One thing I watch transpire right in front of me, in every work place I have ever been at is the idea that children are bad. That they are malicious, and that they want to hurt you as an educator, and as a person.
I have worked with angry kiddo’s, when I say angry, I mean kiddo’s that see red when they lose their temper, and could easily kill you and then go for a milk shake afterwards. The anger blinds them, it freezes their memory, and it creates a barrier between logic, and reason, and rage and carnage. These kiddos are not bad.
I don’t believe there are any bad kiddos. I believe that there are impulsive kiddos, reactive kiddos, explosive kiddos, but not bad kiddos.
I learned very early in my interactions with children with anger issues, that rule #1 is DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING THEY SAY OR DO PERSONALLY, OR OFFENSIVELY.
I’ll let that settle in for a bit.
When you start thinking that the kiddos you work with are out to get you, you automatically transform from support and helping hand, to trigger, or worse, adversary.
Here’s my logic. As usual, I will tell a personal story to get my point across, and then elaborate deeper on the idea.
I worked with a student that was very aggressive. This kiddo was about 15 years old, he wasn’t a very tall kid, but very bulky, and his hands were very heavy. When I began working with him, he was throwing close to 1000 punches a day at school. This was the second or third kiddo I worked with, that had similar issues. Now when I first started, with a different kiddo, I was green, and had no approach or experience, all I had was instinct. That got me beat up quite a lot. When it came to this specific child though, let’s call him, Bert. When it came to Bert, I had a plan, I had a strategy. I was determined not to get my nose broken, or teeth shoved down my throat. So I did everything by the book. Stood at an angle as to not seem threatening, spoke in short spurts as to accomplish economy of language, I had an open stance whenever I addressed him. I had it all under control.
So there I am, five feet away from Bert, open arms, side stance, “My name is Nelson, How are you?” Bert stands up, looks at me up and down, and before I could even blink an eye, he starts going ballistic. He connected with probably 30 punches to my face and chest in the time it took me to get my hands up and around his arms. My therapy is to stand toe to toe with these tantrums (not a very smart therapy) So there I was trying to weather this storm, getting beat to a bloody pulp, all the while thinking where did I go wrong? I didn’t go wrong, It’s this kid! He’s a bad kid, couldn’t he see I was in an open stance, and non threatening. What the hell was his problem?
I was offended. Really offended. I went back to his file, I read it, and scoffed at some of the things I read. I could not for the life of me,
Find. Something. Good.
So I spoke to my colleagues, and my case manager, and I wanted suggestions, and answers. I didn’t want to get beat like that again. Then I got some great advice from someone who never worked with children before.
If this kid doesn’t even know you, if you just met him, then how can he hate you already? He doesn’t hate you, he just doesn’t understand you, or maybe you don’t understand him.
Ding Ding Ding
A light bulb went off in my head just then.
This kid didn’t have a damn reason to hate me. He didn’t hate me. This wasn’t about me at all.
The next time I met with Bert things went a little differently. I watched him from more of a distance, and discovered just how sensitive to sound he was. I noticed that he didn’t like people to be too close to him, and that whenever someone crossed that personal bubble (his was about 6 feet away from him all the way around) he lashed out. The look on his face when he hit people, was not an angry one, it was not a face that wanted to hurt you, it was fear, and sadness, and most of all it was confusion. He didn’t understand that what he was doing was affecting other people so much. He didn’t understand that when I stood so close to him, and spoke slowly, I was trying to make him feel comfortable.
After 15 minutes or so of just observing I was ready to make contact. I walked and stood about 10 feet from him. When I spoke I covered my mouth to lower the volume of my voice, and I narrated every single thing I did. From walking, to why I was looking at him, to guessing how he felt. He looked at me with a very pleased look on his face. I asked him if I could come closer and sit next to him. He looked at me, very intensely, and then said yes. I walked up slowly, and quietly. I sat next to him, hands out in front of me, palms up.
He lifted his left hand, and put it in my right hand. When I spoke, I whispered he appreciated that. These little adjustments, made this kid go from a malicious, offensive jerk, that was out to ruin my life… to a sweet, loving, and calm kid, who felt happy that someone took the time to understand his needs.
I worked with Bert for 6 months, and graduated him from the program. He learned how to control his impulses, and use his words, or cues to ask for what he needed, instead of aggressively pursuing.
We worked together and went from 1000 punches a day, to 2-3 a week. He flourished, and when I told people about his little intricacies, they also were able to interact successfully.
What changed? How did this kid go from malicious jerk one day, to loving sweet heart the next?
Did he still hit me? Yes! Quite a lot, but my reactions to his aggression is what allowed me a window into motives and triggers for him.
For me, that case was an eye opener. I vowed to never take anything a kid says or does to me as an attack or offense. I worked hard on wording circumstances a certain way to spin it positively, I narrated a whole lot more, and I never reacted to any aggression again.
The difference between getting your nose broken, and just getting a smack on the arm or shoulder, really comes from your reaction.
The child feeds his or her energy from you, and the calmer you are able to assess each situation, the smoother and more successful it will be.
Every child is different.
This may not work for some, but in my experience this method has proven very effective.
Kiddo’s do not want to hurt you, they don’t want to injure you, and they do not want to offend you. They aren’t out to get you. Kiddo’s act aggressively, and behave badly to serve a function. They need extra support, and they need the adult in the situation to be just that… an adult!
You have to set boundaries, you have to stay strong. Some adults may interpret this as having an iron fist, and being very strict.
But the reality is, setting boundaries and being strong, can also come with a fair share of nurture, and a majority share of understanding.
There’s a reason that kid is punching you, or biting you, or screaming horrible phrases at you.
Find that reason, try to understand why.
The first step is not being offended. When a kid tells you they hate you, they are expecting a negative reaction. They are expecting you to validate that they are bad, or that you hate them back.
I’ve watched kiddo’s reactions when they tell me they hate me, and I respond with I love you, and I’m not going anywhere.
Their eye brows immediately go up, and their stare softens. They don’t expect you to say that, they don’t expect that anyone feels that way about them. They are very surprised.
After the initial surprise, they begin to test you, to see if that’s true.
Eventually they realize that you mean what you say. The relationship built after that, is one that will allow you to correct behaviors, and avoid being beaten to a bloody pulps.
The aggression is still there, and you may still get hit here and there, but the level at which it occurs and the intensity and even the length of time will become a lot better.
You will begin to realize how much this kiddo actually loves you, and needs your support.
Better still, you will be equipped with the right mentality and approach to really make a difference in that student’s life.
Please feel free to reach out with questions, or comments, or opposing opinions. Thank you so much for reading!
Next week, I will write about Teacher Voice, and about Whole Group classroom management.