Great balls of fire

It’s curious how events  often come together in a strangely synchronic manner.  We had spent two months over the summer looking for a vacation home so we could be nearer to Deanna and Al and what struck me most about them each time we went touring, was their Craftsman charm, high prices (ouch), and most of all the brilliant sunlight they enjoy, literally pouring into each space. For people who have had apartments/co-ops in New York City, you know how valuable (and pricey) light and air are there. In Southern California, it comes baked in to the atmosphere, if you’ll allow me to mix images.


Consequently, I referred to the whole experience as one dictated by the sun, that great ball of fire that seems to be a permanent fixture of every outdoor and indoor space. This is partially due to California’s golden climate and in part the result of global warming. Whatever the cause, it is here to stay.


At the same time, I began a new project working on questionnaires for parents who have ‘explosive’ children, those who have combustible personalities as a result of one or more in a range of mood disorders. In the past we may have thought of these kids as “brats”, whose personalities were permitted to run wild. They were “out of control”, “undisciplined”, little “tyrants”. Or so it was assumed.


Now we know that these are children who have difficulty processing information and change. They are easily frustrated and act out, as their ability to deal with stressful (to them) situations deteriorates and they lash out in what is really a cry for help. We need to radically rearrange our thinking about and approach to this potentially deadly syndrome.


That made me think about how dramatically child-rearing has changed in the more progressive parts of the country.  When most of us were growing up, parents routinely barked orders for which non-compliance brought punishment. The latest thinking in child development psychology is that punishment does not produce learning but only short term benefits with long term deficits.


Another thing I learned long ago, when I was in school earning my first of degree in what used to be called “special education” (in my case, for emotionally disturbed children — now referred to differently, more along the lines of those with emotional needs), is that all teachers should receive more training in child psychology and development. If they did, they would all be better equipped to accept and manage children in the regular classroom whose maturation is delayed in a number of areas (cognitive, emotional, physical, mental, etc.).


Rather than treat them as if they were defiant delinquents, we now realize they have a condition akin to any other syndrome that may afflict any of us from birth, like poor eyesight or impeded motor skills.  These kinds of anomalies require extra care and can be managed so these children eventually catch up to and function among their peers who do not have these particular challenges.


Instead of barking harsh commands and enacting extreme disciplinary measures, the best practices approach now is to calm and reassure them to diffuse the impending explosion or blow up and then engage them in a safe verbal exchange that aims to bring their ideas into the situation in a cooperative, collaborative way. These are children who know what is expected of them by parents, teachers or peers and want to please, but whose short fuse leads to a temporary deterioration of reasoning that makes any attempt to “reach” them virtually impossible.  Best to avoid getting them to the trigger point by picking battles (not sweating the small stuff) and concentrating on the most important behaviors that they will need to master to be fully functioning in society now and in the future.


Anyway, this is more than you probably wanted to know about my work, but it did seem appropriate to go along with the explosive and fiery nature of the sun this past summer while we were looking for our getaway place. There must be a joint lesson in all this for me — but one thing it has done is caused me to look at my own nature, the corners where my anger demons dwell and to consider the value of getting things out of the shadows, into the bright light for examination. I determined, through both the process of “owning” my time in California, hot and alien though it may be to this East Coaster, and looking at the areas in which I am inflexible/intransigent and at times combative, that the approach educators and therapists are now taking to these volatile human beings, is the one we should all take all the time with everyone. This is especially important right now with all this dark toxicity interfering with our collective sense of peace and security.


We would be a much happier, sunnier society. Just a thought or two and a work in progress, like everything else I embark upon.



Images: Chez BeBe assets/San Diego


By the way, please read today’s post from my friend Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, on children with ADHD and suicide. Madelyn’s entire site is devoted to research and therapy in this field and provides invaluable information, resources and commentary.

26 Comments on “Great balls of fire”

  1. Oh Beth – I can’t tell you how warmed I am by this one! Thanks so much for dropping by my post today re: new study on Suicide Risk of ADHD and young kids, getting me over here shortly after you posted.

    I’m guessing that part of the reason that kids give up on themselves is that they are treated with “discipline” and meet with repeated censure rather than kindness and centering techniques. I, too, wish more psychology (and neurology) were added to teacher education.

    This is one reader, at least, who would love to know MORE about your work.

    Below, from you, puts it so beautifully:
    “Instead of barking harsh commands and enacting extreme disciplinary measures, the best practices approach now is to calm and reassure them to diffuse the impending explosion or blow up and then engage them in a safe verbal exchange that aims to bring their ideas into the situation in a cooperative, collaborative way.

    These are children who know what is expected of them by parents, teachers or peers and want to please, but whose short fuse leads to a temporary deterioration of reasoning that makes any attempt to “reach” them virtually impossible. Best to avoid getting them to the trigger point by picking battles (not sweating the small stuff) and concentrating on the most important behaviors that they will need to master to be fully functioning in society now and in the future.”
    I added a link to this post from your comment, along with a few words to encourage my readers to jump over.

    Thank you SO much for sharing your enlightened attitude about this topic (along with all your other wonderfully thoughtful pieces.) As always, the photos are gorgeous. I want that house!

    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Madelyn, thank you. I think I will reciprocate by putting a link back to your post today, for people who have a child with one among this range of syndromes. I even hesitate to label it or them because that can be a box we put them in, that they feel too discouraged or defeated to break free of. But it helps us to know what is typical for this mood family.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Beth. I try to encourage parents to think of diagnosis as a *distinction*, rather than a label or a box. You can’t even plan a vacation until you’ve named a destination.

        It’s more a matter of providing a positive frame vs. avoiding the box – but stigma in the general population would give me pause as well.

        Still, I know about many kids (and even more adults) who were relieved to have a name put to their experience of life – and it ENcouraged them to keep working on and around their challenges.

        Liked by 1 person

        • One thing a diagnosis surely does is let children and parents know that they are not alone, that others experience these same issues and challenges and that there is therapy, treatment and management available. I like the idea of “distinction” and your destination analogy. Knowing that you have an end goal in mind, that there is light at the end of the tunnel, can be immensely comforting.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I know it was beyond comforting for me – after struggling through ten years of endless therapy sessions trying to get ANYbody to help me figure out why someone as intelligent as I did not have a life that reflected the effort I put into it.

            I sobbed with relief for an entire week when I accidentally tripped across a now seminal article in the NY Times Magazine Section about ADD (Frank Wolkenburg’s ‘Out of a Darkness’).

            It took a bit more time to locate professionals who knew much of *anything* about ADD in adults at a time when the myth was that it was limited to kids, but that’s when my life really began (at 38, but better late than never – and STILL, sadly, the average age of dx in females)

            My struggles to figure out how to drive my own brain heralded the dawn of my education and advocacy efforts as well.

            What I wouldn’t give to have those un-dx’d years back – you can make one heck of a mess of your life in 38 years!


            Liked by 1 person

            • Do any of us really figure ourselves out? I am almost 50 and I am still disappointed that I didn’t accomplish more with all the advantages I had. Life is short. Better late than never, right?

              Liked by 1 person

            • I try NOT to attempt to drive with my eyes fixed on my rear-view mirror. Some days I’m more successful than others – and occasionally I see something back there that helps me better navigate as I move forward.

              Most days I wish I had taken better care of ME while I was accomplishing what I managed to do – especially since it is becoming clear that I will likely be the last of my colleagues to be ABLE to retire!

              Life’s a journey – and VERY short indeed.

              Although I’m scared that the outcome of upcoming election might make me wish it had been shorter – only half kidding 🙂


    • Yes, I do try to tie things together. This was what was going on this past week for me, so I thought why not put them together in a post?

      Thank you for reading, commenting and supporting, Madeline. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. If I lived in such a beautiful gem of a home, I might never want to leave it. Love the pics, Beth – so atmospheric. Your commentary on educating challenged children hits home. I have a dear friend who works with these kids in regular schools, offering assistance so they can function. The biggest problem is that many teachers treat them like defectives, often saying so in their hearing. Also, sadly, most come from homes where they will never get the right care. It seems a losing battle and it’s truly a tragedy that will, as these kids grow up, affect us all.

    Bless you Beth for doing your part to right these wrongs!

    Liked by 2 people

    • The classroom teachers are not given the support and information they vitally need in order to deal with these extraordinary challenges. And, families often have mood disorders in their background. Sometimes one or both parents suffer from a variation on the same issue. Then it is the wounded trying to help the wounded.

      It used to be that there were outside resources provided to public schools here but that has largely been eliminated due to shortsighted budget cuts.

      My involvement is as a psychometrics developer or editor. I have no direct involvement with the classroom any more. I found it too heartbreaking.

      Thank you Vera!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely pics and post, Beth.

    Your post is exactly why some teachers should be teachers. In my 20+-year career, I had many kids who had either learning disabilities or disorders and I went out of my way to learn about their illnesses and keep up with the latest research. Other teachers – not so much. They saw these students as “problems,” and it always made me angry and disillusioned with the system that kept them on. There was more than one occasion when a parent asked to have a child transferred into my class.

    I still strongly believe the only reason someone should be a teacher is if it’s a calling. Bless you for all the work you to do help teachers in their work.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree with you. My mother is one of those people and she rose through the ranks to be in charge of all special services by the time she concluded her career. She was a natural in the classroom and taught the most handicapped children, in her earliest days as a teacher.

      I found that I am better teaching college students than I was with younger children. I couldn’t let it go at the end of the day. Somehow, my mother could do all that, be available nights and weekends and not have it bring her down or give her nightmares. Either one is giving and empathic and strong enough to help others or one is not. It is good when we know our strengths and weaknesses.

      My contribution is the academic and scientific end, providing means for getting at the information parents and teachers need to collaborate and help the troubled child. I wish I had my mother’s patience, strength and emotional availability.

      Thank you Susan!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you SO much for linking to my article and mentioning my blog Beth – *especially* appreciated since your blog is not mental health focused. Worth repeating: you are a DOLL!

    Your commenters are unusually interactive, sharing their thinking on the important topics you have taken on here over the years. You have so many open minded and forward-thinking followers that might be interested in what’s happening over in my neck of the woods, so thank you again for pointing a few of them my way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s funny, Madelyn, because mental health has been my entire career, but I stopped clinical practice involvement when I moved to California after getting married. Now I mainly do psychometric development and editing. I was not cut out for direct involvement — too emotionally wrenching. I had planned to be a psychiatrist, glad I didn’t do that. I don’t have the ability to separate myself from the problems of patients. I become their quasi-parent in my mind and that means never being able to separate myself from their needs.

      Better this way.

      In any case, of course I return the gesture. The whole idea here is to build a community where it is safe to discuss anything and everyone in this community is warm and caring. That is the way I wish all our societal interactions could be and how I envision a more enlightened future.

      The admiration is mutual, Madelyn. Much love to you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I actually read that “disclaimer” when I went back to reread your article – after, only half awake, hastily adding your link and my endorsement to your comment on my Kids/Suicide article).

        I considered therapy as a profession for some time myself, but decided NO for an additional reason (and share your feelings about personal suitability due to my fear of lack of my ability to set firm internal boundaries).

        I didn’t want to spend every minute of my working life working that far down the mental health well. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t survive it. I am MUCH better suited to the coaching profession.

        It is SO sad to me that we have to look around the world to develop a community of warm & caring souls. I join you in your prayers for a more enlightened future.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Boundaries. That is the right term. I was afraid I couldn’t maintain them. A lot of the children I dealt with when I was a special ed teacher went home to horrible situations. I couldn’t get them out of my mind.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I struggle still with memories of what some of my clients disclosed about their upbringings – even though most of them found a way to rise above to have lives successful enough to have a bit of cash to afford coaching fees (even sliding-scale).

            I can’t imagine *ever* sleeping had I gone the therapy route – and I don’t have any sort of patience with America’s educational system, and would have been drummed out of the corps post haste, I have no doubt.

            I wish I had a magic “kindness to all” wand. Sometimes that’s all those kids really needed to be able to find their way.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I would be a believer in home schooling if most parents had the commitment and skills to implement it. As it is, the closest I can see to an ideal school system is the worldwide Waldorf school network. But it is expensive and that leaves out many who need it.

              Sigh! We think alike, Madelyn, yet again. ❤

              Liked by 1 person

            • One of my ex-students dropped out of coaching to home school her ADD son. As an ADDer herself, she knew she couldn’t do both. Her son is now a senior, officially enrolled and taking college courses that count toward HS graduation, replacing the standard curriculum. Doing VERY well.

              We hear about home schooling’s many success stories, but I believe you are right that even most well-educated parents lack the ability and underestimate the commitment required. Especially the admin. And it’s simply not possible when both parents must work full-time/overtime jobs outside the home to make ends meet.

              I’ve been impressed with Montessori methods – especially encouraging with young kids. Again, not available in schools that most kids attend.

              I also know of one success story of a child who designed her own internet learning plan and submitted it to her ADD advocate parents (former OFI instructors), who allowed her to “drop out” and pursue self-education. She made it into a great college, btw – but her home life is unusual and amazing.

              The American education system has been broken for decades – and this latest “No Child Left Behind” initiative, *possibly* well-intended more than political, may be the worst idea yet. I wish the politicians and administrators would get out of the way and listen to the teachers who are in the classrooms. What we need from legislators is increased FUNDING.

              If those who think like we do ran the world, we’d not doubt make different mistakes – but I frequently wonder if the world wouldn’t be better off. ::sigh::



    • I borrowed the title, definitely, from Lewis. I should have added, Goodness, gracious! … lol. [I almost used a play on words, but thought better of it. “Great bawls of fire …”. It just wasn’t a joking matter, but that is the way my mind works.] I hope we never revert to the old school of child rearing.


  5. Many of our classes were mixed ability and this could often be quite distracting, especially if a teacher couldn’t calm down a child. I often got put on the same table as the distracting children in the hope that my good behaviour would rub off and the same thing happened with my brothers, I’m not sure looking back this was the best thing for everyone.

    I’ve taught dance to groups too and generally managed to keep everyone engaged, but it would be useful to know how to handle these situations in group classes, thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This must have been a difficult situation. Children should not be responsible for managing other children, in my opinion.

      What should be done is the teacher or an aide dealing with the child in a safe space away from the class until the situation/child who is acting out has been brought back to the “executive” state where s/he can resume using reason and being reasoned with.

      Naturally for seriously disturbed children, they are better off being in classes designed especially for them with a teacher trained to handle emotional disorders. I am sorry you had that experience, but every year newer methods and better understanding are developed so that should happen less and less.

      When a child is emotionally overwrought, they are unable to engage in normal activities and need to be calmed away from the rest of the group. I don’t know how one would manage that when teaching dance unless you had an assistant who could take the child in question aside, away from the group entirely. That should not be a dance instructor’s responsibility!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I had no ideal of what I would find behind the title to this post but am pleasantly surprised. This is an excellent article.
    Admittedly, my ideas about rearing children changed when my own child was diagnosed on the spectrum. Thanks for stopping by. I’ll definitely be “seeing” you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, thank you Lilka, that’s very nice of you to say.

      It is so easy to be hard on children who try our patience. We just want them to “do what they are told”, which really means, what is easiest for us. Since we are the adults, it is up to us to figure out what they are dealing with and try to reach them where they are, instead of expecting them in the inexperience to satisfy us.

      I feel the same way about animals, well, all of nature, in fact.

      I am so glad you came and stopped to read and comment. You made my day!

      Liked by 1 person

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