Small lesson, Big difference

Parents take pride when engaging in conversations about their children. They can spend hours sharing a progeny’s accomplishments and never-to-be-forgotten Kodak moments.

Outstanding report cards, scores on the soccer field and merit badges earned for good behavior are extolled. These parents are fulfilled and love spending time with their children, wishing they could hold onto each precious moment of child-rearing.

Undergirding this attitude is confidence that, having laid a strong foundation, their child is headed towards a lifetime of success.

While the children described above seem to have been born under a ray of sunlight, other children seem to be cut from a darker cloth and from the outset are difficult and leaving parents stressed and exhausted. As infants, they cry and whine through the night, leaving little room for peace and quiet. As toddlers, biting becomes a means of communication. These kids constantly get into mischief, raising the anxiety level at home and causing friction.

In restaurants and public places, these children cause scenes, throw food and have temper tantrums. Day care or a nursery school does not provide relief, and, soon, notes arrive home about problems in the classroom.

I have known children who are asked to leave multiple preschool programs and begin what may be a long process of going from one school to another.

Help can be hard to find. Some parents are reluctant to look outside of the family, and others do not have the resources to do so. Parents of difficult children can feel ashamed or embarrassed and try to stay in the background when the conversation centers on how beautifully other children are doing.

Raising children is a challenge under the best of circumstances. When there are added problems, it becomes even more so. Frustrated parents can suffer from pangs of guilt, wondering if the child’s behavior is their fault.

One child and his or her family may not have all of the problems described above. Yet it has long been acknowledged some children are much more difficult than others, even from the same family.

Over the years, frustrated parents and/or school systems will seek out different methods to help these children. Some spend time in psychological counseling, attend special schools or participate in mentoring programs and even boot camps. Sadly, problems first discerned as infants may go on for many years until the appropriate treatment is uncovered.

The question as to whether a difficult child is born that way or environmental factors are the cause of oppositional behavior has not been determined. No child is alike physically or emotionally within the same family. Scores of scientific studies have found not only are siblings different but the home environment has little or no effect on behavioral outcomes. Perhaps geneticists in future generations will uncover a difficult gene. Until then, those of us living with or teaching difficult children must seek appropriate tools to help them.

It is crucial, regardless of the frustration, not to give up. Parents of children who have special issues need to be supported. Some resources do exist. Early childhood intervention programs and social skills classes prove very helpful. Intervention programs exist in every state, however, a child must qualify, and parents need to be aware of their rights. Social service programs are, likewise, often overburdened with cases, short on workers and slow to follow up. The social skills classes that can be very helpful for the difficult child can be expensive and, thus, restricted to those with considerable means. The cost is, likewise, a factor in seeking out child psychologists and testing.

Thus, pediatricians, teachers, religious teachers and mentors are the primary means of support for these families. As a classroom teacher, when confronting a difficult child, I always made sure the medical records were up-to-date, and specialists had been consulted when warranted.

One of my early experiences was with a child who had a hearing impairment, which had been reported but not treated. This particular child was loud, awkward and made inappropriate gestures. His family had limited resources and needed advocacy to solicit the right treatment.

Our school administrators called a meeting at which time we presented the information to the parents and organized the steps needed for treatment. Once this child had his ear operated on, it was a whole new world for the boy and provided me with a lesson that I have never forgotten.

Simple solutions for behavioral problems may be available with a little extra time and the correct medical or psychological diagnoses.

One person can make such a difference in the life of a child. In this regard, I would like to share with permission an essay written by a student in my Foundations of Education class, Michael Triola. This young man is a freshman in college, works full time and has just started working towards his goal of becoming a teacher.

”It’s funny. For as long as I can remember, I hated school. Not only did I hate school, but also I hated every aspect of school. From the administration that would punish me to the teachers I had to put up with day in and day out. No one would ever expect the “troubled” kid that never seemed to have any respect for his “authority” figures to ever want to take their place in the classroom. Well, it happened. Among one of my biggest motivations for teaching was to be that one teacher that the troubled kid in the class would never forget.

All my life, teachers would separate me from my friends, send me out in the hallway or down to the principal’s office. Teachers never gave me the chance to ever be right about anything. If I ever challenged or questioned what they were teaching, it immediately turned into an attack on me in which there was no way I was going to be made to look like a fool and apparently neither was the teacher, and, thus, we would go at it.

It was never meant to make the teacher look stupid or to make to class lose trust in them. It was simply a question, and no one ever seemed to get that. That was until I had my high school history teacher, Mr. Taylor. This man inspired me more than he will ever know! He inspired me in every way to become a teacher and the teacher I want to become.

So, as follows, is what he has shown me.

I want to become a teacher so I can become the one person the kids don’t mind seeing every day. The reason why, ‘Hey, class won’t be that bad today. I got Mr. T.’

I want to be the type of teacher who can easily be looked up to, but, furthermore, I want to be the one who can be questioned. I want to be challenged by my students, and I think that’s a vital part of my inspiration."