As I find myself sidelined by unexpected injury I have had considerable time to reflect. A colleague, mentor, leader, and friend once told me that I spend more time on self-improvement than anyone he knows and that I’ve done enough. But have I? Recent reflection has given me new insight into my journey from the severe traumas of my childhood to the work I do with students and staff.
As I move through this fifth decade of life, I realize that though I am a highly adaptable and resilient person, these skills came with a cost, and though I see that I utilize them well, this also comes with both a physical and emotional toll. So I started really looking at pain based-behaviour, not just in my students and the staff around me, but in myself. I thought that I had left the past well behind and healed but I notice now, with increased age and knowledge, that there are still lingering aspects of that damage.
Craving peace; seeking chaos. I think that this simple statement is common among childhood survivors. We universally seek a peace we never knew but build our lives around the chaos we did know. Some of us manage it in fairly safe, stable ways, hence not truly noticing what is happening while in others, it is clear the path they are on. Often one of destruction. Understanding, however, brings change and further healing.
So, pain-based behaviour, what is it? At one point in my journey I worked at an exclusive school dedicated to supporting and serving students with severe behavioural challenges and of course, trauma. To understand what pain-based behaviour looks like I offer this story. There was an older child in this school who was very hard to reach and one of the places he felt the safest was in my room. One morning he had a melt down and destroyed the school, threatened staff and in the end the police were called and, sadly, he was taken away.
During this rampage he destroyed everything but my room. On returning from stabilization, we found that he had been struggling with some serious further trauma to his already troubled soul but when asked why he did not harm anything in my room, he replied simply and honestly, “Why would I wreck her stuff, she’s a lover not a hater.”
Staff would often bring students to my room and leave them. When they entered my room they would leave much of their pain-based behaviour at the door. Why is that? I didn’t have less expectation or structure but I also didn’t have expectations that they could not meet. My rules were simpler. I understood them and met them where they were currently with no agenda but to support them. I knew that learning could not happen in the face of crisis. They did not need the shell of those behaviour in that space. It’s simple, there was just no need for them.
Trauma children, children living in dysfunctional situations and poverty don’t act out for fun. They don’t do things because their ultimate goal is to wreak havoc, they are simply leaking the pain that has become who they are. They scream for help in the most unlovable, unkind and disrespectful ways and the world takes it personally. We often blame them for their actions without offering alternatives and expect things from them that are far beyond their level of development emotionally or physically. Why not, after all we survived. Or did we? Children, unlike adults, have no real control. They can’t change their situation without help and support. The only thing they can control is their own behaviour. Until they are taught differently, unwanted behaviour is the only weapon in their arsenal. It is all they have to express their pain.
So many of us, sadly, live out our pain without reflecting on it. These children often trigger our own pain and trauma. In turn we respond in our own frustration and anger. Many adults use self destructive coping and hiding skills; gambling, drinking, eating, sex, over working, fitness obsession, television, internet and social media addiction, porn, over spending… the list goes on. Yet, when our children cry out, we call them bad or defiant or angry. Yes, they are angry. We take it very personally and often punish them without reflection on what is driving the behaviour. Children in pain don’t have access to our grown up pain-based combat techniques, after all we are now pros, battle hardened warriors at pain eating but at what cost? We’ve spent years developing our coping mechanisms be they healthy or not.
So what are pain based behaviours exactly? What do they look like? What do we see at home and in our classrooms? What is driving the behaviour? To end behaviour you must first understand it and support what is driving it.
-Destruction of property
-Rages - lack of self regulation
-Lack of adherence to rules
The list can go on and on. The chart below is a good look at what may be driving the behaviours we see on the surface. Kids who have suffered have a lot of internal pain with no way to deflect or release it. These skills must be taught and they take a lifetime to master.
The world is a challenging place for all of us, but we can intervene and create a better future for children struggling with pain-based behaviours.
Why did the child comment that I was a lover not a hater? It is not that I am any better at what I do or that I am special or different. It is simply that I supported him and met him without resistance and with no agenda beyond his support and success, therefore, I rarely experienced these behaviours in my room. Anyone can do this. Anyone can build, strong, supportive relationships with challenging kids and create proactive strategies for them to succeed.
I believe all parents want to be good parents just as all educators want to be supportive and successful with their students. Parenting and educating are hard jobs. They challenge us to the core and are often emotionally as well as physically exhausting. We need to support each other to support our children. Everything we do everyday matters when we are with children.
Our future will be stronger if we heal as much pain in our children as we can, better yet, if it was never created. Teaching parents how to let go of their own raising and build strong bonds with their children, raising resilient, healthy, balanced souls will create the greatest future for humanity.
What if we all intervened with love, respect, compassion and diligence for our challenging children and our students? What if we all learned how to be generous, forgiving, unselfish parents. What if we all shared our abundance with those without so that no child lived and grew in brain diminishing poverty? What if we all learned how to be healthy, balanced humans from the start. Imagine the world we would create?
Yes, I know. It does sound like a lot like Utopia but our own version of Utopia can be created. We just have to want the world to be different. There is no perfect world but with vision we can create a great one. We must remember we are raising humanity not children and that all aspects of their lives will return to us as a society - good or bad.
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