Thursday, May 28, 2020

He Was Left Face-to-Face with His Remorse

He would sometimes forget himself in the midst of his play and occasionally, like many kids, go so far as to hit or push when things didn't go his way. There had been a time when he might have intended to hurt the other people, but by now he had learned to pull his punches, so to speak, as if regretting his actions even as he's engaged in them. In other words, he wasn't usually hurting the other children physically, even as his actions might suggest otherwise. Still, his playmates felt violated when he punched them, as well they should.

We adults did our best to stay on top of things, to sufficiently intervene, but increasingly, since actual physical injury was off the table, my focus was on turning the initial responsibility of discussing these behaviors over to the children themselves. When a dry-eyed child informs me that they have been hit, for instance, by this boy or anyone, I inquire after specifics. Then instead of marching over to correct things by scolding or "reminding," I coach up the offended party by offering ideas of what they can do or say:

"If I were you, I'd tell him that I didn't like it when he hit me."

"If I were you, I'd tell him that I'm not a poopy head and it hurt my feelings when he said it."

"If I were you, I'd tell him that I'm mad at him for taking my shovel."

The idea is to get the kids in the habit of talking to one another first; to practice resolving their own conflicts, and to try to rely upon the adults only as a last resort. I'm always there if necessary, but learning to stand up for oneself is vital and the only way one learns that is through doing it. Not only that, but for many children, especially older preschoolers with a strong social bent, hearing these things from peers is much more impactful than from an adult.

One day, a girl with whom this boy regularly played shouted at him, "You hit me. I'm not going to play with you anymore!" Then she marched off. I was not too far away, but neither of them so much as looked my direction. As he watched her walk off, I saw him fighting back tears. After a few minutes he chased after her. They were too far from me to hear what he said, but I did hear her response, "You hit me! I don't want to play with you anymore!" He dropped to the ground right there, overwhelmed with remorse in a way that never happens when we adults are involved. Sometimes we must step in, but when we do, one of the risks is that we shift attention away from where it ought to be, the hitting and its consequences, and turn it on ourselves, the authority figure stepping in to insist upon compliance. In this case, he was left face-to-face with his remorse.

I don't know if he ever apologized, but by the end of the day she had forgiven him. I know this because I saw them once more playing intimately with one another, friends again.

The metaphor that comes to mind is the one of the parent teaching her child to ride a bike. At first we help them balance, then as they start to get the feel of it, we start letting go. Sometimes they fall, but over time, with practice, they begin to ride all on their own.


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