Some days are hard.
Today was one of those days. I don’t know why exactly – because yesterday was so great. Somehow the dynamic of kids just didn’t quite mesh or something.
One little girl, 4 years old, tiny and skinny as anything, is just so difficult.
It’s because her stress level is so high; it comes out all over the place and affects the whole group.
With her behaviors she makes herself a target of bullying and so she’s always getting hit and pushed around, which she responds to by screaming as loud as she can.
She’s on high alert, constantly looking for perceived threats, with no attention left to focus on her developmental tasks at hand.
Can you imagine living at that level of stress? It’s exhausting just thinking about it.
I had a lot of kids with me that day and between dealing with her behaviors and helping the others, I wasn’t able to give attention to the older ones, who really needed it as well.
In fact, it’s not a far stretch to imagine them acting just like Angeline when they were her age. Only now they’ve learned to harden themselves so the behaviors look different. Instead of being the target, they’ve become the bully.
As the kids were climbing out of the van and saying goodbye, Byron, 7, wrapped himself around my leg and said, “You’re my mom.” I hugged him and told him he has a mom, and he said no, then he gave me a quick little bite on the leg and ran off.
In all honesty, my first thought after dropping the kids off was that I probably shouldn’t bring this little girl anymore.
She’s just too difficult. She’s too needy.
But as I drove away a new determination rose up in me.
No, that’s not right. She needs this more than anyone and I will find a way to get through to her.
Find the Overlooked and Ignored
In Matthew 25 Jesus talks about sorting the sheep and goats and saying to the sheep that he was thirsty and they gave him a drink, he was hungry and they fed him, he was cold and they gave him clothes, in prison and they visited, homeless and they gave him shelter.
The sheep are confused and ask, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?”
Jesus answers, “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”
And to the other group he says, “Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.”
And that becomes the mandate for El Refugio. To find the overlooked and ignored.
All this flashed through my mind as I was thinking about Angeline that day. In this work God’s called us to do, we come across children who frustrate us or who are difficult, who need more than we feel we can give and push us beyond what we think we can handle.
But with those children in particular, it is essential to push through and show them that we love them, no matter what, the same way God loves me just the way I am.
When working with children with difficult behaviors (aggression, bullying, extreme whining and tattling, lack of impulse control, hyperactivity, high stress levels, etc.) I make it my goal to help them find a place of flow.
What I mean by “flow” is time and space where their little bodies can relax, their minds can open up, they can focus on a task like coloring, creating or playing, in a loving, safe environment.
I strive to create an environment where this can happen.
It doesn’t always happen. It doesn’t happen every day for every kid.
But sometimes it does. And when it does it feels magical.
We get lost in time, just playing, chatting or creating. The hours fly by.
It’s healing. It’s growth.
This is child development. And it’s what these children need.
Look at what can happen when we get to this place of flow.
These pictures are from an afternoon I spent with a group of siblings painting with water colors. These are three of the most difficult children we work with.
But on this day they relaxed. They opened up. They let themselves go.
And they painted. They painted and painted for hours. They used up every piece of paper I brought.
They would paint a little bit and then show me their finished picture. “It’s not done yet,” I would say, and show them spaces to fill in with color, encouraging them to fill their whole page.
They would roll their eyes at me and sigh, but then they would be back inside their picture, totally absorbed in what they were doing.
This might not seem like anything exceptional, but believe me, for these children it is.
It’s a break from the fighting, the stress, the bad language, the need to be tough and hard all. the. time.
It’s time for their brains to grow and their hearts to expand. To open up and let some love in.
I painted with them. We made some beautiful backgrounds and when they dried I wrote out a scripture for Katherine (pronounced Kaht-a-reen) to keep.
She began to make more backgrounds and copy out scriptures that I chose for her. She asked for her own Bible so she could copy more scriptures at home.
“Peace I leave with you.
My peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
We talked about the verses and what they mean, why we like them.
This is what happens in that place of flow – an easiness, an openness in children who are living their lives in a high state of stress.