We’ve all known the student who desperately needs help but doesn’t trust adults. As a survivor of school bullying and author who travels the nation’s schools, sharing my story to motivate change, I meet students like this all the time. They come up to me after I’ve given a presentation, usually in tears. Some want to talk. Others just ask to be held. It’s not always easy knowing what to say or how to respond to their pain. All I can do is show them that I understand what it’s like to feel lost and alone. Sometimes, just knowing that an adult “gets it” can be enough to inspire a troubled student to let their guard down.
The principals, teachers and counselors that I meet in our Catholic school system inspire me every single day with their unrelenting commitment to not just caring for their students, but their willingness to hold them up when life is tearing them down. As educators, we know that for a lot of these kids, the only real adult support they have is what they’re getting at school.
Summer is a time to not only relax and reflect, but also to prepare for the fall, and sharpen our tool box for dealing with students in crisis. One of the most powerful tools I’ve found is what I call a “trigger box.” It can help you see the world through the student’s perspective by bringing you back in a surprising way to your own childhood when you were the same age. Here’s how it works:
- Download three songs onto your iPod that specifically take you back to your class’s grade. Jump on Google if you need to confirm the time-frame of a song’s release.
- Choose a scent that specifically reminds you of that grade—it could be a perfume, a lip-gloss, a flavor of bubble gum, or a brand of shampoo.
- Pick a food (ideally one you can easily put in a box like Doritos, a particular cereal or candy bar, etc.) that specifically reminds you of that age.
To give you an example, if I was a teacher or counselor working with sixth graders, I’d have to go back to 1976, and my song would be “Baby I Love Your Way” from the album, “Frampton Comes Alive,” Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and the theme from the hit television show “Swat.” My scent would be Love’s Baby Soft Perfume or Bonnie Bell strawberry lip-gloss, and the food would have to be Nacho Cheese Doritos or Blue Popsicles.
After you’ve chosen what will fill your “trigger box,” take all these items and put them in a shoe box. Keep the box in your desk or in your car. Before you sit down with a student for an important or serious talk, find a quiet spot alone, close your eyes, take a few deep cleansing breaths, listen to the songs, inhale the scent, and take a bite of the food. Let your mind go back in time and actively connect with that child still inside you, that kid you once were, whom your students can relate to. Give yourself at least ten minutes to do this. When you’re done, put everything back in the box, and then sit down with your student and talk with them. Allow the child in you that’s just been re-awakened to lead the discussion, with your adult self, sitting quietly, monitoring but not controlling the moment.
If you’re rushed or dealing with a crisis in which you don’t have ten seconds to prepare let alone ten minutes, keep something small in your purse or desk that you can access quickly like a particular candy you especially enjoyed at your student’s age. Then, do a brief version of the technique, closing your eyes just for a moment and letting your memory take over.
The “trigger box” exercise is also a wonderful calming ritual that can help center you before performing any kind of crisis intervention with a child. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had educators engage this technique and tell me afterwards that they felt a palpable exhale from their student because finally, there was a grown-up who understood. If you have children, try it at home first! You’ll be delighted by the results.
Be sure to check out Jodee’s Anti-Bullying Survivor Series (ABSS) to include:
About Jodee Blanco:
Jodee Blanco is the author of four books on bullying, including the New York Times bestselling memoir, Please Stop Laughing at Me…. She is also the author of the NCEA’s new Anti-Bullying Survival Series. Jodee travels to schools, sharing her story to save lives, and has spoken to over a half-million people worldwide. For more information on Jodee Blanco and her in-school anti-bullying program, please visit www.jodeeblanco.com or email her at Jodee@jodeeblanco.com.