Skip to main content
#
FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, August 31 2020

Toxic Shame

The core quality that determines a secure sense of self is a personal acceptance within our community.  This sense of self commences at birth and the first significant ‘community’ is his or her parents.  When a child experiences nothing but affection and positive attention during these early years they will feel as if they are the centre of the universe and that’s how it should be.  But at about age one, when they can move about they start to develop their independence.  At the same time they start to move independently and being curious can get themselves into some dangerous situations.  When this happens, they are told no for the first time!  Often the message will be delivered in a sharp, attention grabbing outburst.  There is nothing wrong with this action; the parents just want to keep their child safe but the child will be rejected for the first time!

The sudden attention-grabbing effect is necessary to stop the child, to get them to stop what they are doing - to ‘freeze’.  In reality they do this and for the first time they experience ‘rejection’.  Of course, the parents were doing the right thing, keeping their child safe but the child’s sense of rejection is real and all rejection is at the heart of shame.

The child will continue to explore the world and they will continue to make mistakes.  The parents will continue to ‘stop’ them and show them the ‘right’ way to behave. These mistakes expose the child’s incompetence and they will be embarrassed by what they have done.  This feeling of rejection of the inappropriate behaviour we call healthy shame.  The point is that this rejection is of inappropriate behaviour; it is not the rejection of the person. 

As an adult we should experience shame whenever we act in a way that is not true to our character and when we fail to do this we become embarrassed.  Because the shame is about what we have done, that feeling is healthy.  Healthy shame protects us both from the exclusion from our group and helps us understand the frailties of others.

Kids don’t get the difference between the action and the performer and so functioning parents have to make sure the mistaken behaviour is separated from the value of the child.  Soon the child will understand that difference and grow up capable of experiencing healthy shame.

However, children from abusive parents are rarely taught this distinction. When their child makes a mistake they are often physically punished and/or verbally abused for that mistake, it’s the child’s fault.  And all too often the parents expect them to complete a task that is beyond their capabilities.  At a sporting event you see kids being scorned because they did not win.  When they inevitably fail they are subjected to abuse and rejection.

Young children are incapable of understanding they are not old enough or strong enough to complete some task set for them and when they do not come up to scratch the only conclusion is they are stupid, weak and useless just like dad said they were.  This is the core of toxic shame, they have not made a mistake; they are the mistake.

Students with toxic shame take this debilitating belief into school.  At any level learning consists of trial and error and so it is at school, there will be the inevitable errors.  To healthy kids a mistake informs them that this is not the right way to solve a problem.  For the child with toxic shame the mistake is confirmation that they are not the right person to be in the class. These students fear the inevitable negative evaluation about their work and the resulting stress suffered will make any real learning impossible.  The inevitable failure reinforces their sense of shame, this toxic shame.

How you interact with the student, who suffers toxic shame will make a big difference.  Understand that when a student is faced with a new, challenging task their self-talk will be something like:

  • ‘I can’t do this ……’?
  • ‘Everyone else will laugh at my ……’?
  • ‘I hate this ……’?

The destructive teacher, who may well be trying to challenge the student, will make comments that only reinforce their toxic opinion of themselves.  These teachers use terms like:

  • ‘What do you think you’re doing’?
  • ‘Is this your best work’?
  • ‘Why did you do that’?

A better way for the teacher to encourage a child is with comments like:

  • ‘How can we make this ….’?
  • ‘What can we do to ……?
  • ‘What will it look like if ……’?

Remember you are asking the children to try and that for them is very threatening but if you take a work in progress and use terms like those above you have not rejected their efforts and you have indicated to them that they can continue to improve.  It takes a lot of small steps to complete any journey so be patient, they can overcome their most faulty of beliefs.
 

I used to say to students I worked with they are perfect.  Of course, that got their attention but I explained that it is humans make mistakes.  I’m human so I make mistakes therefore I am a perfect human – I’m perfectly imperfect, so are they and so are you.

Posted by: AT 10:51 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, August 17 2020

Anxiety

Teachers have always had to deal with anxious children from the first day at kindergarten to the last day of their tertiary entry examination and the years in between.  At a basic level anxiety is another expression of fear and the two are products of stress.  No surprise here and in other Newsletters (particularly the 19th June 2017) this is discussed in detail.  To recap stress in itself is not a bad thing, we need a level of stress to engage in the world but too much stress or distress will hinder performance especially in the classroom.

Anxiety is that lingering apprehension or almost chronic sense of worry about particular things or even life in general.  Professionals would diagnose someone as having clinical, generalized anxiety if they displayed three or more of the following over a six-month period:

  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Concentration Problems
  • Irritability
  • Muscle Tension
  • Sleep Disorders

In general, anxiety is described in three ways:

  • Panic Attacks – where there is an immediate fear that the child is facing a catastrophe and has nowhere to go.  These are generally short term and result in the child avoiding any situation that ignites that emotion.  However, these situations can be really traumatic and move well beyond anxiety.
  • Social Anxiety – This is the fear and avoidance of any situation in which a child thinks they may be the centre of attention that can lead to their embarrassment.  It is no surprise that social anxiety is the predominant form of stress in children, especially adolescents. 
  • Generalized Anxiety – This is where the child worries over everyday things for months at a time.  They are children who will avoid what we may consider mundane or are constantly seeking clarification or reassurance before they attempt a task.

The prevalence of anxiety at a clinical level is about 14.5% or one in seven Australians and in the majority of cases it starts in childhood.  As with all things there is a coming together of genetics and environmental conditions that lead to anxiety but as always teachers can only impact on the environment in an attempt to limit the levels of anxiety in their classroom.

So, what to do?  If you really have concerns about the level of anxiety of a student in your class then you must refer them to the school counsellor and/or tell the parents about your concerns.  The latter is not as easy because this is news for whatever reason they don’t want to hear.

However, for the day to day running of the class, when you think a child is really anxious to the level you have concerns encourage them to talk about it.  The following questions will assist both you and the child:

  • Tell me about how it feels being anxious?
  • What is making you anxious?
  • What do you fear will happen?
  • What does it stop you from doing?

A technique that can be effective is for the teacher to establish a procedure where they can give the child some space to calm down.  This is a type of ‘time out’.  In fact, you can empower the child to control his or her access to time out through some non-verbal cue.  For example, the child could move an object on their desk that signals to the teacher that they are becoming overwhelmed with anxiety.  The teacher would then ask that child to go and get something from say the principal or the office.  Of course, the principal and the office would be aware of the purpose of the visit and provide that time out while the child remains in supervision.  Just the provision of this retreat can be enough to alleviate the threat of anxiety and give the child a sense of control over their fears.

However, dealing with anxiety like all classroom activities is best served when the relationships between the teacher and the students along with the students’ relationships with each other are strong and positive.  This, along with a calm and a really predictive environment will help minimize the impact anxiety will have in your classroom.

Posted by: AT 01:45 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, August 10 2020

Physical Damage from Early Childhood Abuse

The particular qualities of early childhood abuse can create high levels of stress that in turn leads to the trauma of shattered expectations, the realisation of our own vulnerability and the capacity of others to commit evil acts.  When this happens, infants and preschool-aged kids have not developed the cognitive ability to understand these concepts, but they are traumatized through their separation from security.  It is this fear that generates the high levels of stress that fashions the neurological framework of the child.

The intricacy of stress has been described in previous Newsletters but in this work, we are only considering the reaction to very high levels of stress that are the result of the response to the very existence of the child.   

The body’s response to threat makes sense when we consider the primary function is to survive, the other drive, to reproduce is not a consideration of the infant.  So the response of the brain, the decision-making centre of our bodies, makes optimal decisions for the conditions that we are facing.  This flight/fight response is purely instinctive because a young infant is incapable of either flight or fight so the activation of the automatic nervous system would be of little practical use.

The infants do however have the ability to respond in the third of the ‘3F's' (the first two are flight and fight) and that is to freeze.  They dissociate. It was a fashion in the past that when children were crying in bed, they were attention seeking and the advice was to ignore them, they would eventually stop.  There is some truth in this 'attention seeking' behaviour if the practice has been rewarded, but there are times when the baby is highly stressed, and when they do stop crying they have ‘given-up' on life.

However, when the threat occurs, the brain is awash with a chemical cocktail to prepare a fight/flight response.  At the time the incoming stimulus quickly goes through the receptors, through the thalamus, the ‘clearing house’ of the stimulus on to the amygdala.  The amygdala perceives the stimulus as representing a real, immediate threat and a sequence of events takes place to prepare the body—first to 'flight,' and if that is not an available option, to 'fight.' 

This movement to flight/fight involves a series of synaptic signals that release a cocktail of chemicals that in turn dramatically change the physiological status of the body. This response is known as the general adaptive syndrome. The body is prepared to deal with the identified threat.

It is the importance of the amygdala in this process that results in its ‘abnormal' development.  Because the function of the amygdala is important, it becomes more enlarged so it can better deal with future threats.  The enhancement of the amygdala along with the resulting propensity to initiate the flight/fight response has a paradoxical effect.  When these kids grow-up they become hypersensitive to a stimulus that resembles a threat.  As a result, when they are in a situation that may look like a threat their amygdala is activated before they can make a considered judgment about the potential danger.

The second area of brain development that is affected by the conditions of elevated threat is in the ‘higher order' areas of the brain, the hippocampus, and the frontal lobes.

In the usual ‘general adaptive syndrome' process, when the threat is over the brain returns to rest.  Within the complex chemical activity that achieves this is cortisol that washes across the brain.  Unfortunately, if the threat is not ‘turned off' or the process is too frequent the constant presence of cortisol has a corrosive impact on the brain.

The hippocampus is reduced in size by as much as 12% and the frontal lobes as much as 20%.  There are other parts of the brain such as the cerebellum that are also damaged, but it is the changes in the hippocampus and frontal lobes that cause trouble for the children in the future.  It is in these areas that we develop the ability to make rational decisions and capacity to delay gratification.  The hippocampus and the frontal lobes are at the cognitive heart of our success.

So children who have been abused are subjected to real physical brain damage, and that damage is handicapping the very processes that are needed if we are to help them overcome the dysfunctional behaviour that results from their history of abuse.  They are more sensitive to stress and therefore more likely to react in their ineffective, habitual manner and are less equipped to make calm decisions required to avoid that dysfunctional habit.

Posted by: AT 01:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, August 03 2020

Routine - Support for Student Expectations

The most significant advantage humans have over other forms of life is our ability to predict what will happen given a certain set of circumstances.  So you can see predictability underpins expectations.  When we recognise a set of conditions that led to us having a great time we get excited anticipating another positive experience.  Conversely another set of conditions may provide us with a warning – we are not going to ‘enjoy’ what we expect next.

When a student enters a room they will be confronted with a set of features that they will interpret and then imagine what to expect.  This connection drives the emotional content of their minds and good teachers know how they feel about what you provide is directly related to how they will engage in your lesson.  If they expect to be bored they will be set up for boredom there will be no stress that calls for the child’s brain to attend – there is nothing worthwhile here.  If they are afraid they will be primed for protection against your lesson and the stress levels will be elevated to a level that excludes cognitive thinking – nothing can be learned effectively.

The successful teachers want what I call a ‘Goldilocks’ brain one that’s not too hot – over stressed and not too cold – under stressed but one stressed just right!  The way they will behave in a lesson is quite literally shaped by the way they feel.

Most significantly, both the student and the teacher’s expectation of a lesson depend on the experience of the previous lesson.  So it is important that the teacher understands that how they present their lessons sets the expectations of the students now and in the future.  We can’t expect the students to come into class just feeling good about your subject just because you like it but we can build up experiences of past ‘feel good’ moments that the kids will bring into the next lesson.  It’s like banking, the more you put into building an expectation account the more interest you will get and that’s compound interest. 

You have to remember that so much of their expectation is stored in the emotional area of the brain and this is why the relationship between teacher and student is the most significant factor in teachers being able to engage their students.  This is particularly true for those ‘difficult students who have a history of failure.  The successful teacher will develop a relationship with students and with the teacher’s support slowly change the student’s expectation about your lessons and their ability to learn.

Students with behavioural problems provide the greatest challenge to the teacher’s ability to engage them in learning.  It is important to understand these students will minimize or misinterpret any positive stimuli.  They either think they are not worthy or don’t trust the teacher’s motives. They are also hypersensitive to negative social cues and they are hyper-vigilant about potential threats. They also fail to understand or read non-verbal cues they don’t easily get what is presented to them and they are highly likely to be overwhelmed by the emotional content of any negative, incoming stimulus.  All this history of failure means that to create expectations for success in children who have only experienced failure requires patience and quiet determination.

So what do we need to do?  The following points will help:

  • Students decide how important the lesson is from how professional the teacher presents themselves. You need to look like a teacher – have your ‘teacher’s uniform on’, look like you love your work and most of all look like you are happy in their company.
  • Students register the importance of the lesson by the interest the teacher displays.  How could we expect the students to be enthusiastic about maths if the teacher is blasé about solving simultaneous equations?  Emotions are contagious and so is curiosity!
  • Messages about the effectiveness of the lesson come from the state of the room and the presentation of the lesson content. The recent discovery of Mirror Neurons (the subject of an essay on the Web Page) highlighted the importance of this point.  A neuroscientist Iacoboni had volunteers watch films of people reaching for various objects in a tea time setting (teapot, cup, jug, plate of pastries, napkins) in different contexts.  In every instance when the subjects saw the person in the scene reach for a cup, a basic set of ‘reaching’ neurons fired in the subjects.  But different additional sets of mirror neurons would fire depending on what expected action was suggested by the setting.  In one case the setting was neat and orderly as if the meal was about to be enjoyed.   The player was about to drink some tea and one form of additional neurons fired.  The other setting was cluttered as if the meal had been finished and the cup was ready to be cleaned up and there was a different set of neurons activated.  The brain knew what was coming next!  If the student comes into a room that is organised for learning their learning neurons will light up.  If the room is untidy and dirty another set will fire.

There is a popular view amongst some educators that we need to get emotions out of the way so we can teach the kids but good teachers know that emotions are not add-ons that interfere with cognition. They are a fundamental element of why thinking and learning happens and emotions fire expectations.  Through the child’s experience they learn to ‘know something’ that is about to happen so let’s make that quality learning!

Posted by: AT 10:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

PRINCIPALS

John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance


ABN 64 372 518 772

ABOUT

The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

Create a Website Australia | DIY Website Builder