As a Kindergarten teacher in Ontario, I’m thrilled with the fact that we’ve had a mild winter. It’s not the weather itself. I actually like the snow, and I know that the students love it. There are so many amazing learning opportunities thanks to the snow, and I do miss those. What I don’t miss is the amount of time it takes to get dressed. I will say that our students have gotten a lot faster in the last couple of months, but even so, when snowpants are involved, it usually takes about 15 minutes for dressing and 10 minutes for undressing. Students do this three times a day. That’s a lot of time spent in the hallway getting in and out of winter clothing. Even with limited clothes to get on and off, dressing times can be challenging.
I thought of this today when my teaching partner came into the room about two minutes before dismissal. To help reduce stress at the end of the day, one of us goes out into the hallway to help the children get ready, and one of us stays in the classroom to get the students settled and read and talk with them before home. Today, I was in the classroom and my partner was in the hallway. Almost all of our students were ready to go home … except one. My partner said that this child was just standing in the middle of the hallway with everything on the floor and refusing to get ready … could I give it a try? Sure.
I’ll admit: when I walked outside, my plan was to tell this child that she needed to get ready. It was time to go. I was going to be clear, succinct, and firm. There was no choice. Then I got into the hall, and I started to think about something that I’ve learned as part of the Self-Regulation Courses that I’m taking through the Mehrit Centre. When looking at a child and his/her actions, we’re often asked to question, “why this child” and “why now.” As I walked down the hall, I thought about these questions. I knew the answers.
- It’s almost the end of the day.
- This child is tired.
- Getting packed up and dressed is hard work.
- This child had a lot to pack up, and the pile on the floor and in the locker must have seemed overwhelming.
- Everyone else was ready to go. This child hadn’t started yet. Was this child thinking about how stressed others must have felt, and as such, was feeling even more stressed and more unsure about where to begin?
And so, with each step that I took towards this child, my approach started to change. Today, I made it to the locker, and I looked down at the sweater on the ground. I bent down, picked it up, and asked, “Does this go home or stay here?” The child replied, “Stays here.” Good. I hung it up. Then I got out the backpack, and I bent down and started picking up papers. As I put them into the backpack, this child started to help. Then I handed this child the coat and on it went. The hats, mittens, and scarf went on next. I silently passed this child everything. We only spoke a couple of words, but in less than two minutes, we were done. This child went home happy tonight, and I did too.
I’ve purposely avoided mentioning if this child is a boy or a girl because it doesn’t matter. This isn’t the only child that finds it difficult to get ready, especially at the end of the day, and in most cases, the other students struggle for similar reasons. But for 15 years, I wouldn’t have used the approach that I used today.
- I would have been firm.
- I would have talked WAY too much.
- I probably would have presented an ultimatum (e.g., “Get ready, or you’re going to the office to get ready.”).
- This child likely would have left school angry or upset, and I probably would have felt the same way.
Nobody wins in a power struggle. Maybe some people would have seen me as “too soft” today. Maybe some people would question why I helped pack up this child’s bag, when this child is totally capable of doing so independently. Maybe some people would have wondered if I’m really helping develop independence or responsibility. Maybe I would have been one of the “people” who I speak about here. But the more that I learn about self-regulation, about children, and about stress, the more that I’m glad I’m a changing person. I hope that I remember to respond in the future as I did today.
In your experiences, you may not be dealing with tired, Kindergarten students and snowpants, but you must have some of your own experiences when children refuse to do something that you want them to do. How do you respond? What are the benefits and/or drawbacks to this kind of response? Could there be another way? I can’t help but wonder if asking ourselves, “why this child,” and “why now,” may be all we need to do to start to see things differently. What do you think?