The other day, I had a really interesting conversation with my teaching partner, which I mentioned to her that I would like to bring to this blog. The conversation stemmed from an experience a couple of days before. I happened to be on duty during the First Nutrition Break, and when I came back to class after duty, I saw Paula crouched down over the eating table comforting a child that was obviously upset. I heard her talking with both this child and the one sitting beside him. As I moved over to another group of students, I caught some snippets of the conversation at the eating table, but everything seemed to be resolved quickly, and we didn’t really re-look at what happened until a couple of days later: when another discussion prompted Paula to mention this situation.
It turns out that Paula got involved in the problem when she saw and heard the little boy crying. He was visibly upset, and looked for a hug and some soothing words to calm down. When he was feeling better, she asked him what made him so sad, and he replied, “_______ [a child sitting beside him] was going to tell on me.” Paula found it really interesting that there would be such a huge, emotional reaction to knowing that a child was going to “tell on him.” She said that she’s seen this before with other students — as have I — and she always wondered why “telling” made children so upset. Her thinking was,
- We always look to find out more about what happened. Paula taught me the importance of this. Even if a child says to me, “[Name] slapped me,” I’ll follow-up with, “What was happening at the time? What were you doing? What was [Name] doing? Let’s go talk to him/her.” Until I worked with Paula, I never realized how often I passed judgement before following up with everybody on a problem. It’s amazing though that when we really listen to kids, often there are no issues that are as clear-cut as we may think. Hits, kicks, punches, etc., are rarely unmotivated, and usually happen as part of more physical games, such as tag games, Star Wars reenactments, Power Rangers/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/superheros play, or Zombie activities. If you’re playing a game where everybody is “fighting bad guys,” it’s not surprising that things get physical quickly.
- We don’t seek to punish. We work hard on “understanding” versus “punishing.” Maybe this has something to also do with the age group, as so many of these problems are also learning experiences for kids. Often times, we might suggest a different activity or ask questions to get children to think of their own solutions to the problem. It’s amazing what you hear from even your youngest learners when you say, “What might you be able to do to make your friend feel better?”
- We rarely solve problems for kids. Some children need some more support in problem solving than others, and sometimes we need to ask some more specific questions to really get children to resolve problems independently, but we try hard to not be the ones dictating solutions. We want our students to think about problems and think about solutions. I keep thinking back to a duty experience I had about a month ago. Children were playing soccer outside, and a child came to me to say that another child pushed him. I called the other child over, and he explained what happened and why he pushed him. I looked at the student that came to me initially and I said, “What would you like the solution to be?” He said, “I think I should get a foul shot.” I looked at the other child. “What do you think?” He agreed, so the children went off, and the child got his foul shot. I could have imposed a punishment or pulled the child from the game, but giving the children ownership over the problem and the solution, also helped decrease the stress and lead to a very reasonable solution.
- We don’t give up on kids! Even when there is a problem and we have to get involved, we make sure to reconnect with all parties throughout the day. We spend some quiet time together with the children: playing together, asking questions, or maybe even just sitting down and conversing over lunch. We want children to know that we still care about them, no matter what may have happened throughout the day. Relationships matter, and kids need to know how valuable these relationships are to us!
Talking this “telling experience” through with Paula made us wonder,
- When do children become so scared of “telling?”
- What do they think is going to happen?
- How can we help children see “telling” as less of a threat?
If there is a real problem, we want to know about it, but not at the expense of a child’s well-being. Imagine if children so young are fearing what happens when an adult finds out about a problem. What impact might this then have when they grow older? Kids need to know that adults are there for them — that they support and believe in them — and seeing the eating table experience from last week, I wonder how quickly they sometimes forget that this is true.