Parents, teachers and counselors are often confronted with challenges that seem to have neither reason nor solution. Youngsters can behave in ways that seem strange to us, ways that don’t make sense. That’s when we need to listen more closely to the behaviors, and not be afraid to play a hunch, especially when that’s just about all we have.
When I was working in the schools as a school psychologist, I worked with a fifth grader I’ll call Duane. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor and, fortunately, it was benign. The tumor was removed and he healed quickly and completely … physically, that is.
Academically, however, it was a very different story. Duane had been a solid and capable student before his surgery. After the surgery, he began failing everything. Everyone was puzzled. There was just no reason why he should have 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, to hopefully arrive at the problem and a way to solve it.
Duane was your proverbial “good kid,” a polite and respectful young man, the sort of youngster 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 couldn’t wait to get back to the school the next day and pull Duane out of class.
“Duane, when you had the surgery …”
“Yes sir?” he responded.
“Did you think they removed your brain?”
A Misunderstanding Corrected
“Your WHOLE brain, Duane?”
“Yes, sir. Didn’t they?”
“No, Duane. They just took out the tumor. Your brain is still there, better than ever.”
“Absolutely! You shouldn’t have any more trouble with it.”
And he didn’t. Duane was instantly happier and his grades shot up literally in a matter of hours.
Questions Can Heal
Anyone, Mom, Dad, doctor, nurse, teacher, could have told Duane he still had his brain after the surgery and that it was fine. But they didn’t. And Duane, like so many youngsters, didn’t dare to ask and thus confirm his greatest fear. He simply did what he felt expected to do: carry on without a brain.
The sort of problem a youngster can experience from misunderstanding can stay with him or her for long, long time. (Most adults know this first-hand, don’t they?) But here’s the good news: It’s an easy problem to fix, starting with a couple of carefully placed questions.
A nationally recognized child and adolescent psychologist, author and speaker, Dr. James Sutton is in demand for his expertise on emotionally and behaviorally troubled youngsters, and his skill for sharing it. He the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network, a popular internet radio program supporting young people and their families, and every month he publishes The Changing Behavior Digest, offering tips on managing difficult children and teens. Both resources (and others) are available at no cost through his website, http://www.DocSpeak.com.