Bryan is a best selling author, child behavior expert and consultant, internationally recognized speaker on challenging behaviors and attachment issues, and founder of The Post Institute for Family Centered Therapy.
Education works for ninety percent of children. Maybe that’s a stretch but we’ll go by those numbers as they are quite common in education research circles. Meaning that roughly ten percent of children do not thrive in a traditional academic setting, they need something different but are rarely provided it. Yes we create special rooms, we modify their learning, etc, but a critical examination will easily demonstrate in the majority of instances that even these settings and activities are only hybrids of the existing model. Why? Because paradigm shifts rarely account for abnormalities. You see it happen in the medical profession. Once symptoms fall outside the box of common occurrence then a shoot from the hip mentality kicks in. Usually beginning with what we know, working backwards in the hope that “what we know” will cure what we do not. This is often the case with children who do not fit the common or known patterns of learning, yet this fallacy is based on erroneous thinking and a flawed paradigm much more so than an abnormality in symptoms.
This finding because it can literally revolutionize education: New York University neuroscientist and author Joseph LeDoux in his seminal text The Emotional Brain makes an academically paradigm shifting statement, “In times of stress our thinking becomes confused and distorted, and our short-term memory is suppressed”.
I am not a formal teacher. I’ve had thousands of students, and have even owned my own school. I do not claim to have all the answers to the woes schools face day to day, much less in working with really difficult children. What I do have to offer however is a perspective that is based on real life experience, I was such a student on many levels behaviorally, and my sister was certainly such a student. In fact, she was the poster child for difficult children in the classroom.
For the eighty to ninety percent of children who make it through school with minimal challenge this finding is both predictive and historically relevant. Such a student potentially has a very low historical exposure to stress, trauma, and parental inconsistency. By most accounts they have few academic challenges, henceforth years of positive conditioning, educational environment, learning, and teachers. Additionally, this student has formed continuing and lasting peer relationships which prompt greater ties to the educational environment and in some instances may even trigger a release of the powerful oxytocin hormone with the thought of another day at school. Certainly the presence of an academic barrier such as stress being present at any significant level is greatly diminished.
Some children can’t be taught. They must be nurtured. On the other hand, there are the children many of us raise, adopt, or care for. These children, in many instances came into the world stressed out. Important critical stages were not accomplished and optimal, neurologic functioning, a remote, very remote, possibility. These children have had conflict within the family, with peers, academically from the beginning. Where the typical child has experienced prolonged states of regulation, attuned, consistent care giving, and predictability, these other children have in many instances experienced just the opposite. And what of the child adopted from birth who was subsequently provided prolonged states of regulation, attuned, consistent care giving? It doesn’t matter. My sister was adopted as an infant yet was prenatally exposed, spent seven months in a rejecting womb, and then was in an incubator, alone, isolated, and without vital sensory experiences for nearly three months - BIG, lifelong impact.
Even with high IQs, these children have trouble learning. In essence these children go into school in a state of hypo or hyper-arousal, their sensory systems unable to tolerate but modicum amounts of stress thereby leading to an abundance of confused and distorted thinking, and suppressed short-term memory. How are these children going to learn and thrive academically? They are not. They will, in many instances end the way they began, stressed out, confused and distorted thinking, with short-term memory challenges. What does such a child look like when he turns sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen? Barely reading, poor writing skills, limited arithmetic, lack of short-term memory, and focus that would be dwarfed by an average three year old. Sadly, I am not joking. I can give you at least twelve specific cases of such children. Instances in which they have been in foster care for up to ten years or more, and their care and education having been funded in excess of a million dollars, and yet still my six year old can read better than most all of them. Not because they are not willing, but rather because they are by-products of a system based on misunderstanding and maltreatment of emotionally challenged, traumatized children. Albeit, all in the name of doing the right thing for the child.
Is there an answer for these children? Simple…well it’s simple, it’s just not easy. Start first by helping all children to feel as emotionally regulated as possible. Take it as a gift from God, or whoever you wish to, that most children of school age only need a minimal amount of adult co-regulation. Enjoy the gift. Be thankful for it, but for the child who obviously needs much more put forth the effort. Embrace the child, recognize his obvious sensitivity, pull him in close, shelter him, love him, lead him, gently redirect him, and encourage him. Provide him an Oxytocin rich environment and relationships. Stop trying to fix him and start learning to love him. Yes, even in school we can learn to love children. Besides it’s really not the job of teaching that you love. It’s the little people you interact with that you love. In fact, from a neurologic standpoint, the children in your classroom give you an Oxytocin boost every single day. That’s called the chemistry of connection.
Think school can’t afford to love children? Takes too much time you say? There are community mentoring programs that provide such people in student’s lives. They are present just to love them. They don’t get paid. They are volunteers. And they stay with the children for years. Find one in your community.
What about the other students? They’ll be thankful you are helping Bobby because when you aren’t, he’s disruptive, stresses them out and you, and makes you ineffective to be the truly great teacher that you are. Remember, your concern about meeting the emotional need of the deficient child because it will absorb all of your time and energy and take away from your ability to effectively teach the other children, is in fact, a reflection of confused and distorted thinking. Ultimately it is your own fear. The other students do not want or need you hovering over them. They need an explanation, an assignment, and occasional guidance and encouragement. They are in essence the natural students because their brains work naturally.
Emotional support and security first. If we would only begin to have discussions putting emotional support and security first, not because education is secondary, but rather because emotional support and security enables optimal educational achievement, then we may very well begin leading a paradigm that will be useful for all students. In a world where zero tolerance rules the day, we might be well to read Trauma-Sensitive Schools Are Better Schools. What appears as “willful disobedience” may be “trauma related” behavior and not treatable with consequences and control. This writer, Jane Ellen Stevens, states that “One suspension triples the likelihood of a child becoming involved with the juvenile justice system, and doubles the likelihood of a child repeating a grade”. Talk about consequences…
The main premise of RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) is that the child cannot form positive, lasting relationships. The RAD child seems unable to socially connect with or attach to others. Many of their behaviors appear very frightening, and downright dangerous, leaving parents feeling resented, blamed, and chastised by others. Such behaviors include defiance; frequent and intense anger outbursts, manipulative or controlling patterns; little or no conscience; destructive to self, others, and property; gorging or hoarding food; and preoccupation with fire, blood, or violence. For more information on RAD and these associated behaviors the reader can visit www.postinstitute.com
Bryan Post is a best-selling author, internationally renowned speaker, and psychotherapist specializing in attachment, adoption and trauma. To learn more about Parenting Challenging Children, Oxytocin the Love Hormone, Mindfulness, and How to Thrive instead of just survive as an adoptive or foster parent, visit www.postinstitute.com, or www.oxytocincentral.com. To find out more about Bryan Post’s ground breaking parenting program Parenting Attachment Challenged Children “Hands-On” Home Study Course visit www.postinstitute.com/AttachmentDisorder. Join our Facebook page for daily parenting help and inspiration, videos, articles and contests along with other parents and professionals just like yourself. Also visit our Blog at www.bryanpost.com.
This article is courtesy of the Top 1% Club and the Top 1% Club Mentor Gail Kasper. For additional information on Gail Kasper, her television appearances and speaking engagements, please visit gailkasper.com.