Updated: Sep 5, 2021
The first time I was attacked by an elementary-aged child, I will admit I took it a little personally. After all, it isn’t every day a five-year-old hurls her shoe at your head. It happened during my first year as a kindergarten paraprofessional at a rural Title I school in Georgia. To be honest, I had never really adored children the way most women do, fantasizing about being a mother or a teacher. Not having a child of my own yet, my maternal instincts were only partly engaged. Though I genuinely looked forward to our frank playground discussions about the latest Disney movie and worried late into the night about their wellbeing, I never considered how these tiny humans could create a lasting impression on my young twenty-something mind. But, all that soon changed as they would ultimately serve as tiny beacons for my calling.
I learned quickly through similar situations that the same kids who were kicking off their shoes to throw at me in what seemed to be anger were also the first ones to tell me that they loved me each day and give me a hug when they arrived at school. It didn’t take long for me to piece together some all-too-common threads among my frequent flying students- threads of childhood adversity tying them to behaviors that were not tailored to test my wits and patience, but survival strategies engrained long before their tiny feet ever set foot in my classroom. Childhood trauma and toxic stress are an all-too-common occurrence not only in our schools, but in our communities. What my five years of teaching and counseling in high-risk, rural schools taught me is that sometimes it is the system, not the child, that needs to be fixed.
Flash back to the irate child mentioned previously. I did a quick assessment to determine the antecedent of this outburst and whether my actions were truly the cause. As with all the kids, after recess I had given her a choice of which snack she would like. Upon taking longer than what I deemed a reasonable amount of time to make the choice between Doritos and Lays, I counted down from five and said, “You get what you get, don’t throw a fit”. Oh, how I underestimated the fit to come as it was one of biblical proportions. I wrote about this particular incident in my application letter for graduate school and it has taught me more than I care to admit about how terribly I handled the situation with little Gracie. The behaviors that I now know to be indicative of “externalizing” left me in a wake of screams and tears as the small girl was carried to the front office, missing one shoe. The fact was, her mother had passed away when she was three years old, leaving her to be raised by her disabled grandmother. Gracie had never been evaluated, given a safe place to process her feelings, or taught the language to express those big feelings in a healthy way. Armed with a specialist degree in counselor education and a thorough knowledge of the impact of emotional stress in childhood on adulthood physical and mental health, I hope to spread awareness, education, and hope to little Gracies and their families to promote resilience and healthy connections for generations.
Through informal and formal assessment of your organizational needs, I will shine light on the prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), the negative physical and emotional impacts they cause into adulthood, and some best practices and practical tools to fight ACEs and change unhealthy patterns into more productive ones. I challenge you as a parent, caregiver, educator, or mentor to open your heart as we explore the life-giving healing that can come to your children and students as you begin to view them through a trauma-informed lens.