Handle with Care

By Bernadette Nicholas

At the beginning of our morning, a group of children were playing a game with the dinosaurs outside. Each child held a dinosaur in their hand as they ran away from one child who was holding a pterosaur. They ran back and forth along the side yard and ended in boxes as a sort of base, where they were safe from the pterosaur.

My co-teacher, Dawn, noticed that the box Josie jumped into had the words “Fragile, Handle with Care” on the side. We contemplated that statement in the context of the young child whom the box held.

The second week of school was a challenging one for Josie. She started the week wanting nothing more than to connect to her close friend, Charlotte. Connection is an important part of our day at school, and we provide a lot of time for children to connect one-on-one. There are also times in the day that we set aside for us to come together as a group. During the second week, group moments proved to be difficult for Josie, who wanted to continue connecting solely with Charlotte. Any interruption in her attempts to engage with Charlotte was met with strong protest. In moments like those, it’s easy for me to begin to worry about one child’s behavior disrupting the rest of the group. 

But the words “Fragile, Handle with Care” are an important reminder to me as an educator, especially during times of transition such as the beginning of a new school year. While some children can adjust quickly to big changes, many others need time to process these significant transitions. It is often easy to remember to offer care and empathy to the child who is crying or who is feeling especially sensitive or sad as they process change. But the ones who may seem disruptive, whose loud protest make it difficult to hear anything else, could very well be struggling with change too and need just as much care and empathy as any other child. Though the behaviors are different, the message being communicated is the same: “I need your help.” This moment offered me a chance to reframe my thinking around the idea of behavior as disruptive. When someone in our learning community needs help, business as usual should be disrupted. If the well-being of our community depends on the well-being of each member of our community, we need to know when members of our community are struggling. And as the adults, we are the ones primarily responsible for ensuring that each child receives the support they need. But I wonder, too, how the children can be empowered to help each other. What type of support is most helpful when it comes from peers rather than adults? And how can I, as the adult, facilitate the giving and receiving of this peer-to-peer support?

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