Saturday, May 16, 2009

Making enemies is easy, making friends is hard…

Helping a teenage girl with a social interrelationship problem is a challenge. It is much more complicated than it appears on the surface. It requires gentleness, patience, love and knowledge of psychology.

I am a homeroom teacher of year 7 section A in our school. There are only seventeen students in the class and it is easy to manage. The only problem that occurs repeatedly in my class is the fight between two students, a boy and a girl, with a history back from their early primary years. Additional to that problem is the bullying thrown back and forth between this girl and the rest of her classmates [although I was able to address this problem, it is not fully eliminated].

The girl, I will name her Tricia, was very ill when she was a baby and was dying. The only way that the doctors found to save her life was to use steroids in her body. Eventually, the girl lived and grew normally except that she became obese. She lives in a country where petite figure is the norm and is beautiful. Expectedly, she is being bullied because of her size despite her pretty face. Because of excessive bullying that she endures ever since she was young, she developed a defense mechanism in herself. Before she gets bullied, she bullies other kids first. This bullying will then result to violent fights and at the end of the fight, at least one of the involved is bleeding. This pattern occurs repeatedly in spite of the school counselor’s assistance.

Tricia had made a permanent enemy out of her classmate named Jake [not a real name]. I observed that Jake appears to be nice and he portrays himself as blameless whenever there were fights but he is a good instigator of others in hating Tricia. The fight between them started as early as year 3 and the fight was even extended to their parents. Now they are in year 7 and the hatred between them is already cemented. On the first month of the school year, I wondered if I would be able to help them. As the school year progressed, there were times that I just felt like giving up and just stopping to care but a sense of motherhood in me refuses to give up. It does not help that the rest of the class had already established their prejudice towards her even before they came to my class. Nobody would want to sit beside her. Nobody would want to be in a group with her because they said she does not participate and that she becomes a problem in the group. Tricia herself does not want to belong in a group for any group activity; she just stays in her seat and resolves herself by doing anything that entertains her such as drawing or coloring. She also tends to do things that would get her attention such as ruining the classroom’s décor or someone else’s projects. When she gets scolded, she felts satisfied. Her classmates are always watching what next move she will do and so that they will immediately tell to the teacher. Everyone has nothing in their mouth but “Tricia did this, Tricia did that…”

I realized that Tricia will never be able to move out from this isolation unless her environment is changed. So what I did was, I made her sit beside the very people who hated most to sit beside her. Also, I made it a rule that who ever say the words “Tricia did this, or Tricia did that” will have to repeat the name “Tricia” one hundred times in front of the class. If Tricia is not around, I talk to the class and explain to them how they contribute to Tricia’s behavior and how they are liable to her actions.

I found this approach actually working. I saw Tricia slowly building connections with her girl classmates and the girls were more welcoming to her. Because I observed that Tricia wants to be needed by others, I always make her run errands for me. This makes her happy. It helps boast her self esteem.

One day however, just very recently, I was absent because I had to process some papers, there was a fight between Tricia and Jake once again. There were exchanges of abusive words and physical attacks [which is normal for their fights, actually]. The principal broke this news to me early morning on the next when I came to school in front of my students. I felt very upset. For the first time, these two teenagers received a lengthy sermon from me. I made them realize the consequences of their actions. Jake is a topper in class. He has outstanding grades because he works hard for it. Tricia is also a bright girl and heard good feedbacks from her teachers saying that there are times that even the brightest students in class could not answer some difficult questions but Tricia will be the only one to give the right answers. But I said, these good feedbacks, these all achievements which they got through hard work will simply be overshadowed by the negative feedbacks about their fights and violence they inflict on each other. I also explained to them how they both are slaves of their hatred. They are being controlled by their anger and they can never be fully happy no matter what they do. Unless they learn to forgive and be friends, they will continue to be prisoners of hatred. I made those words sink in to them.

While everyone was in their group doing some class activity, I called Jake to come over my table at the back of the class room. I took a paper and a pencil and talked with Jake through writing.

Me: Did you understand what I meant?
Jake: Yes.
Me; Do you agree?
Jake: Yes.
Me: Which part?
Jake: That we have to forgive and be friends or else we will never be fully happy throughout our lives.
Me: Do you think that’s possible?
Jake: Yes. But teacher, even if I don’t respond to her when she bullies me, she still hit me first. Or even if it’s someone else who bullies her, it’s me that she hits.
Me: Therefore, if you see or hear others bully her, you have to stop them and not encourage them to do it. That’s the best step you can do in making friends with her. Can you do that?
Jake: Yes teacher.

Then I called Tricia and did the same thing with her, talked with her through writing. I used this approach because that she does not respond through verbal conversation. I found it effective.

Me: Did you understand what I meant?
Tricia: Yes.
Me: Do you agree?
Tricia: Yes.
Me: Which part?
Tricia: About our marks.
Me: What else?
Tricia: Nothing else.
Me: What about the forgiveness part? What do you think with it?
Tricia: That we have to forgive each other and be friends.
Me: Do you think you can do it? Do you think it’s easy?
Tricia: No.
Me: Why?
Tricia: Because it’s hard to make friends. It’s easy to make enemies.
Me: But the result of making enemies is even harder for you. Yes or No?
Tricia: Yes.
Me: Do you want people to hate or love you?
Tricia: Love.
Me: Do you think people are willing to love you?
Tricia: Yes.
Me: Are you willing to love them back?
Tricia: Yes.
Me: Do you know that I like you a lot?
Tricia: Yes.
Me; Do you know that it makes me happy to hear good thing about you and it hurts me to hear bad things about you?
Tricia: Yes.
Me: Do you want to hurt that’s why you are giving me bad news about you?
Tricia: No.
Me: So can you promise me to give me only good news and be good girl as you are?
Tricia: Yes.

So it’s settled. Both teenagers promised to try their best to be friends with each other. But it hit me, that Tricia found it easy to make enemies and hard to make friends. I found it almost hard to address this issue. How to help the girl deal with this personality issue remains a puzzle to me.

If you are the teacher, how would you help the girl recover from her interpersonal problem?

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