By Pamela Green
In my years of teaching I have had opportunities to be with children who seem to bring disruption to the classroom. These are the ones who tend to be louder in body and voice, take up more space, make themselves heard before being seen, and at times leave others quaking in their wake.
The parents of these children might sometimes be met at pick-up or drop-off time from the classroom with a litany of complaints from others of what their child has been up to during the day. All of this within earshot of the child and his/her peers. A theme that is central in this scenario is that the behavior of this child is the focus, yet I believe that many times the child him/herself, is missed.
How is it that this much discussed and exposed child has become the invisible one?
Perhaps it has to do with where we are pointing.
The act of pointing in itself is curious, because it directs everything away from ourselves. What we bring our attention to is separation, the idea that what affects us is out there.
What happens if we turn our hands open, in invitation?
I have begun to gain a deeper and fuller sense of the potential for learning that such children and experiences bring through my own observation and contemplation of this and other questions.
Who is this child?
What happens inside me when this child acts; how do I feel?
Is this child a problem, or expressing what is alive in the entire group?
How can I best serve this child?
What is this child really asking for?
To help bring these questions more into reality, I offer the following example:
A child is working quietly at a table with two other children. Another child is walking aimlessly around the room, and finally stops beside the table. This walking child then takes the work from the sitting child and runs away. The child at the table cries, other children run after the stealer of work and orders him/her to return it.
The crowd of children gather around the work-stealer, voicing demands, until he/she pushes them away and someone falls. Many of the children begin talking loudly at once to the pusher-stealer, who is quiet now, turned away.
It is at this time that I have begun to experiment with certain approaches. I go slowly and quietly to the group of children, making my way to the one who served as the instigator. This direction in itself causes interest in the group; why am I going to the one who hurts and not the other?
Once I get to the child, I sit or stand beside, sometimes taking their hand. I may say nothing, or I may ask, “How are you?” Many times when I ask this, the child bursts out sobbing.
This response brings about quiet in the room. If I were to give a feeling sense to what may be happening inside this child, I would say, hopelessness. Once again he/she has ended up in the same place, This is a familiar dark corner that feels tight and self-fulfilling. But is it?
What I have experienced in this very alive moment is that there are, in fact, many doorways begging to be entered. One way to move is to simply sit together. I model this, and everyone follows. We are quiet. We look at this one crying, and it seems like veils are lifted and the person in front of us is not so one-dimensional.
Our breathing changes, we settle, we listen, and then someone says, “Are you hurt?” The child cries harder, bent over, not wanting to answer, or be seen. After a time, another says, “I didn’t know you felt anything.” After some time, another asks, “How can we help?”
It is then that a magical thing happens; we begin to untangle the web that we have woven together. In this loosening of our threads, through discussion and sharing, questions might arise. What was this child wanting when they took the work from another? How welcomed does this child feel when he/she enters our classroom? Have we ever been the one to feel outside of a group of friends, and what does that feel like?
All this time that we are talking, the crying child begins to quiet, to listen. Rather than being left alone after hurting someone and feeling the inevitable, a feeling of belonging begins to stir.
Another part of our web that comes apart is the belief that the actions of the ‘difficult child’ stand alone. How can this be true when each thread of our web is connected to another? We begin to see the ways that we support each other in every instance, whether comfortable or not; that our non-acceptance is a foundation for hurt and misunderstanding.
We can take responsibility for the full circle of our relationships, without judgement. By entering newly opened doorways we start to know what is kind and unkind, and that we must experience both to have compassion for ourselves and each other.
In both the adult and child this leads to a freedom of spaciousness, trust and joy.
About Pamela Green
Pamela Green, a mother, Montessori parent, educator and consultant in homes and in schools, continues to be taught and guided by the children and families she serves. She is Montessori certified from preschool through the eighth grade, and taught and served as Head of School in a private Montessori school for twenty years.
Along with being an educator for over 25 years, she has also attended births in homes and in hospitals as a birth doula and assistant midwife since 1990. She currently is Founder and Director of Ananda Montessori Children’s House, which serves families during pregnancy, and from birth through age three. She facilitates a Montessori Parent-Infant and Child Program in her home, as well as teaches Pre-birth education classes.
You can follow Pamela’s Facebook page for the Ananda Montessori Children’s House where she shares articles and tips for parents interested in Montessori.