You know those games where you get to see 1 small area of a picture and you have to guess who the celebrity is, or where the place is, or what the catchphrase is…?
Well I would like to make a proposal… And it is this:
– that we would stop playing games with our children.
Eh? What do I mean?
Let me explain.
Very often I am asked to help a school or parent, because there is a child who is causing great concern. That school or parent can fill me in on exactly all the details about that child that are concerning them. Mostly these details are about behaviour. To quote a certain game-show host, they “say what they see”. And then they look at me in a particular way…or as one parent said to me recently – “so what can happen (what can you do) to fix this?”
I knew he wanted the best for his child, and himself. He wanted the outbursts to stop, and the child to be compliant and respectful… I just couldn’t and wouldn’t bring myself to play that game.
If you have ever asked me for ideas to support a particular child I have never seen, and don’t know about… You will know I won’t do it 😉 (it happens mostly at the end of training events, usually preceded by the words ‘can I just ask you….’)
Why won’t I take that conversation further? Why wouldn’t I immediately give that teacher or parent a list of things to do to change his child’s behaviour? It is simple. I wasn’t ready to give him an answer – If I don’t have enough of the picture, I won’t play catchphrase with children’s lives. They are more important and deserve more respect than that.
What I will do, if the parent or school are willing to work with me (and it is so precious when I do get this chance!), is help the key people involved explore the real issues … And we will together pan out our focus from just looking at a child and expand our view to see the bigger picture…all the different, contributing pieces. And here is the challenge… because in doing this we might need to include in our view the people around the child at school and home, stress levels and causes, dynamics between others in the family, past experiences, food, sleep and mental health of key carers… etc etc etc.
Why is this necessary? Because any particular behaviour of a child can be rooted in a million different reasons, and it is not my place to pick any one of them out of a hat and give suggestions that will impact that child’s life based on guess work. The wrong advice could be as emotionally dangerous as prescribing antibiotics to someone who is allergic to them.
Sometimes a child will appear to have ADHD when their body is pumped with stress hormones because they are constantly worried about what is going to happen to mum while they are not there to keep check on her.
Sometimes a child may appear to have autism because he struggles with change and chooses to focus on just 1 main thing to play with…because his world has been full of chaos (boundaries changing, adults not following through on what they say, routine all over the place, emotional turmoil in key carer) and that is his one way to try and keep things predictable in life.
Would it be fair to diagnose a child with ADHD when really it is parent’s financial stresses that lead to arguments and vibes that are causing him to feel like he is living in a war zone at home, and so he can’t concentrate or sit still at school?
“It’s good but it’s not right.”
I have known children be misdiagnosed with various conditions and given medications to subdue their behaviour. It happens too often. It breaks my heart when a child is being given unnecessary drugs that do change them, the way covering up a screaming smoke alarm will muffle the hideous sound but won’t find or deal with the fire.
If you are prepared to make judgments about a child from looking only at one piece of their picture you are playing roulette with someone’s life… it is always easier to look at and judge a child rather than have to look at ourselves, and consider whether we are the real focal point that they are just responding to. Trying to label and change a child is easier than trying to understand them and if necessary change ourselves or our circumstances.
Guesses at what to do to change the child might ‘work’ for a time but they may also fit the other famous catchphrase of that game-show host “it’s good but it’s not right”.
I want to say a public thank you to each and every parent and teacher, school staff member and even grandparent I have worked with over the years who have had the courage and honesty to let themselves be seen as part of the child’s real picture, and made their own changes so a child didn’t get misunderstood and was able to change naturally and authentically. You may have changed the trajectory of their lives.