Great balls of fire
It’s curious how events often come together in a strangely synchronic manner. We had spent two months over the summer looking for a vacation home so we could be nearer to Deanna and Al and what struck me most about them each time we went touring, was their Craftsman charm, high prices (ouch), and most of all the brilliant sunlight they enjoy, literally pouring into each space. For people who have had apartments/co-ops in New York City, you know how valuable (and pricey) light and air are there. In Southern California, it comes baked in to the atmosphere, if you’ll allow me to mix images.
Consequently, I referred to the whole experience as one dictated by the sun, that great ball of fire that seems to be a permanent fixture of every outdoor and indoor space. This is partially due to California’s golden climate and in part the result of global warming. Whatever the cause, it is here to stay.
At the same time, I began a new project working on questionnaires for parents who have ‘explosive’ children, those who have combustible personalities as a result of one or more in a range of mood disorders. In the past we may have thought of these kids as “brats”, whose personalities were permitted to run wild. They were “out of control”, “undisciplined”, little “tyrants”. Or so it was assumed.
Now we know that these are children who have difficulty processing information and change. They are easily frustrated and act out, as their ability to deal with stressful (to them) situations deteriorates and they lash out in what is really a cry for help. We need to radically rearrange our thinking about and approach to this potentially deadly syndrome.
That made me think about how dramatically child-rearing has changed in the more progressive parts of the country. When most of us were growing up, parents routinely barked orders for which non-compliance brought punishment. The latest thinking in child development psychology is that punishment does not produce learning but only short term benefits with long term deficits.
Another thing I learned long ago, when I was in school earning my first of degree in what used to be called “special education” (in my case, for emotionally disturbed children — now referred to differently, more along the lines of those with emotional needs), is that all teachers should receive more training in child psychology and development. If they did, they would all be better equipped to accept and manage children in the regular classroom whose maturation is delayed in a number of areas (cognitive, emotional, physical, mental, etc.).
Rather than treat them as if they were defiant delinquents, we now realize they have a condition akin to any other syndrome that may afflict any of us from birth, like poor eyesight or impeded motor skills. These kinds of anomalies require extra care and can be managed so these children eventually catch up to and function among their peers who do not have these particular challenges.
Instead of barking harsh commands and enacting extreme disciplinary measures, the best practices approach now is to calm and reassure them to diffuse the impending explosion or blow up and then engage them in a safe verbal exchange that aims to bring their ideas into the situation in a cooperative, collaborative way. These are children who know what is expected of them by parents, teachers or peers and want to please, but whose short fuse leads to a temporary deterioration of reasoning that makes any attempt to “reach” them virtually impossible. Best to avoid getting them to the trigger point by picking battles (not sweating the small stuff) and concentrating on the most important behaviors that they will need to master to be fully functioning in society now and in the future.
Anyway, this is more than you probably wanted to know about my work, but it did seem appropriate to go along with the explosive and fiery nature of the sun this past summer while we were looking for our getaway place. There must be a joint lesson in all this for me — but one thing it has done is caused me to look at my own nature, the corners where my anger demons dwell and to consider the value of getting things out of the shadows, into the bright light for examination. I determined, through both the process of “owning” my time in California, hot and alien though it may be to this East Coaster, and looking at the areas in which I am inflexible/intransigent and at times combative, that the approach educators and therapists are now taking to these volatile human beings, is the one we should all take all the time with everyone. This is especially important right now with all this dark toxicity interfering with our collective sense of peace and security.
We would be a much happier, sunnier society. Just a thought or two and a work in progress, like everything else I embark upon.
Images: Chez BeBe assets/San Diego
By the way, please read today’s post from my friend Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, on children with ADHD and suicide. Madelyn’s entire site is devoted to research and therapy in this field and provides invaluable information, resources and commentary.