Lisa came toward me – obviously distressed.
“Steven called me a baby.”
“Are you a baby?”
“Well, then he made a big mistake.”
A few days later, Lisa came over shaking her head, smiling.
“He made that big mistake again.”
In the classroom, we expect (we even want) to have teasing, sharp words, pushing, grabbing. We can’t help children become socially skillful by talking. Children become skillful by dealing with the details of daily life in a group. That doesn’t mean that we want hurtful behavior to continue. A person who is being teased should not have to feel diminished. They are not making the mistake. If we swoop down on the teaser, demanding a perfunctory apology, neither child has learned anything new.
“She said my painting is stupid.”
“Well, you’re the boss of that painting. Do you think it’s stupid?”
“You can’t work at the workbench with me.”
“You can’t sit next to me.”
This is often something that we cover with the whole class. We’re gathered at the line for music. I go sit on Sarah’s lap. Yes, she can tell me that I can’t sit there. But the space next to Sarah is for anyone. Likewise the workbench and the marker table are for two people – when there is an empty space, anyone can sit there. Can a robot sit there?
School is a safe place. We don’t want anyone to get hurt by “weapons” or hitting or teasing or meanness.
A child who is being hit or physically intimidated needs adult help. The intimidation has to be stopped. Sometimes it stops because adults are watching and because it was not intentional behavior, just thoughtless behavior. If it continues, even with grownups watching, then the child who is hurting people won’t be able to be on his or her own. They would have to stay with an adult. I’m sure that in thirty years that I must have had someone who had to stay with me indefinitely, but it hasn’t happened in recent memory. One of the perks of teaching children of this age is that while they can be adamant and determined and angry one moment, they can drop it and be accommodating the next. We assure a child who has been hurt that we won’t let it happen again. As with the teasing, we want to help them know what to do “Come and get a grownup” and what to feel. “If that happened to me, I would be mad.”
Apologies can be in various forms, but should have some positive resolve. For very young children or for children who just can’t get “I’m sorry” to come out of their mouth, I might do it. “I’m sorry you got hurt by Nathan.”
Or “Max got hurt when you pushed him into the fence, he should hear that you are sorry.”
Or “Can you touch Laura gently, that shove hurt her”
Or “Sam still feels bad that you said he couldn’t work at the workbench with you. Can you invite him to join you?”