Thursday, January 30, 2014

"We Should Do That"

Our school day was over and as I stood in the doorway talking to some parents, I saw, over their shoulders, a group of three boys engaged in what I perceived as destructive play. They were enjoying themselves, laughing, while over-turning furniture, throwing objects at the concrete in an apparent attempt to break them, tearing branches from our lilacs, scattering toys that had previously been put away, and generally goading one another to take it one step further. One of the most disappointing things to me was that one of them, in a kind of destructive fury, upended the mailbox that had been so diligently repaired by other children two weeks ago. Up the hill, another group of adults were talking, standing in an inward-facing circle, apparently not noticing.

I gave the boys some time to move beyond it, but they continued to ramp up. When a bystander was nearly brained by a log, I broke things up, saying, "Hey, you almost hit her in the head with that. It would have really hurt. I also saw you knocking things over and breaking things. I don't like it."

This drew the attention of the parents who pitched in to help their kids set things to rights and since it was the end of the day, I left them to it.

Yesterday, when we hit the playground, the same group of boys reassembled with the apparent intent of re-creating their game from the day before. I watched them for a few minutes as they grew rowdy and conspiratorial. I walked over to them. "Yesterday, after school, you guys knocked things over and broke things."

They didn't respond, so I let it hang there. After a good minute during which no one spoke, I added, "Now, no one can play with the broken things. That makes me feel disappointed and even a little bit angry." Then turning to something that had been effective before, I pointed at the mailbox where it lay on the ground, "Someone even knocked over the mailbox. The little kids are going to be sad about that: they play with it every day."

One of the boys answered, "I did that."

"You knocked over the mailbox?"

"Yes, I knocked it over, Teacher Tom. I'm sorry."

I nodded, but otherwise said nothing. Upon the moment's reflection he added, "I'll dig a hole and put it back up." As he ran for a shovel, I called after him, "I'll help you if you bring me a shovel too."

Meanwhile the other two boys hadn't moved. I said, "We're going to fix the playground. I like making things nicer." Over at the garden a parent-teacher was working with a small group to plant a flat of primroses in pots. "Those kids are planting new flowers to make things nicer." I then pointedly turned my attention to the hole to let them know I was done with the conversation, which I knew they were experiencing as a scolding even though I'd tried to calmly stick to the facts as I saw them.

As we began to dig, I heard one boy say to the other, "We should do that."


And they ran off to plant flowers.

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Karenda said...

Thanks for sharing such a detailed account - I often wonder how to deal with destructive behavior without scolding and punishment. This is a great model for me to try an emulate.

Chamakanda Steve said...

I really appreciate the way you make bservations without adding intent and motivation (which you can't know anyway). It is a breath of fresh air to hear a situation described without labelling and blaming. I try and use phrases like you do as well and it makes it easier for the children who have done damage of whatever kinds to try and undo it.

Morgan said...

I love the way you described the scene so clearly. I have often wondered how to talk to my two year old when he randomly has urges to take out his toys. I am totally going to use some of your language as I have started to notice him taking more interest in words like disappointment.