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El Niño Dificil

When I agreed to take over teaching Spanish at KIP about six weeks ago, I assumed that the hard part would be whipping my atrophied Spanish back into shape. So two weeks ago, I made a trek to Barnes & Noble and bought a Spanish grammar review. I have yet to crack it open.

On the other hand, tonight I have logged a considerable amount of time hunting for an old favorite, a book called The Difficult Child. When I last dipped into Stanley Turecki’s book, I was looking for solutions to Simon’s problems with change, timidity, and noise sensitivity. These days, Simon is pretty much the easiest kid around. But some of those 2-to-5-year-olds I’m getting to know? Whoo Boy!

Some kids are attention hogs. Some kids are super aggressive and have to win or go first at all times. Some kids are super physical and have a hard time sitting still and keeping their hands to themselves. Some kids have a hard time paying attention. Some kids are slow to catch on. Some kids are goofs. These traits are all normal and expected, and I feel confident I can learn more about them and develop strategies for management over time. I’m not sweating the quirks.

Then there are the children who have clinical diagnoses. These kids have extra support; I just stay out of the way, let the experts deal with them, and try to get them to participate and have a good time at whatever level they can. I’m not sweating these kids either.

Then there are the oppositional/defiant kids. Just today, I asked one child to put his crayon down. No go. Then I explained that I was being polite but that I was telling this child to put the crayon down. No go. Then I explained that I was going to count to three and “help” the child put the crayon down if said child did not do so. Still nothing. Then I reached for the crayon and had the child physically fight me over it. Being 42, I am possessed of greater hand strength than a preschooler. I prevailed. But I can’t help but think that I won using improper tactics. There’s got to be a better way when a child old enough to know better (two-year-olds don’t count) is defiant in the face of authority and continues to grab, hit, throw food, not share supplies, etc. I need to learn that better way fast. I’m sweating over defiance.

Most disturbing of all, there are the kids who are downright mean. I honestly didn’t think kids like this existed. I figured most “meanness” in childhood was really immaturity, a cry for attention, and the like. But what to think when certain children regularly say and do hurtful things to others and show no remorse when their victims cry? Are they all being raised by mean parents and/or suffering from undiagnosed psychological or medical problems?

Perhaps so. I hope so! I’d love to think that all of these kids can get over being mean with the proper interventions. However, that does me little good. I’m not a pediatrician or clinical psychiatrist. I’m not even full-time at school. My time and resources are limited when it comes to correcting poor behavior in the classroom. But I’m not willing to sit back and let kids be mean to their peers, and I’m not going to allow bullying on my watch. Nor do I want to become a bully myself. That means that my current teaching challenge is to figure out how to treat hateful behavior while maintaining empathy for the hateful child.

To be honest, this is a tall challenge for me. I have a hard time with mean. I hope Stanley Turecki can come through for me now as he did three years ago. And by all means, if anyone reading this is sitting on ideas or suggested reads, please do speak up.

Coda: Lest I sound overly negative, let me also state that some of the kids I’m getting to know are so sweet, bright, and/or funny that I’d love to take them home with me. From a blogging perspective, however, these children are boring.



4 Responses to “El Niño Dificil”

  1. Kate says:

    Hi again! I asked my Mom, who taught kindergarten and first grade for decades and is a master of classroom management, what tips she might have. She sent me a list of strategies she’s used with difficult children. Here goes: “The skills I can recommend are: * Put the problem kids together in a group or sitting close to each other. That prevents them from annoying people who actually want to learn. * Stand close to those children and look right at them as much as possible. * Put your hand on the shoulder of a misbehaving child without saying anything. * Set a system of rewards for those who are doing what they should (the old will work for skittles technique). * Design fun activities for those who are doing what they should. The reward system should include rewards for helping others and saying kind things to others etc. In other words, not so much punishment of the non compliant as missing out on the rewards for the compliant. * Have group circles where the children discuss how they feel about any bullying behavior which has occurred. Puppets acting out these situations and talking about what you could have done instead both for the bullier and the bullied. * Walk away, walk by the teacher, etc. for the bullied. * Include some consequences like if you don’t behave in the group you can’t be in the group. If you are mean to others on the playground you can’t go on the play ground. * Give those who have difficulties some classroom task and help them to be important in the group and they may buy into membership in the group.”

  2. tlalbaugh says:

    Please thank your mother for me! I copied this helpful list to use myself (I am now dealing with bigger groups of young kids as a volunteer at our local school)…

  3. Jessica says:

    Thanks so much! I might not be able to use all of these due the logistics of being an enrichment teacher with 60 kids cycling in and out. But I plan to use A LOT of them. As many as I can. Also, tell your mom that before I read this I used the special job for the difficult strategy, the putting difficult kids next to me strategy, and the emotion coaching when someone is mean strategy based on last night’s hurried research and they all worked well.

    And our next unit, which will have precious little to do with Spanish, is called “Lo Siento.” If the kids remember the Spanish, that will be gravy. My primary goal is to spend some time on empathy.

  4. Kate says:

    I passed along your thanks. Mom said it was “a lifetime of experimenting in a few sentences.” She also had another tip that works very well with that age group: Give Choices. If children feel they are making a choice in the matter (even if you set up the parameters), they are more likely to comply. Her example: She had asked the entire class to do something, but one little girl refused. So, before the whole class decided to join in, she said, ‘Well, you can do it now or you can do it at recess.’ The girl said, ‘Well I won’t do it now’ so Mom said ‘OK then, you can do it at recess’ and lo and behold, she did!!! She says, “It really gave giving choices credibility to me!”

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