Saturday, 7 May 2016


Are we seeing the child, or are we seeing the behaviour?

I'm so glad that the terminology that we use has changed from 'behaviour management', to 'behaviour guidance', and now to 'relationships with children and families'. There's been a lot of discussion on this subject this week, and I've had some experiences that have made an impression on me. I'd like to reduce all the discussion down to just one word - compassion.

When a child shows behaviour that needs to be 'managed' the child is not being a problem to you, the child has a problem of his/her own. We have a little boy who is having trouble controlling his anger. This week he pushed his friend against the glass doors and sat on his head, pinning him to the ground. I steered him away and he sat down a couple of metres away and watched the other children go back to playing. I watched him for a few seconds, then sat down next to him. We sat for a few minutes while I patted his back, then I asked him "Are you okay?" A while later he asked me if he could go and play again. I said, "If you feel that you can play safely, you can play again". I stayed close by just in case, and sure enough a few minutes later I saw him holding two toys above his head, threatening another child with them. I steered him away and he dropped his arms down quietly. I could see that he was ashamed that he nearly 'lost it'.

This child knows what is right and wrong. He was doing his best. All children are doing their best with the knowledge and understanding that they have at the time, just as we are. There is no way that I always say and do the right things, and I know that others don't always agree with my decisions regarding my interactions with children. This child is experiencing something at home that any adult would struggle to deal with. I responded to his behaviour in the way that I felt was right. I can tell you dozens of similar stories. Compassion works, I've seen it time and time again.

Please don't say to a child, "You're making me sad". Children's behaviour is not about you, although the way they react to you is often a reflection of how you respond to them. Children don't learn about emotions and relationships through flash cards with facial expressions on them. They learn through the way that they are treated. They will respond to the tone of our voice, our touch, our genuine interest in them, and the genuine joy that we show when we are with them. If we can't always feel and show this they will understand. Children are almost infinitely forgiving, particularly if they have learned compassion from being with us.

Please see the child. Every one is special and has his/her own story. We should never forget that we have a hand in forming who they become. They will grow up to be people who have compassion, and people who have compassion will create a better world for all of us.

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