassed that I wasn’t able to treat them better. I know, those things are learned, but I still feel awful sometimes, especially to the kids who were the “trouble kids.” There were a few who had “behavioral issues.” I found those kids to be particularly challenging and “stressful.” Despite how I was choosing to respond to their “bad behavior,” I always tried my best to be good, kind, and caring nonetheless.
I was cleaning out some things and came across a letter a parent had written to me. I knew her well – her kids were the “trouble kids.” She was aware of their behaviors, but she loved them dearly and always tried to teach them better. (Trust me, those kids were scared of their momma.) Anyway, she wrote to me stating that at the end of the day, when I would say to the kids, “Go home” she found that particularly hurtful. While I may have intended it to be a joke, the impact was not the same. It was one of the first times where I needed to be mindful of my speech. It was also very helpful that she delivered her message in a way that was not only well written, but came from a place of honesty. She didn’t attack or make assumptions about me; she explained why she felt what she felt. That’s what I loved about her letter. I didn’t feel the need to be defensive; I felt sad that I had caused pain.
Rereading that letter today reminded me of how far I had come. I still work with kids every now and then and there is a almost always child who could easily be labeled as the “trouble kid.” I have since learned to give all kids the benefit of the doubt. A “trouble kid” isn’t “troubled” – it’s a kid who has yet to learn the “appropriate” social responses to their emotions and impulses. Providing a positive space for that learning to happen in a safe manner will greatly benefit everybody involved. I’m glad that I’ve been able to modify my own behaviors and be more inclusive with parents. If I could re-do that year I did, I would in a heartbeat. Nonetheless, I’m still grateful to have learned what I’ve learned and to continue learning.