Meltdowns in class
June 20, 2013 at 9:25 am #24940
Hi everyone! How do you handle meltdowns or crying in your classrooms? During the last week of school, we played a rhythm game (I have 2nd grade, 5th grade, and 7th grade at a K-8 school). During the game, no matter what age, SOMEONE breaks a rule, then I have to enforce consequences, then SOMEONE ends up in tears because the group gets mad at them or they feel guilty. It’s really frustrating, especially because I’m not sure of the correct language to use. I just finished my 4th year of teaching, and I’m not sure I’m handling these situations the right way. I stop the game and take that child/group aside to talk with them privately. I’m afraid that if I don’t, that child will go home and tell mom and dad that I neglected them, or that I didn’t care. Most crying happens in 2nd grade (which is probably normal because they’re younger), but then also in 7th grade. One student has some personal/confidence issues, and ended up completely inconsolable because she said her team was talking about her behind her back because she broke a rule. When I tried to talk with her privately, she told me to go away. It was literally like pulling teeth to talk to her because she shut down and refused to listen. Eventually, I sent her to the office to cool down.
Do I ignore the child who’s upset and continue with class? Or do I stop the whole class to pay attention to one child? Then, if/when I talk to the upset child, what kind of phrases are most helpful? Thanks in advance!!June 21, 2013 at 5:33 pm #24961
With K-2nd graders – I tell them “this does not mean that you are a bad kid or you are not smart. It’s just a game! As soon as everyone has a turn, we’ll all go back and play something else.” I want you to sit quietly and calm down/relax. I have a pillow hooked onto the wall with 3M hooks; I offer this to kids at such moments. Kids (well human beings) want so badly tobe accepted that sometimes such games cause them to feel bad about themselves. Just reassure them that they are still a good kid! ….. With bigger kids who won’t respond / refuse to talk to me, I give them a piece of paper and ask them to write down what made them upset and why. If they don’t do this, I offer them a pillow and encourage them to relax. They usually come around. Ignoring them at a time like this is perfectly appropriate.
You are absolutely doing the right thing taking time to speak to the child, but I recommend not talking to an upset child in front of the class. This may embarrass them or make them uncomfortable, especially if they need to tell you about another student being rude to them. If it’s doable, have the class restart the game while you walk a few steps away and talk to the upset student. If you prefer to monitor the game, have the class stop and take the student into the hall to talk: put the student behind the wall or door while you stand in the doorway to watch the class.
When a child reports that the group / some students are talking about him/her because s/he broke a rule, stop the game. Make clear that you are disappointed at this report and want to make some things clear: We are human beings and every one of us makes mistakes every day. They have no right to tease someone for one mistake made, especially during an activity which is supposed to be fun. Find out who did it (I threaten to get security if the kids who did it don’t admit to doing it). Then have them apologize. If they refuse ask them to write a letter of apology to the person. Leave a few seconds of silence in between sentences for drama and to let your message sink in. If this continues, threaten to stop the game and have constant wrong-doers write the classroom rules.
Yesterday I had a 5th grade student refuse to dance with his class due to some mild bullying that happened earlier in the day. He sat behind my piano curled up, so I knew it was not simply a non-desire to dance. I verified with him that the teacher was informed and it was handled, then I encouraged him to let it go. He insisted that the incident bothered him and he could not let it go. I paused a moment before recalling a quote from Elanor Rosevelt: “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I explained to him who she was and what it meant. I told him to take a minute and think about what that means. …. This is one way of handling such situations. Every kid is different, remember!June 28, 2013 at 8:46 am #25119
In addition to what Maria said, if other students are picking on a child because he/she broke the rules or was doing something he/she wasn’t supposed to be doing, I ask the class “Is it your job to worry about what other kids are doing? Who are you supposed to worry about?” The correct answer should always be “I only need to worry about myself.” I remind the kids it is not their job to enforce the rules; that is MY job, and if they are concerned about whether or not someone else is doing the right thing they are not properly doing their job on our “team” and not being a good team player. The only time that they need concern themselves with what somebody else is doing is if 1) they are doing something that is potentially dangerous and could hurt themselves or another person, or 2) they are engaging in bullying behavior. Otherwise, not their job–and they’re just tattling, which does not help us.. It’s my job as the teacher to determine whether or not someone is following the rules. If they argue about it (it’s not fair, they cheated, etc.), I ask them what happens in a sports game if a player argues with the referee: the ref isn’t going to change his ruling; what will happen is that the player who argues will be given a penalty (like a yellow card in soccer) or kicked out of the game. That usually stops any bickering immediately. There is actually a sign/picture floating around on the internet–I’ve seen it on Pinterest–that explains the difference between tattling and when it’s necessary to tell an adult. I explain the difference as, if you’re just telling on somebody to get them in trouble, and not because they’re doing something that’s dangerous, they’re being a tattle-tale, and tattling isn’t helpful.
If a kid does start to cry for whatever reason, I find that the best thing to do most of the time is just to ask them quietly (calling as little attention as possible to the fact that they’re crying) if they’re ok, if they would like to sit by themselves or go use the bathroom, maybe if they need a tissue, but otherwise just leave them alone. Some kids are just emotionally sensitive and their feelings get hurt easily (in some kids this comes out as crying, for others they get angry and lose their temper), and the fact that they’re crying or that they’ve lost their temper is embarrassing, so if you draw extra attention to it by making a big deal of it or making the other student apologize to them while they’re still upset it will just make things worse and they might not want to participate at all for the rest of class. Most of the time if you leave them to cool down on their own they will be fine again in a few minutes. If you feel it’s necessary to ask a student to apologize to another, I’d wait until later when they are no longer crying or upset. My own son is like this, and the more attention you draw to him when he’s upset, or more special attention that’s drawn to him, period (like if you give him a reminder about behavior in front of the class–doesn’t have to be harsh, just the fact that he thinks other kids are looking at him–or sometimes even if you single him out for something positive), the worse that makes the situation–something that might just blow over on its own in a couple minutes ends up with them not wanting to come back into activities later in class… and if it’s a student who has frequent temper/emotional issues, you’re going to cause him/her to develop a relationship with you where the child feels you can’t be trusted or that your classroom isn’t a emotionally safe environment.
But overall, you kind of have to pick your battles. If you find that such and such a game always causes arguments and ends with kids getting upset, don’t play that game anymore or change the rules. Especially if it’s a game with any kind of competition–kids can get cut-throat about whether or not someone caused their team to win fewer points or if they think someone on the opposite team is cheating. I’m not sure what the rules of the rhythm game are, but whenever I have games with “points” I almost always find a way that each kid can earn at least one point in the game. If the point of the game is for them to learn and to have fun and the competition is interfering with both those goals, tweak the competition aspect of it. Or… you can add a rule that if anybody complains about another student, their team loses a point. THAT usually stops any complaining.December 3, 2013 at 6:42 pm #33562
I would say don’t play the games for a while. Find other ways to work on these things Also, absence makes the heart grow fonder. If they miss them, explain why you stopped doing them and ask for suggestions from them to solve some of these issues.
I do some rhythm games that I have the kids practice in small groups – these are games where they have to coooerate or it won’t work. I circle round and coach, and when a group is ready, I merge them with another group till the group gets bigger and bigger (working well). BUt I also encourage the kids who need more time or work better in slower groups to keep it that way – that’s ok. My criteria have to do with working steadily and ACCURATELY. Once I see that, I let them make variations on the patterns they are working on – I also show case good practicing – have the kids analyze what I like about the way a certain group is working, etc. I also have kids coach each other.
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