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Temper Tamers?
Miguel Ayala
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To try to deal with my anger problem, I’ve been in more programs than you can imagine—programs in hospitals, schools, and community centers. So I have some idea of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to trying to help kids get a grip on their lives. Here’s a little about the programs I’ve been in and what I found useful and useless in them.

When I was in my very first program, I was still living with my mother. I was 8 years old. The program was located near my mother’s house, which was convenient. It provided therapy for children with emotional problems.

I only went four or five times to that program because my mother stopped taking me. I never felt comfortable there, maybe because I didn’t go for very long. I didn’t like talking about my problems with a person I did not know (the counselor). So I lied to her and told her that I was safe and happy at home.

It made me feel bad to lie, but I was petrified of my mother and I also loved her. I didn’t want to tell an outsider about how she hurt me. I thought it would hurt her if I left her care.

After my mom stopped bringing me there, I would’ve liked it if the counselor kept calling my house and asking why my mom wouldn’t bring me there anymore. It would have made me see that she had actually cared, and maybe it would have helped me open up and realize that there is a better world than the one I lived in at that moment. But I was only 8 years old and when I stopped going, I just thought, “Blah!”

My second program was in my junior high school. I met with a counselor twice a week. The counselor let us play music during my sessions and we could do almost anything I wanted. In some sessions, my twin brother Juan would come with me.

At the time, things were flaming between my mother and me. On our 12th birthday, I saw my mother force my brother to take off his clothing and receive 12 lashings—one for each year of our lives—for buying the wrong thing at the store.

But again, I didn’t trust the counselor enough to say what was inside of me and what was going on at home. Maybe just living at home made it too hard to be open.

My third program was at a hospital which has a school for teens who suffer emotional problems. Basically, we were going to school on site with children in the mental health ward.

image by YC-Art Dept

My beef was that the school was in a double door locked unit and it was dirty and smelled like a morgue. I felt like I was in jail there, like I was a prisoner of a war, but a war I fought with my own personal demons.

I think it’s important for programs to be in friendlier looking places than that. How do you open up and get help when you feel that uncomfortable?

Still, I think that program helped because it made me see there were other children like me, other children or teens in the city who were also mentally ill. That made me feel more normal and less alone.

My next program helped me a lot. It was in a high school. We had more freedom than at the hospital school, and I formed real relationships with the faculty there. Those relationships made a huge difference in my life. They made me want to be one of the cool kids, one of the students who wouldn’t snap or lose control all the time.

The faculty showed me that they really did care. Also, we could leave the school to buy lunch or smoke. That made me feel like they trusted me, and the freedom made me feel happier. We did fun things, like go to a fright event at an amusement park. They also had a prom for us, and took us to college fairs. We even had a student council and a student of the year.

After leaving that school, though, my behavior was bad. Now I was trying to fight back, intimidating and manipulating my mother.

The next program provided family services and mental health services. After liking the last program so much, I knew that the people were also trying to help me, and I received them with open arms.

I liked the staff there. I had a lot of fun with my worker, Joe Hunt. He was cool and he would tell jokes and make me feel good about myself. It was the best program I was ever in because I built a relationship with Joe based on trust and honesty where there were no phony smiles. He and the other staff actually cared, and that was the right thing they could do. They were the ones who helped get me into foster care.

Looking back on all the programs I’ve been in, it seems that what helped me most was when the staff really cared about me and I could build a relationship with them. It’s also helpful to do fun things in a friendly spacious environment to help everyone feel comfortable, and to be with other kids who have similar problems, to help kids with problems feel less alone. And I think it’s better to have freedom than a too-restrictive setting.

Freedom helped me feel more responsible and trusted. But I think it was hard for me to really focus on my problems while I was still living with my mother. For me to get better while I was living with her, she would have had to get better, too.

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(FCYU-2002-07-05)

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