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A Golden Nugget for Trevor

More children in the United States are suffering from depression than ever before. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that nearly two million children ages 3 to 17 have been diagnosed with clinical depression (the actual number may be much higher). Physicians indicate that the situation is unparalleled. Reflecting on the CDC findings, I found myself thinking about a former student.

I met 6-year-old Trevor (not his real name) when he was assigned to one of my literacy groups, a small group of students with similar academic needs. Trevor often seemed tired, admitting on occasion to not having slept well the night before. Some days he was moody, laying his head down, refusing to participate. When making a mistake, he would react to correction with excessive sensitivity. Trevor did not have verbal outbursts and was not disrespectful. For the most part, he was quiet, sullen, and withdrawn. Some days were better than others but in general Trevor’s demeanor was at odds with the more typical age-appropriate behaviors I knew well.

Classroom teachers encounter students like Trevor daily. With numbers increasing, so too is teacher frustration; frustration that results in comments like one made by Trevor’s teacher, “Pick your head up off of that desk, now!” Said in a stern voice, such a command may actually work with a young child, albeit temporarily. Older students may interpret the statement as a threat (“Pick your head up……… or else,”), with the likelihood of compliance slim to none.

Adults have failed to adequately teach children to manage their emotions for over two generations. During the 1960’s a drastic shift took place in child-rearing techniques that led to children becoming increasingly self-centered. So pervasive was the shift that the term “Me Generation,” dubbed by writer Tom Wolfe in the early 1970’s, is still used today. ‘Me’ children grow into ‘me’ adults. As parents, their excessive pre-occupation with self can result in excessive attentiveness (indulgence) or excessive inattentiveness (negligence) towards their children. Both approaches can lead to childhood distress, even depression, with parents failing to recognize the emotional red flags. Fluctuating between frustration, anger, and sadness, 6-year-old Trevor was clearly showing signs of distress.

Though there were factors in Trevor’s life that were beyond my control, within my control was an opportunity to help lift Trevor’s depressive feelings by putting him in situations that involved assisting others (service) and engaging in teamwork. My goal was for Trevor to personally experience one of life’s priceless ‘golden nuggets’: When you help others, you also help yourself.

I arranged time to teach Trevor a new game. At the next group session, before he could lay his head down and disconnect, I asked him to teach the game to a fellow student. He agreed and the two children settled in a back corner of the room. Trevor quite patiently taught his partner the rules of the game and the two proceeded to play numerous rounds. Each round led to increased engagement and heightened confidence. To my amazement, even disagreements were resolved mutually! The scene unfolding was both gratifying and heartwarming.

As I continued to provide regular opportunities for Trevor to actively experience the ‘golden nugget,’ he began to move forward emotionally. And in moving forward emotionally, Trevor was then able to move forward academically. Priceless!

©Sharon Knapp Lamberth, Dec. 2022


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