Last week, I decided I was going to consciously make an effort to be kind to my kids. It’s not that I’m not normally kind – I love my kids intensely and they know it – but the end of a school year makes you act a little crazy. Exhaustion peaks and tempers flare, both from students and adults. I find that I have to lock down pretty hard on behavior in the last days of school to prevent kids from going wild, and it gets tiring to constantly be in discipline mode. When you’re clinging to expectations all day and barely finding time to sleep at night between all the end-of-year things, it gets easy to walk around just grouching and nagging all day long. I really, really didn’t want to do that.
So I promised myself I would do a great job with being kind. I started the week ready to go overboard with positive recognition, take the time to smile at and chat with as many kids as possible, and not come down unnecessarily hard on kids who were misbehaving. I’m proud to say I did a pretty good job of that, all week long.
Of course, there was a pretty classic moment that threatened all my resolve. This one kid was clearly going absolutely nuts with spring fever. He wasn’t doing anything terrible, but he also wasn’t behaving especially well. He couldn’t sit still, couldn’t listen to directions, couldn’t focus on work, couldn’t stop talking to his friends, couldn’t stop calling out in class, couldn’t follow the steps of the class activity. He’s normally a relatively well-behaved kid, but on this day he was really slowing down my class and really getting on my nerves. Finally, after his millionth disruption, I hit a breaking point and called him over to me, ready to lay into him about all the things he was doing wrong.
But then I remembered my commitment, and remembered that he definitely wasn’t trying to be malicious. As he walked over to me, I took a couple of deep breaths and successfully managed to smile by the time he got there. I actually took a moment to just look at him and remember all the things I like about him before I started talking. And I remembered not to yell.
That all sounds sweet and fine and lovely, except for the fact that I was now smiling sweetly at a kid who was really disrupting my class, and I was running out of responses to correct his behavior that didn’t involve getting really angry at him. This left me fresh out of things to do, with a child standing in front of me, waiting for an effective correction. So I fell back to my favorite desperate discipline move – letting the kids think you have absolutely lost your mind.
I actually said, “Honey, the end of the year is tiring me out, and I’m really low on patience. I’ve made a commitment to not take that out on you guys, so I’m trying really, really hard not to yell right now. But I’m a little stuck, since your behavior is really starting to disrupt class and nothing else I do seems to be working. You are making bad choices over and over and over again, and it seems like you won’t stop. I hope you understand that this is just baffling for me, since I know you’re a great kid, I know you mean well, and I know you want to do the right thing. And yet you aren’t. Lucky for you, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt. Instead of getting mad, I’m going to assume that you can’t help it because you’ve actually been taken over by a mischievous little gremlin. And thankfully, I’m just the person to help fix that.” I then proceeded to mime pulling some sort of creature out of his ear and throwing it away. “Phew! All better. You can go back to your seat now.”
During my entire thinkaloud, the kid looked at me like I’d gone absolutely batshit crazy. Given that it was the end of the school year, he was probably right. (Gremlins?! Where did THAT come from?? Didn’t know it was coming until it came out of my mouth.) But of all the behavior responses I tried, that one actually worked! I think the kid realized that if I was resorting to miming gremlin removal from his ears, then I was clearly on his side but he clearly needed to change his behavior. We had no more problems the rest of class, and he left the room grinning and high-fiving me. Sometimes it’s the weirdest things that finally work… and it turns out that yelling is never the only answer.