I was listening to a friend talking last week about vulnerable young people in our community. She was talking about how many there are presently, why they might be classed as vulnerable (which we can all be at times) and how we can help them. One of the phrases she used has stuck with me and as I’ve been training a few schools this week I have used this phrase as I think it’s very applicable in schools.
She said that instead of saying “what’s wrong with you?” when a child does something we consider inappropriate, or not even saying it but thinking it – as we all do at times. Instead of that we should be thinking and/or asking “what’s happened to you, what’s your story?”
Everything that happens to us in life leaves an imprint of some kind. That may be a positive memory or experience that changes us in some way, or it may be a trauma or something overnight that shifts the course of our direction and leads us onto another path. There but for the grace of God! When I see homeless people I often think that – maybe it’s a slow creep down a path that leads to despair, or maybe something just happened overnight and bang – our lives are unrecognisable.
Developmental trauma is long lasting. There is no quick fix to a child or young person (and adult) who may have had such a mix of challenges in their early experiences that those imprints are set in stone. It doesn’t mean they can’t be changed or re-sculptured to look beautiful in time, but they may have been ugly to start with. When I hear of children’s stories it makes me want to weep with the unfairness of it. No child should have to experience what some of ours have. It’s shocking to know that despite all our advances in technology we still the capacity to be cruel, mean and unloving to each other, or just inept at meeting each others needs.
The key message that comes out in all of our trainings with schools is about relationship. I wish we could change some of our thinking and language to focus on relationships – they are what can bring healing to children and young people.
Let’s change rules to relationship, behaviour management to relationship, punishment to relationship, rewards to relationship, curriculum to relationship, expectations to relationship.
If we spent as much time working on understanding the children, knowing how to change our approach to meet their needs and relieving their anxieties, as we do on achievement and attainment, then we might even get well rounded young people at the end of their education journey who can contribute to society.
I’m beginning to preach now so I will just say this – when you are tempted to think or even say next time “What’s wrong with you?” just stop yourself and change it to “what’s happened to you?” – you may be surprised to see that the behaviour is coming from that place of need.