Believe Your Kids

Everyday at my job I listen to kids talk about what may very well be the worst moments of their lives. It is a moving experience to watch the bravery they show by disclosing such personal, traumatic details to someone they’ve just met a few moments ago. It is an honor to get to meet these amazing young people and to offer them help in their healing journey. Especially when there are so many cases where myself and my coworkers are the only ones who believe them.

Most people assume that hearing these gruesome stories of physical and sexual abuse must be the hardest part of my job. That’s definitely what I thought when I first got hired. However, since then I’ve learned that there are even more difficult things to confront. Even more sickening than the abuse for me, is learning that the child’s own parent does not believe them, does not support them, chooses their abuser over them. This is a much more serious and impactful betrayal. I simply cannot stomach these “parents.”

Just recently a case went to court for sentencing. The perpetrator took a plea and our therapist went with the child to the sentencing. She came back to the office afterward to report that the mother went to support the abuser. The grandmother of the child even spoke on his behalf, actually cried, said she loved him and that she knew he was a good man. In the months leading up to this trial, the mother basically abandoned her child. She pressured her to recant her discloser of the abuse, belittled her, threatened her. Even after the boyfriend confessed, plead guilty, and was sentenced, the mother stayed by his side.

After the sentencing, the mother posted a huge pile of garbage on Facebook accusing the detective and CPS worker of lying on the stand and blaming her daughter for her own abuse. She drug her daughter, as well as the father who stood by her, through the mud for everyone to see. She implied that the daughter deserved it because she was sexually active at 14, accused the father of being addicted to meth, said her own daughter was dirty and diseased and a liar.

As if it wasn’t bad enough what this girl had to suffer through for five years of her childhood, now she must face the abandonment and betrayal of her own mother as well. What makes it even worse is what I know from the research I’ve read about child abuse. Most of us assume that these types of experiences leave scars no matter what. We agonize at the thought that these children may be forever changed and damaged from what has happened to them. However, the research shows that there is still hope for these wonderful kids. More impactful than the events themselves, is the response the child gets when they finally disclose. Children that are believed and supported by others in their family and community find resilience and strength in the face of adversity. They heal and become stronger for it. Unfortunately, children that are dismissed, ignored, not believed, punished, blamed, etc. are more likely to suffer negative mental health consequences from their abuse.

This makes perfect sense to me, and I always tell the decent parents this information. I offer them this knowledge as encouragement and to acknowledge the significant contribution they have already made to their child’s wellbeing by simply being there for them. To be taken advantage of and hurt by a friend, relative, or other known person is bad enough, but then to have that wound torn even deeper by the rejection of you own mother, father, or caregiver, the very person you look to for love and protection, is unthinkable. To be set adrift in an unsafe world with no safety net, no loving hand to guide you, that is the most harmful thing you can do to a child.

No matter how many times I see this happen (and it happens quite a lot) I never cease to be amazed. Who could be so cruel, so heartless, so callous toward their own flesh and blood child? Apparently a lot of people. I’m writing this post today to bring awareness to this disgusting phenomenon. If a child ever discloses something like this to you, BELIEVE THEM. Understandably a lot of people don’t know what to do if their child or another child in their life tells them something atrocious like this has happened. The only thing that you need to do is listen, make sure they are safe, then report it to the proper authorities. Don’t ask questions, don’t dismiss the child, just thank them for trusting you enough to tell you. Because it is such a beautiful gift to be a child’s confidant. Please don’t be another person that harms this child by denying their experience. Know that by simply being there for the child and believing them, you have given them something to hold onto, you are already helping them heal.

And to the parents out there that betray their own children, you have no right to call yourself a parent. You are a monster just as much as the person who abused them is. You don’t deserve to be any part of any child’s life. If it were up to me, you would face charges as well. You have done unspeakable, irreparable damage to an innocent child and I hope you suffer every day for that. I hope you are eaten alive by the shame of what you have done.

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What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up

To this day, I have no answer to this question. I never did. I always felt like a weirdo for not having an answer. Everyone else didn’t even seem to hesitate before happily responding: firefighter, policeman, doctor, nurse, etc. My own mother used to be concerned that I always replied: I don’t know. I was confident that someday I would have an epiphany and know exactly what career I’d like to pursue. Someday I’d be able to answer confidently like all the other kids. I was sure of it.

Unfortunately, I was applying to college before I realized that epiphany wasn’t coming. I was confronted with the huge decision of what to major in when I still wasn’t sure what options were even out there or what I would be best suited for. My parents had never been particularly passionate about their jobs, so I never really expected to be either. In my mind, I couldn’t grasp why anyone would actually want to work anywhere. Working in general seemed awful and constricting. I just wanted to live my life. I wanted to be free to do whatever I saw fit on any given day. It seemed like a nightmare to be locked into doing one thing forever. So I basically soldiered onward with the assumption that regardless of which career path I choose, I’d end up hating it.

Thankfully, I have always been very intelligent and can achieve pretty much whatever I put my mind to. I was free to select any major and know that I’d be capable of handling the course material. At first I went for the sciences because I knew that’s where the money was. If I was going to hate my job either way, I might as well make some money. However, after only a semester of that, I decided it was too much effort and stress for something I had no passion for. I gave up on the idea of being rich and decided my quality of life from day to day was more important. I decided to switch my major to psychology since my Psych 101 class was the only one I actually enjoyed.

At the end of the day, I was very lucky. I managed to accidentally fall into the exact right field for myself. Not only do I find psychology and the human brain endlessly fascinating to learn about, I am able to use what I learn and the interactions I have with my clients to help me be a better version of myself, which is also one of my favorite things to work on.

Through my own experience in education and the workforce, I’ve come to realize that we as a society are asking kids all the wrong questions. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Even as a child I thought that was a peculiar question to ask someone so young. How the hell should I know? That was always what I was wondering. It’s funny when you really think about it. How many jobs are children even aware of? And of the handful that they do know, how much do they understand about what those jobs actually entail on a daily basis? I used to think there was something wrong with me for not knowing. Now I realize that even the kids who had an answer didn’t really know either. How could they? Does a child that says, “I want to be a doctor,” really know what it means to be a doctor? Don’t the kids that say, “I want to be a veterinarian,” just say that because they enjoy spending time with animals?

Honestly part of the problem is the apathy of the parents and the education system. You might as well ask these kids where they want to go to college. It the job of the adults in these kids’ lives to teach them what is available, to guide them toward goals that they are well suited for. I think instead of asking children what they want to be, we should ask them what they are endlessly curious about. We should ask them what they think they’d be able to learn about every day and never get bored. Then as those interests grow and evolve, parents and teachers should explain to children the different careers that would involve their interests on a daily basis. It’s hard to hate your job when it’s something that deeply interests you.

It’s such a shame all the ways in which our education system fails our children. School is supposed to prepare us for the real world, yet that idea has become a joke instead. I think a lot of people, like myself, have assumed that a lot of these things are being covered at home by the kids’ parents. However, when I began working in the community, I realized that there are sooo many people that don’t have responsible, caring, capable family members to teach them these things. Unfortunately it would be better for us to assume that children aren’t learning anything at home, because a huge proportion of them aren’t.

For the limited time I get to spend with the children I meet everyday, I am going to do my best to ask them the right questions. Then they may at least have a concept of where to start. I know it’s not much, but it’s all I can do at the moment. Hopefully someday I will become a teacher and get a chance to make a bigger impact on the next generation. But if you are a teacher or if you have your own children, try asking them what they are interested in learning rather than what they want to be. Help give them an idea of what options are out there for them and what those options actually look like in practice. Give this upcoming generation a chance to thrive and love what they do in the future.

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How I Was Raised

When I was little, my sister and I were both amazingly advanced for our ages. We were quick witted, intelligent, and talented even when we were in preschool. It’s strange to look back and realize that. Especially now that I’m working with children everyday. I finally understand the excitement I’d often see in the adults around me as a child. No matter how you come into contact with a gifted child, even if you have no real connection to them, it is still an incredibly invigorating thing to behold. I’ve met quite a few children of all different ages who’ve stood out to me and everyone I work with. We all still remember them and reminisce about them occasionally. It’s wild to imagine that I was once one of those kinds of kids. Perhaps that’s how my second grade teacher managed to remember me when she saw me working in a grocery store so many years later.

The weirdest thing for me about all of this is the fact that I had no idea that I stood out when I was younger. Especially considering I was always comparing myself to my sister who was also very gifted, but had a few years on me as well. I do remember a couple teachers making a fuss over me. I think my first grade teacher even asked me if I would show my drawings to her parents when they came one day. I obviously can’t be sure, but I think one of the main reasons I never paid much attention to the compliments of these people was due to the indifference of my own family. That in addition to never measuring up to my sister, left me always feeling inferior no matter how great my personal accomplishments really were.

My mother’s lack of enthusiasm and praise for anything I did is one of the reasons I grew to resent her in my teenage years. How could she respond to my achievements so callously? Once I began to realize just how much potential I had as a young child, it really stung to know she didn’t encourage and compliment me more. I even began to believe that it was because she didn’t really love me very much. Despite the attention I always received from the other adults in my life and even my peers, it was never able to replace the recognition I longed for from my own mother. I believe this has greatly contributed to my current inability to acknowledge my own successes and talents.

I’ve brought this up to my mother in the past. I should have known she had only the best intentions at heart. Nearly everything she did as a mother was carefully calculated. Unlike most parents, she actually read parenting books and did a lot of research on the best ways to raise a child before she had my sister and I. Unfortunately given the time period, there was quite a bit of bad advice in those books back then. I’m not sure if she read this particular idea in her books, but it does seem to make logical sense either way. She told me that the reason she didn’t lavish my sister and I with praise over our amazing talents was because she thought it would make us conceited and full of ourselves. She didn’t want us to become little brats. I can definitely see how that might have been the result. So now I can’t say whether or not I’d have changed my childhood if I could or not.

This example is just one of the many reasons I would never want to have children. It seems that no matter what route you take in raising them, there will be some unintended negative consequences. My mother also always provided everything I needed. She took care of everything for me. At first this seems like she was being a perfect parent. However, the end result was actually that I feel completely incapable of doing most things for myself. Whereas my friend’s mother was a mess. She ended up having to take on a lot of the responsibility of raising herself and her younger siblings. But a childhood like that actually made her a much more competent and self assured adult. There is simply no way to not make mistakes when raising a child. You are going to fuck them up in one way or another regardless of how hard you try not to.

I may not be able to change the past, but I am still able to learn from it. Maybe I do feel like I’m never good enough because of the way my mother chose to raise me. I don’t blame her for that. She did the best she could and overall she did a pretty amazing job, in my opinion. All I can do now is try to tend to the child that still resides within me. I don’t need the approval and acknowledgement of others, even my own mother, to feel worthy of my place in this world. I am good enough just as I am, regardless of how I measure up to those around me. I can give myself the recognition I once so desired to receive from my mom. I may not be the gifted child I once was, I may not stand out much at all anymore, but I am still an incredible, unique, masterpiece. There has never been, nor will there ever be someone quite like me. The things I create and contribute to this world matter. I have the ability to add love, beauty, laughter, and joy to this world in a way that only I can. And I don’t need anyone else’s permission to do so.

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Meditation for Kids

I’ve seen a few articles that discuss the benefits of replacing things like time out or detention with meditation whether in school or at home. Even since hearing about this idea, I’ve been a huge fan. It seems like a lot of the time parents and teachers can become so frustrated in the moment that they resort reflexively to age old punishments. Most people have used and/or been subjected to spanking or time outs. But how many of us have actually checked into the data behind whether or not these things are actually effective? Not only that, a lot of the time it seems like the intention behind these punishments seems to get lost somewhere along the way.

I would hope that most parents and teachers enact punishments in an attempt to correct and change negative, disruptive, or dangerous behaviors. While I’m not sure if the data supports the time out strategy in this regard, I know for a fact that spanking has been proven to be not only ineffective, but harmful to the child. Among other things, it leads to even more negative behaviors rather than preventing them. Unfortunately I’ve seen many parents dig their heels in on corporal punishment even after being confronted with this information.

Another thing that I’ve noticed while watching the way parents and other adults interact with children is that not many people seem to place any value in finding the time to actually explain things to kids. I don’t know why that is. I’m sure it could be many things from demanding unquestioning submission to their authority, to impatience, to modeling their parents’ behavior, to thinking the child wouldn’t be able to comprehend anyway.

One of the things I’ll never stop giving my mom credit for is always being willing to explain things to me. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve realized just how incredible the amount of patience that woman has. She never seemed to get frustrated by my endless questions, even about the reasons why I wasn’t allowed to do something or had to do something else. She was even patient with me when after discovering the reason, I continued to debate with her and push the issue. This level of openness and respect allowed me to become the intelligent, thoughtful person I am today. It taught me to value knowledge and the importance of good communication and mutual understanding. Not only that, I feel it helped my mom as well. I think people underestimate kids. They seem to forget that they are just little humans with wills, wants, and desires of their own. Wouldn’t you be more likely to follow a rule if you understood why it was a rule in the first place? Isn’t it frustrating to be forced to do something just because you are told to?

With all of this in mind, I want to come back to the idea of meditation as a punishment replacement. When you think about it, a time out is already somewhat of the same thing. However, meditation gives this period of quite and stillness an important, clear intention. To me it seems like swapping out meditation for time out has almost unlimited potential for parents, families, teachers, and children alike. I can only image what a different world we would all live in if we started raising our kids this way. Think how much more receptive a child would be to this form of “punishment.”

When a kid is acting out, especially a little one, it doesn’t really make sense to expect a reprimand such as time out, taking something away, or especially striking them to make them calm down. So in the end you need to step back and remind yourself what the goal of these things is supposed to be. If it is simply to get revenge on the child for what they’ve done, then by all means, go ahead. You’re sure to upset them at the very least. But if the goal is to help the child find new, more appropriate behaviors and understand why their current behavior is unacceptable, then it seems like a pretty lousy strategy.

I think it would be a much more helpful and pleasant experience for everyone involved if in response to a negative behavior, someone would explain to the child: 1. Why this is unacceptable behavior. (How it negatively effects, not only others, but the child themselves.) 2. Why meditation is the response to this behavior. (How it can help the child not only behave, but feel better.) No one wants to feel like they are being punished for what they’ve done, even if they know it was wrong. However, we are all hardwired to act with our own self-interest in mind. Wouldn’t you be more likely to participate in something (even if you didn’t necessarily like it) if you thought it would ultimately benefit you?

I only wish someone had been around to teach me meditation as a child. For the most part when a child acts out, it is because they are upset or dealing with emotions they aren’t able to handle appropriately. And it really isn’t their fault, they’ve yet to develop the skills and areas of their brains necessary to properly regulate and process different emotions. Even so, kids know that it doesn’t feel good to be upset or to let your emotions overwhelm you. The majority of my life was spent thinking that these things were just out of my control. What a relief it was to me to discover that I actually have the power to regulate my own emotions and to strengthen this skill like a muscle. I’m sure I’d be much better at doing so if I’d started when I was younger too.

I believe children would really respond well to being taught these new, useful tools. It could simply be explained to them that the purpose behind these “time-outs” is for their benefit. It isn’t just to be mean or make them unhappy because they acted in a way we didn’t like. It is just a time for them to practice using these new tools so that they can have a happier, more peaceful life now and in the future. From what I’ve seen, kids are usually eager to please. Many may be quick to comply if they were told all of these things. It all comes down to treating kids with the patience and respect they deserve and remembering what we want the purpose of punishment to be.

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