Looking Behind the Mask

For over a week while the world has debated that ‘slap', hundreds, and possibly thousands of children have been excluded from school for similar random acts, some for even less.

While many commentators have chosen the comedic route: parody, jokes, gifs, and memes via which to channel their reaction to Will Smith's actions, others have sought the route of opinion and curiosity, taking up many miles of column inches: print, WhatsApp, chat rooms - connecting total strangers over group chats with contributors contorting ourselves into psychoanalytic pretzels over the topic to understand, why?

Wherever I represent CEN, I always use this same phrase: all behaviour is a form of communication.

When babies cry, some parents claim to be able to differentiate between a cry of hunger from one that says: ‘my nappy needs changing’, or ‘I'm lonely' or 'I'm tired’ or 'I'm afraid and need a hug', or 'I'm hot/cold/in pain' etc.

As a parent myself, I never developed that sixth sense, but it is universally accepted that crying is one of the few forms of expression via which babies can externally communicate whatever is happening to them. And our usual reaction is to try and address whatever the issue might be by deciphering the language and reacting, both to stop the crying but also as an act of loving concern.

Children are not much more sophisticated when it comes to communicating their feelings - as they develop, they may or may not cry but it is more their behaviour that becomes their port of communication. Some children use behaviour to mask trauma and rather than seek to look behind the mask to comprehend, our response to their actions takes on a punitive aspect.

We develop rules of acceptable behaviour that when breached, are met with punishments according to set tariffs. Yet, we so often fail to look beyond the behaviour to understand what is being communicated by these actions.

Punishment used to be corporal - but we've moved on. Apparently. At home, it might now be the 'naughty step', or withdrawal of devices.

At school it is exclusion. 

This takes place in several ways: by removal from the learning environment - be it outside of the classroom for a period, or a temporary spell in seclusion - or via exclusion from the school permanently.

The message is the same: you are not wanted here.

While the world continues to debate the ‘crisis’ that is Will Smith's action/marriage/post-slap career, one thing we can be sure of is that he has the resources to ensure that he will be supported, not only by his family but by his Hollywood fraternity; as well as the global community who have formed themselves into #TeamWill and #TeamChris.

As a village of concerned citizens, let's extend the same compassion offered to him more locally to children in our own communities - whether they are those within our own families, the local schools in our area, or more broadly, by supporting the work that organisations such as CEN deliver.

Because it is our collective duty to ensure that no child feels that they are not wanted here.


Jenn Lewis