We’ve all had them in our classes, our schools and our lives. They seek attention, they take up our time and it can be extremely easy to be sucked into the vortex of negativity. Kids can just be cruel to each other. They tease, they taunt and their actions cause others to hurt. We find ourselves wondering why some kids are prone to this kind of behavior. Parents, teachers, counselors and principals seek to find out what is needed to fulfill these children’s needs. We find ourselves resisting the urge to lecture, to ask, “What were you thinking? Why can’t you just be nice?” Sometimes the urge is too much and we fall into that common trap.
We forget the most important pieces in the puzzle: we must listen, we must teach, we must love.
I recently ran into a situation with two fourth grade girls in my building. They were being referred to me for their recess behavior 2-3 times per week. We would spend 10-15 minutes sorting out the problem. Who was the aggressor? Why were they mad? How can we fix this problem? What is going to happen tomorrow. Things would get better for a day or two, then the girls and I would have to start all over again. I worked to develop a relationship with each girl. I pulled them aside individually to see how their days were going. They were both very nice girls. Why wouldn’t or couldn’t they get along with each other?
After a month or so of this cycle, I became frustrated. The girls were just never going to get along. I told them to stay away from each other. Like that was really going to work. It was soon after I passed on that nugget of wisdom that it occurred to me that these two girls really had no idea how to develop a friendship. I took a look at the amount of time that I was spending with them each week and realized that we were spending an inordinate number of minutes focused on negative behavior and choices. We had to make a change.
That’s when I decided to bring crochet into the picture. I asked both girls to come to my office during their noon recess. I began to teach them how to crochet. I didn’t talk about their arguing, their meanness or their negative choices. I just focused on teaching them a craft. It took 10 minutes out of my day. Then I listened. After several days, the girls began to talk to each other. They talked about how they didn’t get along on the playground. They talked about the things that they have in common. They giggled together. They looked at each other’s work. They gave me a way to teach them about friendships and how finding common ground is the key to getting along with others, even when you don’t think that you like them.
This is not a quick fix, but it is also not a small problem. These girls are 10 years old and they are learning lessons that many adults have trouble with in their lives: Developing relationships is hard work. There are lots of bumps along the way, but it’s important to hang in there because people are worth the work. Yesterday, I was given hope that they will be able to transfer their skills to new situations and new people. They invited a new girl into their crochet group. We will see how it goes.
Is the answer crochet? Obviously not, but it’s a good start. The answer is time. It is love. It is teaching and guiding. It is helping kids find common ground. The answer is remembering that we are educating the whole child and that their social/emotional skills are extremely important life skills.
Children will seek our attention. They will figure out what behavior is needed to get that attention. If we focus on negative choices, students will display that behavior to obtain our time and energy. If we focus on positive behaviors and on teaching, student will learn that the key to meeting their needs is to develop a positive relationship with adults in their lives.