I almost cried at work last week.

I asked a colleague for some data I needed. She sent me a link to a spreadsheet. It was a huge, complicated spreadsheet that would require some fancy pivots to get the data I needed. I looked at the spreadsheet, and felt the tears behind my eyes. I closed my eyes. On the inside of my eyelids I saw blue and red lights, like tiny LED Christmas lights. I took a few deep breaths and waited. The Christmas lights began to fade.

I decided that I’d come back to the spreadsheet later.

I had retina surgery in March. And one of the possible complications of retina surgery is a rapidly advancing cataract. Which I now have. In one eye. So the vision in that eye is weird. I have triple vision in that eye. (The technical term for that is monocular triplopia.) Everything is blurry. Bright or contrasty light causes odd distortions.

And I’ve learned that, when what one eye sees is vastly different from what the other eye sees, your brain doesn’t like it. (There’s a technical term for that, too, but I don’t remember what it is.) Whatever it’s called, when your eyes are too different, the struggle to see can really make you tired.

And I was tired, when my colleague sent me that link. My brain was tired of trying to make sense of what I was looking at. Making sense of a complex spreadsheet was just more than I could do right then.

Fortunately, I’m an adult. I can close my eyes, calm myself down, and choose to do something else for a while.

But what about children?

Children don’t get choices

When my youngest was very young, I knew that she had weird, messed up vision. She couldn’t stand to look at the words on the pages of a book. When she tried, she’d squint, turn her head, and look with just one eye.

Sometimes she’d look right at something and not see it.

Certain lights were painful for her.

She had 20/20 vision, but sometimes she just couldn’t see.

When a teacher told her to copy something off the board, she wasn’t allowed to close her eyes, take a few deep breaths, and do it later. She was required to do it right then. She wasn’t given a choice.

And when her eyes and her brain were so tired that she couldn’t do it, she would cry, or scream, or growl. She’d tear the paper, or throw it. Sometimes she’d even knock over her desk.

Behavior is communication. She was saying, “I can’t do that.”

And the teacher was hearing, “I am making bad choices because I’m a bad kid.” The teacher thought that, by requiring obedience, and punishing disobedience, my child would make better choices.

It didn’t work.

How do you help an explosive child?

What works with a child like that? The same thing that works for a grownup like me. Compassion, humility, and respect.

If you accept that every human being is made in the image of God, you can’t do anything else. You have to treat others, even children who are growling and screaming, as if they were God Himself. He told us that what we do to the least among us, we’re doing to Him.

So, compassion, humility and respect are the starting points. Trusting that behavior is communication. Trusting that children (and adults) do well when they can. Recognizing that difficult behaviors are a result of unsolved problems and missing skills. Skills can be taught. And problems can be solved.

In my case, the problem (long term) will be solved with cataract surgery. That’s still far too many weeks away. And week by week, and day by day, the vision in the affected eye is getting worse. It’s not fun. But I know things will get better. Until then, I can figure out temporary solutions to the short-term problems.

For my child, there wasn’t an easy fix. There were a lot of skills to teach and problems to solve. The starting point for that journey was a book, The Explosive Child by Ross Greene. The book teaches you how to work with your child who is struggling. The approach is respectful and compassionate. And it works. (If you get a copy using this affiliate link, I’ll get a small commission that I use to support this website.)

I’ll write more about it another time. For now, my eyes are tired. I’ve done what I can do for now.

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Charlotte Riggle, author of Catherine's Pascha and The Saint Nicholas Day Snow
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