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At Jamie’s Farm we are committed to re-engaging disadvantaged young people (age 11-16) with education. Through this blog we seek to share thought provoking insight whilst providing guidance for those working with young people, who like us, want them to become the best version of themselves. To receive our latest blog post direct to your inbox you can subscribe below.

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Podcast: “I ain’t f****in doing that”

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

Techniques if the conflict is between the child and yourself: 
1. Avoid escalation: without being patronising keep your voice calm. Don’t mirror their aggressive behaviour but keep your boundaries and values.
2. Try and find a point of connection, perhaps acknowledging that there is a legitimacy in their tirade – this could just be you reflecting back that you feel the strength and importance of their feelings: “I can appreciate you are very annoyed and troubled by this situation and it is not my intention to get into an argument with you and make things worse.” 
3. Give the child alternatives so they have a way out and feel they have choices… Don’t fence them in: “so we have some choices here … We can either do X or Y”, “I would like you to be able to choose…” 
4. Buy time, sometimes park a problem and come back to it. It’s important to give a clear time limit to help keep a frame to the conversation and so you do not let the child worry about when they will have to revisit this difficult conversation: “Ok , I can feel we are both getting upset here and I am not making matters better. I think a bit of space and time might help us both. Let’s come back to this later, I suggest in half an hour”.
5. Invite the child to bring along a supporter (peer or teacher they have a close relationship with). Use friends who can avoid collusion but but be supportive to help de-escalate the situation, to be an intermediary and to avoid polarisation or instead a colleague who is less triggered and maybe has has a good a relationship with the child: “I can see X is your friend and I  don’t want you to feel alone in this conflict / difficulty, so how about I give you both a bit of time as I can see that right now we are not helping each other and I want to find a positive way forward.” 
6. Move towards small practical steps of de-escalation one step at a time. Don’t assume that the child will be capable of rationality at this stage.
7. Allow children to work off aggression that is fuelled by adrenalin: “How about you run up and down those stairs and then we talk, as I can see you fuelled with lots of energy and personally I find it hard to think when I am stoked up with anger.”
8. In your conversation ensure you find some ground that you can give to a child that you can agree with, let them be at least in part on the right so they don’t feel they have their back to the wall and have to fight their way out: “So earlier you made sense to me and you were right, it is very hard to … so I can see we need to make sure you have the opportunity to…” 
9. Allow the child to suggest a way forward so they are engaging in the positive and constructive sides of themselves.
Techniques if conflict is between the child and another 
  • 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

Further reading

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.

You Think I’m Evil: Practical Strategies for Working with Rebellious and Aggressive Adolescents by David Taransaud (2011)

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”

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/passive-aggressive-diaries/201306/four-common-defense-mechanisms-used-stressed-out-kids

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