There are many things that I could blog about today, but it’s an experience from yesterday that really has me thinking. At the end of the school day, I knew that this would be the blog post that I would be writing tomorrow.
Yesterday, my teaching partner, Paula, was away, and we had a supply in for her. The supply has been in the classroom before, and already knew most of the children. This relationship helped! She just returned from her lunch break, and decided to join some students working at the Lego table. I was working with children over at the creative table … not that far away. At the time, my back was to the Lego table, but something made me turn around. I’m not sure what. Maybe I heard something. Maybe I just felt a change in the classroom. But for whatever the reason, I looked.
The supply was sitting across from two students that were initially playing together. Then one child started to bang down on the work that another child was doing. I heard the words, “Please stop!” Then a few minutes later, I heard the words, “Stop!!” (Much louder this time.) And then less than a minute after that, the child screamed, “Stop!!,” again, and started to hit the table, growl, and cry at the same time. The supply was trying to support both children at this point, but the screaming, hitting, growling, and crying continued, and nothing the supply was doing seemed to help. I stood up at this point, called the upset child’s name, and told the child to move. I pointed to an empty stool near the sensory table (which happened to be unoccupied at the time). I had to say the child’s name and point to the stool a few times, but as I walked closer to the Lego table, the child moved.
I was now standing across from the child. There was no doubt about it: this child was angry and upset. I got down low, and reminded this child to breathe. I know that taking deep breaths works for this child. I will admit that I started to lecture this child about what I observed. Screaming, hitting, and growling were not necessary, and not okay … or were they? No matter what I’ve read and learned about self-regulation, my initial reaction was to view this child’s response as misbehaviour, but could it instead be stress behaviour? Just as I began my lecture, I stopped. Maybe I heard Stuart Shanker‘s voice in my head. Maybe I heard Susan Hopkins. Or maybe I just heard myself.
At that moment, I got a lot quieter, and I asked this child, “Are you ready to talk?” I saw a small nod. “Okay, what happened?” The child then explained how the other child continued to wreck this child’s creation, and every attempt to rebuild was met with another problem. “I’m just so angry!,” this child said. Wow! This child could identify feelings and what triggered them. I asked the child, “Could we move your building somewhere else?” The child then explained to me the need for a table, and the fact that the Lego table was already in use. I mentioned that the sensory bin was empty, and seemed to be for most of the day. “What if we put the lid back on it? Could you use that?” The child thought that might work, and even thought about adding a chair beside for the additional room required.
In just a few minutes, we figured out the problem together. As we stood up, I looked at the child that seemed better now, but still looked a little upset, and asked, “Do you need a hug?” That’s when the child said, “Yes!,” and grabbed me for a hug. The child stayed hugging me for a few minutes, and I could actually feel the child’s body calm down before letting go. It took less than seven minutes for this child to go from angry and upset, to calm, engaged, and refocused on some new learning.
I’ve purposely avoided mentioning if this child is a JK or SK student and a boy or a girl. It doesn’t matter! A similar situation could happen with any child. And when the issue was resolved, and everything was good again, I realized how quickly I could have — and almost did — escalate this problem. This could have become an office issue. It could have led to a need to contact parents. It could have dominated the rest of our day. For it doesn’t take long to engage in a power struggle, which tends to make things so much worse. I will admit that I’ve engaged in these struggles in the past: with the best of intentions, but far less successful results. Watching this child’s anger increase at the start of this problem, I would never have considered this child’s need for a hug, and yet, that interbrain connection was I think what ultimately made things better: both at the time and for the rest of the day!
— Stuart Shanker (@StuartShanker) January 6, 2018
This whole situation brings me back to the question on if our goal is to punish or to understand. I choose understanding. What about you? I wonder how many problems might easily diffuse with a gentle tone, a little time, and a big hug.