What If We Saw Things From The Child’s Perspective?

I am re-reading Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning as part of a School Book Club. As I’ve mentioned in some previous blog posts, each chapter that I re-read, coupled with my new learning through the Foundations Courses, help give me a different perspective. The same thing happened as I read Chapter 5: The Prosocial Domain.

In this chapter, Shanker discusses how adults can sometimes play “the part of dysregulator with our children” (Page 101). We do this as we dismiss a child’s fears, ultimately increasing a child’s anxiety. As I read this paragraph in the book, I thought back to an experience that I had last week. I was out in the hallway with the students as they were packing up and getting ready for home. One child was very excited to bring home some art work that she did in class. As she placed the work on the ground to get her backpack out of her locker, she accidentally stepped on it and one of the papers ripped into two. I didn’t see the ripping happen, but I heard the screams that came seconds later. I was helping another child do up her backpack at the time, and I looked up, in alarm, expecting to see a hurt child. Instead, I saw this student gripping both pieces of her art work with big alligator tears streaming down her face. She came right up to me, and through the tears, tried to explain what happened.

I wish now that I could say that I reacted differently than I did. Instead, I got down on my knees, and as she came and wrapped herself around me — craving a hug to stop the pain — I asked her in a quiet voice, “Will the tears fix the problem?” She said, “No,” and then I said, “This is not a big problem. You can always make a new picture tomorrow.” Oh, how I wish that I could go back in time and try again. The truth is that for this student, this was a big problem. Her work mattered, and the fact that it was destroyed, devastated her. There are many different ways that I could have responded.

  • I could have suggested getting some tape.
  • I could have helped her fix this rip, so that she could take home her art work in one piece.
  • I could have also given her some new paper, so that she could re-create this art work at home.

Some may wonder if doing any of these three options would have been “too soft” an approach. How are children going to learn not to react so extremely to such small problems if we always give into them? I’ll admit that I asked myself this same question even as I considered more empathetic responses. Shanker addresses this point in his book though, as he shares that it’s these empathetic kinds of responses that help children “develop these self-regulatory behaviours” (page 101). Maybe the next time, instead of screaming and crying, she would go and find some tape on her own and fix the ripped art work. Isn’t this what we want children to do?!

That’s when I started to reflect on some of my own problematic experiences in the past. I thought of times that I got angry. I thought of times that I felt upset. I remember telling some friends and family members about these experiences, and sometimes they would respond in a similar way that I responded to this child. They weren’t trying to be mean. They didn’t want to increase my anxiety. But by hearing words such as, “You’re overreacting, Aviva,” or “Don’t worry! This is not a big problem,” it just made me feel more upset. Maybe I needed some hand holding at these times. Maybe I needed somebody to present me with some possible options. Maybe I needed somebody to walk me through a solution. Maybe a little co-regulation then would help me self-regulate later.

While I can’t go back and change what I did last week, I can remember Shanker’s book, my list of other possible responses, and my own experiences, to remind me of the need for a more empathetic response the next time. How do you remember to show empathy? What value do you think this has for children and for adults? I think that J.M. Barrie’s quote sums up my new learning well: “Be kinder than necessary.” Imagine if we all lived by these words.


2 thoughts on “What If We Saw Things From The Child’s Perspective?

  1. Aviva, thank you for sharing this story. I think we all say things we regret when a friend or person is really upset. Perhaps it is because we are busy, or really don’t understand the big deal because it is not how we ourselves would react. I will share this with the book club as I think it is so important to be kind, even when we don’t feel like it. I’m glad your back!

    • Thanks Sandy! It’s true: now that I think about it, there are many times that I’ve reacted similarly. Maybe re-reading Shanker’s book and thinking about this experience will make me reconsider my response the next time. I do like the idea of being “kinder than necessary.”


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