Friday, April 22, 2016

Dear School, A note about my Puffer Fish and I...

Dear School,
A note about my little Puffer Fish and I.

First off. If I could and it be socially acceptable, I would like to begin every phone call with these two sentences, and every IEP, 504, behavioral planning meeting with them written in sharpie, on my face.
So it is the first thing you hear or see.

Before we begin.

If you are educating a child who is struggling, a child who is actively acting out, rude, obstinate, and sneaky and to you feels like their objective is to create chaos and disorder.

Yes. You are absolutely correct.

Also you are wrong.

That child, unless diagnosed with a specific mood or conduct disorder ( and those kids too) if you look back far enough, in their history are surviving. They are surviving the effects of complex trauma.
They are coping.
YES, they are difficult.
YES, they make your life harder.

Yes, they may seem like obstinate, selfish, controlling chaos makers enjoying their ability to create mayhem.

Yes they argue.
Yes they take no ownership.
Yes, they balk at your consequences and answer that they don’t care.

You see they are puffer fish.
Have you ever seen one?
I mean you deal with the proverbial ones all day every day…but a real salt water guy swimming around looking pretty normal, acting pretty cool, going with the actual flow…until a perceived danger occurs…

and BAM.

Survival mode kicks in, they literally puff out their chests, push out their protective poisonous spikes and

and they will….they have learned that survival has more to do with endurance, with staying alive and the strongest the longest, for you see that is how they have learned to live another day.

Real live Puffer Fish according to Kids National Geographic .com (because let's be honest they actually used terminology I could understand) explain them as ; “
Also known as blowfish, these clumsy swimmers fill their elastic stomachs with huge amounts of water (and sometimes air) and blow themselves up to several times their normal size.

Some species also have spines on their skin to ward off predators….”

Huh, yep. That.

These kids you are working with, are constantly in a state of survival. They have very little ability for anything else, and what is so very confusing is what looks to be difficult behavior, is actually them coping.

Loudest most obnoxious kid in the class?
Maybe that kid grew up in an orphanage, or home where drugs were the priority and they are SO desperate to be seen, heard, because as a baby their screams and crys of pain and hunger, primal need of actual connection and safety, fell on unavailable/uncaring ears.

That kid that steals, lies, hoards.
Maybe they have never had anything be concrete in their lives. Maybe they know what it is to not know when their next meal/hug/need being met  is coming.

That child that charms, and is studious and perfect, yet the parents look exhausted and constantly ask about their seemingly perfect child’s behavior, is the child that may have been taught, the perfect ones get away with the most, the perfect ones control the adults, the perfect ones get the best attention from the adults, and that insures survival, control and then they go home and spin out.

The children that seem more sexualized, maybe that child learned early on, it was easier to give it away, than have it taken from them….

The kid that doesn’t seem to react to any consequence? If they have been starved, neglected, raped, abused, there isn’t much a expulsion, or F Grade can do to motivate them towards better behavior... they have already experienced the worst of the won't and can't motivate them with fear.

They can’t show weakness.
Weakness means not being strong, being stronger and smarter and not caring more than anyone else means they can’t get hurt….because these “Struggling kids?” Are really suffering kids.

Where you see miss behavior and disrespect, I promise if you dig a little deeper, you may also find trauma, you may find survival, which looks an awful lot like behavior.

Because a truth deeper than the ocean is what we all know about ourselves and others…happy healthy people who feel safe, don’t act out in this way. They don’t need to.
They aren’t afraid of anything, they don't  have anything  to control, they have nothing survival contingent to fear.

Happy people are happy because they feel safe.

Suffering people are suffering, because they are in pain, and afraid of that pain.

and I get it, I do. My kid who ran away and pulled down his pants and told the school P.O. to “suck it”, doesn’t look like a terrified little first grader. The way he laughs in your face, and says “I don’t care” .

I get it the teen age girl with the ‘eff you attitude’ that stole her teachers wallet and bought lunch for all of her friends....seems callous and fearless, is actually trying to prove that she isn't terrified of not being cool, unaccepted or left behind.

I get it the boy who calls on the adult, when he is using foul language and goading him on to “go ahead and HIT HIM”…is actually maybe trying to have a say this time, in how and when he gets hit, because in his past he may have has no say.

He makes you believe those spikes are really there, a part of him. The more scared he is the further he will push them out and prove to you, he is scary, he is mean….he feels in so much danger , he wants you to feel that too.

Have you ever seen a puffer fish, deflate, after it realized it was safe, that the harm was gone, that the environment could support him and keep him safe?
I am talking about fish again…but then again, maybe I am not.

Have you ever tried speaking gentle to him when his spikes are out. Have you ever just stayed, accepting the spikes and sat, not making any sudden movements and allowed calm?

A child of trauma with a perceived need, will stop at nothing to get what it is they believe they need to survive. Actual necessity or not, if they believe it is something they need, morality takes back seat to survival, every time. It has had to. That’s why they are still here.

I know this is a lot to remember when my child is refusing, ignoring , obstinate or disrespectful, but if you could , every once in a while…see my little puffer fish for exactly who he or she is…and help them realize they are safe, that the harm is gone, that the environment can support them and keep them safe?
I promise, their spikes and puffed out chests may pop out, but they will have the ability to deflate that much faster.

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, and
about my little Puffer Fish and I.
I would like to repeat my sentences one last time.


Also, thank you again.

and if you ever have any questions, or I can help in any way, I am here, I am open, and I am grateful for the people helping me surround my sweet child in safety.


The Mama Bear who loves her Puffer Fish 



  1. I love this. We've called our kiddos Porcupettes (after reading A Family for Porcupette or whatever that book is called). Pufferfish may be a better description!

  2. Love love love this article. I've said for years...I feel for the kids who don't have a great home life and they have LD's. The school and teachers within might be the only soft place to fall for these kids.

  3. I have close adult friends who never found the healing they needed to stop puffing out. The environment of safety and harm being gone is even more complex for the adult, but the needs are identical. This has been an insightful read. Thank you.

  4. I am undeniably thankful to you for providing us with this invaluable related information. My spouse and I are easily grateful, quite frankly the documents we needed.
    Legacy Safety and Security

  5. Sometimes they might have a great home life, someone(s) who is in there corner fighting non-stop for them. But, their brain is over/under stimulated, sensory perceptions whether from abuse, neglect, or just plain simply born with them can cause this effect.

    1. This is mine. He is not abused is anyway. Never has been. But he has autism and an intellectual disability. It will never be easy for him.

  6. Beautiful summary! I have a charmer.. so few people ever see the trauma (or the drama), but it's there. Bless you!

  7. I love this! I have several Puffer Fish (the human kind) and I know their "behavior" comes from trauma, sometimes layers of it. I am going to share this on my FB blog page; Tales From Our House, making sure the credit goes where it belongs. Thanks again!

  8. My mom (a 57-year old school teacher) and I love reading (and crying over) your blog. I just want to say that I miss your writing and pray that all is okay with you and your kiddos.

    Let me know if you have a new blog address from which we can read your wonderful anecdotes and words of wisdom.

    Xoxo, Shelly

  9. I drive special needs kids to school for a living. Those that are the biggest pain in the butt, isolated from their peers turn out to be great conversationalists. Largely the problem is they're trying to act the way they think they should which is contrary to how they should. I get a lot of EBD kids. The autistic kids I don't yet understand. Some of my EBDs are as smart as a whip. It's just that gangster aping that lands them in so much hot water.