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Boy Was He Angry…

Many years ago, when I first began working with SOAR, I met a young man named Gus. I did not know it at the time, but Gus would teach me so much about compassion and help me understand how to be a better adult advocate when dealing with youth. It was a beautiful starry night on a trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Most of the other students had gone to bed, and something in the day’s interactions with the other students had reminded Gus of an unpleasant memory from his past. As the moon began to rise, so did Gus’s anger and frustration. Finally, near his breaking point, he picked an argument with another student and I intervened. I could not have known as we started this interaction what would unfold would become a major life lesson.

As he escalated, my frustration grew. He began gesticulating furiously, his fists began to clench and eventually he got right into my face and said “Come on, what are you going to do, hit me?” In truth, his fury was a little unnerving, and a whisper in my head uttered two words – “Sit down.” I have learned over the years to trust my instincts, so I sat down. This act initially further infuriated Gus and he screamed “Get up!” In a soothing voice I asked him “Gus, what do you need from me right now?” He blinked, he stammered, he glared at me. He began to speak, then swallowed his words and looked away. When his eyes returned to mine, they had changed, softened, and he simply sat down next to me and cried. Not just a little, but big deep racking sobs. “I just wasn’t expecting you to do that.” After he settled down, we talked. “I don’t know why I get that angry”, he said. As Gus and I talked we discussed strategies to help him deal with his frustration, and eventually he told me “In my mind, I saw that ending very differently.” I often think of Gus and know that our time together enriched us both.

This brings us to our third strategy in the series: When dealing with agitated youth, try to engage them at or below eye level. This may help your child with issues of power and control. I have found that utilizing this strategy helps children de-escalate quickly and helps me maintain perspective. Whenever you go into a situation with a child, ask yourself “What do I really want?” Often, getting at or below eye level and talking in a reassuring tone is going to help you achieve your goal.