LSCI is trauma-informed care in action! Alex Cameron, Director of Clinical Services, Pressley Ridge

Something I Can Do: An LSCI Conversation with a 5th Grade Student

When you’re six you want to impress your parents or teachers. A talent show is a daily occurrence for the kindergarten student. Directives like, “Mommy, watch this!” are ubiquitous reminders that learning is repeated practice that requires audience participation. “Cool! Can you do it again?” we as parents or teachers, say over and over, as the child graces us with their newest trick. Children stay in this space for a while until they discover a much more plentiful audience: their peers. Eventually, they do things to be noticed by their classmates. For the early elementary school student, audience approval, either from adults or peers, is paramount to their nascent ego. Our kids gravitate to experiences that attend, affirm, approve, and admire what they are doing in the moment.

This is a transcript of a conversation I had with Lawrence* from the Burlington area. Lawrence was a former fifth grade student of mine. Together we had Life Space Crisis interviews on an almost daily basis for three years. At the end of fifth grade, Lawrence wrestled with his dual desire to be noticed by teachers and peers and to hide from them. Lawrence has a specific learning disability and attention deficit disorder. The tricks his peers could easily do in school—read, write, sit and attend— were not so easy for him.

Lawrence’s desire to escape from his teachers and peers—his audience—caused him all sorts of anxiety and problems in a structured academic setting. And yet, Lawrence, is a boy wise beyond his years. So, even though he struggled with understanding events he found himself in, with finding the motivation to change those events, and with putting adequate trust in adults to help him negotiate his problems in school, he could imagine the philosophical significance of the conundrums in which he found himself.
This conversation marked a turning point for him. I feel blessed to have been a witness at this important moment in Lawrence’s life. It’s through Life Space Crisis Interviews with Lawrence that I have felt like a curator of sorts. Frequently, I use my Voice Memo application on my iPhone during interviews so that students can listen to their version of the hero’s journey again and again. This type of documentation and preservation of Lawrence’s Life Space conversations is powerful. Through listening to his narratives, Lawrence sees that he is the hero who is learning to slay his dragons conversation by conversation.

Lawrence: There is something that I can do, that is what I want to do. Like, I want to do something that Ms. Whitney (principal) will not want me to do. She can’t find out about it. You have no idea what kind of dangerous thing I really mean; I mean it could really get me injured.

Me: Can you describe what you are talking about?

Lawrence: I am talking about the kind of injury that could hurt me, give me a bruise…

Me: Like a neck injury kind of injury? Something where you are upside

Lawrence: No. Like a wheelie.. Like jumping over a flight of stairs. I just want to know that I am special. That I have a trick to do that I can rely on. I just want to do tricks on my bike. Like… a… I want to jump over a flight of stairs.

Me: Well, those are learnable things.

Lawrence: I was thinking about trying to do a handstand on my bike. Well, don’t write that down, that’s too dangerous.

Me: What about just a handstand?

Lawrence: No, that’s too lame. That is just ordinary.

Me: It sounds like what you want is to really be noticed -so people go, wow! That you’ve really got it going on.

Lawrence: I just don’t want to feel like I can’t do anything cool. I want to do something unusual. I want to feel like like I can do something. I want to climb mountains. Well, I do climb mountains everyday. I want to feel like I am not just a normal little kid. I want to feel like something my age would not do.

Me: When I was watching your classmate dance on stage today, I said, “He does not look like a third grader.” What kind of thoughts were you thinking when you saw your classmate?

Lawrence: I thought, that’s great. But the last act in today’s show was like… well, it made me feel like I was nothing.

Me: I hear what you are saying that it made you feel like you were nothing. But, I am going to challenge you for a minute, because this is why you are so special. Because it could make you go ‘oh I will never do!’ But it actually inspired you. Do you know what inspire means?

Lawrence: Make people follow what they want to do. I just want to learn how to jump a bike off a flight of stairs. But, who would teach me this? I mean like jump it. Jump down the stairs- whoosh, tink…. Now you get it?

Me: What kind of thoughts were you thinking when you saw the girls do the gymnastics for the last act?

Lawrence: I was like- they’re good, but who am I? What can I do that is crazier than gymnastics?

Me: Sounds like you really want to be in the talent show next year.

(We spend sometime looking at Youtube videos of cyclists jumping off stairs.)

Lawrence: I want to do it a little like THAT! I want to do like 12 stairs.

(We then watched a video where a boy, without a helmet, jumped off stairs and crashed. I yelled- and said, Oh, not like that right?)

Lawrence: Cross that off my list.

The teaching assistant said, “What about jumping off a diving board?”

Lawrence: No, that was just crazy talk.

Me: It is not crazy talk to be inspired. It’s cool.

Lawrence: Well, what am I going to do? But, something that Ms. Whitney won’t be really scared of? I just want to do something that will make myself feel happy.

This conversation took place after the school variety show. When Lawrence and I first started talking together most of our interviews were based on the Talk It Out, Fix it, and Smile abbreviated interview format for students who are not ready for a full LSCI. Drain off for Lawrence at the early stages of LSCI often would last for an hour or more.

Lawrence’s motivation to change and trust in adults happened slowly as he was given the time and space to sort out his feelings. This time, not bound by the classroom’s schedule or curriculum helped him understand the challenging events he found himself in at the time. He learned how to have some agency over his school life; something he rarely experienced at school as a very bright learning disabled second grader. As feeling words came easier and he felt more trust in adults to share these feelings, this verbally precocious student realized that talking about daily worries proved much more efficient than having his worries morph into ‘problems.’ We developed a saying together: ‘Worries turned into problems make life harder. Worries shared in words make life better.’

The spring semester of his fourth grade interviews were mostly Reality Rub. He started to see that being stuck in his big feelings prevented him from learning new things, particularly reading. As he grew more comfortable talking about his role in conflicts, the Drain Off stage frequently lasted only ten minutes; not the hours that we started the year spending together.

The more comfortable he got seeing that there are other ways to understand a situation, he could access a deeper level of feeling: sadness. We moved from Reality Rub interviews to Massaging Numb Values interviews. Once we moved to this pattern and he could start essentially interviewing himself, looking for places of self-control, he started to come to see me, not to drain off or understand a problem, but to sort out his big hopes in life.

This short dialogue is another example of the type of interview that this student initiates and seeks out. This student has taught me one of the powers of LSCI. That is, that once a kid gets comfortable with the language of the work, they can skip the crisis, and get right to the important questions in life.

About the Author:
Kate Kardashian is a special educator who is currently teaching in Woodstock, Vermont in the local elementary school. She has three children of her own ages: 1, 6, and 9. Her favorite teaching to do is teach students how to read when learning to read is the hardest thing they have to do.

*All names and identifying information have been changed.

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