The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Double Header Today: Dealing with Kids’ Misbehavior

on October 31, 2015

Both today’s post and my letter in the New York Times were prompted by the disaster in a South Carolina classroom where a teenager was brutally treated by a school police officer.  In my letter I speak generally about what can happen when an adolescent is publicly rebuked and given punishment.  Here I describe two incidents where kids reacted violently to teachers’ actions and what another teacher and I did to calm them down.

As the principal of a school in Wisconsin, I happened to be present when our special education teacher did a great job of calming down an angry student who was having a tantrum in the hallway. She got behind the boy, put her arms around him and held his arms across his body. Then she pulled him down into a sitting position and put her own legs over his. At that point the boy was fully restrained, but not injured or in pain. While he struggled and yelled, she whispered over and over in his ear, “It’s okay. I won’t let you hurt yourself,” Finally the boy calmed down and she released him, saying that they would talk to his teacher about what happened later when he was ready and no one else was around.

After witnessing that incident I vowed to copy the special ed teacher’s technique if I ever faced a child who was out of control. Fortunately, that never happened. The closest call I had was at my second school when an angry teen-ager was sent to my office because of his misbehavior.  He barged in red faced and shaking with anger. He declared that he was ready to start screaming, and I believed him. “All right,” I said. “Why don’t you go into my private bathroom over there, shut the door and scream all you want to.” He did as I suggested and came out a few minutes later calm and ready to talk. We discussed what had happened in the classroom, and he agreed to go back later and apologize to the teacher. I guess he did those things because I never heard any more about the incident from the teacher or the boy.

Yes, all of us get angry at one time or another, especially when we feel that we have been misjudged and exposed to public ridicule. But most adults–not all, unfortunately–have far more self control in such situations than kids and can predict that things will only get worse for them if they explode.  It is also fortunate that lots of teachers, school officials, and police officers understand kids well enough to calm things down before they get out of control. But as the situation in a South Carolina classroom illustrated this past week, not all are so wise.  Let’s hope that the outcome of this sad incident teaches all adults to take the high road instead of muddying children and ourselves in a violent confrontation.

2 responses to “Double Header Today: Dealing with Kids’ Misbehavior

  1. Doug Garnett says:

    Thanks, Joanne. I love your insight. My son who is in special Ed once got into a problem in the elementary school lunchroom. Made worse because he struggles verbally even though he’s quite sharp. Another kid did something and it was tense. A teacher was demanding he tell her what happened (a common response). The vice principal was called. She understood my boy really well. So she turned with thumbs up and asked him if everything was okay. He gave her a thumbs up, calmed down and the situation was defused. (Because he could communicate physically but not verbally in that situation).

    With kids like my son, so many typical authoritative responses by teachers or parents can make things worse. He, also, sometimes needs to yell. It’s amazing how 5 minutes on his own gets him calmed down.

    Too bad we expect kids to be robots and highly articulate verbal ones at that. And too bad that today’s obsession with bureaucratic solutions overrides the far better undetprstanding of skilled experts close to the situation.


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