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I was on recess duty the other day, and a Grade 2 student came up to me to say that another child kicked her as a group of them were playing together on the car (a large, toy car in the middle of the playground area). She couldn’t remember the student’s name, but she took me over to her so that I could chat with the two of them together. When I got over there, this student was swinging on one of the bars connected to the toy car. I got down near her, and asked if she could get off the car for a minute so that we could chat. She looked at me, said nothing, swung for another minute, and then hopped off and ran over to the climber. What?! Did this child just run away from me when all I asked to do was talk? 

I could feel myself getting angry, but I looked at the child standing next to me, and said, “Just stay here a minute. I’m going to go and talk to her.” As I walked over to the climber, I started to hear Susan Hopkins and Stuart Shanker‘s voices in my head. This was a good reminder for me to think about, “Why this child? Why now?” I started to feel myself calming down. At this point, I was near her on the climbers, and in a quiet voice, I asked, “Is everything okay?” She shook her head, “No.”

That’s when I started to prompt with a couple more questions.

– “Are you angry?” Still no.
– “Are you sad?” That’s when I got a nod for, “Yes.”

So I asked, “What’s wrong?” She said, “I thought you were going to be mad at me. I didn’t mean to kick her.” Now we could really start to discuss what happened. It turns out that she was swinging on the bar, and her foot accidentally kicked the student sitting inside the car. The child that was kicked said she was going to tell the teacher, and this other child was scared, so that’s why she ran away when I came.

I explained that I wasn’t mad, and I asked if there might be something that we could do to solve this problem. She suggested apologizing. I said, “What if you let her know that you’re sorry, but also ask her if she’s okay?” She liked this idea, jumped down from the climber, and went to go and see the other student. After a couple of minutes, she ran back to me happily to tell me that everything went well, and this other child wasn’t mad at her anymore.

Looking back on this experience, I can’t help but think of all of the times that I reacted differently.

– I would have taken the “running away” personally.
– I would have responded more harshly to the behaviour, and in the end, likely created a bigger problem.

This is a great example of “stress behaviour” that I was, unfortunately, initially viewing as “misbehaviour.” I can’t help but wonder about the number of problems that we could avoid, and the overall change in student behaviour that could happen, just by slowing down, questioning “why,” and responding with a gentler tone. What do you think? How do you remember to reframe behaviour? I’m very thankful for the little voices in my head that I think changed this entire recess experience.

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