Reaching The Problem Child

Reaching the problem child

By Robert Stelmach

What is the problem? That’s often the first question. What can I do to fix it? That’s often the second. There are many others I can ask: questions about grades, life at home, even choice of friends. Each of these most likely will lead to other problems, more things to fix, and certainly more questions and still more problems. Which makes me think, can I fix things for someone else? Can I truly understand what a problem child is going through, so as to make the right choices for that child? Or am I fighting a loosing battle?

Perhaps, there is another way. What if I start, not by thinking of the child as a problem, but as a person, let’s say a brand new friend? His name might be Jordan. So, what do I know about Jordan? This new beginning suggests a whole new series of questions. Where does he live? What does he really like to do? If he could have one wish, what would that wish be? And what can I do to encourage him to follow his dream?

Now, if my friend Jordan is particularly difficult to deal with, perhaps I could think about what colour, plant, or animal he reminds me of, something that helps to smooth out his rough edges. When growing exotic plants or dealing with wild animals, one needs to be patient—take one step at a time. I could picture him as a young colt, a bit frisky, moody, and sometimes even cantankerous. But he is young, strong, and shows promise. It’s worth the effort.

Then again, what if Jordan turns obnoxious, gets under my skin, or really pushes my buttons. Friction is inevitable, even with the best of students. However, when friction does occur, I could concentrate on a mantra, a word picture that puts difficult moments into perspective. I could think of Jordan as K2, a mountain in the Himalayas that has killed more climbers than any other.

I could think as follows: K2 is nothing more than a mountain, while Jordan is nothing more than a child. “K2 K2.” The mountain has no intent to kill. “K2 K2.” One minute, the sun is shining. A moment later, a sudden storm literally chokes the mountain with snow, making survival almost impossible. “K2 K2.” Is this not true of Jordan as well—how he changes in an instant from amiable to outrageous, leaving me feeling the dagger of his words or eyes? “K2 K2.”

What I need to realize and think about is that the dagger is not meant for me, but is pointed at the reflection of what really bothers him, something that has absolutely nothing to do with me. Like the storm, his anger is only an act of nature. And it is up to me to protect myself from that storm. And so I say, “K2 K2.” It is through my own strength of will that I will survive and walk away from this battle of wills unscathed.

Helping a child like Jordan is not easy. There will always be setbacks. There will even be failures. It is also true that helping troubled kids is not for everyone. But, the rewards are as great as those for climbing K2 and surviving, or turning a wild horse into a winner. Though in cases like Jordan, the rewards are usually silent and within, the gift is greatly worth giving. I know from experience. I was once like Jordan.

And who am I in this process, the teacher or the Kid Whisperer? I prefer to think of myself as the latter. Teaching can wait until I have won Jordan’s trust.

Robert Stelmach, (aka MaxTell), troubadour, author, and musician. www.maxtell.ca.