I am re-reading the Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. If you haven’t read it, do so immediately! It is a wonderful story and conveys the inside experience of the children we work with.
This time I was struck by a simple sentence “Doing what I was told had not resulted in my getting what I wanted.”
When children are raised in a good enough family, they are often told no, or told to do things they don’t want to do. As life goes on, they gradually see that the adult saying no was often right and had their best interests at heart. Even when they don’t agree with the adult’s evaluation of the situation, they see that the adult has good intentions. Overall, they learn that the adult’s advice is trustworthy and they can turn to the adult for help. The adult is not only a source of love and comfort, they are a source of wisdom and knowledge.
Some of the children we work with have not had that experience. Many of the adults they have loved and lived with have not had their best interests at heart. Or, it has been variable- at times the adult is thinkingof them, at other times their own stressors get in the way. So the child is told no, don’t tell what I have been doing to you. Don’t tell your school what is happening here. Be quiet so Daddy won’t hit you, or hit Mommy. It’s okay that Daddy hits Mommy because he really loves her. I’m not drunk, I’m just sick. Don’t disturb Mommy when her boyfriends are here.
The adult offers neither comfort nor wisdom. The child is on his own. He must develop a way to protect himself.
So later, when a nice person says “no” and really does have his best interest at heart, he cannot see it. Instead he sees one more person taking something from him to meet their own needs.
Behavior is communication. Think of a child whose behavior you are struggling with. Just for a few moments, imagine that every single thing that child is doing is completely legitimate and is a communication to you about their life so far. What is the child saying? What is she telling you about the people she has known? What is she showing you about how she has had to survive?
So validate. But not by rote or because you have been told to do so. Validate because you know in your heart that she is telling the truth about her actual experience. And by doing so you have begun the transformation.