Perception always trumps reality: What our kids believe becomes real enough to direct their lives and their behavior. The problem is that parents often don’t know what’s going on inside their son’s or daughter’s head; so it’s often difficult clear up a misplaced dose of toxic confusion. Perhaps this story will help reinforce the notion that young people don’t always tell us where it hurts. That’s when we need to listen to the behaviors and not be afraid to play a hunch, especially when that’s about all we have.
Duane, a fifth grader, had a brain tumor. Fortunately, it was benign. The tumor was removed and the boy healed quickly and completely … physically.
Academically, however, it was a different story. Duane had been a solid and capable student before the brain surgery. After the surgery, however, he began failing everything.
Everyone was puzzled; there was no reason why he should be having difficulty. Doctors assured the school and Duane’s folks that the boy should be able to do everything he could do before the surgery, only better. I was assigned to work with Duane and (hopefully) arrive at a solution to the problem.
This boy was your proverbial “Good Kid.” Duane was a polite and respectful young man, the sort you wouldn’t mind taking home with you. The testing I administered didn’t point to any issues that would account for his present difficulty.
In short, I was stumped, also. Then it hit me!
Could it be? Could it really be?
I could hardly wait to get back to the school the next day and visit again with Duane.
“Duane, when you had that surgery …”
“Did you think they removed your brain?”
“Yes sir,” he replied.
“Your WHOLE brain, Duane?”
“Yes, sir. Didn’t they?”
“No Duane; they didn’t. They just took out the tumor, the part that was making you sick. Your brain is STILL there, better than before.”
“Really?” His eyes filled with tears as a smile filled his face.
“Absolutely! You shouldn’t have ANY more trouble with it.”
And he didn’t. Duane was instantly happier, and his grades shot up in a matter of hours.
We MUST be careful how we explain things to our children, and we must keep the channels of conversation clear. Also, hunches can pay off. Do be afraid to use them.
Although a nationally recognized child and adolescent psychologist, Dr. James Sutton deeply values his first calling as a Special Education teacher. Today he is in demand for his expertise on emotionally and behaviorally troubled youngsters and his skill for speaking, writing, and training on this subject. He is the author of numerous articles and books on the subject, including his latest work, The Changing Behavior Book: A Fresh Approach to the Difficult Child. His monthly publication, the ODD Management Digest, is available at no cost through his website, www.DocSpeak.com.