Elementary and secondary school staff from around the state gathered inside the Clint Bowyer Building Wednesday for a pair of presentations by renowned psychotherapist and author Tina Payne Bryson.
Presented by CrossWinds Counseling & Wellness, the two seminars offered continuing education credits and explored aspects of brain anatomy and behavioral science to give better insight into the emotions and developing personalities of young children and adolescents.
“What makes my work meaningful is impact,” Bryson said. “Lots of times there’s opportunities to come speak in bigger cities, but in a smaller town like Emporia where there’s not as many opportunities like this, a small change can have a huge ripple effect. If I can reach the educators and clinicians here, and it starts creating cultural shifts and big changes in terms of how we see a child’s behavior and respond to them, that can have a bigger impact than it would even in larger environments.”
In the morning session focusing on elementary-aged children, Bryson stressed that a child’s physical behavior is one of their greatest forms of communication. A gentle hug or a huge, red-faced tantrum can often be a method for a child to express their deeper needs the only way they know how. Bryson said it was especially important for educators and counselors to consider a child’s past experiences and traumas when analyzing their disruptive classroom behaviors.
While a child’s frequent negative outbursts can often be attributed to boredom, lack of discipline or need for attention, their root cause may be found in Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. Possible ACEs can include past verbal, physical or sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect, or instances of household dysfunction such as a parent with a mental illness, an incarcerated relative, substance abuse and divorce.
“The number one type of child abuse, which is four times as common as physical, emotional and sexual abuse combined, is neglect,” Bryson said. “A 2011 study of 100,000 families by the National Survey of Children’s Health found that 48 percent of the kids suffered from one Adverse Childhood Experience, while 23 percent suffered from at least two or more ACEs. Children who have experienced three or more ACEs in their lifetime are three times more likely to fail out of school, five times more likely to have severe attendance problems, six times more likely to have severe behavioral problems and four times more likely to have poor health.”
Bryson illustrated how ACEs can have a large impact in shrinking a child’s “green zone” in their reactivity scale. The imaginary scale consists of a red area representing hyperactivity, a blue area representing low activity and lack of interaction and a green area in between that marks the ideal conditions in which a child is most receptive to emotional and educational instruction. Bryson said children who frequently experience ACEs are often in the red or blue because their brains are either in a constant state of flight or stress avoidance.