So, it’s the first day back from a 12 day vacation break in our elementary school. The kids usually come in a bit groggy (because, let’s face it, for the past 12 days they got to sleep in, wear jammies most of the day, and play…just like their teachers did in their own homes for 12 days).
As the children file in, I meet them in the hallway to say, “Happy New Year and Welcome Back!” It’s always so refreshing to come back to school after a break and see their smiling faces. Within the first 20 minutes of school, I had two children throwing some type of tantrum. One was a little more involved than the other…
‘Nancy‘ is a girl who generally throws a tantrum at anything she doesn’t like. Anytime she doesn’t get her way, she immediately throws a fit and actively defies anyone, including the grown ups, in her path. She clearly is looking for attention, but isn’t able to determine whether it is positive attention, or negative attention. To her, and to any child, attention is attention!
My morning helpers are getting ready for Morning Meeting, and ‘Nancy‘ is the calendar helper for the week. Another student, who has done this job before, is simply explaining to her that today is not Monday. She insists that it is and yells at the student. The student impressively talks calmly to her, and shows her the actual calendar to the right of the interactive whiteboard. Unfortunately, then ‘Nancy‘ really gets annoyed, because she realizes that she is incorrect, and boy does she dislike being corrected!
I watch this from afar (well, approximately six feet away), and then decide it’s time for me to jump in. I carefully approach ‘Nancy‘ to ask her what I can help with. When ‘Nancy‘ is in tantrum mode, she reverts to ‘babytalk’ or often refuses to speak at all. This is exactly what she does, so I simply say, “Nancy, today is Tuesday, January 3, 2012. I know you haven’t done this job in a while so it may have been a bit confusing. You just have to…and I explained what to do to get her job ready.” She still wasn’t interested, so I said, “Well, okay then, I’m really sorry hunnie, but we need to go getting with the morning meeting, so here’s a choice for you…Would you like to do this job today, or would you like to choose someone else to do it today?” I get a little grunt from her. So I say, “‘Nancy‘ I’m not sure what that means, can you use your big girl words?” Again, a grunt. At this point approximately 15 minutes or more has passed and I really need to get the morning rolling, because ‘Nancy‘ is not the only child in the classroom. I give her one more chance to make a choice on her own and explain that if she chooses not to make the choice, then I will unfortunately have to make a choice instead. I waited a few minutes and then made the choice for another student to take over. I explained that if she could change her attitude throughout the day, then she would get to do the job tomorrow, but today, we needed to move on.
Of course, this was totally unacceptable to her and she threw an even bigger fit. She was screaming and turning on the tears, so I gave her another choice…’Nancy,’ it’s possible that you forgot some of our rules here in our classroom community because we’ve been on vacation for 12 days, so let me help you. You can feel free to cry and let this out, but I’m going to ask you to move to the side so that the rest of the students can do morning meeting and begin their day. By this point, the students were clearly annoyed with her behavior, as was I, but I knew it was important to remain calm and use this as a teaching moment for both ‘Nancy,’ myself, and the other students.
I gently guided her to the side and instructed the kids to continue. It was too difficult for them to hear and ignore this behavior, so I called someone for help to take her for a walk to clear her head. About 15 minutes later she re-entered the classroom and came over to me to apologize. I took her to the side after our Morning Meeting and explained that she didn’t need to apologize to me, but she did need to realize that it’s all about choices. I then asked her how she felt when she was ‘throwing a tantrum?’ She replied with, “My light was pretty dim.” We talked about it and then discussed a goal she could work on for herself in the year 2012. I made it a point to praise ‘Nancy‘ consistently throughout the day for making positive choices to let her know that she was loved and accepted in our environment.
‘Nancy‘ is clearly crying out for attention, and as I stated above, really doesn’t care if it’s negative or positive. Sure, we could look at this situation and say, “That child is spoiled and needs to learn how to behave!” Yet, the truth of the matter is, that this child is sad and needs to be understood.
As a teacher, I wear many hats in a day; teacher, mom, doctor, comedian, entertainer, etc. I don’t have the time to psychoanalyze all of my children, nor do I want to. Honestly, my ‘diagnosis’ won’t make one bit of difference. All it would do is add to the many labels that we put on our children. Instead, the most imperative role I can take is that of a guide. It is my job to hold up a mirror for these kids and teach them how to do the right thing, and I hope that’s exactly what happened today.
The truth about tantrums is that they are a plea for help. Think about it…we may not revert to ‘babytalk’ (or perhaps you do), but we certainly get silent, and we most definitely throw tantrums of our own, as adults.
My question to you is, how will you handle the next tantrum you encounter? Also, what will you do to not only diffuse the situation, but also teach an important lesson on how to deal with life?
I guess it’s something to think about.
Lots of Love,
A special thank you to my friend Danna Weiss from www.consciousjewelry.com
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