Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Trouble with Kids

The thing with working with kids is that I probably see this kids much more often than any parent or teacher does in a day at this age. I see all their quirks, their bad habits, their behavioral issues, and hear about all their pre-teen drama because I see them in a space when they are the most relaxed - talking with friends in a classroom. The most frustrating part is when I work with a girl with some type of behavioral/psychological issue that I don't have the training to tackle. Something is really off with one of my students, P, and I don't think the school social worker is equipped to handle her either. I'm not a psych person, but I've worked with kids for so long that I can identify behavior that is a-typical for an age group. It's intuitive now, even if I can't label it with the appropriate terminology.

Most kids outgrow their Disneyland phase by middle school (at least until they go to college in LA, then they buy season passes), but P had an unusual obsession with Disney princesses. At this age, kids either become really serious about what they want to be (my studious kids want to be doctors-AH! SO CUTE!), or aren't thinking about it at all. Until now, I've only ever had five year old girls tell me they want to be Disney princesses.

P also has paranoia issues. In middle school, some kids will walk past an open door and make faces because that's what kids do. No matter how much I try to reassure her, P thinks it's directed at her. Last year, P also became obsessed with one of our program volunteers, a high school kid and former program participant. P freaked out that he knew her name (he probably learned it by listening to one of us talk to her) and then somehow this developed into a crush. But then, P noticed him talking to another female staff member, and thought they were flirting and was "weirded out." P confided that to me, and I thought nothing of it, but then she would bring it up every day for weeks and weeks.

I was starting to get worried, and started documenting everything and telling my supervisor as well. Other children started finding out as well, even though P promised not to tell anyone ("Oh but, I only told M, and he promised not to tell anyone"). The worst thing would be for someone to accuse an innocent coworker of child abuse. The school social worker was informed, who set up meetings with P and a group meeting with P and my colleague. Eventually, P figured out that I reported this to the bosses, and asked me why. I tried to explain in the simplest way possible that she was telling everyone a story that could be misunderstood and could get staff members in trouble.

"Oh but I only told M and he promised not to tell anyone."
"Yeah, but now G came up to me and told me about it, and so did N. Who told them, then?"

Now I've noticed that she remembers the gist of what I say, but has a tendency to twist my words around.

"Last time, you said that Ms. S would be arrested."
"Uh...No. I said the program and all the staff could get in trouble with [our parent organization].

It seems like a benign rewording, except whatever P repeats sounds way worse than what was said to her, and could potentially cause further misunderstandings down the road. Now, I'm worried that she'll eventually learn that this could be used as a tool to manipulate people.

I really think she should be evaluated by a mental health professional. Someone that is trained and licensed to provide the counseling or other course of action that she needs. I know that P's parents were brought into a meeting, but I think they're in denial that P has some real issue and the social worker isn't emphasizing the problem enough. The sad thing is, P is also a low-priority case.

In the beginning, I tried to be sympathetic with P and listen. I wanted to be supportive, but it was driving me crazy. I also don't think that being sympathetic is effective or advisable anymore, because it just encourages her behavior. Sometimes, I shut her down immediately: "P, you are being very rude by talking to me about so-and-so behind their backs. You do this all the time. If you have a problem, talk to them directly. You're talking about my coworkers/students behind their backs and I don't like that. You need to learn to talk to people directly."

I still want to tear my hair out though, some days.

1 comment: