I recently attended a refresher training in Denver with the Love and Logic people who have been training for over 40 years. One of the questions that drove me to seek further training was how to intervene when dealing with kids who have experienced severe trauma.
I remember being in school with a kid whose mother had passed away. None of us had ever experienced anything like that before. We saw the stunned look, the sadness, the tears and the isolation and wondered how we could help. I remember thinking that all I could do is go home and hug my own mother. It was a profound sense of helplessness that likely pushed me toward what I do for a living today.
Needless to say, there are many more children in our classrooms today who have experienced what my friend experienced. Too many. Some might even wonder if most of the children in school today aren’t dealing with hunger, missing parents, living in foster care, parents using substances and even neglect or abuse. When we prepare backpacks for the weekend because we genuinely believe it will be all the food these kids have to eat over the weekend, times have certainly changed.
What if I told you there is one very simple intervention that could make all the difference in the heart of one of these children you are so concerned about? You don’t need professional crisis management training to make a difference. You don’t even have to wonder anymore whether you will ever get through to them. You can do one simple thing every day and watch the heart of the child you worry about open like a flower during the school year.
Dr. Charles Fay told a story about a little girl who would hide under a table and refuse any interaction with anyone. You couldn’t demand that she sit in a chair; you couldn’t coax her with rewards. She wasn’t interested in listening to you lecture her about learning in school. The closer you got to her table, the deeper under the table she seemed to go.
Then he tried what he calls the “one sentence intervention.” It involves noticing something simple about a child and moving on as if they are left to wonder if you said something to them. “I’ve noticed that you like to wear blue shirts,” you could say as you walk by. No compliments, no evaluation of any kind. Just noticing.
After repeatedly noticing the little girl, one day Dr. Fay said, “Would you do something just for me? thank you,” and he just walked on. You can’t argue with someone who isn’t there anymore. She was left to do it or not, her choice.
The need for control is present in all of us. We crave it. Kids in pain hoard it. Taking their control away is the most violent thing we can do to them. Allowing them to learn to trust themselves and finally to trust us is a gift that can take an entire school year to deliver.
What happened to the little girl? He simply asked her to come out. She thought about it and finally put half of her body out from under the edge of the table. Still sitting on the floor, still halfway under the table. But she came out. Just for him. Just because he noticed.
Consistent, friendly intervention can be used on all the kids throughout the day. Make it your business to pass by closely every day but try to notice something a couple of times every week. Like a little piggy bank that finally gets heavy with pennies, your words will add up and change the heart of a child who realizes that you are willing to notice the choices they make day in and day out. If you think it’s too small to notice, you’ve probably chosen the right one.