One Moment at a Time

Rachael S., Child Advocate

If you ever ask me, I’ll tell you I have the best job at NWAWS. I have been the Child Advocate since January 2009, which means I get to be a kid myself at times. I do a lot of creative and therapeutic art projects with the kids, visit libraries and museums, go swimming and hiking, and discover some of the coolest places NWA has to offer.

But even with all of this fun, at the core, I am working with kids who: have come from a home where they have not felt safe, have witnessed poor versions of conflict resolution, have not been allowed to have a voice of their own, and have learned that the way to get what you want is through manipulation, verbal aggression, threats, and force.

Changing lives, ending domestic violence, changing negative thought patterns, learning coping skills, and rebuilding are huge undertakings. These are not things that happen in one day. So how does a person deal with this long process in a world that is about instant gratification?  I’ve learned to take this job and my life, “One Moment at a Time.”

Here are a few “Moments” I’ve shared.

  • A young boy who had seen his father arrested multiple times for violence against his mother struggled with his own anger and aggression. Whenever he felt he or his family were threatened, he would quickly lash out with his fists. This led to me sitting with the kids in shelter and talking about conflict. I told them conflict is a part of life; no matter how good you are, how much you try to avoid it, there will always be conflict. They decided they wanted to learn another way of dealing with conflict. The first lesson is that the only person we are in control of and the only person we can change is ourselves. That is a lesson a lot of people haven’t learned yet!

Next we practiced approaching a conflict. Take deep breathes, use a calm voice, and use this outline: “I feel______(mad, scared, sad, etc.) when you_____ (name calling, hitting, stealing).  And I don’t like that.” Next tell the person what you would like instead. “If you want to_____(play with me, get my attention, borrow a toy, etc.), next time please ask_____(Hey, Rachael, will you play with me, can I borrow your toy, etc.)?

Later that week I saw that same young boy and another kid together. The other made a disparaging remark about the boy’s father. Instead of lashing out instinctively, I saw him stop and think and then he said, “I don’t like it when you talk about my dad.  He’s in a really bad place right now.” He walked off.  That was his “Moment!”

  • A young girl who had been in many shelters and had started over time and time again came to us. She had begun stealing as a way to, once again, rebuild her life. One day I noticed something important missing from my office. I approached her and asked for it back. She handed it back, and that was that. Later that day we sat and talked about the incident. I brought up trust and asked how a person earns it. For her this “Moment” was about having an adult approach her about a conflict without screaming, yelling, and hitting. She told me she was shocked that I could just talk to her about this. I hope this “Moment” sticks with her and reminds her that people can change and approach conflict in new ways.
  • A young mother with a toddler and a baby had problems at bedtime. The toddler would scream and throw fits for almost an hour.  I had the chance to work with the mother on parenting skills. We looked at conflict resolution and discussed how we can only change and control ourselves. We focused on helping her remain calm when it feels like the world is crumbling around her by taking deep breaths, smiling and walking away if needed and safe. When an adult is stressed, the child feels it and mirrors it. We talked about bedtime before coming to shelter, and she shared that a lot of the conflict between she and her husband happened in the evenings after the children had gone to bed. I made the connection for her that her daughter does not feel safe going to bed because of this pattern. Through coaching she approached her daughter as she was screaming at bedtime and told her “You are safe.  Breathe with me.” The toddler instantly calmed and started doing deep breathes with mom. This was their “Moment!”

So when things feel too hard, too crazy, too disruptive or too savage, take a deep breath and tell yourself,  “I can do this . . . ‘One Moment at a Time.'”

June 23, 2015

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