by Michael Murphy
It is easy to say that kids will be kids. Easy to think that their silly actions are a step to growing up, a phase they will outgrow, or a gasp for attention. As the Friendship Academy teacher at Easter Seals’ Bucks County Division, I see a variety of behaviors and work alongside with numerous professionals to decipher what the children, some able to communicate and others who struggle, are trying to say. Each action is a message, a question, or a statement and all the adults have to do is listen. Imagine that, adults not using their listening ears!
When we ask a student to clean up the floor, they don’t know what that means. A nephew of mine was told to clean up the floor at home, and he actually picked up every single toy… and put it on a higher surface. The floor was clean… the table, tv stand, bookshelf and couch were not. However, he cleaned up the floor and actually showed an impressive ability to follow directions. As adults, we have to think about how we explain our directions. Children throwing toys during clean up time or continuing to play could communicate that they are unsure of what “clean up” can mean. Instead, at Friendship Academy, we give shorter instructions;
“Now David, you’re not doing that right, you’ll be in trouble unless you clean up all your toys”
becomes “Put in bin, David.”
Think about a boss giving you directions as an adult. How long does it take for you to tune them out? Children are saying more than you think by not cleaning up.
Kids like to move! They jump off couches, run into walls and just won’t stay still. They are trying to tell you something, just listen! I like to think that I get a lot out of my kids when they’re at our circle time. Sometimes I can get up to 15 preschoolers of varying abilities sitting for up to 30 minutes, and its not by having them all sit still and quiet while I do the lesson that I wanted to do. I make THEM the lesson! Their ideas, their questions, their movements. I give opportunities to get loud, to move around and to be silly, and after that they are ready to listen. We assigned a portion of the room as the jumping corner, and that is not to punish the child who wants to jump and send them away, but it is a way to provide these much needed opportunities to students to help them wake up and refocus.
Again think about a long day at work, staring at the screens or dealing with customers over and over… sometimes you need to step away and shake it off. A child’s wiggles, jumps, claps… its not to ruin your day. It is saying more than you think. It is asking you to give them something to do to help them refocus.
“No David stop doing that right now, I need you to sit.”
becomes “Lets jump (wiggle, clap…) ten times and then try this again.”
And yes, I’m that parent running up and down the aisles at Target because, frankly, I don’t like clothes shopping either.
Kids hit! They may do so out of internal frustration, external frustration, or just to get you to listen to them. My son gave my a shove to my chest today while I was checking my text messages, and I was about to get very upset until I realized that, from time to time, I’ll give him a pat on the shoulder when I know he is too into Fruit Ninja or Netflix. Kids learn more than you’d think from just watching us in action as adults. At their most extreme, students need to learn how to deal with their frustrations, but children don’t always hit out of anger, usually just out of frustration for not knowing or possessing the best words to use to solve their problems. At Friendship Academy, long before any kind of threat or punishment, we share some words to use. “Are you angry?” “Do you need help?” “Would you like to do something new?” These are all phrases we use when we observe an event getting ready to boil over. They are openers to allow students to begin a larger conversation and to help increase their available language. Sometimes we just have to provide some of the attention that that child is seeking. Children are well aware that their physical aggression will bring more attention than saying “Excuse me.” until they have their time to speak.
I cannot speak for every child, but I have seen students of varied cognitive and physical abilities respond well to shortened instructions, a respectful tone, an opportunity to do something THEY enjoy, and a simple opener to have their own time to talk. Children will grow to exceed your expectations, however high you hold them, they will do more than you think they ever could. The best way to get them to reach higher and higher is not to tell them what NOT to do, but to provide them with guidance towards what they should do. And always praise, even for failed attempts because when you try hard at your job, don’t you want some recognition too?