Using Listening Tools at Home and at School

Photo (C) Federico Harald Ganss 2006

I am a preschool teacher.  There is a 3-year-old boy in my school (not in my class, but one that I see and have followed his “progress”). His teachers have shared with me that he  has big feelings about small issues.  For instance, if he cannot sit in a particular chair, or a teacher attempts to wipe his nose, he goes into a full-on tantrum—kicking, attempts at pinching, yelling accusing words, etc.

I was fortunate (and I really mean this), to be the recipient of one of these tantrums. (I relieved an aide, who was unable to see it out to the end), and was with him for at least 50 minutes.  During this time, he made attempts to kick, pinch (which he succeeded in a couple of times—ouch!), yell over & over again that I was “mean” and also repeatedly said, “it hurts, it hurts”  (I was not doing anything that would hurt him—mainly holding him to protect myself!).

In observing him, I noticed that he had a faraway look in his eyes as he was tantruming and that there were no tears.  There were a few short reprieves in which, for one, he was checking out a hangnail on this finger.  I was looking at it with him asking if I should remove it and he allowed me to.  And, as though he noticed he was calm, he returned to tantruming again with that faraway look.  I stayed very calm (though had to use much strength to keep him from hurting me–holding his hands , legs over his legs, etc. ) And I periodically repeated that he was safe and that no one would ever hurt him again.

When it was evident that he was calming down, I asked if he would now like to go outside and ride a trike, to which he agreed.  Off he went on his bike, smiling!  Later that day, when, once again, he did not get the chair he wanted, he STARTED to reach out and hit, but with pause, he stopped, and at the suggestion of another teacher to sit in another chair, he complied!  I might mention here, that he has had several tantrums prior to this one on other days.

The school also had a meeting with the boy's parents. I emphasized how important it was for this boy to be able to off-load these deep-seated feelings and that hopefully his parents would allow this at home as well.  During the meeting, the parents expressed they were at a loss and often used closed-door time-outs for their son when he “misbehaved”.  Fortunately, the teachers here are all on board with the Hand in Hand tools and were able to communicate that time-outs would only further make the boy feel disconnected. They gently reminded the parents of the importance of listening and allowing the child to tantrum.  The parents were very appreciative for the help and suggestions.

Though the meeting with the parents was just recently, already there is a big difference at school with this boy's behavior. He was able to self-regulate a few times already, and not reach out and hit another child, though that is what he started to do.  The tantrums, at this point, have stopped.  On the home front, his father has mentioned that he is allowing tantrums and giving his son A LOT of listening time!  To hear this gave me chills.  I know this will be an ongoing process until this sweet boy has unloaded all that he as been carrying around for probably a long time, but it is so exciting to see the results already as the Hand in Hand tools are being utilized both at home and at school!

– Sushila Hart, preschool teacher and Hand in Hand Instructor, California

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