I’ve been working with kids, babies to teenagers and teenagers with babies, for about 18 years, 20 if you count teaching swimming and summer camp counsellor-ing. I’ve been a parent for the past 11 years.
My strengths lie in the realm of dealing with difficult behaviour. I’ve worked in a bunch of different places and with a seriously varied group of kids. From residential care to child protection agencies to schools. I’ve been screamed at and sworn at by some of the very best. I’ve been punched, hit, slapped, kicked, spit on and bitten. Here’s some of what I have learned and how I apply it. (this is my blog and my opinion so I’ll be talking from my point of view. This isn’t gospel and it’s not for everyone)
Note: I’ll be swearing throughout this post. I’ve got a bit of trucker-mouth when I’m out and about in the world and it comes out most often when I’m passionate about something (this subject) and I’m in a swearing kind of mood today, so fuck it. Also, this post is going to be filled with generalizations and broad statements. This isn’t because I’m not aware of how the details vary greatly and affect people in amazingly different ways. I’m going to stick with broad strokes because I don’t really have time to go into all the details. This is a blog post, not a book on kids and parenting.
There’s a massive difference between working with kids and parenting.
When I worked in a residential home for teenagers with behaviour problems I saw some wacky shit. Seriously, kids are fucking strange on a good day and ones with behaviour problems are way out there. One of the things that we used to do, if the situation called for it, was to ask the kid (the one we were dealing with) to remain in their room, if they were there already, or head to their room. This was a great, go-to tactic for so many things: you’re yelling at me, you’re yelling at your peers, you’re hitting me or your peers, you’re being disruptive in some way, you need to calm down, etc… Seriously, it was good for almost everything. A major problem was when the kid disagreed with you on how long they needed to remain in their room, usually until they were calm and what the definition of calm was. How do we keep them in their room if they don’t want to stay there? Well, back then we would stand in the door way. If they wanted to leave, then they had to be nice and calm and ready to rejoin the rest of the house or, if they were not making the wisest choices, physically push past us. This was, hopefully, a line they didn’t want to cross. This led to some amazing patience on my part. I could literally spend hours standing in a door way keeping a kid isolated because of their behaviour . I will say that this was not all silent waiting and isolation. Throughout we would make attempts to engage and de-escalate the behaviour or simply to talk and try and either establish or maintain a relationship with the kids. Sometimes we would have to stand there silently and prevent them from leaving. This usually meant they were very angry and often aggressive. Yet as long as they weren’t directly aggressive towards me, I could remain in the door way. They’d be in their room throwing epic level tantrums, punching holes in the walls (always amazing when they managed to find the stud in the wall = tantrum over) and I could let it simply wash over me.
Even when she was a toddler, my daughter’s tantrums sent me around the bend. I was able to remain outwardly composed for about 10-15 min before losing my own temper (she’s eleven now and I am getting a little better). It was like having a giant red button that led directly to the angry part of my brain. Seriously, what the fuck is up with that? Obviously there are going to be some calm, rational and lucid explanations for it, but I’m sorta ranting here so fuck that. I don’t get it. When I need to offer my daughter some choices I can’t do it in the calm and understanding way that I do it at work. Somewhere in my brain I simply expect my daughter to get it right the first time and to know what kind of stupid shit she should not engage in. What I have managed to do is provide the world with a girl who loves to over react and argue. Sometimes she even argues well.
In youth work it’s all about choices. I’m constantly offering choices to the kids at my school. Either choice will lead to an outcome that I’m cool with. It’s not much of a choice for the kids, but this way they at least get to make a choice which gives them some control, even if it’s an illusion of control. Sometimes that’s all we need or want anyways.
I have managed to offer my daughter choices like this. Unfortunately this is not the norm. More often than not when I offer her two choices, she will argue for a third or at least argue to change one of the choices to something else. Suddenly I forget all my training and experience. I turn into a tyrant. If I’m calm wonder-dad, I simply state that she can choose from A or B or I will choose for her. If I’m thinking with my angry lizard brain then I’ll simply replace either A or B with something horrible, taking away any illusion of control she had. Then I’m somehow surprised (not really) when she argues more and things escalate. Who’s fucking fault is that?