Saturday, June 6, 2009

Your Child's Basic Needs

As you might have guessed, after actively interacting with children for over 25 years, I have a plethora of anecdotal stories that elicit humorous, interesting, sad, exhilarating, depressing, and uplifting emotions.

One of the saddest group of stories involves lack of parental involvement in a child’s life. Boys and girls look to their parents for nurturing, support (emotional and financial), love, attention, and the general feeling that there is somebody in world to take care of them.

During one particular school day, the head of the Cafeteria, Mary, brought a student to me during the lunch period. According to Mary, the student, a 7th grade boy named Derrick, did not have lunch money, his pre-paid account had been exhausted, he did not bring food from home, and he was refusing to eat the free sandwich that was always offered to students in his situation.

Inexplicably, Derrick seemed to be quite angry about the free sandwich. I stated his options to him: Eat the free sandwich or call home, as I did not want him to continue with his day and the after-school basketball practice on an empty stomach. Derrick agreed to call his dad.

I escorted Derrick to my office to use my telephone. Although I could not hear his dad’s end of the conversation, I did hear Derrick speak the following words: “No, it’s your fault, because you wouldn’t get out of bed to give me the money”, “I kept asking you, but you just stayed in bed”, “You do this to me all the time”, “Well, you’re not the one who has to stay at school until 6:00 without eating”, “You know what? …. No, you’re the loser”. Derrick then hung up the phone.

Well, as you might have guessed, this situation quickly transformed from a story about a free sandwich into a story that contained several elements. Derrick and I sat down at my office table. After I chastised him for speaking to his father in such disrespectful tones, I asked Derrick to explain his actions.

Through tears, he explained that to me that his dad drinks a lot, gets home most nights long after Derrick goes to bed, sleeps all day, goes out to eat in the afternoon, and then goes to work. Derrick further explained that his mother moved out a few years ago and that, because of his dad’s work and party schedule, he seldom gets to spend any time with his dad.

In short, Derrick’s dad had been given full responsibility for his son’s life. To put it mildly, Derrick’s dad had failed at every turn. After a number of years of neglectful treatment, Derrick had come to believe that his father did not love him, did not take care of his basic needs, and certainly did not support him.

I quickly made a 2-tier plan: The first step was to make sure that Derrick ate that day. I offered him a candy bar, BUT he had to eat the free sandwich first. He quickly agreed to that plan! As you might have guessed, Derrick thought that this would be a good plan for every future day, as well! So, yes, we made sure that we always had a supply of candy bars for Derrick AFTER he ate the sandwich each day!

The second step was to speak with his dad at a future basketball game about the need to take care of his son’s basis needs (I figured that I could talk to him about everything else later). However, as you might have guessed, Derrick’s dad never showed up for one of his son’s games. So, the second step eventually involved telephone calls, home visits, and the involvement of a team of people from the school and other governmental systems. Eventually, Derrick’s father became more involved with his son’s life (he even came to a basketball game!!), but the wasted years could never be recovered.

So the big questions are as follows:

1) Do you take care of your child’s basic needs every single day (love, support, nurturing, etc.)? Your child relies on you to provide for their health, safety, and well-being. In most cases, children do not have resources to provide for themselves. If Derrick had not become angry over the free sandwich, we never would have known of his plight and the school would not have stepped in to intervene. How many previous days did Derrick silently suffer before becoming he became angry on that day?

2) Does your child feel secure in this world with the knowledge that you will always be there to provide for his/her needs including clothing, food, shelter, etc.?

3) Do you know of a child in Derrick’s situation, in which it appears as though parents are not taking care of their children? If so, please report this information to your local school, so that they can quickly intervene and get the necessary help for the child!

Yes, as I indicated, in the world of dealing with children, there are many sad stories like Derrick’s. There are also some uplifting stories (the end of Derrick’s story was certainly better than the beginning!). I’ll provide one of those in August.

Hang in there and take excellent care of your kids!

Paul W. Reeves

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