One of my students, David, a bright seven-year-old boy, sometimes got into a space where all noises felt too loud and even the slightest sound was too stimulating for him. One second all was well; the next second, he was having an emotional meltdown. He had an aide working with him, so every time he had an emotional meltdown, the aide had been at his side to support him. I had had very little opportunity to build a relationship with David. Not surprisingly, it had been hard for me to get him to do the work I had asked my group of students to do. David usually wanted to do his own thing.
On one occasion when David had a meltdown, he started physically thrashing at his aide. All logical thinking had flown out the window. Emotions were all that was left. It was clear that neither he nor anyone else in the room was going to learn anything. The aide tried to protect himself with his arms but not very successfully. Clearly David needed more help. I moved in close, put my arms around David, and restrained him. He started trying to hit and kick me and tried to wriggle free. With very few words, “I can’t let you hurt him. I can’t let you hurt me. I’m sorry it’s so hard,” I reassured him and continued restraining him. He kept saying, “I have to hurt him,” but I didn’t let him go free. I simply kept holding him until it became clear to me that he was not going to hurt anyone. Emotional and physical safety, both for him and for others, was critical.
After a while, he stopped the hitting and kicking and simply lay down on the ground, still visibly upset. I immediately let go of him and stayed by his side, listening to his feelings, while a parent aide attended to the needs of the other kids. I had set a limit on his behavior, but listened to his feelings. After a little while, he started to feel better.
It was hard to know what triggered it all that day. And it was not the only time he has had such experiences. But what I do know is that my relationship with David began to grow in a positive way after that incident. He knew that he could be safe with me. After that day he did so much better at engaging in the learning activities I had planned for the kids. He still continued to have his meltdowns every now and then, but our relationship had come a long way and it was so nice to see his eyes sparkle whenever he talked to me about something he was interested in!
—Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor Usha Sangam
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You can learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.