He tackles real-life issues for kids, such as bullies, facing fears, coping with divorce and understanding grief. He sat down with us recently to discuss the work of The Trevor Romain Company.
On talking with kids. Most adults tell children what they think they need to hear, instead of listening to what they’re asking for. Kids want validation. We tell kids “Don’t worry, don’t be afraid.”We’re negating their feelings. What they want is somebody to hear what they’re feeling. We should be saying, “Man, I would be worried, too. How do you think you can solve it?”Engage in some kind of an understanding of what the problem is, instead of just trying to push it away because it makes us uncomfortable.
The other thing is if you share a similar story with the child. If you can say, “When I was your age, this bullying happened, and I never told anyone, and I struggled with it for a long time, and I wish that I would have been not afraid to tell. I was so scared and I didn’t know what to do. Is that how you’re feeling?”That can open up a dialog because they know that you have been where they’ve been—instead of saying “I understand how you feel.”If you tell a child that, they can’t make the connection. But if you tell them a story from your heart, then they know that you’re in a similar place to them.
On finding his niche. I wrote a book called “The Keeper of the Dreams,”and I decided to give it to a local non-profit and see if we could get it printed, and then they could use the proceeds. So I went around from non-profit to non-profit, and everybody said “No.”Eventually, there was an organization called the Candlelighters which is now the American Childhood Cancer Organization. I went to the woman there, Debbie Sharp, and she said, “Great idea.”So we printed the book and she said, “You know, you should take this book to the hospital and read it to the kids that you’ve donated the money to.”I’d never met a kid with cancer before in my life. So I went to the hospital, and there were about 16 kids with little IV poles. I read the book and when I was finished one little girl said, “Can you read that again?”And I’m like, “Okay.”Well, I ended up reading it about 10 times. And I went back day after day after day, and eventually became known as the Doctor of Mischief.
On bullying. Reporting a bully is not only going to help the victim, but it’s going to help the bully because 90 percent of kids who bully have something going on. There are some insecurities; there are some fears. Some of them, the only contact they can have with anybody is if they actually bully them or are mean to them, and really what they’re doing is reaching out and trying to make a connection. We have to give the bully a way to be able to talk to a counselor. If they are able to go to their teacher and say, “I’m feeling terrible. I don’t like me. I don’t like doing this. I don’t want to be this person who people pretend they like, and then they hate me behind my back.”
Kids are fearful that if they go and report, the bully will come after them, which does happen. Oftentimes, the teacher will storm off—or the dad or the mom—and go take care of business right away, which does not help. It makes it worse. So [we need] to be able to give them avenues to be able to report, easily and comfortably and safely.
Normally when a bully does something, the bystanders giggle and laugh because they don’t want to be singled out and they want to feel allied to the bully. “I’m not the target. I’m going to be on their side because I do not want to be the target.”We have to have a peer-to-peer culture where kids say, “We’re not going to put up with this anymore.”
On feeling the weight of his work. If I visit kids in a hospital or a refugee camp, when I walk out of the door I just say a little meditation, a little prayer, just “Please, can you carry that, because I cannot carry that with me.”When I’m with those children, I’ll give them 100 percent. I can’t heal them, but we can have a lot of fun. And I often do a hand washing thing. I’ll go and just let the warm water run over my hands, just as a cleansing thing. That’s something that I learned when I was in Nagasaki, Japan. When you go to the monument where the atomic bomb was dropped, they have a stone that was there. And there’s a bucket of water with a ladle. To pay your respects, you dip the ladle and you say a prayer, and you pour the water. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be able to say, “There’s this flow, and it goes out.”And I do exercises with kids, too—you know, breathing—and my therapy is drawing. I draw in my journal. I’ve journaled my whole life. That’s very, very helpful to me.
On his partnership with the USO.[Military] kids have got a unique struggle. Not only do they have to move every 3 years, they have a parent deployed, maybe on their 4th, 5th, 6th deployment. A lot of those kids have parents with PTSD—many of them—and so we created these programs to help those kids. We’ve spoken to over 180,000 military kids in the last 3 years. All over the world. We’ve been to every country that has US military bases with kids—Japan, Germany, Guam, Okinawa, Korea, Bahrain, Spain, Turkey, England, Belgium. I do assemblies, and we talk to kids about moving, about dealing with being in a new school, about cliques and just basically the stuff that they go through on a daily basis, the hurdles. And our whole aim—not only with those kids but with all kids, with our divorce kits and our deployment kits and our grief comfort kits—is to make sure that kids are happier, healthier and more confident. That’s our philosophy; that’s our slogan.
On living with a learning difference.I’m dyslexic and ADD, so I’m working on a book for kids, and it’s basically about living with a learning difference. You know, you can still reach your dreams. I always tell kids when I start off that I’ve reached my dreams, and my new dream is to have more dreams. I’m very lucky that I’ve been successful, and even though I was a kid struggling at school who couldn’t read pretty much until the 4th grade, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful and reach your dreams.
As a kid who was a pencil roller and a foot tapper and gazing out the window, I used to get spanked for doing little drawings, but to this day, I’ll sit in a meeting and tell you everything that was said. I didn’t look at the person talking, I was just listening, and those little drawings—when I come back to it, I can associate ideas that I’ve heard with those little squiggles. And that’s how my brain works; it just works differently.