When you have a highly distractible, pinging off the walls kind of kid, it doesn’t surprise you that other kids can sometimes be a bit mean.
But what do you do when the prickly offender is an adult?
Say. . .
a Sunday School teacher?
a clerk in the store?
Then what do you do?
Here’s what got me thinking about this. Read this letter we received.
I don’t know if you guys have any answers, but my nine year old son is getting a lot of abuse by adults. He had a teacher throw a ball and hit him with it stating, “Oops, I meant to put that away.” But that wasn’t his intent. And his Sunday School teacher has him hating going to church. On Sunday, she took away his paper about the lesson (which he had made an airplane out of) and ripped it to shreds, refusing to give him another. I can understand taking it and throwing it away, but ripping it to shreds shows she was terribly angry. It makes me want to take him and hide away, until he is old enough to protect himself. I am sorry, I am just at my wits end. Not with him, but with those who “react” to him.
Chances are, every single one of us here in Sizzle Bop Land has had to step in when the siblings in our own family interact inappropriately.
At other times, we’ve certainly found ourselves commenting on or intervening in the poor interactions between our children and their playmates.
But the thing that can take us off our guard completely,
the thing that can make us stand there blinking like the oft mentioned deer in the headlights
is when the inappropriate behavior comes from someone who should know better,
someone who should be teaching good behaviors themselves, in other words….someone who is an adult.
An inappropriate or unkind word from a person in authority can feel almost like a sudden punch in the stomach.
What can we do?
Our usual child-directed reactions just don’t apply here.
How can we respond in a way that is not just based in anger or defensiveness, but instead helps to mend and improve the situation?
Well, there are many things we can do to make a positive change that improves things from several angles.
We can make…
- Changes in the Situation
- Changes in our Sizzlers
- Changes in the Adults who provide these negative reactions (believe it or not)
- Changes in Ourselves.
We’re going to look at these one by one. Today’s topic will be…
Changes in the Situation
Sometimes the best thing to do is to step awy. That’s something you should always be ready to do, even at the possible loss of a valued program. If it means NOT participating in a worthy program versus abusive interaction, you opt for no program. But there may be some things you could do before taking such a final measure.
Tag along Attend with your child, even if for only a transitional period. You’ll get a greater sense of the environment and what your child is going to need in order to navigate this new situation successfully. You may come up with several useful suggestions for the leaders and your child just by being a quiet observer for a time. You might find that this “observer” status is intimidating to others, so you may want to ask if you could be of some sort of service to the group while you are taking it all in. Such a volunteering effort might be very appreciated by others in the group.
Go it alone Whenever your child is going somewhere, ask yourself “Is there anyway to minimize the number of people he’ll be dealing with?” If you’re going to see the doctor, do your best to leave the other children at home. If you’re taking your child on a homeschooling field trip to the zoo, don’t go with 60 other kids. Go alone, or perhaps with one other calm family. If Grandma wants to spend sometime with the grandkids, suggest that this child might really enjoy a one-on-one outing or a thoughtful walk through a local attraction rather than a romp with 7 cousins at McDonald’s Playland. This child of ours will get charged up simply by the mere presence of many other children. The presence of these other kids will heighten his level of excitability and will thus increase the likelihood of some unfortunate impulse or overreaction that can ruin an event. Not only can it spoil a good time, it can mark this child as “trouble” in the eyes of many. That’s a title we must be constantly vigilant to prevent our children being exposed to and eventually adopting as their own.
Get them a job These kids often have an overdeveloped desire to please adults. If that is the case with your child, get them a job. For instance, instead of sitting passively and being a student in the local Sunday School program, get them a job helping in some other capacity during that time. Helping the person who does a head count in each classroom. Helping the person who counts the money from the children’s offering. Making copies in the copying room for teachers needing last minute copies. You may have to enlist the help of someone to act as mentor, so choose carefully. But these kids can often really shine when allowed to serve in some active capacity.
Get a Big Brother/Big Sister I was privileged to witness a loving solution to an extreme version of this problem. A friend of mine had a highly autistic son named Cory. When she brought him to church events or Sunday School he was very disruptive. There was no debate about this. His constant vocalizations, his inability to even look anyone in the eye and certainly his need to move and touch things around him made it impossible to maintain class structure. I’ve seen similar situations arise in other churches and organizations. Usually the child is simply thrust back into the hands of the already weary and overwhelmed parents with the added gift of “Sorry, but we just aren’t prepared for this.” But the head of this particular department came up with a solution that, to this day, I still believe is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. He got together a crew of teenagers. They became known as “Cory’s Crew”. (They even got matching T-shirts with “Cory’s Crew” emblazened across the front.) They were instructed about the value in this precious and misunderstood child. They were taught of the exhaustion that such a child can bring into a family. They were taught about the extraordinary gift they would be giving to this child AND to his family by simply keeping Cory busy. So they took Cory to Sunday School. When he became disruptive, they took him for a walk. And they walked and they walked and they walked. Not only did it serve Cory and his family well, but it allowed these teenagers the vital privilege of really serving others in a concrete and highly appreciated way.
Consider a similar arrangement for your child. Is there a “Big brother” or a “Big Sister” who might respond well to seeing your child as a chance for service? Could they be his “Class Companion” (or perhaps advocate) in a group where he may need a buffer? If your child struggles with any academic topic, could the teenager be a tutor as well? You might be able to find someone who will do this out of a pure desire to serve. But I don’t see any problem with paying such an individual either. Then it’s a win-win situation.
Tighten the Circle If you know of several people who seem to be unable to say a kind thing about this child, circle your wagons a bit tighter. It’s okay to avoid people, even nice people, who drag you and your child down. This was a hard one for me. Some of the very people that were unkind about my son were the same people who I really enjoyed spending time with. But I found over time that it was better to say a very polite “no thanks” to some invitations. In addition, some people I might well have enjoyed weren’t always on my invitation lists either. It wasn’t a vengeful and mean spirited action. It was a desire to be around people who are positive, encouraging and uplifting. If there is a Sizzler in the family, this group of encouraging folks can be a bit smaller.
There’s No Place Like Home There are several reasons why I like to host events at my home rather than someone else’s, not the least of which is that I finally make an effort to clean it. But another factor in the past has been that if, heaven forbid, my son broke something, then it was something of mine. My son seemed to get into less trouble when he was on his own turf. Consider hosting events that you’re contemplating attending. It may well be that the current host would be delighted for a change in venue. (Maybe she’s sick of cleaning her house too. :-))
Tighten the Leash Not exactly a pretty metaphor, I know. But appropriate, nonetheless. I once had a mom complain to me about my reactions to my Sizzler. She said that a mother’s reaction to her child can range from somewhere between 1 and 10, but I seem to shoot straight to 10 at even the most minor of infractions. I really took this to heart for a time and considered my actions. Then I came to the enlightening conclusion that she was right! But I also realized that I did this for very good reasons. I knew something she didn’t. I knew that this energy-filled Sizzler of mine had to be kept in a very tight circle. I needed to watch him closely while his infractions were still at a level 1, 2, or 3. I had to work VERY hard to be sure that they stayed at that level, because I knew that if this child’s level of excitement reached a critical point, his infractions would suddenly and quite unexpectedly shoot to 10 (and then some!) I knew that my son’s safety, and in fact HER son’s safety meant being hyper-vigilant and keeping my son’s control in check.
So to outsiders I did seem to hold this child a bit too closely. But I knew the problems that could arise so quickly and easily. I didn’t want that for her child. And frankly, I didn’t want that for my child. Every time something breaks, every time someone is hurt, every time there has been a fraction of great note, my son feels dreadful. Truly dreadful. He comes away believing he is defective. He comes away feeling more and more like a freak of nature. This is not the image I have of my son. It is certainly not the image I want HIM to have of himself either. So until the inner maturation permits greater control, I will be the outer source that provides it.
Plan Ahead If you know that your child is going to have to sit still for a prolonged period of time, pack a “Busy Hands” bag. Keep it full of things that they can use discreetly to keep themselves occupied and yet will not distract others. We have a bag just for church. In it we keep things like crayons and coloring book, waxed strings (Wikki Stix), paper dolls, shoe tying practice board (flat shoe made out of cardboard with shoe string strung through holes), crochet hook and yarn (with one end of hook wrapped in masking tape to soften sound if dropped), cloth books, Q-tips (for some reason my kids like to stack these and make mini-constructions) and any of the gazillion soft rubber puzzles and activities made by Laurie Products. If they are going to be around lots of other children you can’t send them in with a bag of their own play things. But some kids can focus better simply by having a soft stone in their pocket that they mindlessly rub their thumb against while listening. If you can give them something to quietly manipulate, you may go a long way in curbing their need to move.
Homeschool! Okay, lots of you can’t do this. And lots of you are already doing this. But I would be remiss if I didn’t put in this very obvious solution. If many of the problems your child is experiencing are happening in a traditional school setting, you may have just found one of the very best reasons for homeschooling. The simple act of schooling at home can remove many of the hurdles faced in a traditional class. If this child needs to move while learning…who cares. If this child makes a paper plane out of his lesson after completing it…who cares. If this child needs to chew gum, tap his pencils and wiggle his foot rapidly while listening…who cares! You have the blessed option of simply ignoring things that would be an issue in a room with 28 other little concentrating minds.
That’s all for today.
Watch for our next installment when we’ll be talking about making “Changes in the Sizzler”
Tags: Big Brother