When “Dear Other Mom” Becomes “Dear Educators And Parents”

Last night, I read this beautiful, heartfelt letter from Andrea Haefele to another mom that she met at the park yesterday. I wish that I could say that the message was a happy one. It wasn’t. But as I read Andrea’s words (and encourage you to do so as well), I realized that the problem is bigger than just “one mom.” Andrea unknowingly inspired me to write a blog post that I’ve been thinking about for a while now but haven’t felt brave enough to actually write. Today I’m choosing to be brave.

Let me start by sharing a story with you. (For the sake of everyone involved, I’m only going to say that these experiences happened over my years of teaching kindergarten, but not when or where they happened.) The first story is about a little boy that was having problems with a child in another kindergarten class. He was frustrated by what this other child (let’s call him “Matthew”) was doing and saying, and every day, he placed blame on this child for things that were happening outside. Most of the time, Matthew was not responsible for the problems, or was only following through on what another child suggested. Unbeknownst to this little boy, Matthew was identified with autism. He was very vocal, quite social, and really wanted a friend, but there were often other factors at play. Matthew’s actions sometimes caused his classmates to cry, and in an attempt to be empathetic to them, his classroom educators unknowingly compounded the “fear” that these other children were feeling based on his outbursts and his actions. So when our little boy got mad at Matthew and made comments about what he did — if he actually did these things or not — the other educators supported him in feeling upset and separating himself from Matthew. My teaching partner at the time noticed some of these altercations with Matthew, and wondered if our child was really targeting him. Could we build empathy and change behaviour by exploring bullying? This is when we listened to the story, The Recess Queen. 

We wanted this child to see that maybe Matthew was just looking for a friend. While he seemed to understand this in the context of a read aloud, his behaviour towards Matthew wasn’t changing. What could we do? We spoke to his parents, and the next day, the child came into class and said, “My mom wants me to find out three new things about *Matthew that I didn’t know before. I’m going to need to talk to him to find these things out.” And so he did. This simple request totally changed things for this little boy and Matthew. Our student found out that he actually had a lot in common with Matthew, and he started to seek him out to play with outside. They stopped in the morning to say, “hello,” to each other, and even began to refer to each other as “friends.”

Now it might be easy for me to sit up here on my high horse and say that I …

  • always look for ways to build empathy and understanding among kids,
  • always see children’s actions in a positive light,
  • and try to reduce the “child is scaring other children” dialogue that is often present in these classroom and/or school situations,

but I’m not perfect. I keep thinking about another experience from my past.

It was time to clean up, and a child was upset. His block structure kept breaking, and when children started to tidy up around him, he totally melted down:

  • ear piercing screams,
  • flopping on the ground,
  • and lots of tears. 

I tried to comfort him. My teaching partner tried to comfort him. We both gave him what usually works for him, but the screams were not stopping. Children were plugging their ears as they cleaned up around him, and the volume in the room kept getting louder as classmates competed with his volume. I was done. I looked at my teaching partner and said, “I’m going to get the principal. He needs to leave. This might not be his fault, but it’s not fair to everyone else.” The child is scaring other children dialogue which bothers me so much, was running through my head. And then something amazing happened. A student went and sat down behind him. He quietly whispered to him, rubbed his back, took his hand, and led him to a different space where he could sit down, curl up, and feel better. The screaming stopped. The crying stopped. This child did what my teaching partner and I couldn’t do, even though we attempted a similar approach.

  • This child wasn’t scared of him.
  • This child didn’t feel as though his classroom experience was being ruined because of the screaming and crying. 
  • Instead, this child showed us that he learned something well beyond reading, writing, and math: he learned the importance of relationships and the value in supporting everyone in our classroom family.

This takes me back to Andrea’s story. I wonder why the mom pulled her son away. But I also wonder how educators might respond in similar situations. 

  • Would we support the development of this new friendship, or at some point, would we thank the child for “being kind,” and suggest that he go and play with his “other friends?”
  • If Andrea’s daughter got angry, frustrated, or upset during this new playground experience (which could very likely happen), would we show this little boy how to best support his new friend or would we quickly hurry him away for fear of getting hurt?
  • While we know the value in inclusion, would we support the additional time that Andrea’s daughter might need to get down this slide, or would we think that it’s “unfair” that others have to wait?

I know how I would respond to these questions now, but I also know how I might have responded to them in the not-so-distant past. Know more. Do better. As an educator, I see an experience like this one differently now, and my hope is that by modelling true inclusion and support, more children, parents, and other educators might also see things differently. That slide could become the start to a new friendship. Why are we stopping this? My “Dear Everyone” note is going to include one important message: let’s always remember to lead with love! 


4 thoughts on “When “Dear Other Mom” Becomes “Dear Educators And Parents”

  1. Crud, Aviva, you make me cry! Yup. I had an amazing learning this year. I watched two students in my room, both of whom can be seen as challenging Grade 7’s, get incredibly good at regulating one another. As long as one was having a good day, they were able to help each other settle. If they were both dysregulated, it could be a whole different ball game. But the moment I heard a Grade 7 boy tell a Grade 7 girl that she wasn’t stupid (which she was feeling) and help her settle into her math, I was humbled and amazed.

    One of these students also surprised my admin in a situation similar to the one you recount. My administrators (both amazing) were trying unsuccessfully to calm a handful of primary students who had ended up in their offices for assorted reasons. My student, who had come in for some calming time herself, took less than 5 minutes to regulate all of the small space, and calmed herself in the process. I’m really trying to figure out how to build this in for a student like this.

    • Oh Lisa! These stories make me so happy to hear. Reading your stories as well as the ones on Twitter remind me that there’s value in sharing these positive stories. Might they also help others see things differently? I continue to reflect on how much adults can learn from kids. Your second story also had me wondering if some time in a primary class might be beneficial for her. Is it the interactions with these younger kids that are calming for her? Thanks for adding to this discussion!


      • a primary class is our first choice when she needs a break. The teachers love to have her, her anxiety fades out and she knows she’s valued. Figuring out re-entry can be challenging – there’s so much going on in an intermediate classroom (hormones, frenemies, not knowing where you fit or who you are). The primary space can be very comforting for teenagers at the height of age 12-13ness. And they are experts….

        • Lisa, I love that you’ve set this up for her. And I also love that other teachers are so open to it. It’s a great example of putting the child first. You obviously see the stressors that are play for her, and have created such a great environment for her to be successful.


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