Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Valuable Skills Our Children Learn

Every so often when my children have to experience a particularly violent or horrific breakdown time of one of their siblings or when they are the target of aggression or sexual acting out from those same siblings I worry that growing up in our family may be abusive in its own ways. But then I get pleasantly surprised by how much of value my children learn by living through such experiences.

Kendra(pictured above) my 14yo birth daughter (the delightful surprise that arrived after we adopted the sibling group of 3 and 9 years after her next older birth sibling), has been having some difficulties with a classmate at school that has essentially been threatening her and attempting to bully her. This girl is 2 years her senior, a Junior to Kendra's Freshman status, and also a dance major at the Youth Performing Arts High School (YPAS). They all had their huge annual recital this past weekend and it is something that freshman don't usually dance in unless they are invited. Well, Kendra was invited to dance in a modern piece that one of the teachers choreographed, not a solo or a starring role but it was an honor to be able to dance at the Dance Concert as a freshman. This Junior girl was not particularly happy about the Freshmen but didn't single Kendra out until there was a problem with the costumes.

On fitting day the costumer was busy with another group and one of her student assistants brought over the costumes for Kendra's group and starting handing them out. The Jr. did not want the costume assigned to her, it was a medium, and she grabbed Kendra's small and made Kendra take the medium. it was upsetting to Kendra at the time but she wasn't sure how to respond and just went with the flow. At the first dress rehearsal it was obvious that the Jr was not a small and the medium was falling off of Kendra's shoulders so the teacher and the costumer made the Jr give up the small and take the medium. She was literally busting out of the small, but she was deeply offended that anyone would think she needed a medium, these are dancers and they do have a lot of body issues. so she turned her anger and _itchiness onto Kendra.

She began to harass Kendra, "Give me back my costume, you know that is my costume", etc. Mostly Kendra just ignored her. But the day of the first show, after most people had left the dressing room to go on stage for a number the Jr got Kendra by herself and got very insistent about Kendra giving her back the costume. She was cussing her out and threatening her. As Kendra was relating this to me later I couldn't help but feel concerned for her safety and I started to get all Mama Bear protecting her cubs feeling with thoughts of calling the school administration just then, etc. But I took a deep breath and I asked Kendra how she handled it and her reply was classic. "Oh Mom, I just handled her the way I always dealt with Annie's blowups, I think this girl has mental health issues too."

Well I was curious now, so I probed further about exactly how she handled it. She said that she had learned that when someone starts to go ballistic on you you need to stay calm, lower your voice and just keep repeating what you want them to hear or do in a non-confrontational manner. She said she just kept repeating to the Jr that she knew the Jr was upset by the change and that they should go talk to one of the teachers together. Kendra offered to go with the Jr to talk with the teacher, she expressed sympathy for the fact that the girl was upset, but she never bought into the threats nor did she back down and give her the costume. She used strong I feel messages to express herself and did not escalate the situation further. As other students came back from their number the Jr whispered to Kendra, "this is not over @#&@%" and stormed out of the room. Interestingly enough, though it was over, the Jr did not say another thing to her about the costume, or anything else, the rest of the days of the show. Kendra was a little leery and on guard in case the Jr retaliated in other ways but nothing happened.

I was proud of how Kendra had been able to use calming techniques, reflection of an other's feelings, empathy, and strong I feel messages on her part to deal with a difficult and possibly explosive situation. I asked her if she had been scared, she acknowledged that she was worried and uncomfortable, but she said that she was not scared of the girl beating on her just then because she didn't have most of the physical signs of really losing it like she had learned to look for and run from in her siblings. She was more worried that the Jr would retaliate by trashing her makeup box or something like that.

What I was most proud of was that Kendra was able to walk out of the confrontation with her dignity intact and she showed that she was not going to be easy pickings for bullies. So maybe living in our chaotic, sometimes violent and unpredictable household has taught her some good life skills. It seems that she has picked up some of the "handling" techniques that we employ a lot. She jokingly calls it "psychobabble" and hates when we use it on her, especially when it works! I was also relieved to know that she can pretty calmly evaluate a situation for her safety and that she has a good sense of when to bail out of there.

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