Some children very early on in their lives must come up with coping mechanisms, these are used to help the child process and be able to function while carrying the baggage that has been placed on them at such a delicate age. It’s no secret that some children have to deal with complex adult situations that they shouldn’t have to, but for some reason or another the universe found it fitting to throw them into an unwelcoming or harsh environment that the child did not choose. While unpleasant to think about and truly unfortunate that this happens, the best they can do is create their own coping mechanisms.
As early as a month old I was taken in by my grandparents who later adopted me, they always provided a safe home environment and gave me all the love I could want, yet the universe had a plan for me and while I was provided with a stable loving home which is more then some children get I was still thrown into the world and given the "Opportunity" to experience situations that produced some of these fine coping skills.
As early as first grade I was bullied at school; now of course we all know kids can be mean but this can have a negative effect later on in life though most of us don’t take that into consideration. I was a little bit of a chubbier child in elementary school, I also had my own personality and way of looking at things that most other kids found odd so they used those to pick on me. In fifth grade I remember an instance in which three girls of whom I don’t recall anything other then their general looks at this point, cornered me as we were on our way to recess, I remember the feeling of the cool brick wall that I was pushed into. If you can imagine the letter L the wall was shaped as thus and I was in the very corner while the three other girls surrounded me blocking any rout of escape. The girls proceeded to liken me to a whale and other hurtful things that sent a thick warm wave running over my body and very quickly a lump formed in my throat. After the girls finished with their verbal assault the shoved me one more time into the wall and made their way to the playground with the rest of the class. Now some of you might be wondering where the teacher was; don’t worry I have always had teachers on my side but if we travel back to second grade this teacher was definitely not on my side.
Mr. Brown was the perfect image of 80s hairstyle meets Oxford standard sweater vest, and he pretty much looked like that uncle you really only see on Thanksgiving who always had “wild stories” to tell but in reality they were mundane and very underwhelming. Now for the most part I’m sure Mr. Brown was decent to me one instance really stands out in my mind and unfortunately it was the first time I think I realized that the world was actually a really harsh and unforgiving place. Second grade is when I was first going through being diagnosed with things like ADHD and Tourette’s, as you can imagine this was not the easiest thing, especially the ADHD. If you are not familiar with symptoms of ADHD in children it’s fairly complex for such young children, symptoms range from getting angry and frustrated to obsessive talking and the inability to listen for long periods of time or they are easily distracted. Which as you can imagine could prove a problem for most. Now Mr. Brown had a sticker chart for all of us you know those ones for good behavior and stuff of similar standards, I can’t recall exactly what I did but he was going to remove one of my star stickers from the chart and as a second grader this was the biggest deal at the time. Now looking back I know it was an overreaction but there is a big difference between a 22 year old adult and a 6 to 7 year old child, I was upset I didn’t think it was fair that he was removing one of my stars. So I ran up behind him and smacked his back, now you can imagine he did not take too kindly to this and without a doubt there should have been some form of discipline that took place however what ensued was not the type of discipline that should have taken place. Mr. Brown proceeded to wheel around and grab me by my wrists pull me in front of him and then he raised his hand and slapped my face, which was fallowed by a finger in my face and him shouting “NO!” at me. I was never a fan of him after that and he always treated me like I was the worst burden of a child he could ever have in his class. I often asked to stay home because I wasn’t feeling well or I would ask to go to the nurse’s office. I never did tell anyone as I was just a child and I was afraid something bad would happen to me if I told and obviously at this point I was afraid of Mr. Brown. Looking back now I’m really not upset or bitter about the situation, I just hope he never did it to another child or student.
Now these are not the only things that contributed to my issues with abuse and more sever things occurred, however I don't feel it is appropriate to share those in this article.
These experiences in elementary school, tho as examples go they seem as though they may be insignificant still created the toxic ingredients that helped me form the coping mechanisms that I did.
I would rock back and forth and this is of some significance because when children rock back and forth it’s often done because it’s a soothing action that triggers the brain to releases endorphins, as well on the more negative side it can be a tall tale sign of stress, trauma, and mental illness. Of course I got picked on for this too but rocking back and forth was calming and I enjoyed it though it worried my teachers. I also day dreamed a lot I would want to escape from the reality of having to go to school and endure these almost daily jabs from the other children. I would slip off into my own world and draw or simply space out. I was just pretending that reality wasn’t happening and I pushed the actuality of the situation down until I didn’t think about it anymore. A long with rocking back and forth and day dreaming; I also enjoyed music so whenever we had music class you can bet I was the happiest kid alive. Music does the very same thing rocking back in forth does, it releases those feel good endorphins that make all of our problems melt away and for a time lets us enjoy life.
Again these skills are almost vital to children as they ensure the child is able to perform day to day tasks and general functions. Most of us naturally have fight or flight in us, however when children are exposed to abusive or otherwise unhealthy environments in which the child feels unsafe, they can develop other skills as well. Vigilance is common and why wouldn’t it be if you have to get out of the way or hide your brain develops this skill as a survival necessity.
Resistance or defiance is another common coping skill that is seen in children in these sorts of situations. Resisting or defying who ever is abusing you or even those who are not is a good way of screaming for help with out actually saying the words especially if the child has been threatened about telling another adult or individual about their abusers actions. There is more often or not an underlining cause for specific actions and being aware of such may be helpful if you work around or have children it’s always a good idea to ask if they are ok or if there is a reason they are acting in the way they are.
Aggression should be an obvious one but if its not I hope that it becomes obvious after reading this. Children learn behaviors from their parents and their environment a child showing aggression in any way either physically, or verbally should get your attention or raise a few red flags for you.
There are many more skills that are common for children to develop in these situations, if the seem to space out or disassociate. Avoidance of a situation or person or even something like eye contact can be an indicator the child has been conditioned to do these things in order to either not be hurt or yelled at as well as managing to stay out of harm’s way. Even compliance can be a coping mechanism. Our brains are very complex and generally will do things on their own we don’t even realize in order to provide us the ability to continue functioning in the face of difficult situations or traumatic events. Forgetting things, making excuses, telling yourself the situation is less serious than it actually is, and rationalizing what the person has done to you are all very common symptoms of abuse and trauma. I have personally experienced a handful if not most of these symptoms and I can tell you when memories come back or you realize the situation you told yourself was not that big of a deal was actually a very big deal and was in fact very serious is not a fun or enjoyable experience. It’s an absolutely draining, mentally exhausting, hard uphill climb that no one should have to go through especially children. I truly hope that society starts putting more of a focus on mental health and putting a spotlight on actions and situations that are not acceptable due to the negative impact they have on peoples psyche.
Luckily, there are foundations and nonprofits out there that are dedicated to raising awareness and even stepping in and getting children out of situations. Mental health professionals and social workers are also amazing and outstanding individuals that commit their lives to helping those who suffer from abuse. I personally hope that in the near future we can offer similar services for adult men and women who are in situations that they can’t escape or maybe they are not in a situation, but were at one point and suffer from the harsh mental illnesses that accompany such things. While that day is becoming a bigger and bigger reality, education and awareness are huge factors in helping in the meantime as well as communicating. Never hesitate to reach out if you think someone is suffering from abuse or if you yourself have been abused or are currently being abused there is help and you are not alone. Please reach out and know that you are loved, valued, and worth so much more then you are being led to believe.
“Understanding the Ways Children Cope with Threats.” Blue Knot Foundation, Blue Knot Foundation, www.blueknot.org.au/Workers-Practitioners/For-Health-Professionals/Resources-for-Health-Professionals/Child-Coping-Strategies.
“Is Rocking Back and Forth a Sign of Mental Illness?” Pasadena Villa, 23 Aug. 2017, www.pasadenavilla.com/2015/07/21/is-rocking-back-and-forth-a-sign-of-mental-illness/.
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