“Children don’t just need to be loved; they need to know that nothing they do will change the fact that they’re loved.”
― Alfie Kohn, The Myth of the Spoiled Child
I’ll never forget those days before my first teaching position. In true “me” style, I was emptying cabinets and drawers for a good deep clean and re-organization. I remember feeling excited and nervous. I remember thinking – ‘I’m now responsible for 29 little minds’. I didn’t quite understand, just yet, the gravity that my actions may or may not have on my students for a lifetime.
I was simultaneously getting my masters in Exceptional Student Education as well as Early Childhood Development. I was invariably being told all the wrong things about “classroom management”. I was never really good at ruling with an iron fist, it just wasn’t in my heart and it didn’t feel right. What was I going to do? Well, it was my first year of teaching and I was going to do some things wrong.
As a means of managing behavior, I had a “privilege board” in my classroom with every child’s name on it. The “privilege” was having books and stuffed animals during nap time. The only infraction that would get your name removed was hitting.
I thought a zero tolerance policy would work.
I WAS WRONG.
I still remember his name – 16 years later…that little boy who removed his name almost every day…that little boy who it was NOT “working” for.
I still remember how defeated he looked every time he “lost privileges”, though I didn’t recognize it at the time.
I was young and dumb. My masters program was completely failing to teach me anything about brain development.
I FAILED THAT CHILD.
I failed to guide him.
I failed to give him grace.
I failed to teach him alternative ways of problem solving.
I failed to consider the turmoil that was going on in his home. I didn’t yet understand how things like that affect behavior.
I FAILED, NOT HIM.
I still think about him today and wonder how he’s doing.
I’m grateful that I’ve learned a better way…..a more effective way that has long lasting benefits rather than long lasting negative effects. I’m grateful for that school – setting me on my path to know more and do better.
I’m grateful that I know now to:
Focus on connection and what’s behind the behavior.
Move in close.
Help the child problem solve and think of things they can do next time.
Love and support and guide – instead of punish.
Children need our guidance to learn what to do instead.
We all start somewhere.