Today, I entered a classroom to coach. I’ve been coaching and teaching skills in this Head Start classroom of four-year-olds for over a year! It’s typical to coach children through disappointment, but today was different. It took my breath away.
It’s Monday. It’s raining!
I met up with the classroom in the cafeteria as they finished breakfast and right away CC is crying. Big tears roll down her beautiful round cheeks. Her disappointment is real. She was the line leader last week, but not this week. That’s rough!
I do my thing of coaching her in feeling, identifying and managing her disappointment.
“You seem disappointed. You were hoping you were going to be the line leader this week.”
“Breathe with me. You’re safe.”
“You can handle it. I am with you.”
CC had calmed a bit and was maintaining eye contact well. It was time to offer a choice that would help her brain to upshift even more. “You have a choice. You can get behind the line leader or you can choose another place. What’s best for you?”
It’s the usual coaching stuff. I call attention to the children that their friend CC is having a hard time because she isn’t the line leader this week. I coach the children to put their hands on their heart, take a deep breath and silently wish her well. They are the Owl Class. They are a School Family.
CC continues to cry a little as the class walks down two long hallways to their classroom. It is hard for everyone. I am breathing, wishing her well and thinking about solutions.
CC fell apart over lots of things this morning—missing Mommy, her right leg hurts, she can’t play in the center that she wants. Everything is a really big deal. Big tears! It’s loud and long.
Then Kenna announces to CC and Esther that they are going to fix my hair and makeup. I comply. There are great moments of connections and playfulness with all three girls. CC has turned the corner… or so I thought.
It’s time to line up to go back to the cafeteria for lunch and it’s happening again. CC thinks she is the line leader. There is no amount of empathy and choices that will help her move through this quickly. Sitting with Disappointment, Sad’s first cousin, is hard and can take time. CC needs a lot of connection, and I am noting this to provide feedback to the teacher.
And then it happens!
Esther asks me, “Why is CC crying so much? She cries all the time.”
I say, “CC cries a lot because sometimes it’s hard to handle big feelings.”
Esther: “I can make her happy.”
Me: “So, you can help CC feel happy again?”
Me: “How can you do that?”
E: “I can wish her well and breathe with her.”
Walking down two long hallways to the cafeteria, Esther puts her arm around CC’s waist, all the while telling her, “Breathe. You can handle this.” Esther was taking in deep breaths and exhaling with the most loving face one can imagine. It didn’t take long for CC to stop crying. She was soon breathing and smiling.
It took a child, not an adult, to make the difference. It didn’t happen by accident. The whole class has been coached in how to do this.
Disappointment is a part of everyday life. I wasn’t taught how to handle disappointment in a healthy way. Were you? I was taught to stuff it, avoid it and ignore it! This works for a while, but believe me, it will come knocking on your door in the long run. I have stories; they aren’t pretty.
Most adults approach this situation with information. “You’ll be the line leader again. I promise. Let’s count how many days.” Or “You were the line leader last week and now it is Malik’s turn.” The information goes on and on. The intention is meant to be helpful, but these actions miss the mark and do not help children manage their feelings.
What’s missing from many adults’ encounters with children who feel disappointed or sad? Empathy is missing! Empathy is the Skill derived from the Power of Love in Conscious Discipline. Helping children accept the moment integrates the brain for personal responsibility and self-control. This is a really big deal. I have witnessed this over and over again as I coach in classes across South Carolina and Vero Beach, FL. Most adults will respond with, “You’re okay,” or some kind of information. We’ve got to do it differently.
So, let’s make a commitment to our children to meet them where they are, to coach them to welcome their feelings and to find healthy solutions.
It might sound like this:
“Your eyes are like this.” Pause.
“Your mouth is like this.” Pause.
Make eye contact, breathe, open your heart and hold a judgment-free, loving place for the child. It’s called “wishing well.”
“You seem sad. You were hoping Mommy could stay all day and play with you. You have a choice. You can blow Mommy kisses goodbye or you can wave your hand to say goodbye.”
The day is over. I’m still thinking about Esther. I’ve memorized her face. I have engraved this memory on my heart forever. I send her well wishes and the great hope that this tool is packed forever in her toolbox of life. Maybe one day I will meet her again as a teacher, a professor in a university or the President of the United States.