The Children Who Suffer

Lurline Sweet
3 min readFeb 13, 2023

When I started spending many hours in the classroom with children, I came to get to know them as individuals and found amazing things to cherish in each one. There were some themes of the age, like loving animals and the outdoors. Some of the children loved to play soccer, others role playing games. Some played on a play structure; some of the same ones climbed trees. Many had one favorite subject, and for some, that was PE. They definitely were different from one another academically, emotionally, socially, artistically, and musically. And they are to this day — somewhere out there, being 21 now. They are themselves, whether adults now or children then.

I think of a certain student who struggled to come up with anything to write day after day at writer’s workshop. I would offer suggestions based on his interests or a sentence he could start with, but nothing seemed to satisfy him. His parents told me that he hated himself and sometimes said he wanted to die at age 7. I believed them, and it was hard for me to reconcile this with the happy boy I saw playing every recess with a huge group of kids. How could he also be so miserable?

Years later, I had another 7-year-old in my life who said she hated herself and wanted to die. It was my own child this time. Fifteen years earlier, as the teacher, I had not had a solution, or even known what to say. Every day I did my best. Now I found that the child’s school did not know what to do or say. Every day, my child’s teacher, school counselor, and principal have done their best to help her. Instead of writing being a hard time for her, it is transitions and unknowns.

When a child tells us that they want to die, what does it mean? At first, I wondered if I should use my suicide protocol and ask if she had a plan. I consulted a therapist and would recommend anyone do the same.

When a child tells us that they hate themselves, what does it mean? There is probably something in their life that makes them feel like they could do better. It could be that they are a perfectionist, or that someone said something that made them feel less-than. It could be that they are struggling with learning what they are expected to learn, whether that be reading, writing, math, or how to get along with others. They are not matching up with the teacher’s or parents’ notion of what they should be accomplishing at their age. It turns into self-hatred (at least at moments).

What if they are just in the wrong environment? What if that student of mine had been free to play soccer all day long? What if he had never been told it was time to write? What if he only chose to write when he wanted to? Would that make it easier for him because he may become ready to write later, or would it make it harder in case he needed Occupational Therapy at a younger age and never got it?

What about my child who struggles with transitioning to specials in the afternoons? Would it help her if the music teacher came to her classroom with her teacher present and her teacher’s expectations felt in the space? Or if her teacher taught music instead of a specialist?

What if PE were not required? It is such a great time of day for learning how to work with teammates within certain parameters (rules of the game). For my child, anyone breaking the rules is torture, and losing the game is also torture. Not being perfect at a new sport is also torture for her. Perhaps she could learn teamwork through dance or theater where there is no loser. Perhaps she could learn to follow rules by sitting backstage quietly waiting for her turn or not talking during rehearsals. Is PE with a different teacher she does not know as well the only way to learn teamwork, sportsmanship, and rule following? Of course not. It’s what we are used to, and it becomes hard to bend our minds out of the school day that is planned and has been this way for decades.

How do we help these children? I would argue we have to help these children, so we don’t lose their light. If we continue to offer the existing structures and school schedules, even with accommodations like going to a calm down corner or even the school library, these children will either lose their passion or lose their lives.