What Company Will You Keep?
Certainly, you have heard the old adage, “Misery loves company.” It is unfortunate how true this saying can be when it comes to children. When children hurt others emotionally or physically it is easy to quickly judge them as bad or cruel and punish the behavior. Sometimes we can curb a behavior in this way, but more often the behavior will persist and may even become more covert. The problem has not been solved and now we are also miserable. So what is a teacher to do?
Seek the source: It is rare for a happy child with stable relationships to hurt others intentionally. When we are trying to teach children who have a pattern of hurting others to be less hurtful, it can be helpful to look first for the source of their own pain. Is there an unresolved situation at home that is causing pain? Are there academic or mental health struggles? In an open and caring way, check in with parents or guardians. Mention the child’s struggles to be kind and ask if there have been any changes or struggles that might be making the child uncomfortable. Enlist the parents support in helping the child deal with the pain he or she is feeling.
Teach empathy: Help the student become aware of the pain she is causing. More than ever before, students are not empathetic by nature. They do not look at things from other people’s points of view. Taking time with the student to analyze how words or actions feel when she is the recipient can help the child understand the hurt they may be causing others.
Teach mindfulness: Try practicing easy relaxation and mindfulness techniques with your whole class. (One place to start is https://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-for-kids/ ) Mindfulness helps give students a way to calm and focus the mind and body. It is also helpful to work with students to name, be aware of, and express feelings. The best time to do this is when the student is calm and not stressed.
Seek help: If the situation warrants it or you feel overwhelmed, don’t wait and hope things will get better. Seek help from administrators, counselors, or other professionals who can guide you, parents, and the child toward kinder actions.
Detach: Realize that the student’s actions are not a personal attack on you as a teacher. Deal with the behavior in as dispassionate a way as possible. Allow the consequences of the behavior to be just that, consequences. Try not to use words like punishment. Try not to deliver consequences with emotion. Be sure to express care and concern for both the child who has been hurt and the child doing the hurting. Promote an environment where everyone is cared for and cares for others.
Misery may love company, but you do not need to be that company. Choose to work with the student and parents to make your classroom and school a better place. Live in God’s grace, and love that child to the best of your ability.