One Teacher, One Child

One Teacher, One Child

By: Nadine Osborne

I see him.

I hear the other children shouting “Madame, Madame he is throwing the puzzle pieces”.

I know he is throwing the puzzle pieces.

He often throws the puzzle pieces.


I am working so hard to understand why.


Other teachers say “He wants attention.”

or  “He needs to try harder to develop self-control.”

They try to be helpful.  “Have you tried a sticker chart?”


No, I think to myself, I haven’t tried a sticker chart because this behaviour is…




This behaviour is a message – a code.

Something is not right for this child.

I don’t think it’s the lights – perhaps it is the sound….

The room was loud and busy just now.

Maybe he didn’t sleep well last night and he is tired.

Perhaps he is hungry.


Or maybe someone tried to help with the puzzle and he felt the need to do it himself.


How can I find out?


Amidst the cacophony of “Madame, Madame” I breathe.

I walk slowly and intentionally to this little boy.

Now he is hiding under the reading mats.

I see the tension in his muscles.

I say his name softly and ask, “What tool will help your brain?”

I can only ask this question after months of work.

Together he and I share a common language, a common understanding.


I am not angry.  He trusts that I care.

Even still the question goes unanswered.

He is too far lost to find the answer now.

I say “Why don’t we get out the bubble wrap?”

Today that question works.


He reaches out his hand from under the mats and emerges.

He moves purposefully with me to the front of the room.

That is where he knows the bubble wrap waits.

The crisis abates.

Later in the staff room when someone suggests class dojo,

or a jar with tokens – I will smile and say “self-reg might take longer

but I think I will keep trying.”


I will say “these are skills important in life because there won’t always be

a sticker chart, or a class dojo.”

And if I am feeling brave I will tell them

“That little boy wants to feel calm and focused. He wants to contribute to the community of the classroom.”


These are truths that I know in my heart.

I see it in his smile when things are going well,

and I see it in his longing eyes when things just aren’t working.

Do I always know what will work for him? For the others like him?

No.  I just keep on trying. Dynamic Systems Theory is a big term

for interconnectedness.


The trigger could be biological, or cognitive, or emotional.

Maybe its social or pro-social.  Likely it’s a tangled web of many stressors.

Self-regulation is about relationships.  Science calls it the interbrain.

But it is really pretty simple.


It means we all need to feel safe.  Safe in the broadest sense of the word.

A sense of attachment, a caring and warm relationship goes so much

farther than rewards and punishments.

Later in the day, I watch him grow agitated.

He starts to move a little too quickly from group to group.

He reaches in with his foot and knocks over a tower.

I know I will hear the familiar “Madame, Madame..”

I am on my way.


I invite the child for “time-in” (instead of time-out)

When I ask “What do you need?”

He pauses to think.


He says “Madame what I really need is time with you.”

How wise he is.  One day he won’t need me to co-regulate.

One day he will be the interbrain for another child.

But today I am here.

By | 2017-01-19T15:35:10+00:00 January 19th, 2017|


  1. Amanda D August 2, 2017 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    This brought tears to my eyes and a gentle reminder of what self reg really is. You really captured the self reg “soft eyes”. Thank you.

  2. Elif Uygun August 6, 2017 at 10:48 am - Reply

    Dear Nadine, this is such a pure and simple portrait of the child. It really takes courage to go against the current: while other teachers believe in the charts and focus on behaviour, you choose to understand the child and co-regulate. So powerful!

  3. rebecca August 6, 2017 at 6:12 pm - Reply

    Thank you. Thank you for making me feel not alone by saying class rewards willnt always be there it always surprises me that colleagues say that what you described this is the soft approach your leting them get away with bad choices…how are others going to learn this behaviour is unacceptable. It is very tiring nd exhausting but it is so important and it makes such a difference to the child that is acting this way. The amount of children that have said I just need you or stay with me throughout my teaching career is rapidly incressing and using this approach has not only produced life long learners but happy confident children.

  4. […] No, I think to myself, I haven’t tried a sticker chart because this behaviour is…Continue Reading […]

  5. Jacinta Manitowabi September 10, 2018 at 10:48 pm - Reply

    Wow…this reminds me of some students in my room.

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.