A group of children sits together coloring at a table. One child grabs a crayon that another was reaching for. Perhaps it was intentional, perhaps not. What determines the outcome is how the second child reacts.
Does he yell at the first child? Complain to the teacher? Say something to the first child? Or just get a different crayon?
It depends, of course, on many factors. Is he tired? Has the first child grabbed crayons before? Are things unstable at home? Regardless, he has a choice. He may not realize or think about it, but he has options and the one he picks will set the tone for the entire class.
Teachers, who spend their days in group settings of students, are in a unique position to help our children work through these issues. They can help children understand that they have choices in all types of situations and then guide them in making good decisions. There will be a better atmosphere in the classroom, and students will be equipped with tools to manage relationships throughout their lives.
Here is a guide to help in that process:
Talk with children about how they can take control of their actions and reactions. Below are some points to keep in mind and questions that students can use as they work through difficult situations.
Trade shoes. Encourage students to consider other people’s perspectives. Children tend to see things as black or white, right or wrong, but solving disputes requires seeing the full range of possibilities.
Question to ask: What is important to the other person?
Listen. Along with considering another’s perspective is hearing what they have to say. This can be difficult at any age. Talk with children about hearing others.
Question to ask: Have I heard what the other person has to say?
Look inside. Help children learn to recognize and be aware of their own emotions. They may think they are angry, but if they consider it more, they will often find they are scared or disappointed. As they understand their own emotions, they can take better charge of them.
Question to ask: How does this situation make me feel?
Take control. As children learn that they can make a choice about how they respond, they also need to learn how to review the options and think through the outcomes. How do they want things to work out, and what will it take?
Question to ask: How do I want to respond?
These are skills that will take practice. As much as possible, let students work out problems on their own. The long-range goal is to develop a culture of empathy in the classroom that enables students to care for each other and look out for the best interest of everyone.
This fundamental understanding that we can decide how we interact with others is at the core of the Choose To Be Nice School SEL program. Through a comprehensive yearlong curriculum, the program highlights nine values that students can put into practice: respect, kindness, acceptance, teamwork, honesty, responsibility, friendship, patience, and courage. Together, they serve as a language that teachers can use to guide children through decision making and building social and emotional intelligence.
This article first appeared in the National Association of Elementary School Principals newsletter, Communicator, June 2019, Volume 42, Issue 10