Subtext: “I’m struggling” or “I’m testing whether you really care about me”
“Whenever you are confronted with an opponent. Conquer him with love.” Mahatma Gandhi
Syeda flounces into the classroom, her curly hair flying behind her, doubling the size of her frame. Her good looks are striking and she seems to have an air of confidence about her. As soon as she sits down she starts to comment with a quasi critical air about her environment: “This chair is rubbish”, “There’s ink on this table”, “My sheet isn’t cut straight”.
She’s laying down the gauntlet for a fight. I wont rise to it. I know my boundaries, my own expectations, and she wont tempt me. I swiftly swap her chair, check the ink is dry on her table and the hand her a more meticulously cut worksheet.
“I ain’t f***in doing this” she says, audibly enough for me to hear, turn and watch as she shoves the worksheet across the table. I feel my own hackles start to rise, more out of my own frustrations that I cant placate this young lady than any anger directed at her. I pick up the sheet, crouch down beside her seat (non threatening body language I think, pleased with my thoughtfulness) and say very quietly and calmly:
“Syeda, why don’t you just have a go at Task 1: “What is an adjective?” can you remember what we talked about last lesson? Could you give me any examples?”
“No. I don’t care. I ain’t f***in doing this. You can’t make me.”
Back in the classroom we forget how easily we may trigger the fight mechanism in a child. We may up the anti by becoming more hostile ourselves, we may resort to louder voices, verbal threats of punishment, corner a child verbally or intimidate physically . All this increases the chances of a child feeling the need to defend themselves, and their most likely form of defence is their own fight response. Furthermore, if deep down they feel unlovable they may be brilliant at engineering the very drama that results in rejection, exclusion from school, detention, the scenarios that confirm to them: I am indeed unlovable. Last week Tish looked at the flight mechanism in children, here she looks at things that could trigger the fight mechanism and strategies for teachers to de-escalate situations and to protect themselves.
Takeaways for the classroom
- Create a boundary and ground rules to frame negotiation between the two parties.
- Allow both parties equal time to have their say .
- Ask the other to repeat what they think they have heard from their peer – this helps show each child that they are listening to how the other person feels, not necessarily agreeing with it, but hearing it.
- Slow down the interaction between the two, often as children get worked up the interactions become quicker and less rational.
- Ask what would make a difference in the relationship .
- Allow child to suggest way forward.
- Don’t force apologies but enable them.
Relevant Teacher Standards
TS1: Set high expectations, which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils
TS7: Manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment
The Betari Box Model: http://changingminds.org/explanations/behaviors/betari_box.htm a simple diagram to show how interactions between staff and pupils affect behaviour.
http://raisingchildren.net.au/ Some excellent articles about raising children at all ages, also very useful for adults working with young people as it gives a context of cognitive development, alongside clear strategies.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/ Recent research and articles – just search an area that is relevant to you. The one below is particularly clear and insightful”