The Story: My Friend Frank
In the 1990’s, two young parents entered my office looking for a preschool for their son. I had one space available and as I talked with these parents I learned this child had already lived a life filled with challenge. He had no coping skills. He was angry. He was physically agressive. By the tender age of 3 1/2 he had been released from three previous preschools. His parents were anxious and holding their breath that he could come to our school.
His story pulled at the heartstrings. He was adopted and he was a crack baby. I wondered what came first, the pain of coming off a horrible drug or did the anger set in because those interacting in his life did not understand the pain? As I listened to his story, I knew I had to try. I agreed to accept his enrollment forms with two conditions. One- his family had to begin counseling– all three of them and two– we would try him in our classroom for two weeks. At the end of each week, we would assess where we were and agree to try again.
I made an agreement with the teachers that when he needed to release his frustrations, they were to remove him from the classroom and bring him to my office. Not as a punishment of course, but as a safe place to “Get it out” a place of respect and away from the flow of the classroom.
I didn’t need a call ahead to tell me when he was coming for a visit. On his first morning, he came to see me about five minutes after being dropped off. He gave me a surprise greeting that morning with a big bite on the arm. To this day, it has been the only time I had to go and get a tetanus shot due to a child’s bite.
It was a long first week. Each day, for hours and hours, he thrashed, screamed and exhausted himself and me. By the end of that first week, I had two thoughts- I needed a margarita! Ha! and he deserved a second chance. I took a deep breath and steeled myself for week two. Lo and behold, something happened that second week. His ourbursts and phyiscal thrashings reduced from hours to only 1 hour. The remainder of the time, he remained quiet and looked at books in his space. It was progress. It was the beginning of teaching self control and self respect.
As divine intervention happens, on the following Saturday morning of week two, I was walking in my neighborhood and sitting in a chair at a neighbor’s garage sale was a life size doll with interchangeble emotion-faces. The doll was made of cloth, and came with a mad face, a sad face, and a happy face. I paid $5 for the doll, named him Frank and on the following Monday, I brought him to school. I had decided Frank would be faithful and he could absorb whatever this child needed to release.
On Frank’s first day in my office, the child was infuriated. Frank had entered his space. It was a long morning as the outburts continued. In early afternoon, exhausted, this young boy turned on his side and began to sob. He was now facing Frank and had his back to me.
I knew we needed to acknowledge his upset. I sat on the floor beside him and immediately began with an apology. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to tell you about my friend Frank before you came to visit today. He wants to be your friend to and he will be here waiting for you every day. Let me tell you about him.”
I began telling him about Frank’s mad face. ” You know, when the eye brows are knitted together and the lips are thin, it shows us Frank is mad. He understands what it feels like to be mad and he’s tough. He can take it when you need to kick and scream. Your friends in class can’t take it. Sometimes they might cry or be frightened when you get angry, but Frank. He will always be here for you when you need to kick or even bite. I want you to remember, you can always come to Frank and he will understand.”
Then I attached the sad face. “You know when the smile turns upside down, it shows others we are sad. Sometimes we think we are mad when really, we are just sad. Have you have ever asked your friends to play and they say “No”? We feel mad but really we might be sad because it hurt our feelings. If you ever feel that way, Frank will understand and he will be here waiting for you.”
At this poing the young boy had not not acknowledged anything, but I pressed on and finally attached the happy face. “You know when the smiled is turned up, it tells others we feel happy. I am happy when I have a piece of chocolate cake. What cake is your favorite? To my surprise, he rolled over and said “Carrot Cake” and forming at the corners of his mouth were the first hints of a smile. We had made progress. I committed to two more weeks.
It took several months, but this little boy, with much home support, therapy and a commitment from a school, made progress and Frank became his safe friend where he could dissolve when he needed to release big feelings. At the end of the year, he asked me if Frank could go home with him. It was a sweet moment, for there in that moment I realized this child was no longer focusing on angry thoughts. He was changing and finding a place for friendship, possibilities and things wished for.
If your child has an occassional outburst, consider yourself lucky that he or she has times of happiness. If your child resembles this young friend, be brave, don’t give up and get help. Every child deserves our self control and perhaps every child needs a “My Friend Frank.”
Peace be with you.
Have a great day!
June 1, 2021