No doubt I had behavioral issues, but this was due to poor impulse control. I was not a “bad child”, as so many people would tell me. It was just that I was not equipped to meet behavioral expectations all by myself. The thing about congregational care, whether it is with children, adolescents, or adults, is that it is always relational.
Temple Grandid, an American professor of animal science at Colorado State University and world-renowned autism spokesperson and consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, was diagnosed with what we now know to be autism as a child. In her youth, she was found to be very disruptive, and was eventually expelled from school at the age of 14. Her mother, Anna Eustacia Purves, advocated fiercely for Temple. Fortunately, Anna had the resources to pay for a private education for her daughter. It was Anna's perseverance and unending pursuit of relational care that created the space for Temple to learn how to manage the symptoms of her diagnosis. Without the extreme patience and perseverance of her mother, Temple could have likely suffered at the disciplinary actions of her school and society’s mental health care system.
My argument is that the primary problem is not with the children. The behavior of children may vary, drastically, from one child to the next. The problem is that some children require more love, attention, and investment than others. The school system, parent support and resources, and the mental health system are often not equipped with the tools to provide the level of care their children need to survive behavioral issues, develop, and thrive.
For congregational care ministers, the primary approach to counteracting traumatic shame in misbehaving children is to know your limitations of care. When care for a family and their child(ren) are beyond your scope of care, recruit the help of a trained professional. To this end, it is extremely helpful and important to develop relationships with trained professionals in your area – they can be a helpful resource in a time of need.
What you can do is provide a loving, nurturing, and encouraging environment for the family and their child(ren). Here are a few concrete things you can do:
- Create space to provide care for the parents – and listen emphatically to their perspective and struggle
- Create healthy outlets for behaviorally-challenged children to engage in social interactions with their peers
- Develop alliances with peers who are a part of their social circle and encourage them to mentor the child who may be struggling – their influence can be a great asset. Mentor youth leaders as they mentor children who are struggling. Teaching and empowering compassion, kindness, and patience are key
- Find like-minded parents and peers who can be allies in your ministry of care for behaviorally-challenged children.
- Struggling children need love and affection that are not performance-based or conditional.
- Parents and peers can help you when you face compassion-fatigue, impatience, and frustration; self-care is integral to the care of struggling children.
- Do not try to find a “quick” fix. Children who are struggling with behavioral issues need peers, adults, and family to bear with them for the long haul. A metaphor that is helpful for care is that of a wine grape. They require tedious and meticulous care, as the grape is often fragile and reactive to its environment. Care and caution are essential.
- Remember that acts of love counteract the effects of shame, giving children a chance to experience a regulation state where they can begin to learn how to manage their impulses and behaviors.
* For more ideas on caring for children and youth, visit our Children and Youth Ministry After Trauma page
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