Real heroes are people who make a choice to see, hear, and report to protect abused children. They are also the ones who teach children how to live with courage. This article is about how you can be one.
The little girl comes to school each day, face clean, hair with a severe part, and large, dark eyes. Her movements are precise, careful, quiet. She studies hard, never talks in class but Mrs. Peetree feels something is off. One of the boys bumps the little girl and she freezes. Tears come to her eyes, and she doesn’t even look for help to get up. Mrs. Peetrie has seen this before and her heart goes out to the child. She knows somewhere this child has learned to fear, but she also knows it will be a complicated year. What can she do?
Real Heroes set Boundaries for Children
One of the easiest ways to help children is to set clear and consistent boundaries. This may seem too simple, but for a child to feel safe, they must feel boundaries set with firmness and caring. Some of these boundaries should also deal with unwanted touch. Giving children the words to say their feelings, when the feelings are big and hard to understand, is an amazing gift. I teach children to play the “My body, my choice” game with their siblings or parents. All kids love to rough house, it is hard wired into their bodies. But there is also no better way to start a real fight than to have brothers and sisters wrestling with each other. So instead of saying “Uncle”, we have them say “My body, My Choice” and the other is supposed to leave them alone.
In a classroom setting, this isn’t possible, so using these words as the trigger for the teacher’s attention is a great choice. “My body, My choice!” rings out in line and the teacher, Mrs. Peetrie comes and separates the two boys who are fighting over line leader. “His body, his choice” she says. The little girl’s eyes meet Mrs. Peetrie’s for the first time that day. She quickly looks away, but her back straightens a bit.
Real Heroes Notice
Children need to be noticed, but if a child is being abused, their needs and feelings have been pushed aside, ignored. Noticing the feelings that a child has can be the first step for them feeling they matter or that their feelings are important. Looking in a child’s eyes and naming their color, noticing something different about them, these feed a child’s heart. Using their name frequently can help their self esteem and give them a connection to you that helps them learn to ask for help when needed.
Mrs. Peetrie saw the little girl sitting by herself on the playground. “May I sit?” The girl’s big eyes looked at her, glanced down, and she nodded. “You looked cold so I brought you a sweater from lost and found.” The girl accepted the sweater, thanking her teacher quietly. “Be sure to return it after recess.” The little girl nodded quickly.
Real Heroes Take a Stand
This is a difficult step. Children are watching us all the time and until they know we can stand up when it isn’t comfortable or popular, they won’t trust us. If they don’t know we can handle what they have to tell us, they won’t talk about what they need to tell us. This is why many outcries come after they have asked us for help with a situation that was difficult and we actually did something they could see and understand.
Two little boys, who pick on each other every day, end up in a fist fight. Mrs. Peetrie separates them and says “Children are NOT for hurting! Go to the office.” The little girl hears, as does all the class, but she sees that when the boys come back, Mrs. Peetrie hugs them and welcomes them back. She is stronger than anyone else the little girl knows.
Real Heroes Listen with Their Whole Body
Turning your body toward the child who is coming up to you for help, putting down the dry erase marker or gradebook, and looking them square in the eyes, these things can make a big difference! Children are unused to the full attention of adults in this distracting and fast paced world. Eye contact and shoulders, knees and toes pointed at a child tells them you are listening, and they are important.
Mrs. Peetrie heard a small sound behind her as she prepared for her day. She put down her marker and turned. There the little girl stood. Mrs. Peetrie kneeled down and listened carefully to what the child said. She looked her in the eye and said “I know just what to do. Thank you for telling me.” The girl smiles nervously and hugs Mrs. Peetrie. A very firm, side hug.
If you are a teacher who would like to be like Mrs. Peetrie, come to my training at NCTC in July. I’ll be teaching a 3 hour class for teachers on Child Abuse. It will include how to be a Real Hero and how and why to report. Many of us are uncomfortable with reporting to CPS, and we will work on the how and why to do this. If you are a parent who recognizes her child in the little girl of the story, call me. 940-222-8703 ext 700. I can help you because I know just what to do.