Today's post comes from Momentous School kindergarten teacher, Derrick Hicks, Jr. 


Last week on live television, the nation watched something that unfolds every day in my kindergarten classroom. Something hurtful was said, someone had a reaction, and an action was taken. People responded in the moment, and in the days after, with shock and judgment. I simply slipped into teacher mode. Y’all, let me tell you… this is what we go through every day in kindergarten.

I don’t want to dwell on the incident, but instead I want to share a little insight into how we manage conflict in the classroom. If five-year-olds can learn this, hopefully we as adults can, too.

Let me paint a picture for you of an incident that happened just this week. We have expectations for outside time, that I remind the students of frequently. Our expectations are to be safe, be kind and have self-control. I don’t know if you’ve ever spent time with a 5-year-old, but self-control doesn’t always come easy. It’s a fine line between curiosity, touching, playing and hitting. This week, one of our little kindergarten friends crossed that line and was being a little too physical with his hands. We paused, discussed the expectations, level set and moved on. Unfortunately, the next minute, he was back to playing which led right back to hitting. This time when I went back over, he was very upset. He took off his watch and threw it across the playground. Then he took his sweater and threw it down. Sound familiar? All of us have moments where our bodies take over and we need time and space to calm down. Like I said, this is a near-daily occurrence in a kindergarten classroom, and it happens to adults, too.

Here's what happened next: I told my student, “I can see that you are upset right now and need space. When you are ready, let’s talk about what happened.” It took some time for this little guy to calm down. He wasn’t calm yet when we returned to the classroom, but he did walk in with us. I said, “Thank you for walking in with us even though you are upset right now.” He wasn’t ready yet when we washed our hands, got a drink of water and started in on our math work. But he did wash his hands, so I thanked him for that. He wasn’t ready to start math, so he sat alone. When I approached him, he said, “I need space.” I thanked him for knowing that he needed space and for telling me. (How many adults know how to do that?) After awhile, he was settled and calm and he joined the class as though nothing had happened. He took the time and space he needed to calm down, and then he was prepared to move on. I approached him privately and said, “Thank you so much for taking the time you needed to calm down. I am glad you were able to join us. Later today I want to talk about what happened earlier. I am glad you are feeling calm now.” Yes – later we did talk about the incident and what we could do differently next time. But what my student really learned in this moment is that it is okay to need space to process emotions and that when you need space, you can articulate that to me, and I will honor it.

Adults have these same experiences. We get flooded with emotions. Our bodies take over. We react from impulse rather than reason. And many people will say, well we are adults, we should know better and we should respond better. And yes, we all should aim for that. But mistakes happen, no matter if you’re 5, 15, 55 or 105. Wouldn’t it be great if, no matter our age, no matter the incident, we could all learn to take the time and space we need to calm ourselves down when we get upset?

Just the week before, my little kindergarten friend was so excited to see his mom pull up that he darted out into the parking lot. On impulse, I shouted his name, grabbed his backpack and pulled him back onto the sidewalk as a car was approaching. Then, in the same exact split-second, I took a deep breath. I didn’t even realize I had done it until a former student’s mom pointed it out to me. She said she’d never seen anyone respond that way to a stressor in the moment. I didn’t even realize I had done it, because taking deep breaths is an inherent part of my conflict management toolkit. In that moment, I reacted on instinct, pulled this student from the parking lot, and took a deep breath. Taking a moment to breathe (and by that I mean inhale through your nose, hold it and slowly exhale trough your mouth) allowed my physical body to calm down so that I could think about the response I wanted to give to the student in that moment.

My wish is that all of us can remember these lessons from the kindergarten classroom next time we’re faced with stress: take a moment to breathe, to allow your body to be calm before responding to a situation. Know that it will pass. You’ll thank yourself later when you’ve thought about your action before responding with emotions.

With peace and love

DJ (Derrick Hicks, Jr.)

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