‘When they flinch from the stapler dropping, it’s because they weren’t sure if you’re throwing it at them.’: Foster mom pens powerful note to teacher warning of her children’s trauma

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“Hey Teacher,

It’s that time again. You are likely a mixture of excited and nervous for your upcoming class.

I know that being a teacher is so much more than the hours of teaching you do each day, and you’re basically raising this next generation, so I hope you hear my words with grace. Most of you seem to have a deep well of passion for teaching and educating our kids, and I believe your intentions stem from the best kind.

As you juggle one million things this next month, I am throwing a few more things at you to think about. Maybe you’re already thinking about these things, but just in case you’re not, they’re really important to me – so I’m going to share.

I’m a mom to two 3-year-old’s. But I also mother a second grader and a fourth grader. Last year I mothered a third grader and a headstart/preschooler. All these kids come to school with their own tricky baggage you likely won’t see on the surface.

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

You see, the kids I brought to school every day last year? They come from a really, really hard place. They come from abuse and neglect. I’m talking really intense abuse, the kind you think can’t be real. But you actually wouldn’t know this about them, unless you read their intensive case files or talked to their therapists (neither of which are legal) or became their temporary mom. Instead, they look like pretty typical kids with normal childhoods.

But they aren’t typical, and their childhoods aren’t normal.

They come to school from someone they just met, whether last night or last year — either way, we didn’t start together. We only came together after so much trauma and loss and pain.

Grace & Salt

When they are flinching from the stapler dropping on the floor, it isn’t actually because they are ‘cute and jumpy,’ it’s because their brains weren’t sure if you were trying to throw something at them. So they duck for cover.

When they begin yelling and screaming and possibly become violent, it’s not because they are spoiled brats who always get their way…it’s because

1. they were not taught how to handle their big emotions or work through conflict

and

2. their bodies are in a survival mode.

You’ve heard of — any maybe even teach it — the responses to threat: fight or flight? There is also freeze.

One of my kids responds with ‘freeze.’ She withdraws and is not able to speak. When she freezes it sometimes lasts hours…sometimes it lasts days. In fact, her whole first three months with us she was essentially nonverbal.

Her eyes grow wide and her voice silences, frozen by the mere desire to survive. It can be frustrating, especially when all you’re asking her is what she wants to color with. But it’s how she’s trained herself to survive: flee within herself and attempt to become invisible.

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

I share these things because so many kids come from hard places; stories and journeys we couldn’t even fathom. Their behaviors are often tied to trauma of some form, not being spoiled. Their development is typically behind, their emotional age only half their chronological age. Foster care is a big mess of trauma.

What my kids need is to know you see them, and you are safe. It takes time to build trust, but it does happen.

Have you ever heard of Connected Parenting? It’s when the parent works to empathically connect with their children and see their perspective — in every situation — before guiding them. Connected Teaching would be ideal for kids from hard places, though I realize sometimes it seems exhausting and time consuming. It seems that way because it is that way. But it is worth it.

When my kid, who is in constant survival mode, feels seen and empathized with…their brains have space and capacity to learn, to be taught by you, and just maybe retain information.

There is more.

Let’s switch it up.

I am a white mom. Most of my kids have brown skin and textured hair.

With a quick google search I see that 80% of teachers in America are white. There is so much we could unpack here…but instead I’d love to stick with some basics.

First and foremost, understanding that representation matters is huge: if you have posters or art hanging up in your classroom, can you make sure there is some diversity? Asian, Latino, African, etc. Asians are more than computer experts, Latinos are more than automobile technicians, and African/Black people do more than sports. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a Black doctor, a Latino CEO, and/or an Asian attorney? We have black Santa at Christmas as another example. Our kids need to see themselves as more than the stereotypes the world feeds them.

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

I know this seems silly, and maybe it is! But could you have some band aids that match my kids’ skin color? They sell them at Target, but also: Tru Color Bandages.

Being colorblind is not helpful. Shades of skin are beautiful and plenty, created to be celebrated. Our kids need crayons or markers that represent their skin tones, just as the white kids get their yellow or white crayons.

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

Also their hair…it is textured and a major part of the black culture. Please don’t touch it and don’t let other people touch it without his permission. Racial slurs and jokes are a thing and they aren’t funny; if our kids are laughing at the joke, that means they likely feel awkward and don’t know how else to respond. Please take these seriously and use these moments as a time to educate our kids’ peers.

I guess above all, I want you to take this away: we are super proud of who we are. We celebrate the melanin in my kids’ skin, and I hope you will be proud of it, too.

As a teacher, you will affect how kids see themselves, you get to help shape our kids, and what a beautiful space to hold.

Thank you for all you do, I am grateful for the time and love you give to our kids.

Sincerely,

Me… a mom doing her best to advocate for her beloved kids.”

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner
Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

Read Natalie’s powerful adoption backstories here:

‘I can’t introduce you to my kids until I know. They’ll attach to you, and I can’t break their hearts.’: Girlfriend nervous it’s ‘too soon’ to meet boyfriend’s kids, feels anxious to not ‘replace’ mom

‘It’s definitely too soon,’ I thought. ‘No one would approve.’ I met K at the wrong time. At 26 years old, I had already been married 6 years, parented 7 children and miscarried 2 babies.’

‘She said, ‘That’s them. That’s my son’s parents. That’s who I’ve been looking for.’ And then, I told her you were pregnant.’

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