Some children have such negative and traumatic life experiences that they may approach life with a “what’s the point” attitude. This has been learnt as a defence mechanism against feeling hurt and upset. Their lives have been so painful that they can’t be hurt anymore, things are so awful for them outside of school that no matter what consequences they may face in school they can’t hurt them as much as they are already hurting. School cannot impose any sanction that will make them feel worse than they already do. They may find it difficult to manage their feelings in a variety of different situations such as the excitement and fear of going on a school trip. The anxiety, excitement, fear and apprehension of this new experience may be overwhelming for some children and can manifest itself in different ways.
Billy aged 10 was going on a school trip and the longest journey of his life to a local safari park. He was excited to be leaving school and going on a coach, anxious that he might get separated from his teacher, scared that the animals might get out of their cages and attack him and worried that he might not like any of it. He kept asking his teacher the same questions repeatedly for the week before they went “Will I be with you all day Miss? What if I get lost Miss? What if I don’t like it Miss, What if the animals get out Miss? His teacher understood his fears and anxieties and knew that he sometimes sabotaged situations to prevent him being able to participate. On the morning of the trip she encouraged him to help her write the name badges for the class and kept offering explanations of exactly what would happen throughout the day and offered reassurance and support. Her understanding and appropriate response to his needs enabled the day to be a positive experience for him. However, if she had been impatient, showed any irritation or been dismissive of his fears there may well have been a less positive outcome for him.
Children who experience overwhelming feelings may make situations worse or sabotage a situation or a piece of work to enable them to cope with their feelings. For example, a child who destroys their work either by tearing it up or scribbling over it may have a deeply ingrained sense of themselves as not good enough. They may show that they are not bothered about the work or even pleased that it has been destroyed, but this can be a protective mechanism “If I destroy it at least it’s me who’s done it, not the teacher.” These children need gentle and subtle identification of their qualities and skills in order to develop confidence and self-esteem in their own time and at their own pace.