Schools Have More Severely Disturbed Students-- What 's A
Teacher To Do?
Teachers and Counselors: Does it seem to you that you are seeing
more and more seriously emotionally disturbed kids than ever
before? The problem may not be with your perceptions. The
problem may be that in fact, you are seeing more disturbed
children and youth than at any time before.
This article covers some of the updated mental health
information we give out in our popular Problem-Kid
Problem-Solver Workshop (http://www.youthchg.com). It's
data that all teachers and counselors can use.
There are a few explanations for what you may already have
noticed. First, many settings such as schools and Job Corps, are
accepting youth with increasingly serious emotional problems.
Second, mainstreaming has shifted many kids from sheltered or
specialized settings, into mainstream classrooms, sports teams
and scouting troops. Third, and perhaps most important, there
may be, in fact, more and earlier serious emotional disturbances
developing in children. Or, perhaps we are just getting better
at identifying these problems.
Late last year, you may have read in your local newspaper a
summary of the US Surgeon General's report that noted that an
amazing 1 in 10 children may have a serious mental health
disorder. This report noted that the typical wait for troubled
children to gain an appointment with a mental health
professional was 3 to 4 months. Some communities lack children's
mental health services entirely, the report also noted. This
report quotes a study that indicated that many children with
severe emotional problems don't gain proper school services
until age 10. The report emphasizes that many of these troubled
children will wind up in jail, in part because their problems
went unnoticed, or were addressed way too late. The report
advocates for more mental health resources for children, and
better training in children's mental health for everyone who
works with youth. The Bottom Line: If you are not a mental
health professional, but you work with kids, you may need to
acquire a basic mental health background in order to fully
understand your changing population, and to best serve their
This background will also help you know when to access help from
a mental health professional. There is no substitute for the
expertise of a mental health worker, and if budget cuts have
reduced this option at your site, that is quite serious. A class
like our Breakthrough Strategies Workshop (http://www.youthchg.com/li
ve.html) can help you get the basics, but with the incidence
of severe childhood emotional problems apparently on the rise,
it makes relying on that counselor, social worker, or
psychologist perhaps more important than ever before.
If you are a mental health professional you may also want to
check your skills too. We are always surprised at our workshop
how many mental health professionals confuse conduct disorders
and thought disorders, for example, two basic and essential
mental health concepts.
We also need more groups like IYI in Indiana, and the Family
Resource Centers in Kentucky IYI, the Indiana Youth Institute,
brings hands- on training to everyone involved with youth
including scout troop leaders, faith-based professionals, after
school workers and everyone else involved with kids. Kentucky's
Family Resource Centers are in just about every school in the
state, ready to assist the student, family, teacher, counselor
or anyone involved in the child's life to help that child
succeed in school, community, family and life.
Sadly, most of us lack a Family Resource Center worker or an IYI
to turn to. Your challenge becomes, how do I provide my service
to a child with serious emotional problems? Here are a few key
do's and don't's, but be sure to also upgrade your basic mental
health skills if needed.
** Strike the Balance
Especially in this age of widespread, mandated education
performance testing, teachers can feel pressured to get students
to perform and produce. But tests don't "understand" that a
child has a serious emotional disturbance and make allowances,
but you can. Strive to balance your school or agency's mission
with the child's special needs. Keep the goals, but don't
accomplish them at any cost.
** When I'm Not Sure What to Do
A good general guideline for anytime that you just don't know
for sure how to work with a child, is ro ask the child. That
child is the expert on that child. If you get no useful
response, a fall-back plan is to consider what would work or not
work with you if you were in that situation.
** But I Have to Be Fair
You may worry that if you give a troubled child extra time to
complete a task, for example, that the other kids will complain
that it is unfair. In the work world, bosses are required to
accommodate employees' special needs from providing a ramp for a
wheel chair to a sign language interpreter. The ultimate mission
of most youth-serving sites is to prepare the child for the real
world. In the real world, providing some accommodation is either
legally mandated or a common courtesy. Most schools even attempt
to give a bigger desk to a bigger student. Simple human courtesy
and common sense should never be viewed as unfair.
** They Can Take It
Some youth professionals will tell you that the child can "take
it." The truth is that you have no way of looking into a child
and accurately gauging their resilience. Since kids do not
generally announce that they were beaten last night, or that
they haven't eaten for two days, you don't know how fragile or
strong a child actually is. You don't know whether or not a
child can "take it." There is a risk that a harsh, embarrassing,
aggressive act could harm or undermine a child. While it is
never okay to yell, demean or humiliate any child for any
reason, it is especially true with children who are severely
** These Children Are Manipulating the Adults
While some emotionally disturbed children are very adept at
manipulation, many emotionally disturbed children do not
manipulate at all. There are many types of emotional
disturbances, and each has its own unique dynamics. Because an
adult works differently with different types of students,
tailoring their methods to fit each child and that child's
unique circumstances, does not mean the adult has been
manipulated. It means that the adult has a sophisticated
understanding of different types of youth and they choose the
correct tools for each type.
For more specific techniques to use with troubled youth,
consider our "Child's Guide to Surviving in a Troubled Family."
Find out more about it via our web site (link below).