Q. Can Post Traumatic Stress Disorder explain serious
aggressive and oppositional behaviors in a child?
What can teachers parents and guardians do to help and
still protect the other children?
A. This is a dilemma I see often in my practice with children.
I do, personally, have much sympathy for the adults who care for acting
out children. Your job requires that you control a group of children.
Unfortunately, the adult need for control is often all
that is needed to trigger a traumatized child. Behavioral tools and
techniques are not therapeutic or helpful for traumatized children;
because they rarely work. Sadly, they re-traumatize the child.
Here is how that happens. Try to think about the three
sets of symptoms of PTSD: Reliving, avoidance, and physical hyper-arousal
when triggered. Children, like adults tend to avoid the reliving and
physical triggering. Yet, anything that in any way resembles their
trauma will cause the psychological and physical reliving symptoms.
Needless to say, this is very painful for the child to experience.
I want to add to your understanding of this phenomenon
by briefly mentioning what child abusers do to children. They use
their increased power as bigger people with higher status as adults
to hurt little people. They yell, hit, beat, punch, burn, and lock
in closets. They terrorize children who have no defense against them.
If we think about what has happened to that child, we
can understand their oppositional behavior and rage.
It is important in these situations, if at all possible,
to avoid a power and control struggle. Unless the child is actively
dangerous, I'd try to avoid a contest of wills. At the same time,
you do have to balance your safety and the safety of the other children.
One class, Behavior is Language I and II, offered
by Seattle Pacific University offers some additional techniques and
skills that help with this situation. Here is the link for the class:
In my office (with only one child at a time), I have been
hit, bit, and spit upon. I do not accept this, and actually do not
tolerate it. I tell them it is unacceptable; I leave the room, stop
the therapy, and refuse to participate in any interaction with the
child until the next week.
Think in terms of containment rather than control.