language

Giving Kids Language Around Emotions

Language is the most powerful tool we have. 

 Language gives us the means to:

• communicate our thoughtslanguage
express our feelings
ask for what we need
negotiate
• learn
• teach
• understand
• belong

Take a long, deep breath in through your nose…and slowly exhale.

Imagine you are in a tiny space, about the size of….you. There are no windows and it’s dark and usually stormy. The door seems to be stuck closed and you can’t get out. The thunder is so sudden and deafening. The lightning strikes so bright and frightening. The air is becoming thick and clammy. Fear starts taking over. Then you start fearing the fear. Claustrophobia starts to set in…

This is too much, you need to get out! You NEED to get out!! You can hear people out there. Your breathing is fast and feeling laboured. You think you are pleading with them for help, but all they can hear is the storm. You are begging, crying. You just need someone to open the door, even just a bit. But all they hear is the thunder. All they see is the lightning. There’s only one way you’re getting out of there – and that’s to explode. With that comes collateral damage, but at the time there doesn’t seem to be any other option.

Now imagine you have language and are simply able to say, “The storm’s getting too much in here. Could someone please open the door for me? It seems to be stuck and I can’t open it on my own today.”

languageThat’s my analogy on what it’s like for kids who have mood disorders before they learn language around it. Jessie grew up with me reminding her to use her words, but she didn’t ever have the intensity of emotion she grew to have. When emotions hit the red zone for Jessie, she used to become extremely abusive and aggressive. Those feelings can be consuming, confusing and frightening for adults. Children can find them even more so as they simply don’t have the maturity or understanding to handle it.

As parents, with the right tools, we can empower our kids with positive language skills.

We started off with a sealed jar of water with coloured glitter in it. It’s purpose was to encourage Jessie to recognise when she was escalating. It then gave her a means to communicate that to me in a more positive manner. The jar sat on the kitchen bench. She would go to it and furiously shake the jar and say through gritted teeth, “my glitter is all over the place!!”. The colourful glitter would flutter around in the water, taking her focus off the blackness of her mood. Jessie used that until the glitter had no more colour. It was well used and very effective.

We then had an emotion chart that I put on the fridge. It was for both of us, so we could let each other know where we were at. We had a magnet each and would place it in the relevant quadrangle. Jessie used this willingly as well. Kids want to have a better outlet, just as much as they need it.

self harm

There are so many emotion charts to choose from online. Click here for some examples on Google. They are a fabulous teaching tool, because it requires the kids to read through the emotion names to choose the relevant feeling. Without them even realising, they are learning language to help them express themselves constructively.

A favourite of Jessie’s, used during our admission at Coral Tree Family Services, were St Luke’s Innovative Bear Cards. From the picture you can see why children are drawn to these.

coral tree

Talking to our kids about the cards or emotions they have chosen is an important part of their learning (or re-learning) process. It gives us insight into how they are thinking. It also gives us the opportunity to emotion coach.

With language around her feelings, and the confidence she has gained in communicating with me, Jessie has a much better handle on things. 2 years on she will still have low scale outbursts, yell, swear and slam doors. However she de-escalates very quickly now, and without fail comes and apologises and we talk about what’s upsetting her.

Being able to recognise and name emotions, makes kids feel more in control. The more in control they feel, the less out of control they will behave.

language

 

manic depression

Manic Depression and its Evolution to Bipolar.

manic depressionManic depression was the name previously given to the mood disorder, bipolar. Back in the late 1800’s the work of Jean-Pierre Falret, a French psychiatrist, led to the term Manic-depressive psychosis becoming the initial name for this mental illness. He identified the “folie circulaire”, the circular insanity of manic and melancholic episodes, interspersed with periods of balanced emotions. It’s interesting how the word psychosis has been dropped. Variations on the bipolar spectrum are now taken into account.

German psychiatrist, Emil Kraepelin,  was the next to officially define and classify psychosis. In 1902 he differentiated two main types of psychosis – mood and thought. Consequently, ‘manic depression’ he used to describe mental illnesses that centred around emotion and mood. ‘Schizophrenia’ (then called manic depression‘Dementia praecox’ meaning premature madness), he classified as mental illnesses to do with thought or problematic cognitive function.

History saw another important step in the evolutionary ladder to the distinction of manic depression. In the early 1950’s. German psychiatrist Karl Leonhard first introduced the term bipolar. He did this to differentiate unipolar depression (major depressive disorder) and bipolar depression.

1980 heralded the year the term manic depression was officially changed in the classification system to bipolar disorder. This came about with the third publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

So Why Change the Name Entirely?

  • The main reason seems to stem from the stigma attached to the word ‘manic’. Especially relevant, it denotes crazy, out of control connotations which psychiatrists wanted to steer away from.
  • Bipolar sounds like more of a clinical term and less of an ’emotional’ term. As such, it was another way psychiatrists thought would help reduce stigma.

Well that was the theory anyway. Having a daughter who is bipolar, that term is just as emotionally charged these days, at least in the teenage world. The term is used flippantly to describe a change in emotions or a change of mind. It is used just as flippantly as a derogatory name given to someone who has had a change in emotions or thoughts.

  • With the classifications becoming more defined, bipolar would include and exclude mania dependent on the type of bipolar. Manic depressive stereotype excludes by definition those types of mood disorders without manic episodes.

There are four types of Bipolar disorder recognised in the DSM-5. They are:

  • Bipolar I disorder. This type has manic or mixed episodes lasting at least a week. Manic symptoms need to be severe enough to require hospitalisation. Depressive episodes are often present as well.
  • Bipolar II disorder. Hypomanic, or depressive episodes are present, however no manic episodes.
  • Cyclothymic disorder or Cyclothymia. This a milder form of bipolar with both hypomanic and milder depressive episodes for at least two years.
  • Bipolar Disorder not otherwise specified (BP-NOS). There are symptoms of bipolar present but the criteria for any of the above three types are not met. This type is diagnosed when the symptoms are not normal behaviour for the person.

manic depression

education

The Clash Between Mental Health & Education

education

Education and Jessie’s mental health have not gone well together well for us. The education system isn’t setup for kids like mine. Teachers simply don’t have the training needed to help these kids successfully get through. It’s a very rigid and structured system that cannot accommodate kids who simply don’t fit into square holes.

I received my first letter from Dept of Education when Jessie was in Year 5. Threats of court and an $11 000 fine for not sending my child to school. It’s pretty intimidating, especially when the times I did drag Jessie to school, I was asked to take her home again. When she didn’t want to be there, nobody could settle her.

Finally in the second half of Year 6, the school was granted funding for resources for Jessie. I was told that they would be employing an aide 5 days per week for 3 hours daily. I was to stay with them until Jessie was happy to stay on her own. As it turned out they employed a lovely lady, but she could only do 3 days as she worked in other positions within the school. She then moved overseas, so Jessie hung around with another teacher’s aide when she wasn’t busy. That fizzled out pretty quickly and I was asked to keep her home. I have no school photos or school reports for Year 6, and sadly Jessie missed the graduation celebrations.

educationShe transitioned really well into Year 7 to everyone’s surprise. She had a few issues but a plan was put in place for her, which worked really well once the teachers understood. Jessie can’t stand a big fuss when she’s not coping so I suggested that when she puts her head on the desk, that she be left alone, and the teacher just continue on with the class. This worked perfectly, and her teachers reported she was able to regulate and get back involved with the class quite quickly.

Her peers were her greatest problem. She used to get bullied because of her emotional outbursts. She’d tell the girls her diagnosis I think in an attempt to ask for mercy, but naturally it only gave the girls more ammunition. She still can’t understand that that’s just the way it works with bullies.

Year 8 started well. Jessie didn’t miss a day all first term. Then it all started going downhill. She had some clashes with a couple of her teachers and the usual problems with friends. At the parent teacher night I realised that none of her teachers were aware of Jessie’s issues, or the de-escalation plan for her. She had been getting into trouble for putting her head on the desk. When I raised this with Jessie’s year advisor, I was told that I was incorrect and that all of her teachers had been informed. Strange that they would all forget such a big thing about one of their students. That was one of many important discrepancies I battled to remedy with the school last year. Very different to Year 7.education

 

Jessie started refusing to get up on time, so was late nearly every day. Homework was not being completed and she was doing the bare minimum in class. Seemingly she has no interest in her education. She was given after school detention for kicking over a garbage bin and refusing to pick up the rubbish, and seemed to get herself lunchtime detentions regularly for back chatting teachers, challenging their instruction and authority.

At the end of October of that year, after contacting her father she decided she wanted to meet him for the first time. That meeting didn’t make her feel the way she hoped it would, and she had her first two full weeks off school after he left. The rest of the year didn’t see regular school attendance, and that was when I first discussed distance education with Jessie’s psychiatrist and counsellor. education

We are currently (July) waiting to hear the outcome of an application for distance education for Jessie who is now in Year 9. It’s where we’ve ended up after nearly 6 years of very rocky schooling. It’s been very challenging, incredibly frustrating, and it’s not over yet.

I was waiting for the outcome of the hearing in week 8 of second term. By the Friday of that week I rang the school counsellor to see if they had heard anything. Jessie was ready, I’d put a lot of work in sweetening this up so she would take the opportunity. The counsellor had no idea what I was talking about. He couldn’t see anything on Jessie’s file, and he told me he’d have to have a look into it. I felt sick in the stomach, my eyes were stinging. I was so angry and upset we’d been let down yet again by the school. Jessie’s education didn’t seem something her school was particularly concerned with!

I rang Jessie’s counsellor from CYMHS when I’d calmed down. She was as unimpressed as I was, and was going to call the school. No more than 30 minutes later I had the deputy principal from school call me, asking me to come down straight away and sign the application. (I’ve learned to use my resources when needed!)

It was the last day of second term. No apology. I was just told that the counsellor who had initiated the application had left and it was still sitting in the system. The school had two counsellors. Bryan works three days , Colleen (who left), worked two days each week. I’ve dealt with both counsellors since Jessie started, and Bryan I’d met a couple of times previously in regards to Jessie’s transition into high school after having missed basically all of Year 6. Why there was no communication between them I have no idea. Jessie was meant to be on their radar.

Despite our previous dealings with Dept of Education and the local home school liaison officer, and Jessie only attending the first two Monday’s of the year (sports days), somehow we are going into week 4 of term 3 with no outcome. I  was assured that the forms would be sent in as a priority application and we would not have to wait until the usual 4 week hearing dates.

The application has now been received. The deputy principal rang me a couple of weeks ago asking me to provide a letter from my doctor stating whether or not educationhe thought I was capable of overseeing Jessie’s work. A letter had been provided by Jenni, Jessie’s counsellor, but I was told that they required more. It seemed strange as our doctor sees us for physical medical reasons,  not mental health reasons. He’s aware of Jessie’s issues as she has stormed out of his surgery, foul mouthed, after being called out on an imaginary injury a couple of years ago!

The next day the deputy rang me back to advise me I didn’t need the letter from the doctor after all. They found the letter from Jenni that provided what they needed. The whole thing has been like watching a kindergarten play where none of the kids have any idea what’s going on!

Meanwhile I’m sent a text every day in case I’ve forgotten that Jessie isn’t at school. I’m required to respond with a reason for her absence otherwise they are recorded as Unjustified.

I’m so bewildered and frustrated with the incompetence of the people who are in charge of educating our kids. And I find it even more frustrating that nobody ever apologises. I am just given excuses – and lame ones at that. It also leaves me feeling like they just don’t give a shit about Jessie. Jessie feels the same, and I’m worried that it’ll change her attitude towards the work, as it has before. She’s 14 and doesn’t get that she’s only hurting herself by rebelling in that way. It’s up to the adults to get it right.

I’d had a meeting at the school at the beginning of 2016. In attendance were Jessie’s counsellor, the school counsellor, the year advisor, and Kay, the home school liaison officer. I had dealt with Kay whilst Jessie was at primary school. She was very familiar with our situation.

educationAt the meeting, because of Jessie’s self imposed isolation and refusal to attend school, it was decided that trying to get her back there was off the table. Kay gave me info about a course for Jessie called Links to Learning. It was held locally one day per week, starting in May 2016 and running until the end of term 3. The school was also to have class work for Jessie to collect from school each Tuesday and return each Friday.

The following Tuesday morning we went in to get the schoolwork. The year advisor had assured me it would be left at the front office for collection. 45 minutes later we left with a pile of maths (her most hated subject) and a history assignment. There was no learning material, as not a single teacher had prepared anything. I couldn’t believe it. I managed to get my daughter there, which no-one expected. As I expected after the wait, I wasn’t able to get Jessie there again though. They didn’t keep their side of the agreement and for Jessie that’s a deal breaker. She can be so unforgiving! And that was the end of that.

Links to Learning was refused by Jessie as well. After missing so much of Years 4 and 5 and the majority of Year 6, Year 9 is quickly slipping by too. I continue to be told that Jessie’s really smart and will catch up. How can she catch up when she continues to miss so much?

My faith in the Department of Education is lost. I rang today, and I will continue to call and leave messages until I get a result. Education should be considered a priority for every child, no matter what their circumstances.

education

 

(Redraft of article first published on 9 August 2016)

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