Explore Nueroscience in Education with Dr. Lori Desautels

Whatever! You Think I Care?

You Think I care?

I was thinking this afternoon of the misunderstood “language” from developing children and adolescents we often receive as educators. The type of language that catches us off guard as we posture for the perfect discipline minded “one-up” response. Sometimes it feels frustrating, and actually, downright awful as we unintentionally mirror emotions in our reactions that feel anxious or angry, personalizing these conversations when in actuality; it has nothing to do with us!
Every day we observe all of these developing minds and hearts of our students, trying to find their place, purpose and way in the world. My question is: if we could decode and understand what is possibly being stated beneath the lexicon that feels inappropriate, disrespectful and hurtful; I believe we would choose different responses and communication strategies. Below are some recent examples of student responses I have heard over the past few months and years in moments of hopelessness, shame and intense anger. The student response is to the left and the possible deeper meaning or underlying feelings trying to be conveyed by our students are shared to the right of the dotted line.

(In moments of escalating conflict)

“F*** you!”————–“I’m so angry and you cannot possibly understand how I feel!”
“Go ahead, I don’t care”—————-“Nothing matters right now; and whatever you say to me or do to me will just add to the troubles I am facing and feeling!”
“Whatever!”————————————-“We are so far apart on our views, it doesn’t matter, because you will never walk my walk.”
“You think I care?” —————-“What you don’t realize, is that I am protecting myself and defending all I have… “myself!”
“I wasn’t even talking! You didn’t get mad at her!” ——-“Life feels very unfair to me and no matter what I say when I say it or what I do… it is always my fault.”
“Oh My God!!”———— “You again are so far off from understanding or HEARING me… I don’t want a relationship with you!” I cannot trust you…”
“I’m over it…” I need you to give me some space and time, come back when you are ready to listen to learn… instead of listening to respond.

From my experiences and perspective, all of these responses originate from a perception of “lack” and “scarcity” stating, “I am not enough,” along with pain based thinking from shame. Feelings of shame create a self-protective and self-destructive cycle; and often times, teachers see this pattern more than any other adult! I believe this is why Functional Behavior Assessments are so helpful because it causes us, the educators, to look at the antecedents, the behaviors and consequences of an event or experience.
The most helpful strategy in this type of escalating conflict is really not a strategy, but a way of being in dialogue, checking in with “you” and with the “pressure filled moments in the relational atmosphere.” Our responses are closely observed by our students. If modeling is one of the best practices we can employ, then modeling kind and personally detached dialogue is key in understanding the underlying needs of so many of our students.
Questions are processed in the brain long after they have been asked; so the power of providing a question for deepened understanding provides an opportunity for our children and teens to answer in a completely different tone and direction.
These responses call for “time” in between a negative reaction and a needed conversation. Sometimes we almost feel frantic to get the consequence into place-NOW! We can provide a consequence, but we can also provide it when there is more felt neutrality between us.

1. I know you are so angry! I also feel I could never know what it feels like to be in your shoes. But if you feel like sharing what happened, I can promise you I will listen; and listen hard.

2. It must feel so frustrating walking into this classroom and always feeling that you are being picked on, or you are unable to do something successfully! What can I do? What do you need from me to feel even just a little better this morning?

3. Is there anything about you, your life, or experiences that you could share so I could know more about how we can work this out together?

4. I am learning everyday just as you are, and honestly, I become frustrated sometimes that I don’t have the time to get to know everyone better. What more can you share that would help me to understand?

5. Do you think we could create a plan for the two of us? How could we develop some type of communication or agreement where we meet each other half way? (This could be a behavior agreement, homework agreement, etc.)

6. Do you think or feel at some point you might want to share your challenges or frustrations with other students, and then share your plan of action with them? I see your strong mind and hot emotions and these form a perfect equation for being a leader! How could you serve others in our school as you learn more about yourself? Could we make a plan for this over the semester or next few weeks?

7. If it is difficult to put into words, could you explain your feelings or the situation in another way? Art? Music? Poetry? Is there anything from home that you would like to share that would help me to understand more of “who you are”?

So many people (children and youth) are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully if only you were interested in them.
-Sylvia Plath

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