Kids are like sponges and mirrors at the same time. They will soak up their environment, and they will reflect the behaviors of those around them. They are pliable, elastic. They’re learning!
We teach our students about “big reactions vs. little reactions”. If someone is drowning in a pool, that deserves a big reaction. If you drop a book while walking down the hall, that really only needs a little reaction. A lot of times for kids, it is difficult to gauge how large or small of a reaction a given scenario deserves. My students in particular struggle with this. One difficult sentence in an assignment might throw them into a full-on temper tantrum, pencils flying, swear words echoing. They need help learning how to gauge their reaction size.
So, how is your reaction gauge?
When a child acts out…especially that one who ALWAYS seems to act out…what to you do? Thinking of children like mirrors, what are they learning to reflect?
I have had to master the art of ignoring, yet I still feel I have far to go. I can see my growth whenever I am standing on the opposite side of a door from a student who is throwing every object they can find at the window separating us–food being the least harmful of their ammunition. In those moments, I am able to ignore almost completely, giving absolutely no attention to the behavior that could otherwise be considered absolutely inappropriate and disrespectful. I am teaching my students how to gauge their reactions. While they are acting as if in a war zone, I am showing them that really there is nothing to fight about; my calmness invites them to breathe and calm as well.
When gauging your own reactions, consider the risks at hand. Usually risk is a good indicator of how much you should react. These potential risks invoke bigger reactions:
- Harm to self
- Harm to others
- Destruction of property
- A child putting themselves in a dangerous situation, such as running away
These risks may not need much of a reaction:
- Making a mess
- Distracting others
Now, at the same time, it’s important to think about how LIKELY a child is to act in a certain way. For example, I know children who could seriously harm me if they wanted to…but I do not think it very likely that they would, because their typical reaction is not to be violent. So, even though there is a risk of them harming me or another person, that risk is small because it is not very likely to happen.
A lot of kids react the same way to the same situation every single time. So you can know, this reaction will be very likely to happen.
When we as adults show big reactions to a child’s behavior, that behavior becomes a bigger problem than perhaps it was originally. And let’s be honest–a lot of the motivation in negative behavior is attempting to get a reaction out of someone.
One sure way to minimize negative behavior is to starve it of attention. Yes, some behavior requires a serious reaction. But sometimes, learning to ignore, breath, and stay calm, is the best way to influence a child’s behavior. Eventually, they may get bored with their acting-out because you don’t seem very excited by it. And then, that little human sponge will be ready to soak up all your positive attention and influence!