Survival Instincts

Apr 14, 2019

As is often the case, I was in a meeting to help develop a behavior plan for a student when the question was posed: “What is the function of his behavior?  Why do you think he acts the way he does?”  For some reason, I was trying to reflect on the student’s behaviors, but all I could think about was our porch cat, Monty.  “Survival,” I said.

Let’s be clear, Monty adopted us, and the adoption process was long, drawn out, and at times, painful.  Monty started coming around about a year ago, and we quickly learned he has outdoor scraggly survival instincts.  He lets us pet him – on his terms, but is ready to pounce or give us a good wallop if he gets startled or feels cornered in any way.  He has razor sharp teeth and claws of death, but he tries not to use them, unless of course we scratch his belly, which is just too much for him to bear. 

I’ve never gotten mad at Monty for any of his defensive behaviors because I know he is just wired for survival.  When he pops me with his paw, it’s as if he’s saying, “Have you not seen where I live and how I grew up?  That greenbelt is crazy.  I have to deal with storms, prehistoric vines, and all manner of creatures wanting to take my food, fight, or eat me.  You need to give me some time to get used to you because I don’t trust easily.”  So when I see Monty, I try to be patient, understanding and forgiving.  If only this were as easy to do with children.

Try as I might, I will never be able to fully understand what my students or kids are going through – but I’m certain on some level, just like Monty, they are dealing with their own storms and survival instincts.  This does not excuse their poor behaviors, but when I approach things from a standpoint of empathy and compassion, it is significantly easier for me to be more patient, understanding and forgiving.  And on that note, I believe I will head out to the front porch to have some quality bonding time with my outdoor friend.

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