Reframing behaviour failures: How candles can see tantrums in a positive light

All too often, when a student misbehaves in a classroom, the teacher of that student blames themselves and presumes some sort of personal failure.

Failure to sufficiently engage the child in the learning activity or task, failure to see the meltdown coming and “nip it in the bud”, failure to provide the child with appropriate self-soothing skills that enable them to remain calm and focused, and/or failure to set limits and boundaries that inspire an intrinsic motivation in students to follow the class code of conduct.

But what if teachers reframed the way they looked at these outbursts and non-compliance?

What if they saw them instead as an indication that the child is feeling safe enough to express their emotions? That the child is engaged in the process of learning how to cope with the pressures and stressors of academia, of friendships, and of life?

What if teachers celebrated meltdowns as opportunities for kids to fall down, in an environment where you, the caring adult support, can help them to pick themselves back up? As displays of skills and attitudes a child has not yet mastered; where a conscientious and reflective caregiver like you can intervene and change that child’s life forever.

What if institutions valued messy but meaningful, noisy classrooms rather than epitomising calm, orderly spaces which may in fact betray the fact that learners are never being pushed out of their comfort zones?

What if teachers recognised behaviour as a form of communication and relished in the “special message” these children are giving to you, in, all too often, the only way they currently know how? (After all, if a child doesn’t tell you what the problem or trigger is, it is very difficult to avoid future episodes of the exact same behaviour).

What if teachers saw these tantrums as evidence that the student is trying to adjust, in some cases from an unstable, traumatic and dangerous home life, to fit into the constructs of the classroom environment which offer both belonging and security for every individual?

What if schools thought of mischief and transgressions merely as a child trying to exercise control in an out-of-control world?

Particularly in today’s society, where many parents want to wrap their children in cotton wool and protect them from any kind of adversity, allowing them to make mistakes may be the only chance they get to experience the feelings of disappointment and frustration that challenge and learning can produce.

Do we want these children to stumble in a context where there are scaffolds to help them get back on their feet, or to be perfect little sheep who never push the boundaries, but then go out into the real world and fall apart at the first sign of pain and hardship? Will you be able to help them then?

Are we aiming to shape future leaders who don’t know what it’s like to falter, and who fall to pieces the first time something doesn’t go their way?

Or to mould young people into resilient and strong adults who know that tomorrow is another day and that everything will be ok, because they have endured tough emotions and tough situations before.

So, in future, when we witness misbehaviour, do we respond with anger and punishment, or with compassion and an understanding that the behaviour may be masking feelings of shame, overwhelm and a child’s sense of being bad and worthless?

What if candles, in lighting the way for others, reframed “naughtiness”, instead of as failure, as steps towards mutual and team success?


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