What to say to a kid who is crying in your class...
- You don't have to give me details, but do you want to talk to me about what's upsetting you?
“Yes" - it's a problem with something in class. “No" - it's probably a problem outside of class. BE PATIENT, even if the answer is “no", if you wait for them to talk, they might fill the silence. As much as you want to offer solutions to make them feel better asap, just count to ten in your head and wait for them to talk.
- Do you need a break right now?
Sometimes this shouldn't be a question, it should be a command - go take a break right now. If the kid is self-aware enough to know that the problem is a roadblock and they desire to come back to class, let them come back when they're ready. If the kid is finding a way out of class and needs to learn how to bring themselves back to the community of the classroom, give them a time limit - especially if this isn't their first time crying in class.
- On their break, are they old enough for... a glass of water? A journal? A book? A window? A comfy chair? Will these things help them forgive themselves for crying? Will it help them process THROUGH the problem? The goal is to get back to class eventually, not make breaks a way to avoid the problem. If the break is making them feel worse, try a mindfulness exercise - counting breaths, listening to the room, listening to their heartbeat, sipping water.
- Can this kid be left alone? Do they want to be alone, and will be okay in a minute? Are there adults around them in the office to watch them? Do you have the CHANCE to sit with them for as long as it takes for them to feel better, or do you need to get back to the other kids in your classroom? They need time to process by themselves or they'll never learn to do it on their own.
- If the break brings them back to class and functioning, cool! Check in with them after class before they leave. “Hey, tomorrow will be better." “Did you need to talk to me again?" “Just letting you know I care about you." (If a break fixed everything today, it's probably a problem at home, or a crazy hormonal flux.) They might tell you they're sorry - they don't have to be sorry for feeling feelings!!
- If the break did NOT fix everything today, the problem might be something to do with class. Now we gotta talk. What are we going to do about the problem? What can YOU do to solve the problem? What can I do to help you solve the problem? (Come up with a code - “if that kid says something mean to you again, touch your ear, I'll come over." “When I see you closing off, I'll touch my chin to let you know to change your body posture." This stuff works with all ages.) Make a CONCRETE plan about the next time they feel like they're going to cry and remove themselves from the classroom.
Some cases are extreme. Do these things, then call home immediately once the kid can be walked to the nearest phone...
- If a kid is having a panic attack, get them out of the classroom and away from people, and help them breathe. Don't look at them. Say “Breathe with me." Guide them - in for a count of 4, hold for 5, out for 7.
- If a kid with high-functioning autism is repeating behavior (rocking, flinging hands, etc.) they need INSTRUCTIONS not questions. “Breathe with me." In for 4, hold for 5, out for 7. “Walk with me now." “Sit here." Give them a task. Don't touch them. Unless, of course...
- If a kid is turning to self-harming behavior they have to be told to stop and re-directed. (If it's a spiral of autistic repetitive behavior, they can't pull themselves out of it and you need to physically help them stay safe - without restraining them, or touching them too much.) Give them a different task. Breathe with them until they calm down. Call home immediately. Do not leave them alone until they are picked up. If you hear the words “I'm afraid I'll hurt myself" this kid might need to be hospitalized asap.
- If the kid can't hear you when you talk and their muscles are cramping up, this is probably a seizure. Clear the area. Don't let them hit their head, turn them on their side so they don't choke if they vomit. They'll get back to you shortly, and then they'll need a break because their head is going to hurt and they're going to feel sick and tense and exhausted. If it was just a little seizure, it's probably heat stroke and they need water and an ice pack asap.
- Don't medicate kids unless you get express permission from parents, from a phone call home or previous (written and signed) health forms.
Breathe with me.
You are safe here.
This is not your fault.
Come with me. Let's go for a walk.
I e-mail my students “Love Letters" every Friday. They're filled with resources to further educate themselves about the things we discovered in class, or youtube videos of scenes from movies we referenced, or quotes that seemed pertinent to classroom material. After this week, when two of my students had to drop out and one collapsed due to what was probably mini heatstroke... I sent them this the weekend before the day we start touring our show to local communities...
I don't know how much time we'll have on the road to practice sitting and breathing, but I found this excellent resource to continue your practice: http://mindfulnessforteens.com/
I know it seems rull silly. I guess I latched onto meditation when I was in high school because I came to it myself - nobody told me to start meditating. I found it in a book, I think. I've always been pretty bad at doing what I'm told. Now I'm telling you to sit and breathe? (Now some schools make meditation practice a part of gym class?? “Meditation weeks" before exams?? I would have hated that. HATED it.) I get it if you want to roll your eyes at the old hippie lady. Maybe meditation just doesn't work for you.
But one of my strongest memories of high school is when I used our mandatory “ten minute reading time" (an announcement came on that said “read for fun! not for school!" Yah okay, thanks grown-ups) to just sit and focus on my breath. Teenage years are tumultuous no matter who you are - my focus on school and things that made me happy GREATLY improved after I started giving myself that mid-day breathing break. I'd like the same for you, because I care about you lots. I appreciate it so much when I see you (yes you) giving stillness and breathing an honest try. Maybe that website will explain it better than I do. Check it out?
The concept of “self-care" sounds like a privilege. “Self-care" has this stigma of meaning you're too weak to handle life, or just plain indulgent/selfish.
Let me tell you - you NEED to take care of yourself, especially while you're spending time taking care of other people. (And you are all taking such good care of each other. It's been a long 5 weeks.) You gotta build a sustainable self-care system, something you can repeat, something you can go to any time. (Hey - sitting and breathing is free! ding ding ding! just a suggestion. no pressure.)
Try these things...
- do you ever just sit? Try sitting and noticing your feelings without judgement. (Even if your feelings are judge-y! Just notice you're being judgmental of yourself... without judging the judgeyness. Am I making sense?) Try turning off the t.v, computer, cell phone, whatever, for like 5 minutes to just sit and think about how you're feeling. (We quoted Louis CK today, who's got a great bit on Conan about why he hates cell phones.)
- do you journal? Try it! Even if you fill a page with "this is stupid", just keep writing. Don't stop - write “swim" and keep going without putting your pencil down. See what comes out.
- do you track your mood? apps like this one https://www.mood247.com/ help you jot down some thoughts and track them over time so you can easily reflect or share
- do you hate journaling? Have you tried talking into a recorder instead? (It's embarrassing to admit, but I have often been my own best friend. I lived alone for like 2 years, guys.)
- do you tell people "nah"? The best phrase I ever learned was to say “sorry, I have a thing that day." That “thing" was sitting and drinking tea and staring out a window. It took me till college to get good at it. Do you carve out time for yourself? (Do you always feel like you're doing something because someone else wants/needs you there?) Try “Nah, sorry, I have a thing."
- do you eat food that puts protein in your muscles and glucose in your brain? do you hydrate? do you sleep? Seriously, nobody masters all 3 of these things except maybe like zen monks on a mountain or pro athletes. I, myself, am about to go eat a big bowl of ice cream. But 9 times out of 10 I feel better when I put warm food or a whole bottle of water in my tummy.
- do you need to reach out? the world is full of professionals and other young people you can safely text, call, e-mail, etc.
Guess what - what the students bring into class with them is not your fault. (Even if they want to blame you for it.) All you can do is give them a safe space, follow up with them, let them know you care, call home if they need it, hand them some further resources, and do some mandatory reporting if that's in your contract. Outside of that, WHEN YOU'RE AT HOME, THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO. (Except lesson plan.)
Of course as soon as I got home on Friday I started to worry about if I'm doing my job correctly or not, so I asked the social media hive mind for resources. Crisis hotlines, good or unhelpful? Breathing techniques you like? Psychiatric hospitals in town? Etc. I know a lot of excellent teachers. A lot of my friends have come out of the woodwork to help me help these students, especially the ones that have gone through their own trauma. I love my friends, but I had to look at my time on the computer and really examine whether or not it was helping me PROCESS feelings (like this blog post!) or just making me feel worse.
My kids are always in my head. I find myself having imaginary conversations with them in my subconscious while I do basically everything. “See, students? Even doing the dishes can be a mindful exercise." “Look at this! Remember that thing you said the other day? It relates to this show I'm watching." “THIS is how you sweep a floor." Seriously. Sitting still results in worrying about how they're doing, where they're at, what I could have said to them, teachable moments I let pass. Even trying to do my own yoga/meditation practice (yes, I'm that skinny white girl) I find myself practicing as if I have an audience of kids. I am always preparing for teaching. ME TIME always turns into THEM TIME, and that's not okay for my health.
So yesterday I got OFF the computer, took a shower, and spent like an hour and a half in the bathroom, the most private and self-indulgent of rooms. I noticed I kept thinking about my students so I put on some conscious 80s/90s rap (yes, I'm that white girl) which must be listened to louder and more carefully than your own thoughts. I cleaned the bathroom, and washed my face, and combed my hair, and put on makeup. Taking. My. Time. With. It. All. (Oh, if you don't know me, note that I rarely-if ever-spend any time in front of a mirror. Brush, pony tail while it's wet, go. What's makeup?) Then I went out with a friend and had a margarita before a really excellent play.
I practice some music at home, I watch a bollywood movie (YES, I'm THAT- oh you know what), I eat some ice cream, I ice the pain in my neck, and I sleep in.
Now it's time to go grocery shopping so I'm taking in nutrients (and not leftover takeout) over the next week. Cleaning my apartment so I can come home to some organization. Going out with a friend so I can get away for a little bit. Judo-ing the thoughts and worries about my kids out of my brain so i can be better prepared to help them on Monday.
Oh ghod, Monday...