Let’s talk a walk and talk about it.
I cannot tell you how many times I have repeated this phrase over the first semester of the school year! This phrase has become embedded into my daily function as a lead learner in an elementary school. Why? Because there are kids in my school who do not come because they want to learn, nor do they care to learn. Some children are attending so they can have two hot meals, to feel safe, to get hugs, and for others to acknowledge them. School, for some children, is the only stable and consistent place they go. For this reason, school is home for them.
I also have some kids in my school who walk in the door ready to argue, fight, growl, or find something to upset them, because anger consumes the world they just left a few moments before. They have a chip on their shoulder. They are waiting for someone to do something to them or for something to happen to them, because it is less likely to be hurt when on the defense.
Children who don’t have a choice but to bring their “stuff” to school will exhibit behaviors that we as adults do not see as acceptable. They may be withdrawn, slow to respond, sleeping, apathetic, and unresponsive to communication. Others may be highly emotional, having crying episodes, tantrums, or be overly jubilant. Some kids come to us with so much anger built up that their behavior is explosive. They may turn over furniture, throw objects, become physically aggressive with adults and peers, use inappropriate language, hit/harm themselves, yell, and run from adults.
When a teacher calls for assistance with children who exhibit these behaviors (and they should, because kids need many adults to help them through their emotions), getting the child calm is the number one priority. Immediate removal may not be safe until the child is calm, and removal of the class may be necessary if safety of others is at risk.
It is TOUGH to know exactly what to do when faced with children who are struggling to self regulate.
I remember recently walking into a classroom to assist with a behavioral outburst. Upon entering, the child immediately looked me in the eye, and bolted under the nearest table. I decided to observe for a moment what I saw, which was AMAZING. The teacher never missed a beat in her small reading group. The other children around the room never looked up from what they were doing (except one or two to give me a little finger wave!). One child motioned me over to show me her library book she was reading. Not one of them was staring at the child under the table. None of them gave it a second thought. I decided to give the child more time to cool down. After all, he wasn’t bothering anyone under the table.
I began to think about these things…
Maybe he feels safe under the table, because he is covered.
I wonder if this is his way of telling us that he just “needs a minute”.
If he knows I am giving him some time, will he come out and visit with me at his own will?
Telling him to get out isn’t appropriate at the moment, but what if he NEVER comes out?
I decided to wait, while gradually moving closer to the table. I got out my phone, answered an email, and also left a note on a child’s desk. Then…it happened. I felt three little taps on my ankle. This was my chance to help this kid! Here we go…
I bent down on eye level with the child, all the while processing some really great stuff to say that would turn this kid’s day around. Before I could speak, he looked at me and said, “Mrs. Hill, I’m ready to go for a walk and talk about it”.
DO WHAT??? He stole my line! What just happened here??????
Switching gears, I quickly agreed and suggested that he grab his shoes to take on our walk. We walked in silence for a few moments, but soon began talking about what frustrated him in the first place. It was all “stuff” he had brought to school with him…frustration from his other environment. The “stuff” consumed him to a point that he began to blurt out in class and was confrontational with the teacher. We discussed how it is important for him to feel safe, but also for others to feel safe. We connected his actions to the safety of his classroom. He immediately made the connection to why his outbursts disturbed the safe feeling of his classroom. WOW!
Does it work like this every time? Heck no! Did I learn something from this kid that day? Heck yes!
He taught me so much…
Our language with kids matters, and it matters BIG.
Everyone feels safe in different ways, and may act abnormally until they feel it.
Consistency with response to their behaviors helps them know that they are safe with us
I have messed up, a lot! I will probably mess up again.
He knows I love him, and he knew I was there to help him.
I don’t have to immediately react to a kid’s behavior. He reminded me I can pause and think, just as he did.
I ask lots of kids every day if they want to go for a walk and talk about it because most times I don’t know what else to do at that moment! But..maybe it isn’t such a bad response after all!
Kids teach me new things every single day. I am a better person because of these little walks and talks I have with kids. Sometimes they only happen in the hallways. Sometimes they happen in a safer place. Sometimes the child senses I’m frustrated because I fail to hide it…and the walk might be longer for both of us. The important thing is…they happen. It is so time consuming, and how I spend a large part of my school days. It’s worth it.
I lose my patience with kids. We all do. Maybe we need to talk a walk and talk about it sometimes. We might even need to find our own proverbial table to cover us. We need to feel safe too. Doing so will help us respond to children, rather than react to their behavior.
Wanna go for a walk? 🙂
So true. When I worked in a Title I school, I had a lot of students who brought “stuff” to school every day. How could they not? It consumed them. And it seemed like each of them let go of their baggage in different ways. I love your approach of walking it out. It is respectful and reflective.
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It’s sad but true these days. Helping students feel safe and accepted takes years for a handful of them. There’s hope and belief students will deal with their “stuff” with more than school support.
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So impressed with the other kids! (And the teacher) Being able to focus on their own work after outbursts is difficult. Relationships are at the core of what we do.
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