Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Teach Me About Children

Hi my moosey friends, I need some help.

It looks like I may have found a job, assuming everything goes through correctly. If it does, I will be an independent contract counselor working for a counseling agency. Sounds like something someone who just finished a counseling program should be able to handle, right?

Not exactly.

All of the time I’ve spent studying the field of psychology, I’ve planned to work with adults – ideally in a hospital setting. I have studied adults almost exclusively, and all of my internship experience was done in a clinic which took no one under the age of 19.

But the woman who hired me plans to place me primarily at an elementary school working as a counselor/behavior specialist with “problem” children for grades PK-5. I am passingly familiar with the school – and its reputation. A friend of mine tutors students there after classes, and he says it is very troubled – that a lot of the kids are difficult to teach and control. The families who send their children there are mostly low income, as evidenced by data I found on the school which indicated that over 90% of the students are eligible for free lunches. My boss says there is a total caseload at the school of 52. The school only has about 250 students, meaning that an unusually large percentage of the kids are considered problematic.  

I will be expected to design treatment plans for each child in my caseload. Much of the emphasis will be on behavior modification, not just personal counseling for the kids. I will be expected to produce some results. My boss wants to start me with a weekly caseload of 40 – that is well more than a 40 hour work week, of course. If I can’t squeeze all of my kids in during school hours, I will have to go into their homes. All of that aside, though, I love the thought of being able to truly help some of these kids – to make a difference in their lives at a young enough age that it could save them some grief as they get older.

Here is the extent of my experience with children: I babysat a little as a kid, I worked with children with disabilities for 2-3 years doing hippotherapy when I was in high school, and I tested about 5-10 elementary-aged children for a class last Fall (IQ tests). Oh, and not so many years ago, I was a kid myself.

Some of you may be horrified that someone hired me to do this not-exactly-easy job when I have no experience whatsoever. My boss IS aware of my lack of experience, and insists I will be extensively trained. She thinks I am smart enough and flexible enough to learn quickly and precisely and succeed. Training starts next week, but I will be expected to start going into homes to do counseling on my own as of June 13 – not yet sure what age I’ll be working with initially.

I have also been contacted through a tutoring service by a woman who wants me to tutor her 6-year-old son in reading. I have tutored my kid brother, but I have never worked with a child so young. I have not really interacted with a 6-year-old since… I was six.

So Moose:

To you parents, teachers, tutors, and the young at heart…

Any advice?



  1. native americans believe that children are closer to the spirit world than adults. and at times in my experience, this seems about right.

    great to see you btw – congrats – you’ll do amazing in the new gig i’m sure!

  2. Shaun Appleby

    Whom has been a disability worker for some years and she finds working with children to be much less draining and difficult than with adults.  She has undertaken a course in art therapy and wants to work with children all the time as she finds their care and rehabilitation to be more rewarding and, though oft-times quite challenging, a better investment of her skills and energy in social service.  I think she has a whole lot more fun with the kids too.

    I will try to get her to leave a comment here soon.  Incidentally, I think you will do fine.  There’s nothing like bringing a practitioner and a patient together to make the magic happen.  Think with your head but listen with your heart.

  3. spacemanspiff

    Calm down spiff.


    (it was going to be funny I fucking swear)

    p.s. I’ll be back tomorrow. I’m happy you got a job. It would be gr—

    Ok. I’m out here. lol!

    p.s.s. xanax is a palindrome.  

  4. fogiv

    She thinks I am smart enough and flexible enough to learn quickly and precisely and succeed.

    I agree. I think it was Emerson who said, “what lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” You’ll be fine. Better than fine, I expect. You’ll do good things for people who need it most. The only thing you need to know about kids: they dance before they learn there is anything that isn’t music.


    Everything is possible.

  5. HappyinVT

    I’ll say for now that kids just want someone to listen and understand and be there.  The key is understanding why they do what they do because they are trying to get something in return.

    Have fun with them, prepare to have your heart broken a time or two, and congratulations.

  6. Jjc2008

    I was out of town on Saturday and since I have put my house up For Sale, I have been making sure it’s always clean and neat and ready for showing.

    Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

    As you know, I am a retired teacher.  So I have worked with school counselors in schools for four decades.  Some were really effective, some chose to mostly do paper work.

    I worked several years in one school way back in the late seventies, early eighties when they initiated “mainstreaming” severe behavioral problems students.  The two counselors in that building were great.   We needed two because this was the first year these extremely troubled children were FULLY mainstreamed.  Before that, these students had their own special class and would be with their peers when deemed appropriate.   Since this is a difficult thing for (some) classroom teachers, I often was the only one on our 6th grade team who “could handle” the load.  So I have had at times as many as four extreme behavioral problem students in my regular ed class. WITHOUT THE SUPPORT OF GOOD COUNSELORS, I could not have done it….even with one.

    Here’s my suggestion: It is as important for you to establish a positive relationship with the classroom teacher as it is with the child.  That teacher will be with the student more hours than anyone outside of a parent (and even then they may have more impact).  

    So make sure you listen to the teacher as well as to the child.  The adults need to be a positive team with the same goals.  Classroom teachers are often under pressure to get “scores” up, so their priority has to be ALL the children, not just the one.  When suggesting ideas to a teacher to help control, steer the behavior of the student in a positive direction, make them simple.  Overwhelming a teacher with lots of paperwork for one student often results in failure all around.  Positive reinforcements for the student from the teacher should be simple and speedy and not require a lot of explanation for either.

    When a student meets expectations in the classroom as observed by the teacher, reward the child with positive words.  In my observation, things like toys and candy are a waste.  But things like having lunch with you or the teacher, or special time with you or the teacher mean so much more.  So many negative behaviors, in my experience, resulted from a negative environment, lack of love/attention.

    I also found, for me, what worked well is to teach students early on how to express their needs with “I statements”.

    I would tell all my students, not just the behavioral problematic ones, that when they wanted something from me, whether attention, or help, or just an “ear”, they needed to use “words” not behaviors.

    Then I gave them examples like:

    “Ms C, I really need some time to talk to you about a problem.” (That could be code for I need help with a problem, I need some attention, I need an friendly ear). Or I will tell them to see me first thing in the morning and let me know with words “We had a bad morning at home….can I have some down time.”  And then I would either let them go to the counselor’s office just for some time to decompress, or work it out, or write down things if the counselor was not available.

    Then when we were alone, I would let the student describe the issue.  But I consistently tried to get them to not use the time for blaming others (Students, parents) and instead built their vocabulary for stating what they were feeling, and why and ask them what I could do to help them.

    Those things are things that need to be taught to children.  Don’t assume anyone knows.

    Anyway, I think you will enjoy working with kids.  I always did.

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