This is part of a new series about subtle changes we have made that have made a big difference in our teaching.
I used to think that the key to getting a child to change their behavior was to model it–to the extreme. A very wiggly, distracted kid needed me to be be calm and quiet. I would be so zen, we would both almost fall asleep. A bored, sleepy, no-more-energy-because-they’ve-been-at-school-all-day kid needed me to be exciting and stimulating. I would be so entertaining, I would overwhelm them.
When I read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, I realized why this wasn’t working. The authors emphasized the importance of validating a child’s emotions so they feel heard. If a child is crying and screaming, instead of responding “It’s okay! Don’t cry!” you need to try “Oh, that is so frustrating!” When an adult’s tone is vastly different from a child’s tone, the child can feel like they’re being ignored. They want to know you hear and understand them. (Of course this applies to communication with adults as well.)
If a kid is at either end of the spectrum, wiggly or sleepy, they usually have a reason for that. If their lesson is after school they are probably exhausted and so done with holding still. Who can blame them? I have realized they need to know I care about how they’re feeling. That doesn’t mean we have to have a big long conversation about it, I just need to reflect back what I see.
I think of this as Energy Matching Minus One. I try to match whatever kind of energy they are giving, and then subtract just a little bit. This guides their behavior the direction I would like it to go. A teacher can set the emotional thermostat for the lesson, but if it’s too far from what they felt before walking in, it’s going to shock their system. Sluggish students need a calm teacher, who is also excited about the lesson. Antsy and silly students need an enthusiastic teacher, who is a little more mellow.
Subtly changing how I react to a child who is off-the-walls or lethargic has made big changes in the level of connection I feel with them.
I would love to hear, what small changes have you made to manage behavior in your studio? Please share in the comments!