When Children Can’t Trust

October 22, 2012

In the car on the way to clubs, an 11 year old boy says, “Leslie, my mom’s still gone.”

His mom went to Nicaragua weeks ago and Seth* has been staying with his older sister.

“Wow, that’s a really long time – you must miss her,” I said in reply.

Seth turned his head sharply up and away, “No!” He put on his tough face – he can’t admit to missing his mom.

Messages are all around us. Children, like sponges, are constantly absorbing the messages sent to them. The message this boy has received – and it’s been reinforced over and over – is that he cannot show any signs of weakness or vulnerability. He must maintain a tough exterior at all costs…

And it costs him dearly.

Later on during the session, our tutor comes over to the club room, “Leslie, I don’t know what to do about Seth. I can’t help him!”

She went on to explain that he was making a mistake in his math work and was unable to accept that he was doing it wrong. He refused to believe that what he was doing was wrong, even when shown through logic and with a calculator that it was incorrect. Instead he just completely shut down.

I came out to see Seth sitting outside the door slumped against the wall holding his backpack.

I sat down next to him and asked for eye contact. Once I was able to get his eyes looking into mine I said, “Seth, you don’t have to be in control. I know you feel like you have to take care of yourself and stay in control of everything. So much responsibility is on your shoulders. But here, in this place, you can let it go. Let go of your control and let your teacher teach you. Here you can just be a kid.” 

He stayed connected with me and shook his head in acknowledgment. I waited with him quietly until he felt better. Then we slowly took his notebook out, when he was ready, and looked at it together. He was able to see now that he was making a mistake. We sat and did a few problems together until he felt comfortable and then he went back to his tutoring session. He finished it well.

When a child cannot be vulnerable, when a child can’t trust others, that child also can’t learn. His development is impaired.

Children learn and develop in the context of loving relationships.

Without that, it goes off track.

That’s why we provide children in our program tutoring sessions and also a club focusing on learning to trust and have relationships. That’s why we make home visits a central part of what we do. We make relationships our top priority. Everything else falls into place around that.

*Name changed