How Do You Solve People Well?

Sometimes experiences stay with you. This is especially true of what happened yesterday.

I was on duty when one of the lunch monitors came out to see me in the hallway. There was a problem in her classroom. I went to the room, and I saw a child that was definitely angry and visibly upset. I know the student went, and his ability to express himself (through words) is a challenge, which often increases his frustration. It turns out that he finished eating his lunch, and he decided to draw a picture on a whiteboard. He had a green marker. He loves green! He put the marker down to go and get something, and one child took his green marker while another child erased his whiteboard. This was not intentional on their parts. They just wanted to draw a picture as well, and they thought that he was done. Imagine his frustration though when he came back to the table, and saw both the whiteboard and the marker gone. He screamed, and cried, and totally melted down. The child that took his whiteboard gave it back to him right away, but the other child handed him a different marker. It was green, but it wasn’t the green marker that he had before. He wanted the other marker. And that’s when he really lost it.

I went into the classroom, and got down low. He knows me, and he often likes walking with me in the hallway on duty. I thought that maybe he’d leave with me and go on a walk. “I don’t want to walk with you today!,” he screamed. “Okay, you don’t need to,” I said. Let me help you get the marker back. I asked the other child if he could change markers, and he did, but the student was still quite upset. I started to think about Stuart Shanker, Susan Hopkins, and Self-Reg. There was no doubt that this child was incredibly dysregulated. If I had him sit with the other children to draw, it wouldn’t take long for him to react again. I needed to help him find his own space. 

I thought that maybe he could sit out in the hall with me and draw, while I walked. “I just want to stay!,” he screamed. He definitely wasn’t going to leave. Maybe a table of his own would help. It seemed that he wanted some control in the decision, so I gave him a choice of empty tables. Wahoo!! That worked. He chose one. He actually sat down, wiped away his tears, and started drawing. That’s when another child in the class made the comment that I will probably always remember.

At that moment, I actually felt as though I made a difference. But then the bell rang, and the student broke down again. “I need to tidy up! I won’t have time to draw. I don’t remember what I want to make!” He was screaming. He was crying. He really couldn’t control himself. I told him that I had a prep and would stay with him. I said that he could keep drawing until he was done. I tried to get him not to worry about the bell, but he was focused on it. “My teacher needs me to clean up,” he said. I know his teacher, and I knew that he would understand, but this child was focused on the bell and the need to tidy up. That’s when the worst thing possible happened! Another child yelled, “Your marker goes here!” It was an innocent enough comment, but he lost it. He went running for the child with his green marker pointed out ready to strike him. And I got in the middle of it. I got down low. I went in for a hug, and he stopped.

He was still crying, but he wasn’t moving. This is when his teacher came back. The other children were off to another class. He offered for this child to join them, but he wasn’t ready. I offered to stay. The teacher tried hard to get him to explain what happened, but the child was just too upset, and everything that ever bothered him merged with this marker issue from today, and it all came out.

  • “Somebody broke my tower.”
  • “Somebody took my blocks.”
  • “[Name] broke my backpack.”

The world was definitely against him … or so it seemed

It was at this point that his teacher said, “We need to pack up your lunch.” The child shouted, “I can’t do it! The zipper’s too hard.” Oh wait! I could help with this. I sat down by his lunch. I started to zip. I got about half way, and I said quietly, “You’re right. It is hard. Can you come and help me.” He came closer, and we worked on the zipper together. “You need to do the bottom,” he said. We worked on this part as well. He was now sitting down beside me, and while he wasn’t happy, he wasn’t crying anymore.

I had my iPad with me, so I said, “Do you want to see some pictures and videos of my kids?” He replied, “You have kids?” I said, “I have lots of children in my class, and I have pictures and videos of what they did today. Do you want to look?” Oh yes! He definitely wanted to. He moved closer, and we looked at the pictures and videos together. We talked about what was happening in them. He really liked the worm videos, and wondered about what else our students could add to Worm City. I told him that he could help if it was okay with his teacher. I said, “We need some signs for the city though. Could you help with those?” He said, “Oh, like a stop sign. Or a hospital sign. I could make those!” At this point, the period was almost over, as was my prep, and the kids were coming back to class. The student told everyone about Worm City, and the teacher said that he would look at a time that they could help.

Worm City continues. They are working on the flow of water. Wyatt said that he needed some water for his mud. Trinity squirted out some juice, and said, “See: mud!” Then Wyatt directed her at where to squirt the juice. Some teamwork in action here! There were a lot of muddy hands and bodies here, but so much great oral language and problem solving! We want to bring out our sign book tomorrow with some popsicle sticks and sticky notes. Based on what they made today in Worm City, what signs might they add? I wonder if we can get a reading and writing connection here! Mya ended by proudly showing off that she was “the cleanest girl here!” Even my skirt was covered in mud, and Leah was pretty muddy too. I think that Mya was right! 🙂 ❤️ (Please note that we did a lot of hand and bottle washing at the end of this!) SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram

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As I stood up to leave, this child came up to me and gave me a big hug. He said, “You’re nice! I like you.” Less than an hour ago, he was yelling at me and angry at everyone, but some time to calm down and connect made a difference. It turned the day around.

  • Yes, I had a lot to do on my prep.
  • Yes, at the height of the problem, when our principal was walking down the hallway, I was tempted to call for help. I almost did.
  • And yes, while I offered to stay, I didn’t intend to do so for the prep.

But do you know what? That moment made my day! 

  • I made a difference.
  • I was able to help turn things around for a child.
  • And despite all of the dysregulation at play, I was able to see the incredible success that comes from Self-Reg.

Relationships are at the heart of Self-Reg. Yesterday worked because of the connection I was able to make with this child … and maybe when he needed it most. It was actually the comment from the other little girl in the class that made me stick with this child and with the solution. Maybe our job really is about “solving people well.” How do you do this? Thanks to this student who believed in me, and I think changed the end of the day for all of us. No matter how much school work I may have had to do, maybe it was this work with this kid that was the most important of all!


4 thoughts on “How Do You Solve People Well?

  1. As I read your post I couldn’t help but think of that quote “It takes a village to raise a child.” I also couldn’t help but think of the great work you do with children because of all your knowledge about them and self regulation. I have been thinking about you a great deal this week because there is a little girl in the class next to me and a little boy in my class who have been experiencing similar frustration like the little boy you encountered yesterday. I am constantly thinking. What would Aviiva do? What advice would she give me? What would Stuart Shanker say? I am reading Stuart Shankers book, Calm, Alert, and Leadning.” Is there anything else you would recommend that could help me better support these children.

    • Thanks for the comment, Maureen! After reading Shanker’s books and taking Foundations 1, it’s hard for me not to see life through a Self-Reg lens, but I’m far from perfect. I make mistakes. Even in the case of what happened on Wednesday, there were so many times that I was ready to respond differently, but those little voices of Shanker, Hopkins, and even the little girl, made the difference.

      As for your question, can you figure out what’s causing the stress? Why are the children getting frustrated? Has this been happening all year or only recently? If only recently, can you figure out when things started to change? What might have caused this change? Can you tell when these kids start to feel dysregulated, so that they’re likely to respond to problems as this little boy did? What calms them? It may be — and likely is —- different for both students. In the best of circumstances, you want to be able to reduce or eliminate the stressors —- or have the children respond to them early using a Self-Reg strategy that works —- so that they begin to feel calmer. Then they might also respond to these other triggers differently, such as the taking of the whiteboard. While Wednesday was all about calming this boy down in the midst of the problem, there might have been something that could have happened before that. Ideally, figuring out the stressors, helps change how children respond when these kinds of situations arise. Shanker and Hopkins speak about being a “stress detective.”

      Good luck! I really hope things work out for both of these kids! They’re lucky to have you seeing what you’re seeing and trying to support them.


  2. Thanks so much Aviva for your advice. I think I know the answers to all your questions up to the one of what will help calm them. I have to investigate that more closely. Thanks again for all your posts. I always look forward to them.

    • Thanks Maureen! Knowing those other answers definitely helps! Good luck figuring out what helps them self-regulate. This is often a lot of trial and error.


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