Too much hurting....
I like children to be busy, happy and working hard at playing, experimenting and learning while they are playing. I don’t believe in long boring ‘rings’ or organised teaching periods. I also want children to feel safe and happy at school. The ‘culture’ and ‘feel’ of a school is important and teachers can make a huge impact here – both negatively and positively.
This means that they needs to feel safe from the teacher hurting them to make them ‘behave’ but also that they need to be kept safe from hurting others or being hurt by others.
‘Safe from others’ we all understand but ‘keeping a child safe from their own bad behaviour’? Children do need to be protected from behaving in ways that are harmful and hurtful to others. Why? So that they can become valued, responsible and empathetic adults who get on with others and are able to have satisfactory relationships with others. Abusive partners are not actually really happy people – nor will they ever get the loving relationship they long for. We have to help children to behave in socially acceptable ways (we must not hurt others, ourselves or the environment we find ourselves in). We can do this in pleasant, cheerful and affirming ways.
We all know that children’s verbal skills are still developing and expressing their feelings is still quite difficult. But at pre-school this is the time to PRACTISE these skills! They need to practise using words to express their feelings not their hands, feet or even their shoulders and heads.
At a quite pleasant school the children are behaving rather badly at the moment. There is constant crying and during rings the children are chatting to each other, poking each other and other non-group friendly behaviours. We only ask about 15 minutes of attention from 4-5 year olds and should try to make it interesting but the children simply seem to find it impossible to attend to the teacher or to the child who is speaking in the group (and the children have the right to share ideas, comments and to ask questions in the group but in a polite turn taking way – as adults are supposed to do). The children are also shoving each other, smacking each other in the face, grabbing at toys that children are busy with and other rather undesirable behaviour.
How do the teachers react you ask? Well they are quite gentle and loving people but also have not yet learned how to replace discipline like smacking with positive discipline. They don’t smack! So perhaps what they do is understandable. The either simply ignore the behaviour or if complained to simply say ‘eskuus, eskuus’ to the hurt child and leave it there. No-one experiences too much in the way of the consequences of behaving badly.
Just recently there was an electricity problem in the area these children come from. Eskom trucks were burnt, rubbish bin and rubbish strewn over the roads, tyres burnt, signs knocked down and robots smashed. Yes, I do understand how angry and frustrated people get but not everyone protests in a destructive and violent ways. Protest is a right and can be useful but it needs to be peaceful and to be useful also needs to be thoughtful and backed up with further negotiations and plans to make changes. But I was watching these children, girls and boys simply not using their voices at all to indicate their displeasure but going straight into violence as a solution to a problem.
I worry that without helping children to use their minds and voices when they are small they will be already trained to deal with conflict, anxiety, fear, disappointment by just acting out and acting out violently. I wonder how often they get asked to stop behaving in an undesirable way, or get an explanation of why they need to behave in a different way. I suspect they just get smacked and shouted at and all too rarely communicated with by their parents or guardians. And here we are breeding more destructive behaviour!
So what can be done? Many things and all of them...
1. We spend time taking hurting others very seriously – soon it becomes a rare event if we do this (PROMISE!). So we call up the children involved and ask ‘what happened here?’ We listen to each child’s story, we discuss it and then we decide together what should be done. We can even have a ‘hurt book’ where we write it all down. The children participate in this very seriously and the very fact that you take their conflicts and their resolution seriously helps them to learn conflict resolution skills. It also gets their thinking minds going and they think twice before lashing out indiscriminately, not out of fear but out of thought.
2. If a child has really got out of hand we do find a quiet place for them to cool down in. (Still in the same room as everyone else of course)
3. A child who is smacking others a lot can be spoken to quite sternly and their behaviour (not themselves) censored in speech. We don’t break the child down of course but we do explain why the behaviour is not desirable. We use words not hasty actions and mirror a better way of coping with angry feelings. We also at a later calmer moment take time to chat to the child and to ask gentle questions which might help us to understand why they are feeling angry.
4. We tell stories about children who are behaving badly including why they are behaving like that and the consequences of the behaviour ...I always used a rag doll who we gave a name to as a group to tell these stories.
5. There are many children’s stories about behaviour and feelings – find them and read them together.
6. We always make sure the aggressor or wrongdoer feels the consequence of their actions. But only emotionally and not for long. Tears of remorse are fine – and a cuddle and reassurance that the behaviour is what is disliked but not the child is always appropriate afterwards.
7. We encourage language development in every way we can to produce children with plenty of words to use so they don’t become people whose only recourse to the experience of negative feelings are their fists.
In my next blog I will be talking about how to use the ‘Hurt book’ which is something I invented at a time of crisis in our country when the children in my care were acting out what they saw in their streets.