I had been working as a child care worker in a residential treatment unit for 12 years. It was a program for boys aged 8-12, some troubled with serious behavior problems and some with psychiatric problems. It was a tough program, the boys were quite active, aggressive, and challenging! I loved it and found every day full of new experiences and learning.
One Friday evening I was working with a replacement worker who spent most of the shift complaining about how crazy it was in the program, and how crazy I was to choose to work there. I allowed him to vent, but at one point I remarked that he might eventually feel qualified to deal with some of the issues that we dealt with as a matter of course. Very confidentially he challenged my thinking and wondered whether my working in such a program signified my inability to move on to other programs!
Later that evening one of our more disturbed youth was having problems settling to bed. He was in the resource room insisting that the toilet paper was dirty and that he couldn't go to the bathroom, therefore he could not sleep. I listened from a distance for a half an hour as my co-worker struggled to convince him that the toilet paper was safe. He even went to get a new roll of toilet paper from the storage room and opened it in front of him! “No”, the youth said, “there is urine on it!”
Finally, in total desperation, my co-worker came to me and said “Fine, you deal with him!” As I walked towards the room, I really wasn't sure what I was going to do ... It was clear that the youth needed to settle as soon as possible, as he was keeping the rest of the group up, and the night was slipping by with still many other administrative tasks to complete. And of course now I was feeling the pressure by my co-worker to work my magic!
In reviewing the issue with the youth, I told him that I knew 100% that there was no urine on the toilet paper, and asked him if I could convince him of this, would he settle for the night? He promised he would. I then reminded him of how concerned I was myself about germs and asked him, “if I touch this toilet paper with my nose would that convince you that there was is no urine on it?” He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye (and what I interpreted at the time as understanding). He nodded his head. I then quite dramatically reached out and touched different parts of the toilet paper to my nose ... and then handed it to him.
He looked at me and he went off to the bathroom, soon settling down for the night. The issue was over.
Now, four years later, I no longer work in that program and the youth has since moved on. But every time I see him, it never fails, he will look at me, laugh and make a remark about toilet paper.
Maybe it was just a question of “realities” “the youth would have been reassured by someone he knew, or by knowing him well I knew how to put his mind at rest. Or, as my colleague must have thought, maybe I did have magic!