I have been an educator for many years, in all kinds of different schools: public and private; rich and poor. Over the years, I have witnessed a particular group of students being tragically misunderstood by people who have good intentions but who just don’t know what to do. I believe these students comprise this century’s “misunderstood child,” and they desperately need our help now as their numbers are growing quickly.
The children I am talking about are currently mistakenly labeled as having various conditions, from health problems to learning disabilities, from behavioral problems to bipolar disorder, depression, even autism. They are given medications that don’t work and are intervened with in ways that exacerbate the problem, all because we are not digging deep enough for the whole truth, the whole story, starting at the very beginning. Instead we are treating symptoms we see in the present moment without knowing the full context from which they came. When we are diligent about getting to the true source of a child’s struggles, we find that we finally understand not only the child, but also the ways in which we can truly be effective…
A large and growing number of children are coming to school traumatized. When we think of the increase in school shootings, so common now they barely make the news, and natural disasters, like Katrina or the recent fires in California, we shouldn’t be surprised. Not only do we live within a global context of trauma, seeing and hearing more gruesome images and stories in this post-9/11 world, but also our children are experiencing their own personal traumas in their schools, homes, and neighborhoods, sometimes on a daily basis. This is changing who our children are and how well they are able to meet the demands of their world.
There are many traumas that children experience that we don’t think of as traumatic. Trauma is not just a large catastrophic event like 9/11, Columbine or Katrina. There are numerous other events, many seemingly benign, that have a tremendous and haunting impact on our children. Illnesses, hospitalizations, surgeries, and dental procedures, as well as accidents, falls, and injuries – not to mention the various kinds of abuses our children suffer – these events all have the potential to change the way our children’s brains develop and operate. It is only when parents and educators know exactly what trauma is for a child and how the brain is changed by the event that they finally get it. They finally understand their child and what they can do not only to do no further harm, but also to completely heal what has been damaged.
Healing trauma is completely possible, and when it is, all kinds of so-called symptoms disappear – health problems, learning problems, behavioral problems, depression, hyperactivity, mood swings, self-mutilation (i.e. cutting), and odd ritual behaviors driven by anxiety. It’s all driven by anxiety left over in the body when earlier traumas are left unresolved only to be re-triggered later by events that remind us. Trauma is related to anorexia, bulimia, overeating, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, even shopping! We may think our hearts and minds have overcome the event, but our body betrays us. We remain driven to keep behaving in ways that take away our anxiety. The good news is there are brand new, tremendously effective approaches to healing trauma that are finally helping people completely overcome what we once believed were lifelong struggles.
This is a message of hope. So many parents and teachers are told their children have lifelong conditions that can only get better with medication, therapy, and/or special education, and that is simply not true. When we get to the source of the problem, we find that these children are not at all learning disabled or bipolar or autistic. They have been traumatized, usually by an event that the parents knew had changed their child, but that no one else supported them in believing was the difference.
When I speak with parents and teachers, they ask me, “Why hasn’t anyone talked to us about this before? This is so important, and no one is talking about it. I know this is what’s going on with my child. I knew when my child came home from the hospital (for example) he was different. I told the doctor how I felt, but he didn’t listen. He said my child was fine and that we should all just get on with it.”
I see firsthand all over North America how parents and educators are starving for this information. When they hear it they are enthralled, motivated and inspired because, as they tell me, they feel like they finally understand their troubled child and exactly what to do to help. They have hope.
I pray that, like me, anyone who reads this will feel an urgency to bring this information to educators and parents everywhere. I truly believe that not only the health and welfare of our children is dependent upon it, but the future of our planet as well.