Why So Angry?
Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2012
The staff at Raritan Valley and The Cherry Blossom Montessori schools has had the privilege of receiving top notch training in the area of understanding the behaviors of children and perhaps most invaluable; giving up the power struggle with the child who refuses to see things our way or do exactly what we tell them to do. Personally, it has given me the insight and tools to become a much better parent over the years as well as a teacher. Our training in Redirecting Children’s Behavior (RCB) has taught us not to react to a negative behavior, rather look for the source or cause of the behavior. This method of training actually goes hand-in-hand with our own “whole child” approach. Most children, especially at the 3-6 year-old-range, simply do not have the communication skills necessary to tell us why they are misbehaving. It is very easy for us as adults to become reactive to a particular behavior and undoubtedly create more of a problem instead of taking the time to really look within the child. Letting go of our pride, ego and determined authority over the child will help us to understand the true needs of the child as well as help that child overcome his own frustrations and underlying issues that he simply cannot explain to us. Positive behavior will attract positive behavior, but it may take some time.
How wonderful would it be for your 3 or 4 year old to approach you one day and tell you that the reason he has been throwing unruly tantrums for the past month is because he simply needs your attention or that the reason he has been biting and kicking friends and family members lately is because he feels powerless or useless. There are many causes for negative behavior. There is no bad child; only bad behaviors. Our staff has been trained to not engage in power struggles with a child exhibiting negative behavior. It is our responsibility as care takers to get to the root of the problem in a positive, loving and nurturing manner. It is also our responsibility to set safe and realistic boundaries for our children. A child going through developmental years without proper boundaries or weak, unclear boundaries could feel unsafe, insecure and perhaps unloved and will most likely begin to act out negatively. It is important that we set firm, yet realistic boundaries as well as give realistic choices to re-direct a child in a more appropriate manner. We allow natural consequences of a negative behavior to play out where appropriate to help them understand how their behavior affects others as opposed to a teacher-imposed consequence which can teach them to avoid negative behavior for fear of discipline. Sounds easy right? Well not quite. I’ll share with you a situation that put me to the test.
This particular morning started like all others. Most of the children came happily bounding in anxious to see their friends and choose their favorite work. One child however, (we’ll call him my friend) came in that morning and immediately displayed anger at the fact that someone had the audacity to mistakenly hang a coat on his hook! After flinging the coat into the air and onto the floor, he stomped in my direction to inform me of the horrible injustice that had been imposed on him first thing in the morning! I explained that perhaps his friend just made a mistake and suggested that he bring the coat to the child and ask him to hang it on his own hook. My friend’s response to me was very blunt. “No! You do it!” My internal response was “uh oh”, but I kept quiet. I then picked up the coat from the floor and gently guided my friend to the child who belonged to the coat and prompted a civil conversation between the two children. “Well that was easy”, I thought to myself. All is well. All coats on proper hooks? Check. Children working happily? Check. “It’s going to be a great day”, I tell myself. Later that morning I noticed that my friend was having a hard time choosing a work. When he did choose a work it was being misused, i.e., stacking knobless cylinders on top his head then screaming when they crashed onto the table. My seasoned glares were fruitless. The raising of my eyebrows was beginning to give me a headache. He seemed to be taking great pleasure in interrupting his friends who were busy working by running from one end of the room to the other causing upset with children in his path. I asked my friend if he would like me to help him choose a work and he responded with “No, I don’t need your help”. Ok, this is good, I thought, we like to see independence within our students. So I watched my friend as he made his way around the room, testing his peripheral vision to see if I was watching him, stopping to chat here and there, leaning on tables, interrupting his friends and scribbling on art work that didn’t belong to him. “Oh this is not going to be good”, I said to myself. Naturally the Artist was beside himself and worse, my friend refused to acknowledge the harm; after all, he was just . . . helping. Through tears and arguing back and forth, I decided it was time for a bit of conflict resolution. I said to my friend, “Can you think of way to make Artist feel better?” His response was “No! He needs to make me feel better!” I said, “Ok. Artist, is there anything that you would like to say to Friend about scribbling on your art work?” He replied, “Please don’t do that again!” “Fine!” said Friend as he stomped away. I followed my angry, foot-stomping friend and spoke firmly as I reminded him of the class rules and that destroying other’s work is not ok. I also reminded him of the natural consequence, which in this case is that his friends may not want to work with him or play with him in the future. His response does not surprise me at this point when he said, “Well, I don’t care!” Naturally he cares. He’s fighting back tears. He then allowed me to help him choose a work and settled in at the practical life table. This was the first real work he had done all morning and I made a dash to squeeze a few lessons in before recess time. I no sooner settled myself on a rug with a student, when an ear piercing scream is heard from across the room. It appeared that my friend had taken the ice cube tongs off of a tray to pinch his friend in the arm with it! As I breathed deeply, planning my course of action, I made my way to the practical life table and gently removed the tongs from my friend’s hand. I escorted him to the library and with a very stern look, I reminded him once again about the rules and hurting his friends. My friend, who has the most beautiful, angelic face, said to me, “I’m telling my mom on you!” “Really?” I said to my friend. “Well what is your mom going to say when she learns that you’ve hurt your friend?” I asked. “I’m not telling her that”, my friend replied. “And anyway”, he continued, “I don’t like you anymore”. Ouch. “Well I like you”, I told my friend. “Well I don’t care”, my friend replied as he stomped across a rug that two children were working on consequently disheveling their work. I calmed the two students down, who by the way had been setting up this work for 20 minutes. They then scanned the room to locate my friend. When I finally caught up to him, he turned to me and said, “And I’m never coming to this school again!” That’s it! It’s time to pull out all the stops now. I said, “Ok. I will miss you, ya know”. “Well I won’t miss you!” he said as his big brown eyes filled with tears. “Ok then Friend, go and get your coat and backpack and I’ll call your mom to come and get you right now.” His silence and momentary stunned look was broken within minutes when he replied, “I mean tomorrow I am never coming to this school again!” Well that was a close one I thought to myself. What would I have done if he had actually agreed to this? It took every ounce of strength I could muster not to chuckle or reach out and hug my friend. Instead I asked him if he could please ring the bell for circle and tell the children to clean up their work. He smiled (for the first time that day) and proudly rang the bell instructing his friends to clean up their work and come to circle. On our way in from the playground I asked my friend if he would like to be the line leader. He accepted the position with honor as he again instructed his friends to face forward and line up nicely. Was this the same child who came stomping in so angrily this morning? When it was time to wash hands for lunch, I watched my friend as he picked up paper towels from the floor and placed them into the trash. He asked me if I had seen his good deed and I told him that I had and that he must be very proud of himself for taking such good care of our environment. He smiled from ear to ear.
What was it that my friend needed that morning? A bit of empowerment? Some attention? Perhaps a little of both. I fell short with my efforts in giving choices and attempts at conflict resolution; it happens, but I refused to be angry and engage in a power struggle. I refused to let my teacher authority and pride cloud my thinking. The incident of that morning was not about my ability to control or win. It was centered on the child and his needs.
The next morning started like all others. Most of the children came happily bounding in anxious to see their friends . . . “Oh you came back!” I said smiling enthusiastically at my friend with open arms as he walked through the door. My friend let out a belly laugh, stomped over to me, hugged my neck and whispered, “You know what Ms. Nittoli? I love you”. “I love you too friend. I love you too.”