There are some children that teachers just don’t feel the same way about as they do others in their classrooms. In fact, there are some children that teachers may actively dislike. This is not uncommon. But what can a teacher do when this is the case? How can she come to terms with this situation?
Searching for Reasons
A teacher can ask herself some important questions that might help her gain insight into why she feels the way she does. She might consider:
• Do the child’s mannerisms resemble someone she feels uncomfortable with, had a falling out with, or someone who hurt her in some way?
• Does the child’s physical appearance or behavior rub her the wrong way?
Teachers can change the way a child behaves by changing how he thinks about what he does. But they must change the way they think when it comes to more subtle, even subconscious, attributes such as mannerisms and looks.
How can a teacher change the way she thinks about those mannerisms, looks, or other attributes that cannot be changed? Awareness is the first step. She can ask herself the following questions:
• Is there anyone I know, or have known in the past, whose mannerisms might resemble those of this child?
• Am I uncomfortable with that person for any reason (a falling out, he hurt me)?
• Does this child remind me of things I don’t like about myself?
Identification of the underlying causes of her feelings can give her new insight into her interactions with this child. Now the teacher can take the second step by coming to terms with those feelings.
• Focus on positive qualities and how this child is unique.
• Make a concerted effort to pay as much attention to this child as to others.
• Do and say things to make the child feel competent and good about himself.
In time, the teacher may come to feel positively toward the child, because her new insights may help her see that child in a brand new light.
Sometimes the problem lies with a child’s behavior. A disruptive child may be hard to like because he makes it difficult to teach. So, too, are those who bully, tease, or hurt others emotionally. When teachers report children’s behavior to their parents, send them to time out, or otherwise punish them, the children feel more angry, more frustrated, and more likely to express those feelings in ways that will further anger and frustrate their teachers and peers. Telling children what and what not to do, even when accompanied by explanations (“You won’t have any friends if you act that way.”), often falls on deaf ears. By now, the teacher is completely exasperated, increasing the psychological distance between her and the child.
A teacher must appreciate that, for whatever reason, these children’s own needs are not being met. Whether they are bullied at home or otherwise feel insecure, many of these children believe that disruptive or hurtful behaviors will gain them power, earning them respect and ultimately the friendship of those who avoid them. Children whose own needs are not met may, as their way of coping, reach a point where they do not care about themselves, or what happens to them. And children who don’t care about themselves cannot care about others.
What You Can Do
What can a teacher do to help these children care about themselves and develop empathy, a trait that will help them care about others?
First, children should be empowered, not overpowered. Instead of our telling them what and what not to do, and why, children can learn to tell us what they should and should not do, and why—and they can learn to think this way as early as age 4. Instead of focusing directly on the behavior, it’s helpful to involve the child in the conversation to help him think about what he is doing with questions such as:
• What might happen if you scream at (or kick) a classmate?
• How would you feel if that happened?
• How might I (or she/he) feel?
• What can you do so that won’t happen?
These kinds of questions foster empathy. Children often respond with, “I might make you mad,” or “I might hurt him.” Punishment and threats may inhibit a behavior at a given moment, but that comes from the outside. Children who think about their own and others’ feelings won’t want to hurt themselves or others. That comes from the inside.
If we want children to care about others, we must first show them that we care about them. That might be difficult to do with a child we don’t like. But once these children can come to care about themselves, they can come to appreciate that others, including their teachers, have feelings, too. And in turn, teachers can indeed begin to feel different about them. ECT