Sunday, August 01, 2010

Do You Like These Kids?

As part of our new restraint and seclusion reduction initiative, I recently completed two focus groups with clients to ask them what they felt staff could do to decrease restraints and seclusions. Their answers can be summed up in the directive: ask me what is wrong and listen to my response.

I was dismayed by the feeling that the kids had that the staff did not really like them or enjoy being with them. They spoke of staff wanting to get away from them, have breaks from them. They said staff were at times involved in their own interests and not willing to be interrupted by the kids. They noticed staff sitting and talking together. On the other hand, they described how much it meant when staff participated in games and activities with them. They felt close to staff who listened when they spoke, remembered what they said and asked them about it later. They were quick to blame themselves for staff not wanting to be with them, because of the way they acted. But they described acting better around staff who genuinely care.

One of my colleagues remarked recently that what our kids need, and have never had, is someone whose face lights up when they come into a room. Think of your own children or those of friends. They are celebrated in so many ways! Their pictures are on the refrigerator, their events are attended, their performances little and big are applauded. But more than that, they constantly receive feedback that they are delightful. Someone loves them, wants to see them, wants to hug them, and wants to hear about their day.

Some research has shown that a critical factor in school success is the proportion of positive to negative comments a child hears during a day. How many times do our children hear their own name used in joy, as in "Stephanie I am so glad to see you!" or "Stephanie what a wonderful math paper!" In contrast, how often is their name used as a warning: "Stephanie, stop that!" or "Stephanie, don’t do that!" In their lives I am afraid it has mainly been the later.

Martha Holden of the CARE project told me that she teaches staff that their main job is to make sure that the child they are caring for has a marvelous day. What if we organized everything we do around that goal? That our goal is to help the children be happy?

The children we work with are marvelous. Every day they demonstrate strength, courage, intelligence, wit, creativity and humor. Of course, they can also be obnoxious and even scary. But if we don’t see the marvel in them, who will? And how can they possibly change and grow if they have no one who is delighted by them?

The kids in my focus group were clear what they needed. What would it take for each of us to become that staff who listens, who joins with the children in games and activities, who laughs with them, who creates positive memories? How can we become the person who shows the child that she is worthwhile by looking forward to our time together, seeking her out and obviously wanting to be with her? This engagement can’t be faked and I am not sure it can be taught. But it is what makes our jobs meaningful and what heals the children.


Floridamom said...

I would like to know what the resonse of the children was on R & S. Can you add this to your blog article? I think it is very important to know and understand their views.



Patricia Wilcox, LCSW said...

I will get you some information on the kids' comments about restraint and seclusion.