Ever had a child stomp into a room and when you tried to greet him he turned his back and plopped himself down in a chair?
Most of us have experienced something like this. Oh the way the child entered the room may have been different, but you knew the minute you saw the child it was going to be one of “those” days with one of “those” kids.
You might be surprised to know that in our class the stomping kid turned out to be an OK class with an OK kid. So how did we get this child to go from stomping and not participating to becoming involved with our group?
Change of mind-set
Basically it was a change of mind-set, the adult’s mind-set. Jim Sporleder, Principal of Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Wa., says, “If you want to change a child’s behavior, you change the adult’s reactions.” You may be thinking “What? How could changing your reactions help that stomping and unruly kid?”
Let me set the scenario for you and how I probably would have handled it before.
The child, let’s call him Caleb, came stomping into our room with a scowl on his little face. Caleb is 7 years old and lives most of the time with his dad. I tried to greet him with, “Hey Caleb! Glad you could make it tonight. Want a high-five, a fist bump or maybe a hug?” He whizzed right past me without a word and went over to a chair across the room and plopped down.
I probably would have thought in my mind, “Well that was rude. How dare he ignore me and the other teachers like that?” I might have followed him across the room and said, “Caleb you need to join the other kids at the tables. Come on, get up and go join the other kids. It’s not time to sit over here in this chair. Besides this is the teacher’s chair for when she reads the story. Come on get up. If you don’t get up and join the other kids, I may have to call your dad to come and talk to you.” I would have proceeded to toss threats at him and give Caleb all of my attention, albeit negative attention.
More than likely he would have gotten aggressive such as shouting something at me. If he did go to the tables he would have hit another child on the way. You get the picture. He came in out of control and he would have stayed out of control.
This time when he came into the room and refused my greeting I didn’t say anything. I let him go. I waited a couple of minutes, got someone else to take my place at the door and went to the area where Caleb was sitting.
On the way over I said a quick prayer. I thought to myself, “Wow! This kid must have had a rough day or something happened to him today.” While busying myself with something on the wall and without looking at him I said, “Had a rough day, huh? Want to talk about it?” to which he glared at me. I purposefully didn’t look at him when I talked to him because I didn’t want to create any more hostility in him. I only looked at him for his answer.
I waited a few seconds and then said in a soft whispered voice, “Seems to me that you want to be alone for awhile. Is that right?” At that point he lowered his little head and almost crying just nodded his head yes.
I walked over and touched his shoulder gently and said, “If you need me, I’m here. Just come and get me. Or if you decide you want to join the other kids, feel free any time.” Then I walked away.
I know this child. I know he can’t be rushed. I know I can’t intrude at a time when he just wants to be left alone. I also know he needs to know I’m there if he wants to interact.
What happened next
In a little while Caleb got up and joined the other kids. He was laughing and joining in with the group. That lasted until everyone was asked to join together for our group time. He refused to join the group and climbed under a table.
At first I didn’t say anything. I watched him out of the corner of my eye. He was acting silly and trying to garner the attention of the other kids. I then said, “Caleb, come! Sit!” as I pointed to a spot on the floor next to me. I said it calmly and matter of fact. It was an assertive voice that left no doubt what was expected of him. And did you notice I did not say, “please?” Please in a situation like this turns it into a request. I was not requesting him come sit but commanding him, albeit in a gentle way.
Every time we switched activities he attempted to get out of control. I knew in my mind that he wasn’t able to regulate internally and that I was going to have to help him regulate externally. For whatever reason he needed my help. That meant giving him personal instructions.
About half way through our class he came to me and whispered, “Do you still take prayer requests?” He was in physical pain and needed prayer. Another leader and I took him out to the hallway and asked him to tell me what was hurting. Then we stopped right there, laid hands on him and prayed for him.
His entire demeanor changed. His face softened. He body relaxed and he became part of our group. He needed to know someone cared for him; someone cared enough they would take time to stop and pray with him.
This article originally appeared here.