Episode 21: The Life-Saving Power of Connecting with Kids
Episode 21: The Life-Saving Power of Connecting with Kids
More often than not, the “bad kids” in this world are really just traumatized kids in immense amounts of pain. Tune in to this episode with Michael McKnight, co-author of Eyes Are Never Quiet and Unwritten-The Story of a Living System, to learn about how making a connection with kids who are hurting can often mean the difference between life and death.
Support the show by becoming a patron!
Alyssa Scolari [00:22]:
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening to everybody out there. Hope you are all doing well. And I hope that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving or at least as good as it could have gone. And I hope that you are all hanging in there as we head into the Christmas holiday, Hanukkah holiday. My name is Alyssa Scolari. I am your host of the Light After Trauma podcast. And I have with me today, Mr. Michael McKnight. I am going to turn it over to him, because he would like to give his own introduction. So, hi, Michael, welcome.
Michael McKnight [01:03]:
Hey, thanks for inviting me and I’m excited to be here. Just a little bit about my background. I started out as a classroom teacher for what our system calls emotionally disturbed or emotionally troubled students. I taught adolescents mostly removed from regular schools for behavioral and discipline issues. I did that in three states. I was a classroom teacher for 13 years. And then I became an administrator at Atlantic County Special Services School District. And for 10 years or a little bit over 10 years, actually, I help run the program for emotionally troubled kids ages five to 21 removed from schools, mostly in Atlantic County, but sometimes in counties around Atlantic County. So it is those young people that I give credit for driving my learning. And they continue to drive my learning today.
I currently work for the New Jersey Department of Education in the Cape May County office, where I serve as a middleman between Trenton and all the school districts in Cape May County. Also, another fun thing I’ve really enjoyed doing is I’m an adjunct at Stockton University, where I get to teach future teachers in the intro to special education course there as well as doing professional development for schools and districts really now all over the country. So that’s a pretty much a little bit about me and my background. So we can get started with some questions and go from there.
Alyssa Scolari [02:49]:
Yes. So for the listeners out there, this is my first time meeting, Michael, but my mother was actually the one who said, “You should look more into some of the stuff that Michael’s doing, because I’ve heard him present.” I mean, you do lots of presentations, right?
Michael McKnight [03:11]:
Alyssa Scolari [03:12]:
She was like, “I heard him present and I really feel like you would love the stuff that he’s talking about,” because we’re very similar in our line of work in that we are fighting for effective change with a population that a lot of people don’t want to be bothered with, which are children. We like to protect children to an extent in the sense that we make sure their physical needs are met, but sometimes when their emotional needs aren’t met, we don’t really help them out a whole lot with that. And as a therapist, so many people say to me, “Oh God, why do you want to work with kids?” So I have my own response to that, but I think that’s the question I’m first going throw at you, which is what was the driving force for you? What was the inspiration where you were like, “This is the field that I need to be in?”
Michael McKnight [04:07]:
That’s a really interesting question. Way back when I was in school, I actually had thoughts of becoming an elementary school teacher, but I started in community college and ended up when I transferred going to a state school in Pennsylvania that offered a dual degree. At the same time, I could become elementary certified and also get my special ed degree. I knew nothing about special education. This was back in the late 70s. Special ed had just really begun.
Alyssa Scolari [04:45]:
I was going to say they probably didn’t know much about special ed.
Michael McKnight [04:48]:
No. I mean, it was pretty and at the time I didn’t even realize it was a new field, but you know how that goes. So really what took me was quite accidental. I did my student teaching and my elementary student teaching was in kindergarten. And I had never really been around real little ones. And it actually, I remember even to this day, driving home, going, “Oh my God, what did I do? I just made the biggest mistake of my life. I can’t do this.” Little guys were all over the place. I couldn’t get them to line up. I had no idea what I was doing.
And this is the second half of my student teaching was with adolescent troubled kids. And I just have always related to adolescence. I love the age group. And I think of adolescence, their gift to the world I see it as a gift of fire. They’re just really always just a live in a nice sign and a great sense, sometimes almost too much. But so I always gravitated to that and ended up really picking that as my first attempt at trying to teach them.
I must tell you though, the first two years of trying to teach adolescents labeled emotionally disturbed, I was working in Pennsylvania in intermediate units at the time. And my first two years were just literally a nightmare, very difficult. I had no idea what I was really getting myself into and really no idea what was underneath all the behavior I was looking at. So certainly that difficulty still drives my wanting to share with teachers, because I know how stressful it can be to try to manage a room full of young people that are carrying in so much stress and trauma. That is very difficult. So they’ve taught me a lot over the years and certainly I give them as well as a few just really lucky to bump into a few really, really great mentors over the years that also really helped me a lot and were not easy to find.
A couple of those people, I’d just like to mention, Dr. Larry Brendtro from the Reclaiming Youth Institute. Larry’s probably now in his early 80s, still puts out excellent work in materials about working with really difficult troubled children. Dr. Nicholas Long from the Life Space Crisis Institute. Also, a mentor of mine that really began to help me see underneath the surface behavior of kids that are caring in what we now know is toxic stress and trauma.
Alyssa Scolari [07:51]:
Yes. It makes me so emotional when I hear you say that you learn so much from adolescence, because that is exactly how I feel about my job as well. When I get people that say, “How could you work with adolescents?” My response usually is, “Because they teach me how to be alive.” I’ve learned more from my kids, not my biological kids, but the kids that I work with, I call them my kids. I’ve learned more from them than I wonder if they could ever learn from me.
Michael McKnight [08:32]:
I hear that.
Alyssa Scolari [08:32]:
So it truly is a gift and an honor to be able to work with children, particularly with adolescents, because they find themselves in this alternate reality of childhood and adulthood that unless you’re in it with them, it’s very difficult to understand. So with that being said, this idea of toxic stress, what do you mean by that? And what are some of the things? So I know you said that, that’s what underlies some of the negative behaviors or the unwanted behaviors, I should say, but can you talk a little bit more about the toxic stress?
Michael McKnight [09:15]:
Well, sure. I didn’t even tell you how and when I learned it. So probably around my fourth year of teaching, I decided to join an organization called VisionQuest and become a teacher for them. Back then VisionQuest was literally running wagon trains with adjudicated adolescents out in Arizona. And my future wife and I went out there and got immersed in not only teaching these young people that were coming right out of jail into a program, but actually getting to live with them. They had group homes. After they did their wagon trains, they came to places that VisionQuest had set up with group homes in a school. And that’s where I worked.
Myself and one other teacher, taught these young people and they taught me a lot, because I would actually go to the meetings at the homes at night. We worked probably 90 hours a week, but that’s where I first started to hear the stories underneath the behaviors of some really troubled kids. There was not a young woman that we worked with that had not been sexually abused multiple times, horrendous stories of runaways. That was the first time I really had heard lots of stories about male sexual abuse. And these kids were literally kids in pain. And that’s where I began to really say, “Well, wait a second, these aren’t kids that are just waking up trying to make my day miserable, which they’re very good at, but these are kids that are really, really, really hurting and hurt people.” So it was there that I really started to get a sense of, “Oh my gosh, what’s actually going on. So that was my first beginning, look underneath troubled kids and really getting to know them as well as their story.
Alyssa Scolari [11:28]:
And was that ultimately the inspiration for… Well, I guess I should say, both of your books or one of your books, because you have two books out, correct?
Michael McKnight [11:39]:
Yeah, two books out. It’s funny how that works. I certainly would have never dreamed that I’d ever write a book, let alone two books. So I met Dr. Lori Desautels probably now 13 years ago. And Lori is a professor at Butler University. What drew me to Lori was not only was she teaching future teachers, but Lori still, even to this day, goes into schools and works with kids. So she’s bringing her learning from the university actually into the classroom and trying things in classrooms around neuro science with kids. She’s also really an expert in educational neuroscience and that’s where I began to join my work with her work and what’s going on inside the neuroanatomy of kids also, as we learn about toxic stress. So if I had not met Lori, it was certainly her idea to write both books. And actually it was much more fun than I thought it would be.
Alyssa Scolari [12:48]:
I bet. And I’m such a huge brain nerd. So one of my favorite things to talk about, not just with the kids, my patients, but also with teachers and school districts, educators, other therapists is what is actually happening to a child’s brain when they are enduring toxic stress. So is that more Lori’s wheelhouse?
Michael McKnight [13:15]:
Well, now, you know what I mean? It’s really all both are wheelhouses now, but we certainly continue and we’re certainly not expert neuroscientists, but we do know enough about the brain and we know that it downshifts under stress, that the thinking part of our brain, our executive function, we know really doesn’t fully develop until 25 years or older. And I always laugh, because I always say females are a little bit before male brains. Hard to believe, right?
Alyssa Scolari [13:49]:
Michael McKnight [13:50]:
And really under stress that cortex, the thinking part of the brain, the language part of the brain, goes offline. And we’re down in that amygdala that fight flight a region of the brain and words don’t work there. So really the idea of learning about how the brain science fits in with what we’re seeing with kids and the idea of the need to regulate these kids, not punish them, we need to regulate them. So we want to shift the whole concept of discipline more toward regulation issues and how do we co-regulate a class full of kids and how do we co-regulate individual students? So that’s the big shift where we’ve been playing with in a nutshell.
I love Stephen Porges’s definition of trauma, trauma is a chronic disruption of connectedness. So, in a nutshell, trauma is an embedded experience, it’s in the body and it moves us away from connection toward protection. So instead of seeing these kids behaviors as just atrocious, what we’re looking at is young people’s protective behaviors. And how do we begin to break through that well developed wall? For good reasons, they develop that wall. And how do we begin to reach out and make connections with these young people? And that’s a lot of what our work really focuses on.
Alyssa Scolari [15:40]:
And what does that look like in practice? I guess, what is the message that you’re sending too? When you teach the courses at Stockton University, what does that look like? How do we take that and put it into practice in the school system?
Michael McKnight [16:01]:
Well, that’s a giant question, right?
Alyssa Scolari [16:04]:
I know. How do you fix the world? That’s what I want to know.
Michael McKnight [16:09]:
What we really talk about is the critical importance of making connections with kids. So it becomes paramount. So we look at bottom up strategies of working with kids. And when I say that, I talk about and think about, for instance, one of the activities that we do when we’re working with grade levels or schools or a department, would be just do a gallery walk with the staff and really check, have a list of all the kids’ names that they come in contact with, which kids are we connected with and which kids aren’t we really touching too much? We talk about touch points with kids and dosing connections.
So our most troubled kids as they go through schools, have fewer and fewer connections with adults. So what we try to do is intentionally, because teachers will connect with kids. What we want to do is set up those connections intentionally and on purpose and provide time to dose those kids and keep an eye on them. And this isn’t hard, it’s just a big shift in the way we think about what we’re doing. Lori and I don’t want to give teachers another program to do, God forbid, something else to teach. We really want to create just a framework of ways that they can think about teaching kids, connecting with kids and building those touch points.
We also want to teach kids about their brain. So as young as kindergarten, at certain levels, we’re teaching kids how their brain works, what it does. And it’s fun because they like doing it, they love teaching their parents about it. So it’s not just teaching the teachers about it, but we really want to teach kids about their neuroanatomy a little bit, so they know what’s going on within themselves.
Alyssa Scolari [18:22]:
Yeah. And I really appreciate what you say about how we don’t want to give teachers another project, because I think that so many teachers are so overworked, underpaid. I mean, let’s be realistic. We could talk for hours about the traumatic experience that can be in teaching, right?
Michael McKnight [18:46]:
Absolutely. I think not only do we talk about resiliency building with kids, we certainly talk about it with teachers too, and the ability for staff and educators to build their own resiliency too, because it becomes critical particularly now, my God, with the stress levels of what this pandemic has created in schools and the uncertainty of what’s going on. I mean, the staff really needs a boost and really some self care kinds of things so they can continue to do the stressful work that they’re trying to do.
Alyssa Scolari [19:27]:
Yeah. Right. I think it’s so important to point out that, when you say part of the importance is in making connections, which I could not agree more with, that is crucial. Those connections don’t necessarily have to even take up a ton of time, small little gestures, small moments that tells a kid, “Hey, I see you.” And it goes such a long way. I have a girl, I met her when she was in sixth grade and I met her through the Police Department after multiple run ins with the police. The police were pretty much fed up with her. She comes from a family, probably some of the worst abuse and neglect I’ve ever seen in my life. And she was forced to come see me. And she fought me tooth and nail the whole time. She had to do, I think, six sessions with me and she fought me.
It probably took her six months to do those six sessions, because she kept bailing on me. When I tell you that to this day, she still does not want to do therapy, but to this day, actually over the weekend, she reached out to me and just asked me a question, just said, “Hey, I have a question about X, Y and Z.” And I was like, “This girl knows.” She’s in high school now and this girl knows. So I saw her for maybe six times, but she knows that I care. And it goes a long way with kids.
Michael McKnight [21:14]:
It sure does. So one of the things we teach, because what we’re doing is every summer Lori and I both in Indiana, that’s where she is, as well as New Jersey, we’ve been teaching what we call school level resiliency teams. We’ve been doing trainings and they’re turnkey trainings. So these teams, we require an administrator to be part of them, but these teams spend three days with Lori and I. We go through three days of stuff with them, everything from the brain and neuroscience to trauma and toxic stress and how to make connections with kids. We’re still introducing. A lot of teachers still aren’t aware of adverse childhood experiences, adverse community environments. Although it’s out more than it’s been, it’s still not widely known, it’s still not taught in our educational programs to future teachers.
So we lay that out. And then what those teams are tasked to do is go back to their district or their building and spread this around their buildings. So we’ve trained teams in Cape May County, Atlanta County, and Cumberland County so far. And it’s been really at least a way to get even just basic information out there about what’s going on with your most troubled kids. You were talking about the importance of connections, there’s something that we share with them. It’s called the two by 10 strategy, and it’s really simple. You just really set it for two minutes a day for 10 days in a row, pick one of your kids that you’re having trouble connecting with and have a personal conversation with the kid about something the kid is interested in and then track how that goes. It is about really making and getting to know and listen to those kids.
And the two by 10 strategy, real Google-able, is easy. There’s been some research around it and it’s about intentionally making those connections. And that’s where this work starts. And it really shifts the thinking from what else can we do to punish this kid toward what can we do to help this kid want to cooperate with us? And that’s about connection. We cooperate with people we like, basic. So let’s make those connections with kids.
Alyssa Scolari [23:58]:
Yes. And we cooperate with people who are safe.
Michael McKnight [23:58]:
Alyssa Scolari [24:02]:
And if you come at a child with the same rage that, that child’s parent has been coming at him or her with, or them, you’re not safe, because you’re just like every other adult.
Michael McKnight [24:21]:
Alyssa Scolari [24:23]:
Now, do you have any recommendations or any thoughts, because one of the things that I’m noticing in my practice is so many of my kids feel so disconnected on these Zoom classes, online schooling. I mean, they cop on, they turn their cameras off, they go back to bed and they’re like, “I don’t care, my teacher doesn’t even know my name.”
Michael McKnight [24:50]:
Well, again, I mean absolutely, connection actually I think becomes more critical as we’re doing remote schooling. So how do we infuse some connecting activities as we do remote learning? And part of that is finding developmentally fun things to do with kids online to create that same sense that you would if you were in class with them. So to just drone on and do Zoom meetings in school all day long, which our recommendation, and some schools are following it. I think some are just trying to do this like we’re just doing remote schooling. This is crisis schooling. This isn’t just remote schooling. We’re doing crisis schooling and we need to limit some of the time spent on Zoom, but we also need to infuse some things into Zoom that will bring those groups together and allow us to connect.
And those activities are easy enough to do. The idea though is to shift and know that the brain learns best in a state of relaxed alertness. So how do we begin to create a space of relaxed alertness and how do you calm your own self down? The two easiest ways to calm something down is breath and movement. So how do we weave these kind of things in and begin to do that? So, I mean, even at an elementary level, if you’re on a Zoom, even, “Hey, run around your house and find something that’s shiny and come back and show it to us,” or just fun activities, almost like show and tell activities with some movements, some sharing, some getting to know each other, simple questions about, Hey, and noticing kids.
I mean, if kids are turning off their cameras sometimes because schools are not noticing them. I mean, if you can be able to say, “Hey, I noticed you got a haircut, I noticed, Hey, you got a new outfit on, where did you get your new hat?” Those kinds of things go a long way. They take a lot of time.
Alyssa Scolari [27:13]:
Oh, they really do. Yeah.
Michael McKnight [27:15]:
And it’s really about, I see you, I recognize that. And even talking a little bit about this pandemic. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic. That’s not something that’s uncharitable. I think we need to share that. I think we need to be able to say, “Hey, that’s what causes some people to feel this way, to feel that way. If you’re having those feelings completely normal, we all are, here’s some things we can do to help.” Those kinds of things go a long way and they can be done over Zoom. But the first reality is, Hey, we’re doing crisis schooling. This isn’t just remote learning. And I still think some schools are having completely grasped that. I know the Department of Ed hasn’t. We’re still barreling along like it’s a regular school year doing monitoring, teacher evaluations. I mean, it’s just-
Alyssa Scolari [28:14]:
And that pressure trickles down.
Michael McKnight [28:14]:
Alyssa Scolari [28:16]:
And it’s so hard, because at the end of the day right now, when we are in a crisis, like you said, it’s crisis schooling. And sometimes that math lesson might not get completed.
Michael McKnight [28:28]:
That’s right. And it’s not going to be the end of the world. And these [crosstalk 00:28:31] going to be behind for the rest of their lives. That kind of busyness is really what I see when adults begin to downshift. When we become stressed, we become ultra busy, we pretend that we can do things that we can’t do that make really very little sense. That’s adults in their amygdala area, in that stressed area. We get faster and faster rather than slower and slower. And we put out from our end, Lori and I, part of our job is to buffer our children from this stress and the buffer us from stress, so that we can begin to function in that calm manner where the brain learns best.
Alyssa Scolari [29:21]:
Yeah. And so one of my favorite activities, and I really do think that there are some cool activities that you can do to get kids participating and in this state of relaxed alertness, as you said. And one of my favorite activities that I have seen people do on Zoom with classes is the make a face and then throw it at somebody. And then that person has to mimic the face and then make their own face and throw it at somebody else. So it forces people to not only pay attention. So they’re alert, because they’re like, “Well, I don’t know when am I going to get called on? Who’s going to throw me the face? So everybody’s watching each other and there’s an element of silliness and playfulness to it. So it relaxes people, it gets people more comfortable around each other and it makes people want to show up and want to be there.
Michael McKnight [30:17]:
Absolutely. Anything fun is a great stress buster, right?
Alyssa Scolari [30:22]:
Michael McKnight [30:22]:
And when you see the disappearance of fun in children and adults, there’s something going on. It’s telling you, you really need to stir this up and stop taking ourselves so seriously and have some fun. Young people learn through play. I mean, little kids learn through play. I mean, we are genetically playful animals. If that disappears, that’s not a great indication that learning is going on. So actually the exact opposite. So, I mean, I think weaving that in is important.
Other things we really share too is how do you provide win-win strategies with kids, providing them choices in their assignments is just a way to, again, okay, if you’ve got a page full of 20 math problems, instead of doing them all, have them pick their favorite 12. So as something as simple as that begins to take away some of that strain and giving kids some power of choice, those kinds of things, really, really critical as we do those kinds of things. I think really important to do with kids.
Alyssa Scolari [31:37]:
It’s critical always. And especially right now when kids feel especially powerless and we all feel especially powerless, but to give them some autonomy in their work is I think great.
Michael McKnight [31:53]:
Yeah, absolutely. And we can be pretty creative with that. But again, I think a lot of it also, and that’s when Lori and I train our resiliency teams, it’s one of the reasons that we require a principal to be on that team, because leadership’s critical in this and can leadership get an understanding? The third role is really to buffer their teachers from toxic levels of stress to give them some guidance about what’s okay to do and take some of this stress away from teachers. Yes, we don’t have to finish the whole textbook this year, this is going to be different, but kids don’t learn in a straight line anyway, nobody does. We’ll be fine. We can catch them up. Let’s really first take care of business and make sure everybody’s connected, feeling safe.
And now that we’re seeing at least a possibility of an end to this pandemic, because we really are all experiencing pandemic stress by now, whether it’s labeled that or not, the end with the vaccines is a bit hopeful. Can we hang on and really just see our job as supporting versus getting kids to learn vast amounts of new material under toxic levels of stress?
Alyssa Scolari [33:20]:
Right. The stuff you’re talking about is so important. And I love the title of your most recent book, Eyes Are Never Quiet, because it just reminds me of the one thing that my mother always said to me, which was a kid’s eyes or anybody’s eyes are the window to the soul, which obviously my mother didn’t coin that term. But that was something she said to me when I was very, very young. And I’ve always taken that with me. So I guess what I want to ask you is what is the gist of your newest book?
Michael McKnight [34:04]:
Really the gist of Eyes Are Never Quiet is seeing underneath surface behavior, is really taking a look at what’s going on inside these young people and reframing what we’re seeing away from discipline toward regulation. All people need to be co-regulated under stress. We will need co-regulation our entire lives, even as adults we co-regulate one another when we’re in stress. Just think of the last time you had some stress in your own personal life, I hope you had another adult or a friend you could go to that actually helped with co-regulation. That’s so natural. And it’s what every mom has tried to do with their babies as they fast, as they’re growing. Human beings need one another to regulate.
So part of what we talk about as teachers in classrooms full of kids with all different kinds of regulation systems, one of the things we talk about is how do we become a thermostat in that room instead of a thermometer? How do we set our own temperature regardless of what’s going on around us and be able to make really good decisions about what we’re seeing with young people? We do a bunch of things with kids. I’ll show you one of the things. One, we teach what we call focused attention practices which is really, we see teaching needing to do two things. We’re like weathermen. I have to be able to calm a group of kids down so that they’re ready to learn or I have to be able to wake them up so that they’re ready to learn. And throughout the school day, you can use strategies to do both with groups.
So when we talk about adolescence, so one of the things we use with adolescents to wake them up, we can do on Zoom, I’ll show it to you. If you make a peace sign with one hand and an okay sign with another, go ahead, try this. What I’m going to tell you to do is when I say go, you’re going to switch these. This will be the okay sign. This becomes the peace sign. And then we’re going to go back and forth as fast as we can. So ready, set, go. It’s hard, isn’t it?
Alyssa Scolari [36:37]:
I can’t do it.
Michael McKnight [36:39]:
So we use those activities to wake kids up, they laugh. But the other thing we do is we tell them what’s going on in their brain and why it’s so hard to do that. You’re literally going across your brain regions when you switch hands. But as we practice, we’ll get faster and faster. And it literally shows you over time that as you use it, your brain will actually rewire itself. And that’s what learning is. It’s making those neural connections. So we use activities like this for fun ways to wake kids up, but also to teach them if you want to become good at something, you’ve got to do it repeatedly and over time. So we have tons of those in the back of Eyes Are Never Quiet as wake ups.
Alyssa Scolari [37:38]:
I love it.
Michael McKnight [37:39]:
Okay. The other thing we do is really talk about lower regions of the brain, breath, movement, sensation, those kinds of things. A lot of stuff that a really good occupational therapist use with kids can be stolen by classroom teachers. And that calms that lower region of the brain that really has no language. So if we want to create safety down there, we can do things like scribbling with both hands at the same time on a big sheet of paper, very calming over time, doodling is calming, having kids soccer piece of candy is calming. It’s not like, Oh, let’s get rid of the mints, drinking plenty of water, all those things, we can use as teachers as we create the weather in our classroom, right? So how do we infuse these into our daily routines and practices to keep everybody in that regulated areas best we can.
Alyssa Scolari [38:52]:
And I would say that a lot of the stuff that you’re talking about is also useful, not just for teachers, but also for mental health professionals and parents.
Michael McKnight [39:03]:
Absolutely. Well, we’ve been doing a lot of parent trainings on Zoom. Absolutely. Certainly. Yeah. Anybody working with people actually, it’s pretty easily transferable and certainly very transferrable to parenting and really getting parents to take a look at what’s going on, how to avoid conflict cycles with young people. We’ve got to get kids in their cortex before we can really problem solve and often. So this isn’t about just calming kids down, it’s really about getting them in a state so we can fix a problem. If they’re off that much, we’ve got to co-regulate them, we’ve got to settle them down and then we’ve got to figure out how do we solve whatever this problem is? So it takes a little bit more time, but it’s way more effective.
Alyssa Scolari [40:00]:
Yes. That’s one of the primary things I teach with parents of kids is like, when things are heightened, don’t go into that, do not go into that fire, we need to regulate, and then we need to come back to it.
Michael McKnight [40:16]:
Yeah, because if you don’t, you end up damaging the relationship and you end up breaking the connection. So it’s critical for adults to understand that dynamic, because emotions are highly contagious, but we can use those emotions, whether it’s our own kids emotions or our students to understand what that kid’s feeling. So angry kids will make us feel either angry or afraid. Okay, that’s what’s going on in that kid. A depressed kid over time is going to have us starting to feel hopeless ourselves. Those kids that put their sweatshirts on and just put their heads down, they’re not problem kids per se acting outwardly, but inwardly they’re having some difficulty and we need to recognize those kids, the kids that act out, the kids that act in. And then trauma causes kids to be hyper aroused. It feels like attention deficit disorder. These kids don’t have ADHD.
Alyssa Scolari [41:23]:
Yes. Thank you.
Michael McKnight [41:25]:
That is all over the place, because they’re in a persistent state of alarm. So how do we calm them down? And educators and many, even a lot of people just don’t recognize that. We want to get that out there.
Alyssa Scolari [41:45]:
Yeah. I thank you so much for saying that, because that is something that I wholeheartedly believe that we are diagnosing ADHD and I’m not saying ADHD is not a thing, I’m not saying that-
Michael McKnight [41:58]:
No, I’m not either.
Alyssa Scolari [41:59]:
… but when there is unresolved underlying trauma and toxic stress, we can not jump right to, this kid has ADHD. We can’t do it. And I have so many people, I even have adults that come in and they’re like, “I think I have ADHD.” And I’m like, “But you’ve been traumatized your whole life and you never learned how to deal with it and you grew up in an extremely stressful and dysfunctional toxic household. So why do we think it’s ADHD?”
Michael McKnight [42:34]:
Alyssa Scolari [42:37]:
Michael McKnight [42:38]:
Again, that’s why digging under that surface behavior a little bit is really important, because certainly anybody that is in a persistent state of alarm is going to look and feel like that and yet that isn’t the issue, the issue is underneath that. And actually, we have really lots of kids with that. I mean, one of the things we do in our training, in 2019 New Jersey put out their adverse childhood experiences, a study from New Jersey. And what New Jersey even found was over 40% of children in our New Jersey public schools, more than 782,000 kids have at least one ACE, 18% of children are estimated to have experienced multiple ACEs. So we’re walking through hallways, going into classrooms with kids that are carrying in levels of stress that we really have to begin to recognize, because it’ll not only interfere with their behavior, it interferes with their learning. So we want to really try to get this word out to parents, to communities, to schools, to educators in as many, many ways as possible.
Alyssa Scolari [43:58]:
Yeah. And for the listeners out there, if you’re interested in learning more about the ACE study, I did do a full episode on it. I want to say it’s either episode one, it’s somewhere between episode one through four. So you guys can go back and check that out, because I did do a full episode on it. But I mean, thank you so, so much for coming on this podcast today. So I’ve actually started reading your book which I just love and I’ve found it so fascinating. I am going to link Michael and Lori’s book, I should say, on the show notes as well as in the private Facebook group so that you guys can have that. If you are interested, you can click on the Amazon link download. And thank you, you’re doing amazing work out there. And I really appreciate you coming on here and talking about it.
Michael McKnight [45:03]:
It was fun. It was great way to start our week. And thanks again for asking me, it was a lot of fun.
Alyssa Scolari [45:11]:
Of course. Thanks for listening, everyone. For more information about today’s episode and to sign up for the Light After Trauma newsletter, head over to my website at alyssascolari.com. The really great thing about being a part of this newsletter is that not only do you get weekly updates on new podcast episodes and blog posts, but you also get access to the private Facebook community as well as access to all sorts of insider tips, resources, and info graphs that supplement what we talk about on the show. You also can connect with me and other trauma warriors. I’m super active on the Facebook community and I look forward to talking with you.