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Sunday, April 29, 2012

When a Preschooler Goes Rogue

A while back one of my Little People went rogue on me.  To be truthful, it happened almost overnight.  The first few months of school he was fine - an obvious thinker and careful talker, if a little moody.  However, around Christmastime something happened and he got a little - angry.  I'm not sure what exactly occurred that made this so, and I might not ever know.  It seemed to me as if something was happening at home that had him anxious, or tired, or worried.  Whatever it was, it manifested itself in his behavior in many challenging ways.  He (let's call him Billy) was suddenly quick to push, shove, and hit.  He lost all tolerance for sharing or taking turns, and would just grab toys from other kids when something caught his fancy.  His favorite playground game was playing "police" and catching (and often grabbing/on-the-edge-of-tackling the "bad guys").  He began acting out in ways that disregarded classroom the same expectations that he had before followed  - seemingly in order to gain approval from his peers.  These took the form of silly comments in large group, select words that were not "school words", continuing to make sounds on the comment when asked not to with sidelong looks at his carpet neighbors to see if they were paying attention to him.

Unfortunately, these occurrences of misbehavior left a trail of collateral damage around him.  While the kids at first had regaled him as the "strongest" and "bravest" of the class, they soon tired of his angry play and rough actions.  The teachers also tired of his constant talking and out-of-line behaviors.  All of these factors added up to culminate in a situation of kids quick to tattle on him and (sadly true) teachers quick to believe anything negative said about him.

And it was at that place where we found ourselves just last week.  My co-teachers expressed frustration that they kept hearing report after report from the other kids about things that Billy had done.  I heard the rising irritation in their voices as they called out to him after these reports.  I found my fuse short with him as he continued to call attention to himself during large group time.  An incident of throwing multiple woodchips that found their way inside onto the carpet brought me to the end of my rope and I sent Billy to sit in a chair and away from the group for a while.

However, I knew in the back of my mind that of all the things that Billy might need, exclusion from attention wasn't one of them.

The next day with a new outlook, I decided to shadow Billy for awhile.  I kept close to him as much as I could with the aim to try and figure exactly what was happening around him as he went about his school day.  I really wanted to discover if he really was getting into the trouble that every seemed to think that he was.  I wanted to sort out how much of what was happening was his misbehavior and how much of it was assumptions.

I decided to apply some natural consequences when necessary and otherwise to sit back and watch.  When he threw the bubble wand over the playground fence, I told him that now that his wand was gone and now he would have to play somewhere else.  When he decided to "arrest" a co-student (and the arresting was in the form of tackling) I informed him that he needed to sit with me for awhile before he found a calmer way to play.

When I wandered away from him later and two little boys ran up gleefully claiming that Billy had "punched" them, I had a pow wow with all of them to find out what had really happened.  It turns out that Billy was going to "knock down their building" (meaning the built-in play structure), and when they loudly protested, he  hit his chest with one fist and made a punching motion with another - but not anywhere close to their actual bodies.  (He demonstrated this maneuver for me, and from the widened eyes during the demonstration, I could tell that it hurt him way more than it might of hurt them - especially since he never even came close to touching them at all.)

These things and others showed me that we were all in some way jumping on the "Billy always is doing something wrong" bandwagon.  Sure, he was still angry, and that anger was still directing him to make some bad choices.  However, we owed it to him to deal with the actual infractions and not get caught up in the swirl of assumptions around him.

So I decided to hop off the bandwagon and encouraged my co-workers to do the same.  I stated that I wanted all of us to pay close attention to the things that Billy was actually doing, and apply a firm, but gentle hand when he did go too far.

I also vowed to give Billy way more hugs than scowls, and to start them the minute he walks through the door in the morning.

Because that, of all things (rogue or not), is probably what Billy needs the most.

1 comment:

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