trauma in the movies

Recently I watched Corrina, Corrina for the first time. I know, it’s an old one but I finally got around to watching it as a part of an assignment for my Adolescents and EBD class. I am working on a project looking at trauma and its effects on children and their education. As a part of that assignment I have been reading The Body Keeps the Score which I wrote about in a previous post. I am also reading Push which the movie, Precious is based on and I am watching a few movies that depict the effects of trauma in a young person’s life. 

Corrina, Corrina (for those of you who have been hiding out in the same hole I have been), set in 1959, is a movie about a young girl, Molly, who has lost her mother. Her father needs someone to take care of her now that her mother is gone and he needs some help caring for himself and the house too. Whoopi Goldberg plays Corrina who comes to work with the family as their housekeeper and she helps Molly open up and begin to heal after losing her mother. In the beginning of the movie Molly is mute and withdrawn and it seems no one can reach her. There are a few interesting moments included during this time that she is mute that show a very true representation of the challenges of understanding behaviors of children who have experienced trauma when they can not verbally explain what they are thinking or feeling. One of those moments is when Molly is left alone in the living room briefly and she is watching television. An ad comes on talking about the dangers of smoking cigarettes and how many men die due to smoking. Here is a young girl who has just lost her mother and she hears this information and the viewer can see immediately that she begins to worry that her father, a smoker, will die and she will be alone. No one in Molly’s world knows that she is having these fears so it seems odd to her father when she begins to break his cigarettes and hide them in different places in the house. From her father’s perspective she is destroying something he enjoys and something that costs money and he does not understand the causes driving her behavior.

This is so often the case working in my classroom. I know that my students are not having challenging behaviors just to have them. There is something behind those behaviors that drives them and it may be something that has happened in this very moment such as I said no to something they wanted but it also may be connected to the violence they saw in their home last night between their parents and they are worried about the safety of one of their parents. I am not sure that even if Molly had been speaking at that time if she would have been able to articulate her fears. I think this is where reflective listening becomes helpful. I may not know what is driving my student’s behavior but I can see how they might be feeling based on the behavior and I can reflect back those feelings, providing the language for students to begin using instead of acting out. 

Another moment in the film where Molly’s father does not understand her behavior is when he asks her a question and she taps her nose. He tells her to stop hitting her nose and Molly looks a little confused. Her father does not know that Corrina got Molly to answer questions by telling her to tap her nose for yes. For me this example goes beyond not understanding behavior and points to the importance of communication between adults working with children who have experienced trauma. If I had helped a student to communicate by tapping her nose and that communication strategy had provided her some relief then I would not want to keep that to myself. If I did the student would feel frustrated and misunderstood with every other adult and may eventually give up using the communication method at all. 

Corrina, Corrina could have been pulled off without much of the insight into this traumatic experience as it had. Instead it provides a good picture of what is happening in the adult world, what the child sees and hears and how both adult and child interpret one another’s behaviors after a traumatic experience. Also, Corrina would make a great EBD teacher!

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