February 02, 2014

Holding my tongue

There are many times when what has come out of my mouth should never have been allowed to enter the air. I'll admit I have a temper with a hair pin trigger, and I can be pretty snarky and sarcastic. I say things before I think, and then hours later, after considering all the facts (even if I don't have them all), I wonder if maybe I went too far. Maybe I didn't give the other person a chance to really explain, and so I took away a truth that really didn't exist for anyone but my "jump the gun" self.

I work with pre-teens. And they can most certainly be ornery with their interactions with adults. In fact, they can be just plain mean. It's hard to remember, as some of them are actually bigger than me, that they are really just "little kids" in "big bodies". And while some of them have been raised right, learning appropriate and increasingly mature ways to deal with their emotions (namely anger and frustration and hurt, since those tend to elicit the most outwardly negative reactions), others have not. In fact, a growing handful of them have only seen models of poor emotional control from the adults in their life.

I'm thinking of one young man in particular. I'll leave out the specifics of course, but suffice it to say, he's a child of a broken home. He spends time at dad's house for a week...and then mom's and new stepdad's for a week...and so on. Mom and step-dad are newly married and both have new jobs that keep them busy for large portions of time. Dad is admittedly learning to balance things at home. But between them is this angry young man with pent up emotions. Add hormones and you have a recipe for a very dangerous weapon of mass destruction: a pissed off, out-of-control teenager with no outlet.

The outcome is this...every time the boy is faced with any sort of frustration (a bad grade, being asked to stop a behavior, other kids in class) he blows. And the blow ups are increasing in frequency and severity.

Now, add that to a class room with a teacher (me) who keeps things pretty controlled and has quite particular expectations (basically, there just isn't room for any B.S. in my presence). I mean, obviously, I like kids...or I wouldn't be there. And I'm pretty understanding of their drama. I get it. But, I lose it with kids like this, because I'm at an absolute loss. I'm not a counselor, but it's apparent that this child needs help...he's in crisis. And he's chosen every adult in his presence as a target.

Enter the second problem: I don't make a good target.

Recently, after an altercation with another adult in the building, he made a run for it...out the side door and off campus. That led to a 911 call and the police were dispatched to find him. He tried to take them on with a stick he found on the ground.

When I heard this, my first reaction was to laugh out loud. Really? A stick? What were you thinking, son?

But, then I began to really consider things. A child with this much anger (whom I really don't think is mentally ill) has got to have a reason for it. What on earth is going on in this young man's life to cause these violent outbursts?

In my experience, violence begets violence. An angry child comes from an angry parent. A violent child (without mental health issues) is acting on fear. So what is this boy afraid of?

So, let's circle back. I've got a temper. And yes, my dad does, too. I had a great model for that. But, he's also a pretty loving parent and always has been, so it balances out...I think. I look at my own son and wonder, what does he think when he see me not dealing with my anger in a constructive manner? And how will this manifest later in his life? I don't see him running off campus, taking on the police with whatever he can find on the ground...but I do wonder if he'll direct his anger appropriately.

And it definitely gives me pause. What can I do to help myself hold my tongue? If for not one else but him...and might I be able to smooth over some situations with other children if I laid on a bit of sugar with my biting wit? I mean, they need boundaries and expectations, and even more than that, they need someone to hold them to it. I'm pretty good at that. But, my military upbringing doesn't always have to manifest itself in "drill sergeant" communication styles.

I blossomed out of sheer determination as a child. My brow furrowed, my lips pursed, my breath audible. I took my "coaching" as a challenge. Sure I got mad. I stomped. I huffed. And I showed them...by doing exactly what they expected.

These tactics don't work on all kids. In fact, with teens, it can actually do the exact opposite...especially if they don't feel loved or connected. See, I had that. Even though I was pissed off and felt misunderstood, I knew that no matter what my parents were behind me. Both of them. So many kids today don't have that. They just have the tired, worn out, angry parent who teaches them there is not alternative and that there is nothing good to look forward to.

A tongue must speak words of encouragement and love to balance out the words of criticism and anger. I'm not saying we should all be dripping compliments and "I love you's" at ever turn. Kids (and adults) need both. And I really don't think kids should never see us angry. After all, that's how they learn that we struggle with it, too. Take for example a child who sees his parents argue...but then hours later they are smiling and happy with each other. He learns that arguments can be solved and that relationships should be strong enough to weather them.

So while, I do need to find ways to control my temper (especially its outward display), I'm not sure it would be in anyone's interest to completely control the emotions that lead to that temper.

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