Category Archives: Emotional Health

The Teacher Took His Microphone

 

She took the microphone away from a child.

She took the microphone away from a child.

By now many of you have seen the video clip of a teacher taking the microphone from a child living with Autism. Many have condemned the teacher while others have made excuses why this might be okay. I have a few thoughts about this, but also some questions.

Who was this performance meant to benefit?

When my students put on performances, it was to make the school, classroom, or parents look and feel good. I cannot remember one time when it was for all of the kids, chosen by the kids, and a benefit to the kids. Some children love to be in public and performing while others shy away and they certainly should be allowed to do either behavior without forced to perform like trained animals.

As adorable as seeing children on stage is, it is easy for them to think you are laughing at them when you really are laughing because they did something cute. Often, public speaking is part of state educational standards which really does not allow students with varying interests and abilities to be educated in the least restrictive environment while attending to their unique needs and interests. Free choice is the key, if I am being honest. Unfortunately. teachers have very little time for this type of educational model.

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What will teachers do when the number of children with Autism is greater than the number of those without?

While some children have Autism due to genetic factors, others have onset of symptoms after exposure to environmental toxins. At this point in time, both are coded as Autism. That may change in the future, but right now, to receive therapies and have them coded in a way that insurance companies will help pay for the costs, this is the reality.

As the numbers of those living with Autism climb, and make no mistake this is the prediction, how will our educational system fare? How will teachers be able to do their jobs with class sizes up to 20 in early childhood grade levels and over half of their students living with special needs? As numbers of those with Autism grow, will teachers be able to differentiate instruction, work on behavior concerns, and not burn out?

I am doubtful. In my state, all re-certifications must include ESE training classes. Because some of these classes will be taught in individual schools by those working there, we don’t actually know how much correct information or quality is going into them. I hope great care is being taken.

When I took my courses, I did so through a university. Unfortunately, they focused on coercion of students in order to make them comply even when it really was not necessary to force compliance for safety or educational purposes. The truth is that less is more. Routine, reminding of expectations before an issue occurs, and patience all help. Sometimes we have to be strict, but mostly we have to be flexible and understanding as long as safety is not an issue.

In addition, there were ESE teachers in my classes who repeatedly said terrible things about children and made generalizations about “them”. The term “animals” was thrown around and I was so appalled that I chose another university for my PHD program.

Please remember, there are some fantastic teachers who do bring poor teacher behaviors to the attention of administrators, but there are also teachers who are afraid of having a tougher work environment if they speak up. We must work to enable the positive teachers while re-educating or sending away those who are terribly behaved.

What about this child?

I would not be surprised if the teacher was tired and wanted to “put him in his place” when she snatched the microphone. She probably worked all day, had frustrations with him all day, and decided this would show him that she was in charge and to be obeyed no matter what. She was at her breaking point and has not been educated regarding 1. special needs and 2. psychologically appropriate educational techniques. Maybe this is her fault. Maybe her boss should train the employees better. Maybe her former college ought to retool their programs.

At any rate, she was wrong.

She was prideful, went on a power trip, and was wrong.

 

What if parents complain about accommodations?

What if parents complain about accommodations?

What if the other parents complain about teachers allowing ESE students to behave or learn differently?

It doesn’t matter what other parents think. IDEA says that those living with certain special needs must be accommodated.

I have seen some terrible comments on social media about how children with special needs shouldn’t get “extras”, also known as developmentally appropriate teaching practices. They blame the victim saying he had already had a turn, and maybe he did. Maybe he was working on learning about taking turns and has not yet mastered the skill. This is exactly why we have bullying. Many adults cannot handle being different from one another so they push that insecurity and hate on children who then bully each other. Thank goodness some people are working to educate those who bully others.

Providing training, skills, and strategies may help.

Providing training, skills, and strategies may help.

What should happen to the teacher?

First, I am not clear as to whether that teacher sees the child on a day to day basis or not. If so, she ought to, at the very least, be removed and replaced from that position so they do not come into contact. The child should not be moved from the classroom if she is a special area or classroom teacher. Removing the child from the classroom and putting him in another is disruptive to him and punishes him so the teacher is the one who must move.

Then, of course, the teacher must give a public apology. If she feels embarrassed, that is sad, but it is exactly how that tiny human felt so she will be okay in doing this. It is important for children to see that nobody is perfect and that we can do our best to correct mistakes. This is how children learn to be good humans, by observing our behaviors and how we adults correct ourselves. Snatching a microphone teaches the child that someone bigger can take your stuff without permission and he is more likely to do the same behavior to get his way if the teacher doesn’t apologize and then make better choices.

Next, all teachers in the district, yes in the entire district, must be educated regarding how to not take behaviors personally when they have stress due to teaching children with special needs. If you watch the video, the teacher was clearly taking something personally and on a power trip to show that kid who is in charge and who can do whatever they want. 

This may be a pervasive attitude in the area or school. If your notice in the video, no adult jumps up to stop the teacher, either. I would highly encourage parent education night as well, not only for information about Autism, but also to learn about other special needs present in educational settings.

Another potential solution is to provide support. I recall needing assistance due to students, in different situations, being harmful to themselves or others. When calling for assistance, I was often told that no one was available. Sometimes help would come, sometimes not. I ended up doing most of the work of a dean myself or with the help of my next door teammate.

When stress gets to be too much or someone is being unsafe, there should be someone who can help or give the teacher a break. I often said that if I had not been trained with strategies and skills to deal with high stress situations, then I might have lost it. I can understand how teachers snap. Please note that though parent volunteers are awesome, you cannot leave the classroom with them in charge so that is not a viable option for a break due to stress.

We must insist upon a supportive environment for students and teachers by providing training, tools, and support.

We must insist upon a supportive environment for students and teachers by providing training, tools, and support.

It is important to provide skills and strategy options so that teachers and students do not feel backed into a corner. Teachers have to remember not to take student behaviors personally. The truth of the matter is that we are all different and that is okay. However, being a bully is never okay. This teacher was at the end of her rope and chose to bully. It’s time for her take a step back and try things differently. There are a great many of us who benefit from this idea, too. There’s no shame in learning new strategies and all children, whether developing typically or not, deserve patience and multiple chances to learn social skills.

Parents, You Don’t Have To Give In To Children’s Demands!

You are happily shopping in the mall when you hear it. That awful screech interrupts your happy thoughts about candles and sales. You turn just in time to see a small child fling herself onto the ground and begin to cry. Well, not just cry, but scream as if she is going to die. The mom first tries to talk with the little one. Then mom becomes agitated and says sternly, “Good girls get treats, yelling and crying babies don’t!”

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Maybe you think the mom is right. After all, she tried to reason with the child. The child refused to listen. “Of course the mom became stern and told the little girl what’s what”, you think to yourself. Or maybe you think that the mom should do whatever she can to hush the child even if that means giving in to demands. Why not buy the cheap toy? If they are at a mall, surely the mother has a few dollars to spare!

But wait, there is another way! Ok, I know I sound silly, but it is true. I have personally, and repeatedly, tried this method and it works!

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What if mom knelt to the child’s area and asked how she can help? What if mom sat beside or cuddled the child having a meltdown? Neither of these behaviors is giving in to a child’s demands for toys, candy, or whatever else may be a trigger. However, both of these options allow the child time to feel big emotions, calm down when as the emotions pass with help from the adult, and find a resolution even if that resolution is a firm “no, but your feelings and opinions are noted”.

Notice that this method does not equate to giving in to demands. A child can cry because they cannot have something and still not get that item. It is okay to validate the feeling of disappointment over being told “no”.

Who wouldn’t appreciate letting out my frustrations without being judged, punished, or made to feel as if my concerns were less valid than those of others. Why not afford the same respect and compassion to our children so they, in turn, can learn how to give respect and compassion to others?

I know it may feel strange at first, but if you consistently validate emotions, your children will not use or manipulate you. They will respect you and feel heard.

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A child in full meltdown mode can be frustrating, nerve-wracking, and downright annoying. Remember that you can choose to take a breath, sit or kneel near the child’s level, and validate the big emotions while still being firm in your decisions. By not punishing or shaming a child for a meltdown, you are validating feelings, teaching how to accept “no” for an answer, and you model how to behave in a healthy way though you may feel frustrated.

Contact me if you would like to schedule a consultation to help you find peaceful ways to work with your children on behavior issues. I would love to work with you!

Photograph by Alexandra Islas

Melissa Walley Packwood, M.S. Ed. Photograph by Alexandra Islas

The Park Incident: Honor the Child’s Concerns

Earlier this week my family went to a local park for some fresh air and play time. As my children happily played, many other families arrived, too. The children ran happily from one area to the next. The adults followed and chatted.

After a few minutes, a little one came to the swing set where my children were swinging. I was pushing my youngest and reminding him how to swing on his own at the time. The little one needed help so one of her adults, a grandma, helped. Unfortunately, the grandma’s nail scratched the child. It was an accident and I could see that no harm was intended. As the child grabbed her arm and tears welled in her eyes, the mother said not to worry because “she is fine” and she should be a “big girl”. The mother also tsked away the grandma’s attempts to comfort the child whose eyes were now filling with tears.

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Eventually the child got back on the swing and calmed down, but this incident led me to examine a few concerning thoughts. First, is it okay for an adult to tell another adult that harm done, even due to an accident, is okay when a child clearly does not agree? Second, would the mother have the same reaction if a stranger had accidentally scratched the child? Third, is it healthy to ignore the obvious emotional and physical pain of a child in order to avoid our bad feelings about the incident?

I realize the adults in the situation meant no harm. However, children need to be validated so they become confident as well as be empathetic toward others. Adults may think something is a small issue, but a child sees the world differently. It’s extremely important to honor, validate, and work through big emotions in order to help our children become emotionally healthy.

I don’t think one small event like this one is going to upset the balance in the child’s life, however, this is part of an overall pattern in mainstream parenting culture. To be honest, most of us are guilty of brushing off our children’s emotions and concerns at one time or another. This story reminds us, me included, to be more present in my decision making.

For more information about peaceful parenting or a personalized parent coaching session, contact me here.