Cry-ee Boys De-escalation
Two brothers, one in kindergarten, the other in 2nd grade can’t keep their hands from hitting one another during an after-school program I facilitate. K-5 students at various elementary schools use model plans to build Lego models. The younger brother is the cryer in this particular school. Big alligator tears, but all that I have to do to get him to stop crying is look at him. Seriously, I throw him a little shadey look of, “Now, you know you’re gonna stop crying right now, Matthew.” And, he does, just like that, like the tears actually appear to be moving in reverse back up his face. Just one look.
Next cryer, Jamie, had been in another school’s program the session before and Billy was new, both kindergarteners and friends. Jamie really wanted to work with Billy, and Billy with Jamie. But Billy had to go through the orientation to learn the names of the model pieces, and learn how to read and follow the model plans. Jamie could already do those things. So for the first class of this new session, I told them that Billy would have to join the rest of the new kids and Jamie needed to find a different partner for this day. Jamie started to cry. “Jamie.” I merely said his name and then he sniffed once, “Yes?” “You can work alone or with a partner other than Billy this week, and next week you can work together with Billy.” “Do you promise,” Jamie asked. I promised. And that was that; no more tears.
Third cryer for this post is a boy named Cameron. This was a new school for me, and last week, we were one student short. It was Cameron. But, here he was this week, working diligently with his classmates. He was small for his age, and had a thin tinny high-pitched voice. He began every address with, “Ex-scuse me…” About twenty minutes into the building time, the room was quiet, kids were working, building their models from model plans, and talking in low voices. I was helping 2 students with a problem they were having with their model when from behind me came a high-pitched wail. Weaaaahhhhhh. I stood and turned and saw the little kindergartener student crying at his desk, his eyes wide and his hands held out in front of him. I walked over and squatted down in front of him so that my eyes were level with his. “Cameron,” I asked, “what’s the matter, what happened?” Between the tears he whinnied, “Iiiii’m tired.” The water fell. He was breathing heavy. I asked him to count to 10 with me, “Let’s use our fingers too.” We both put our hands up in the air. ONE, our thumbs pointed up. TWO, our forefingers to the sky. Middle finger, THREE, ring finger, FOUR, pinky FIVE. Next hand, thumb, SIX. Pointer, SEVEN. Middle, EIGHT, left ring, NINE, left pinky TEN. Cameron’s lip still quivered and his eyes were still tearing. He was bunching his face too, like he was stuck and trying to wriggle out. “Let’s do it again,” I said. ONE, right thumbs up. TWO, pointer fingers to the sky, THREE and so on. TEN, still he cried. “Let’s countdown from 10.” We started with all our fingers up and folded them down as we counted down. Breathe. And go, TEN, NINE, EIGHT, SEVEN SIX… and still he cried. REALLY? “OK, how fast can we count down from ten, what do you think, Cameron? How fast can you go from ten to one,” I smiled my biggest. READY, SET, GO! Smile. Cameron was faster than me as he counted down. “Was that fast,” I asked. Still crying. “One more time, down from 10, let’s go,” big smile on my face. 10, 9, 8, 7, 654321. “Excellent, really fast,” I said. And Cameron had stopped crying. He was actually smiling, agreeing that we had counted fast. I helped him with his model for another minute but he didn’t really need any help. He was doing well; he knew how to do the project. We fixed the place where he had gotten stuck and I told him that I was going over to help Nicole and I’d be back to check on him soon. After checking out Nicole’s model, I looked back over to where Cameron was sitting. He was busy building his model, smiling and chattering away with the 2nd Grader sitting across the desk from him, as if there had been no meltdown.
Three Cry-ee boys. First one, all I had to do was look at him. The second one, just say his name. But, the third one, Cameron, he just needed a little time and some attention. Then his high emotional outburst was gone almost as soon as it began. I’ve mentioned de-escalation on this blog before. Counting up and down from 10 is one way. Another way could be “Smell the roses, blow out the candles,” a technique I just learned from my 90-year old grandfather. You see, I told this story to my Grandpop, and he mentioned a time in his life when anxiety would threaten to overwhelm him. He had a physical therapist that introduced this technique, and it works for him; he still uses it. “Smell the roses,” means: take a long, deep breath, inhaling through the nose. Then, “Blow out the candles;” exhale sharply through the mouth, pushing the air quickly. Smell the roses, blow out the candles. Repeat. Thanks Grandpop. Whatever technique you use to quell your anxiety, use it wisely and often. For, a calm mind is a productive, happy one, and, can definitely make for more tolerable humans. Be more tolerably human.