Friday, September 17, 2010

Shame into submission

Shame is a big part of life. We all feel it and we all know how to make someone else feel it. It is normal BUT it can be harming as well. Kids who have experienced trauma ( most adopted kids have some and it all varies but it is there) have a really difficult time with shame and for many of them it can push them into fight or flight mode at the drop of a hat. Calvin is one of those kids, we have worked really hard with him to teach him that is ok, that it is a normal emotion and that we can work through it.

The problem is other adults routinely use shame as a way of getting children to comply, this is especially apparent at school. As a teacher it was something I would do with a kid to make them realise the error of their ways, I was not trying to guilt them into apologising but instead just trying to get them to make amends and develop some empathy. This does not work with either of my kids. This year the following letter was given to Calvin's teachers and I thought that it might be useful to other Mama's to so here it is.

Dear Teachers,

There are a few things that we need to remember about Calvin and his needs as a child who has experienced trauma and multiple transitions in his short life.

- Shame is a significant issue and trigger for Calvin, using it to make him be compliant will not work, it will just escalate his behaviour. If he perceives that he is being shamed over his behaviour by adults or children he will react. It may take hours but there will be a reaction.
- Making his world smaller to keep other kids safe will only escalate his behaviours if he is made to feel more shame by other kids or staff. (this is the fear that he vocalizes the most at home about what happens at school, if all the kids know I am in place X because of my behaviour they will tease me and hurt me. )
- Each failure and loss that Calvin experiences at school affects his emotional and mental health and thus affects his behaviour.
- Although Calvin is 10 his emotional age is significantly lower and as a result he is often unable to verbalize his feelings and the things that trigger his reactions because he is only just learning this skill. We do not expect a child of 3 or 4 years of age to be able to tell us why they are having a tantrum instead we try to help them contain their emotions and then help them to make amends for their actions.

Calvin needs to be able to succeed at school, we need to work together to meet all of his needs just as we would for any child who presented with significant special needs. Although Calvin’s special needs are invisible that does not make them any less significant.

Some strategies for working with Calvin are:
- Watching for his escalating behaviours and intervening as soon as he appears to be having a conflict rather than waiting for the kids to get an adult to help
- Being aware that change in his routines ( supply teachers, community good byes, special events) cause him stress and his stress comes out as behaviour.
- Directing him to a calming activity when he appears to begin being overwhelmed by a situation - colouring and books are good things that give him space to calm himself down.
- Calvin needs a great deal of structure to be successful. When he is already feeling overwhelmed activities like P.E. and recess can push him over the edge.
- Asking him to leave an activity and move to something else when you notice that other children are pushing his buttons.
- Acknowledging his feelings in a situation even if it appears as though nothing of significance has happened and that he has over reacted
Calvin says “ I was mad because they were staring at me”,
Adult responds “ Wow Calvin that must of made you feel really uncomfortable. Can you tell me about what else happened?”
This sort of response is far more effective because Calvin really does struggle with issues that would seem insignificant for other children his age.

- If Calvin runs and hides after a negative behaviour he is responding to a deep fear or trauma trigger, he will not be successful if you put him back into the classroom without first giving him lots of time and space to regroup.

Please remember that Calvin works really hard to keep it together at school and just because he seems to of bounced back from an issue does not mean that there will not be more behaviour later as a result of that same issue. Calvin can always come home if things are harder than he seems able to handle, in fact we would prefer that he came home before he escalated to the point of hurting another child. He understands that when he is feeling lots of “big feelings” he needs some space to pull himself together. Home is a safe place for that to happen.

Thanks for your continued support in making school successful for Calvin
J.

5 comments:

GB's Mom said...

Great letter. I think I will be using it, with a few modifications. When are you coming to Rhinebeck?

Janell said...

That is a beautiful letter. Thanks for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

Great letter. Just wanted to point out a spelling error in the first bullet point: "compliant," rather than "complaint." :)

Essie the Accidental Mommy said...

Nice letter- I hope it helps! I like how you point out active things they can all do to help him and some of his specific triggers. I think most people want to help but if they don't know what to do they will think of their own thing to do.... eek.

marythemom said...

Great letter! Thanks for sharing!

Mary in TX