A Story of Neglect: Tyrell

At age 4, Tyrell was already headed for a lifetime of trouble.

Pre-K teacher Ellen Summers began watching the little boy who lived near her school when he was 2. She saw him —wearing only underwear — playing alone in the street and escorted him home. She noticed he rarely had adult supervision. Ellen never saw anyone hugging or kissing the little boy.

Even at a distance Ellen could see the ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) adding up for Tyrell. Ellen is not only a teacher in Rutherford County Schools, but she also works as a parent educator, leading Positive Parenting groups for The Family Center in Rutherford County.  Ellen knows that childhood trauma (ACEs) can lead to a lifetime of emotional and health problems frequently resulting in addiction and incarceration. Even worse, the patterns are often repeated in the next generation.

When Tyrell became Ellen’s student at 4, he was socially, emotionally and mentally delayed. Angry and violent, he threw chairs and bit his classmates. School supplies became weapons in his hands. He had no clue how to interact with others in a non-violent way.

Many would have labeled him as a “bad child,” but Ellen didn’t give up on Tyrell. Applying the skills she teaches in parenting classes, she stayed physically close to the boy and constantly reassured him that he was safe and no one would hurt him. During rest time, she rocked his tense, rigid body, coaxing him to relax.  Ellen helped Tyrell experience some normal developmental milestones he had totally missed.

“Stability and love were like a foreign language to him,” Ellen recalls.   

Tyrell often visited Ellen and her teaching assistant after his classmates went home. One day he told his teacher, “I feel safe here; people are kind to me here.” Under the hard exterior, there was a little boy who wanted to be taught and treated with kindness. At school with Ellen, Tyrell had a safe, stable, nurturing relationship and environment, which was essential for helping him catch up and build resiliency.

At age 5, Tyrell’s life is beginning to change for the better. Though his home life will need to improve, one adult’s efforts are making a difference.

There are thousands of children like Tyrell in Middle Tennessee. Without intervention through programs such as The Family Center’s Positive Parenting and Nurturing Home, their ACEs will continue adding up to a lifetime of trouble.