The Brain and Troubled Children and Youth

 

 Troubled kids are distinguished by their regrettable ability to elicit from others exactly the opposite of what they really need. ( L. Tobin )

      Connecting with troubled students is not easy work.  Many of these young people come into our classrooms and schools on a daily bases depressed, hostile, discouraged, unmotivated and angry.  

Underneath their sometimes outrageous and provocative behaviors these young people's lives come up way short on joy and long on despair and hopelessness.  Their hostility and anger is a way to not feel that sense of hopelessness and despair.  

Dr. Nicholas Hobbs and his principles of Re-Education wrote of the lack of joy in troubled kids lives back in the 1980's yet our programming  still remains focused on discipline, consequences, point systems and treating "pain based" student behaviors with "pain based" school discipline systems."  These systems work best on the kids that need them the most and are least effective with kids that we think need them the most!!

Know this about your most difficult kids.... THEY ARE IN PAIN!!

 

Your most troubled children and youth are swimming in pain. Making the effort not to drown in pain creates terribly high levels of TOXIC stress.

 When stress becomes too intense it leads to pain based behaviors.

We also now know that repeated and overwhelming stress effect the brain!

Lets take a look at what toxic stress does to brains.

When perceived stress is high the brain downshifts.

We quickly move to OUR LOWER SURVIVAL BRAIN AND ITS RESPONSE OF: FIGHT---FLIGHT OR---FREEZE…

The THINKING PART OF THE BRAIN SHUTS DOWN AND THE DOING PART OF THE BRAIN TAKES OVER!

 

The ALARM SYSTEM of the emotional brain is the Amygdala!

The Amygdala, like a Chi-wa-wa… is always on guard.

The amygdala spots incoming stimuli quickly and decides if it is threatening or dangerous. It is always on the “look-out” for danger.

Of particular interest….the amygdala reads tone of voice and facial expressions to separate friend from foe.

Any stimuli that is novel or perceived as threatening is noticed by the amygdala which then mobilizes the appropriate emotion. This part of the brain triggers our FIGHT—FLIGHT----FREEZE----RESPONSE

Repeated and overwhelming stress sensitizes the brains AMYGDALA and it becomes hyper-alert to danger. 

Even when no external threat is present….

These young people are in a persistent state of alarm!!

There is now a vast amount of research that supports the notion that “turnaround teachers” create positive and enduring relationships with the students they serve.   The resiliency research is also very clear. 

The Pathway to Creating Powerful Alliances With Students "At-Risk"

Lifespan developmental studies of how young people successfully overcome risks and challenges—such as troubled families, poverty, and disadvantages—to become “competent, confidant, and caring” (Werner & Smith, 1992) individuals, as well as successful students, clearly document the power of caring teachers and schools that convey high expectations and provide opportunities for their active participation in the learning process (Higgins, 1994; Masten & Coatsworth, 1998; Rutter, Maughan, Mortimore, Ouston, & Smith, 1979; Werner & Smith, 1989, 1992, 2001).

Neuroscience and Troubled Kids

One of the most exciting recent developments in brain science is research on neuro-plasticity!

Neuro-plasticity is the brain’s equivalent to resilience.

Neuro-plasticity is the ability of the brain to lay down new pathways.

 Science now tells us that the brain has remarkable powers to change its own structure and compensate for even the most challenging social risks.

Plasticity allows the brain to re-wire itself!!

  The adolescent brain is still under-construction and will not be fully mature until the young person is in their mid to late twenties.

 Time is an ally in developing new brain pathways for self-regulation and growth!  Resilience research and neuroscience show that young people can overcome trauma and mistreatment and become stronger in the process.  The number of caring “adults” outside the family continues to be a major predictor for success in high risk youngsters.

 

 Eric Laursen has written the---

Seven Habits of Reclaiming Relationships with Youth At-Risk
1. TRUST
2. ATTENTION
3. EMPATHY
4. AVAILABILITY
5. AFFIRMATION
6. RESPECT
7. VIRTUE
This is the pathway we as teachers and school administrators need to traverse with our most difficult children and youth!

For now...I will leave you with a principle from the work of Dr. Nicholas Hobbs...

Please let me know what you think!!

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