Don’t. Give. Up.

From the ages of pre-birth to three years old, a major part of the child’s emotional capacity is developed. Meaning that it is vital, from before the child is born to the day it turns three years old, that you maintain a positive attitude and positive behaviours when around the child. If this is not achieved then it can have a detrimental affect on the child’s mental wellbeing, which is almost impossible to reverse.

If a child is growing up in a violent household, experiencing violence, anger, insecurity and a constant unease, these acts and behaviours can rub off on them and allow them to think that such behaviours are normal and expected for every situation that they come across. This is frustrating for education professionals, from nursery, all the way through school.

The reason for the frustration is that these three years are vital and after which, virtually irreversible. That is why children, despite being objectified to a loving, caring environment that promotes healthy behaviours when they start school or nursery, they will still act out/behave badly/have a bad attitude towards the adults, children and school environment. The trauma that they have faced and witnessed growing up through their baby and toddler years have made an irreversible effect on their emotional and social wellbeing.

I know this from personal experience when working at Camp Starfish (see earlier post). I had a camper, aged 10, who had suffered form severe abuse and neglect as an infant, and even though he was taken away from the violent household at three years of age and adopted into a loving, caring family, he was still under the impression that everyone and everything was a threat. It was extremely vital, throughout his fortnight stay, that even though he would be acting out and being extremely violent to the staff members, that we kept a positive mindset towards his behaviours and try and understand WHY he was feeling the way he was. This child was, intact, the child that stabbed me during an art lesson out of pure frustration because I would not allow him to do the activity that he wanted to do. In the face of this major behaviour, I was still smiling and calmly talking to him in order to calm him down and prevent him from putting himself or anyone else in further danger. It was my unwillingness to give up on his behaviour and him that allowed him to calm down and regain a more realistic mindset; I was there to help and protect him, not hurt him.

The key is, that no matter how horrific or dangerously the child is behaving, never give up on them because it is that that they notice and react to, hopefully in a positive manner.

I want to help you, but you need to tell me how.

When facing social injustices, such as a child failing due to their family life/background, or due to them not having a good support system out with the school environment, as a teacher, you cannot give up on the child whatsoever.

I am fully aware that what I have just stated seems like the complete obvious, however, you will be surprised at how easily you find yourself simply giving up or backing down when dealing with a particular difficult child because they have pushed all your buttons. However, there is always a reason behind ones actions or behaviour and getting to the core of it is so unbelievably important.

I believe, from experience, that by just simply asking the child ‘why’ they are acting the way they are and ‘how’ we, as the teacher, can help them will make a massive difference in the way the child perceives the punishment for their behaviour. By giving them the option to be in charge of the way their actions are dealt with and how it can be prevented in the future allows them to believe that they are valued and being listened to.

Thus creating a more tolerable environment for them and their fellow peers to learn in and enjoy school.

Take a walk in their shoes.

The values workshop that we had last Tuesday afternoon was an eyeopener to say the least.

The room of twenty-odd people was split into four groups. Each group was given a large envelope with contents inside. Opening up the envelope my group found a pencil, blue tac, three paperclips and a rubber band. We were told to create something that we could give to new Education students to help them with their adjustment into university. My group decided to make a map of campus.

We used the large envelope as the map and we used the blue tac and paperclips to point out the most important buildings for Education students; Dalhousie building, Library, and the Union. We used the pencil to draw the map and the rubber band to indicate where a roundabout was. My group thoroughly enjoyed the task, we had a lot of fun in the making the map and we were quite chuffed with our end project.

When it got to each group showing off their project, we watched every group present something much better than what we created. However, the difference being was that every other group was given more materials to use than we were. Not only that, they were awarded higher points than my group were. We understood the higher marks as each of their projects were exceptionally more elaborate than ours but we didn’t understand why we weren’t as lucky as the other groups. Why didn’t we have as many materials and why were we discriminated considering we done our upmost best with what we had?

The moral of the project was to show you that not everyone will have the same opportunities as we do. Some families have next to nothing to live off of and other families have too much to live off of.

My group had fun (probably the most fun out of all the groups) because we knew that we had done our best and we didn’t know that we were missing out on more and better materials. Unfortunately, not noticing what you don’t have is a very unlikely case. In schools children will watch their classmates get everything they wanted for Christmas and Birthdays while they get very little compared. This also goes for homework projects, you can’t discriminate because you have no idea what any child is facing at home and what he/she has to offer.

The Starfish Way

Throughout my childhood, I was so sure that I was destined to have a career in the music industry. Whether it be a singer or a drummer, a musical theatre artist or working behind the scenes, the music world was where I belonged.

I went on to study Music Business at Glasgow Kelvin College after leaving school in 2016. It was a great year and a great course to study and I loved every minute of it but somehow it did not feel completely right.

The summer of 2017 is the summer that changed my life.

After completing a year of Music Business and gaining my HNC in the course, I set off for New Hampshire, USA, to work in a summer camp, Camp Starfish. Camp Starfish is a summer programme camp for children who suffer from social, emotional, behavioural and learning difficulties. There is only one other camp in America like it.

The first three weeks of camp was filled with intensive training for us counsellors. This included:

  • How to calm a camper down during a ‘behaviour’
  • How to detect suicidal/harmful behaviour in your camper
  • How to protect yourself/campers from an outraged, angry and harmful camper
  • How to make a quick getaway when a harmful camper comes speeding towards you
  • How to scream and what to scream when you believe a camper is putting yourself, themselves and others in danger

I remember thinking ‘What on earth have you got yourself into Bethany?’.

Training was completed and in came Session 1. Now, when I say Session 1 was a DISASTER, I’m not being dramatic; 3 out 7 of the counsellors assigned to my bunk quit after the first two days; we had the worst bunk, behavioural wise; one of my campers stabbed me in the wrist, just because I asked him to sit down; I cried, I cried a lot. Those two weeks were the longest and hardest two weeks of my life, I did not for one second believe that I would survive the rest of the summer.

However, one camper named Toby changed it all for me. I can’t imagine half of the struggles that child has faced in his young life but without a doubt he made me smile every day, especially on the last day when his guardians came to collect him. Toby and I performed a song from my favourite musical, Hamilton, in front of all the parents and guardians. What I didn’t mention is that Toby was painfully shy when he first arrived at camp, so watching him perform with so much confidence and joy filled me with a feeling of happiness and pride that I had never felt before. After our performance, Toby came running to me, hugged me and said “Thank you Betty, that was awesome and so are you!” and despite my hatred for the word ‘awesome’, it was at that moment that I realised this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  If I could make just one other child believe in themselves and feel confident again and smile the way Toby did that day, I could die happy.

Allowing Children to believe in themselves and watching them grew into confident and amazing individuals despite their own quirks and setbacks is what teaching is all about and I that’s why I want to make it my everyday job for the rest of my life.

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Teacher, Lorraine Lapthorne conducts her class in the Grade Two room at the Drouin State School, Drouin, Victoria

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