What If We Asked These “Why” Questions When Things Go Well?

Yesterday, I was on duty outside, and a student in another grade came to get me. He wanted me to see what he could do on the playground equipment. I walked with him over to the equipment, and he climbed up the steps that lead to the monkey bars. When he got on the top of the platform, he looked at me and said, “You can come up here too.” I looked at him and replied, “I can’t. I’m scared of heights.” Even just the thought terrified me. That’s when he did something that I didn’t expect: he told me to take a deep breath in and breathe out.

The student walked me through this deep breathing three times. For these couple of minutes, I was his student. At the end of this, he asked me if I felt better. While I still never made it on to the monkey bars — a broken arm as a child has scared me ever since — this experience really got me thinking. You see, this same child that was so great at helping me calm down, is a child that often struggles with self-regulating. When I asked him later if “deep breathing helps him feel calm,” he mentioned that it does, and he asked me if this also makes me feel calm. Together, we were actually able to discuss self-regulation: a conversation that he’s never engaged in with me before.

This got me thinking about the questions that Stuart Shanker often asks, “Why this child? Why now?” I realize that for him, these questions are often asked in response to stress behaviour. What if we also ask them at the opposite time: when a child is not demonstrating stress behaviour? What might these questions tell us about what’s making this child successful?

  • Could it be because he was calm enough to recognize the stress in another individual?
  • Could it be because we’ve connected over the past couple of months, so he wanted to help me feel better?
  • Could it be because he could relate to how I was feeling, so he could offer a suggestion that works for him?
  • Could it be because I showed a genuine interest in hearing his thoughts, so he was more apt to offer them?
  • Could it be because he has heard this same suggestion so many times that he decided to share it with someone else?

This child surprised me the other day, and now I’m left wondering what made the difference? Can you think of any other possible ideasI would love to see this “co-regulation success” also lead to some “self-regulation success.”


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