24th January 2016 Their behaviours are their language by Ruth Adams

Our book group choice for next month is Philomena by Martin Sixsmith which tells the true story of a mum who had to give her son away. I saw the film when it was first released but the book has so much more detail about the life of Andrew Lee as he was, until he was adopted from the convent mother and baby home where he had lived with Philomena until he was three.

We talk a lot about a child’s first three years of life and the effects the experiences during this time have on their ability to form healthy relationships in the future. In Michael Hess, as Andrew was known when he was adopted by a family in the United States, we have someone who rises to the top of his profession with a role in the White House yet remains a tortured soul, constantly unable to commit and sabotaging those relationships that are going well. He feels he’s inherently ‘bad’ and is to blame for the fact his birth mum didn’t keep him. The book is littered with a sense of helplessness and self loathing and examples of his inability to maintain relationships without deliberately destroying them and his own happiness which he didn’t feel he deserved.

I see this in my work so often. Children and young people who find it hard to move on, held back by their early experiences. Whether their trauma was like Michael, being removed from birth family, or something else – abuse, the loss of a parent from their day to day life, the misuse of alcohol or drugs, domestic violence or suicide, our schools are full of pupils who are trying hard to make sense of experiences that they did not ask for and which in most cases children should not have to suffer

For the most part, professionals working with these pupils need support to help them understand what’s going on internally and appreciate that ‘a child’s behaviours are their language’.

This would be a good starting point as a solution is sought for the problem of more and more excluded pupils in our schools. Early intervention will help and for many of those we live and work with, their very existence depends on our willingness to get the understanding we need in order to relate to them in the most helpful ways.

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