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No Hopeless Children
Rejeana Haynes, Chief Clinical Officer
St. Vincent Family Services
As a child mental health professional for more than 30 years, my heart always pauses a beat when parents ask: “Is my baby hopeless?”
Let me reassure you: Every child has potential and promise. Every child can grow, learn and improve. Sometimes you just need an outside ally, a compassionate expert, to help you and your family face down tough challenges.
When kids misbehave, the cause may not be strong will, but rather a lack of skill. Tantrums or the “silent treatment” may demonstrate confusion about how to react more than a clear choice to be stubborn and overreact.
Here at St. Vincent Family Services, we partner with nearly 5,000 children and families every year. More than 90% of those we serve return to their “regular” school or pre-school in nine months or less – a benchmark that we consider to be a great outcome because it indicates that each is ready to be academically, socially and behaviorally successful. Many of our youngsters exhibit all the classic bad behaviors that stem from extreme trauma, including abuse, neglect, violence or family addiction. But we know that compassion and best-practice interventions can unleash the unbelievable resiliency found in every child.
Our journey starts and ends with the entire family. Children need a support system around them so they can embrace change. Think of it the same approach you would take when a child is diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. Everyone — parents, siblings, extended family and even teachers and coaches — learn about what foods maintain balance and what to do if the child’s blood sugar tanks.
Children that struggle with an emotional disturbance need that same level of support. When a child acts out, it’s often a symptom of their brain’s inability to self-regulate. Getting healthy mentally may mean relying on medication, just as insulin makes it possible to live with diabetes. Or, it may call for healthier lifestyles and habits, such as more nutritionally sound diets, exercise and stress-reduction techniques. And it may require teaching the entire family new skills on how to react to one another in healthier, more constructive ways.
Very often, it’s a combination of all three strategies that make a lasting difference.
Family involvement in no way implies fault. Parents especially, often feel like they failed when a child has a chronic mental health disorder. Let’s throw out the blame game. Shame and guilt weigh us down in self- defeating pattern at a time when we most need the freedom to adapt and evolve.
Likewise, don’t let your feelings about the behavior infect your feelings about the child. When DeShawn or Deana act up all the time, it’s easy to slip into the idea that he or she is just a bad kid, instead of a good kid forced to resort to bad behavior. Let’s find a way that they can be the happy, healthy, loving child they most want to be.
Don’t give up on your kids, no matter how desperate things may seem. There are more solutions than you think. Call us for a free, confidential consultation at (614) 824-KIDS (5437).