Posted by: Marie | March 5, 2010

(263) Unsettling exposure

Post #263
[Private journal entry written on Thursday, November 26, 2009 – 3pm]

This week, at my job with the school district, I caught two kindergarteners in a compromising situation. One of them had exposed his penis to the other. An older girl witnessed the incident and reported it to me.

We are trained on how to handle something like this. I followed policy . . . filed all the paperwork and made the appropriate phone calls.

Blooming by Martin Chen

I handled it “correctly”. Yet, I’m left feeling a bit disturbed.

When I walked over to the boys and asked what had happened, the one who had done the exposing slouched down in his seat and hung his head in profound shame. The shame was coming out of every pore in his body.

I did everything I could, within policy, to not increase his shame. I was as gentle with my words and eye contact as I could be. When other kids started making rude comments, I hushed them very quickly.

The little boy is very, very quiet by nature. Why would such a quiet little boy act out this way?

Did I handle it okay? Does our district policy create a situation where children feel to ashamed to tell us if they were being abused (as this kind of play-acting might indicate)?

A few weeks ago, another kindergartner – a girl – was misbehaving a lot while in my care. I am aware that she was sexually abused and that she is now living with other family members. Her “acting out” comes as a result of her life experiences.

Normally, I have great patience with her. But, on that day several weeks ago, she was really pushing the limits of tolerable behavior – and of my patience.

After about the 15th time I had to get after her, I let loose and really chewed her out. I got right in her face and shook my finger at her . . . and with a loud, forceful voice, told her to “get in your seat and don’t you dare move a muscle or make a sound until I tell you it is okay!”

As soon as I got in her face, her expression went blank, her eyes glazed over . . . I know that look. I’m sure she was dissociating – and I immediately felt bad for getting in her face.

I’m not sure how to manage her behavior without causing more damage. If I stop paying attention to her for more than a minute or two, she becomes aggressive and injures other kids and damages property. I can’t give her all my attention . . . there are so many other kids that need my attention.

Today, my mom and I were driving to my brother’s house in Denver for Thanksgiving dinner. En route, I brought up my concerns to her about how I had handled the little boy exposing his penis.

She said, “Wouldn’t it be best to just ignore it – pretend it didn’t happen?”

I explained that we can’t legally “ignore it” – and that it could be a sign of abuse, which would need to be addressed. She said she could see that point – that she had never thought about that before.

Her suggestion to “just ignore it” helps me to better understand what she was probably thinking when I tried to tell her about being abused when I was a kid. “Ignoring it” was the wisdom of the day.

I hope that, by blogging, I am taking a step towards shifting that “wisdom”. Maybe people can see that ignoring it is not a good solution – that ignoring it can cause tremendous damage – sometimes as much damage as the initial abuse causes.


Responses

  1. It’s good that you didn’t ignore the little boy. I always felt so invisible. I think you did the right thing, the little boy may or may not be abused but I think he is definately ignored or made to be invisible. For what ever the reason, you acknowledged him.

    • Thank you, Ivory . . . I sure hope I did okay with it!

  2. “When other kids started making rude comments, I hushed them very quickly.” … You talked to the boy about the incident within hearing distance of other children?

    I remember getting that talk in kindergarten… It taught me to hide what I was doing and that I was dirty… Looking back, the talk wasn’t handled well – other children could hear and it revolved around me doing “dirty things”. It created shame and taught me not to trust authority, as they wouldn’t help me, they’d just make me feel worse.

    I hope the outcome for the boy you talked to is different…

    • Hi, Castorgirl –

      Umm . . . good point about the inappropriateness of speaking to him within earshot of the other children . . .

      I agree that would not be appropriate in most cases. However, I was not able to take him to another location because of physical logistics. I had to address the situation quickly and in the presence of the other kids. I know that sounds odd, but I don’t feel comfortable explaining further for security and privacy reasons.

      And, it is the logistics that made it additionally difficult to know how to handle the situation with minimal shame.

      Great point!
      – Marie

  3. Hi Marie, it sounds like you were put in an impossible situation. And I dare say you weren’t given training about how to do this sort of thing (despite being obliged to do it).

    It sounds to me like you did your best in a very difficult situation.

    • Very true, Evan . . . I was taught what NOT to say (for legal reasons) and I was taught what forms to fill out and who to call. But, the training lasted about 15 minutes and didn’t cover any of the nuances involved with the prevention of traumatic emotional scars.

      Thank you for your kind and supportive words!

      – Marie


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