What is our role in helping kids soothe? Every kid is different! We all have strong points and weak points. There are many opinions about this at every age. I wanted to reach out to some people in my life who have had a lot of experience and have seen what works and what does not work. We are jumping in to episode 2 of Tips from a Teacher!
Emily: Do you guys (at KIPP) have a strategy for helping kids relax, do you have a mantra or anything that you go to to kind of help them regulate?
Katie: Yeah.. I think it definitely varies per kid which is really difficult in a classroom full of 26 kids, or with me and how I see so many per week. I have a table in my classroom called chillville. So if they come in and they are frustrated they may ask to take a break there. Or if they get frustrated during class they may ask to take a break there. And I have a notepad where they can write down what they are feeling- or if they are too young they can draw pictures. But normally they will try to write something. And even that one student, I had him draw… He is so mature to be able to tell me [what his images mean], but he doesn’t know what to do. And I have the emoji face stickers or a black face with eyes and they can draw a face on it like with how they are feelings. SO I use that as a strategy in my classroom. And I’ll set a timer for 5 minutes and then ask them to come back and be ready to learn. So in that sense I really am putting it on them to be able to calm themselves down. I’m not really intervening in that or providing instruction.
Emily: Well, I would say that you are giving them a coping skill – which is to take a break. So you are giving them the hint of, “this is available to you, this is there, you can accept it” and so what they are doing is they are withdrawing from the stressful environment.
Katie: Yeah. So they know they can do that in my class. And you know, I’ll feel it out. There are other times when someone is sad and I’ll say you know, just go take a break in the reading corner, just lay down. If it’s a behavior issue and you are acting unsafe for other kids in the class, you are leaving the room. You’ve lost the opportunity to sit here and reflect you know if you are being unsafe with the other kids or willfully disobedient, then you will have to go take a break in a buddy classroom or admin is taking you out of my class. Yeah and they know. So especially I feel like they are taking advantage of it- my fourth graders who are very aware of their emotions and aware that I’ll give them a break if they ask for one. And as soon as they come in I’ll have three kids ask to go sit in chillville because they are upset about so-in-so. And think a lot of that too is that they are really starting to hurt each others’ feelings. You know? Those like catty girls and comments that are made that can really just ruin someones day. So they’ll come in and immediately ask for a break. So in that sense, I just have to use my judgement because you have asked for a break the last 3 times you have come into my class. So I may limit the time or ask them to write me a note from my seat because we really need to get started today or someone is already there. I would say that is my own strategy. Admin has their own strategies. Um, we have on sight counselors. A couple of women from the children’s home society will offer therapy services for the children who are referred to them. They pick the kids up during the day and make sure they are receiving the services you need becomes some kids really do need them.
A lot of times I will play music in my classroom. Sometimes if there is a teacher that has a student in the hallway that is having a trantrum… My classroom is right by the kindergarden hallway and I will just bring them in. One student was so upset … I brought him in my classroom and sat him in my rocking chair. I learned this from a professional development I went to that said, “the best thing I ever did was buy a rocking chair for my office. Because these angry boys would come in and have all this engery, so I would have them sit in my rocking chair and give them some water. “Aren’t you thirsty?” They might only take a couple sips, but still it is like cooling and calming, even if they don’t realize what is happening.
Emily: I’m going to pause you right there. That is really good. There is the top down of thinking about why you are upset and how you are going to cope with it and then there the bottom up of rock in a rocking chair and that stimulates everything that we have known since we were infants of nurturing, and offering a cool glass of water, those are our basic needs. I would say that is a bottom up strategy. You are coming in the back door and they don’t even know it.
What a great wealth of knowledge Katie is. Hope this conversation sparks your creativity and reminds you of the simple ways you can help your kids learn to relax. Stay tuned for a blog post from me with links and lists of relaxation techniques, as well as more from our conversation on classroom management and emotion regulation in the classroom!