Thursday, March 17, 2016

SOLSC #17 What is the right thing to say or do?

During the month of March, I am participating in
the Slice of Life Story Challenge.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day for thirty-one days. My slices will be primarily about teaching preschoolers.
Check out the Two Writing Teachers website for many more reflections on teaching.

I think disciplining three year olds is a bit of a leap of faith...even after all these years, I am often puzzled by how best to respond. 

I have a little girl who has been practicing spitting. Not sure why this is a skill she needs, but I'm sure you can predict where it is heading. She sits down on our playground bench with our Teaching Assistant, and has a friendly conversation, when all of a sudden she puckers up and lets go - spitting at TA and hitting her directly in the face (yes, this is the day she finally masters her skill). TA is boiling mad, I mean, who wouldn't be? But there is no room for angry reactions amongst teachers, even teachers who have been spit in the face, so she calmly stammers - That was not okay! You just spit at me! I need a break from you! 

Well, guess how the preschooler reacts to this reprimand? She jumps up off the bench and bursts into tears, and then grabs two fistfuls of mulch and throws them at the TA. Again, I say to you - what are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to react? Truly, some days, teaching preschoolers requires the patience of a saint.

[What is the child thinking? Honestly, I think that she is the kind of child who doesn't like to make mistakes, doesn't like to be reprimanded. Possibly, she spit by accident, but to have it pointed out and admonished by this teacher she loves is just too much to bear. So, she truly makes matters worse. This is the thinking of a preschooler.]

TA walks away in frustration, and I intervene.

"Oh my, what is happening?"

The child simply cries.

"Hold my hand, you and I are going to be together now on the playground. We need to talk."

I let her calm down, because one cannot have a meaningful conversation with anyone of any age in the midst of a tantrum. She becomes calm when we are back inside, expectant that she will go straight into playing in centers with her classmates. However, I insist, "You need to make amends to TA. Spitting is very, very yucky. You need to find out if she is still hurting. You need to check in on her."

"No! she yells back, and the crying resumes.

[Am I putting too much pressure on this little one? The spitting is hard to ignore. The consequence needs to make an impression on the child, in hopes that the behavior isn't repeated. It's not fair to my colleague, to do simply let her 'get a pass,' to allow her to go right back to playing. We are all frustrated by this child's behavior. And what of the child? Will she finally see this spitting behavior as unacceptable? All these thoughts race through my mind, but basically I am stymied by this child's stubbornness and refusal. How to let her feel less embarrassed and yet make amends? I am not a fan of 'forced apologies' yet I wonder if this is what is needed here, so that the child begins to appreciate what it means to repair, to take responsibility for one's actions.]

I bring her over to the easel. "I'm going to let you paint a picture for TA. I'm working in the art center, too, so you just hang out here at the easel until you are ready. I'll give you space. This will make a nice 'I'm sorry' gift." 

One more time she yelled, "No!", but she was now standing in front of fresh paints at the easel. I just let her be, tried not to look her way, tried to stay busy with other children, but I stayed right nearby. About five minutes later, she called out to me - "Ms. Ingram, I painted a beautiful picture."

I walked over to see, and to talk to her a little more.

"I like this. I see it is yellow, your favorite color. Tell me about it."

She says, "I made something, I wanted to make it for her." I wrote those words on the paper, and continued questioning - "Why did you want to make it for her?"
"Because I want to make her feel better." I wrote those words down, too, and pried further -
"What made her feel badly?"
The apology note
"I spit." [BINGO! Ownership! What I was after!!] and I continued "I am so glad that you are admitting this. Yes, you did. And now you have painted a picture to make her feel better. Should we tell TA anything else?" then she added, "I promise, no more spitting." I wrote these words on the picture, too.

One moment of foolishness, one moment of lapse,
requires so many more moments of reflection and healing. This is the reality of teaching preschoolers, trying to help them see that their actions affect others. It is a work in progress.

One last note - after she presented the picture to TA who thanked her for the picture and her promise, the little girl asked brightly,

"May I take the picture home to show my Mom and Dad?"

This made me chuckle. Yes, please do, and may they continue the teaching.


  1. These children are so lucky to have you as their teacher. You are so thoughtful and caring about the way you handle situations like this. And, yes, you are all extremely patient. I love the apology note. You found a way to let her own her mistake and create something she was proud of to turn her day around.

  2. I know that in your talk with the child, and the persistence, you show concern, but also support in helping her to do the right thing. I do admire you working with the 3 year olds, yet I have to share, too, that young adolescents show some of the same behaviors when they're done some hurtful thing, & it takes patience to help them find a way to make amends. I'm happy it all worked out this time, Maureen.

  3. I so enjoyed reading this. You captured all aspects of these highly emotional "mistakes" and the journey to try and give back. With little ones, this is never perfect. I am just imagining the reaction when she brings this art home! Lot's to talk about!

  4. I so enjoyed reading this. You captured all aspects of these highly emotional "mistakes" and the journey to try and give back. With little ones, this is never perfect. I am just imagining the reaction when she brings this art home! Lot's to talk about!

  5. Oh gosh I needed you today to come along side of me today! I didn't get spit in the face but making puddles on the table, more than one time, was pretty gross but maybe not as mysterious. Spit is science after all.

  6. I chuckled at the request to take the picture home, too. You are a saint for the way you handled the spitting. I'm afraid I'd be too mortified to know what to do.