Not Ever


It’s taken me a week to calm down after reading a post on an internet piano teaching group. It was a simple enough question;  a teacher asked for suggestions on how to handle a child who kept fiddling with the piano keys during a lesson: a common problem. But the tone of the suggested intervention from another teacher was chilling to me.

“Explain that it is RESPECTFUL for students to place their hands in their lap and listen to the teacher, and that it is DISRESPECTFUL for students to fiddle on the keys. Do NOT put up with this kind of behaviour.”

With all the information we know about different kinds of learners, ways in which each of our brains and bodies differ from each other, do we really need to be talking about the respectfulness of sitting with one’s hands in one’s lap? With all the information available about sensory processing issues, should we be calling children names instead of trying to understand what their body language is telling us?

 The part of the post that distressed me the most were these few lines:

“…you look at the little rotter and say “Let me know when you are finished being disrespectful so that I can continue the lesson. I will not teach you will if you are fiddling while I am talking.” Then TURN YOUR BACK TO HIM, pull out your nail file and file your nails. If he doesn’t shape up, then walk to his mother and say “As soon as Junior chooses to be respectful and NOT fiddle on the keys, I will continue the lesson.” Then walk back to your chair and wait.”

Back to my life for a moment. I currently have a student who simply cannot maintain eye contact. With me. With anyone. It is physically and psychologically painful for her to look at anything or anyone for more than a few seconds. Her mother is trying to sort it out and figure out what kind of processing problem is going on. Would it make sense for me to tell the child that looking away when talking to me is DISRESPECTFUL? Because I don’t think it is. She isn’t choosing to be disrespectful. She just has something else going on that has nothing to do with me.

“It’s hard to imagine how a child could be actively “yanking your chain” or know “just the right buttons to push” when he’s not thinking rationally in the midst of frustration. It’s harder still to imagine why a child would intentionally behave in a way that makes other people respond in a manner that makes him miserable.”  – Ross W. Greene. author of The Explosive Child.

That’s my problem with this kind of thinking. Kids do well when they can, not when they want to. I concentrate my efforts on making things possible. I look at everything the child does as communication. When I sent the post to a friend of mine who has a child with autism, she wrote back, “If I were that kid I would just keep on fiddling to avoid interacting with that teacher.” 

Sometimes I’ll hear a teacher talking about a student disrespectfully and wonder, “Why in the world do you teach children?”  “Do you even like children? Do you know how hard they are trying to please you? Do you know how mortified they would be to hear your words?”

And then I realize, of course, that the child has already heard their words. In every sigh, in every less-than-imaginative assignment, in every frustrated glare and judgmental frown. They’ve gotten the message loud and clear. 

Where is the kindness in that? Where is the love or understanding? I know kids are frustrating. I’m the mother of two teenagers right now. But if for one minute I thought that I could be less than kind to a student, I would suggest that student should immediately move on to another teacher.

I’m not going to be pulling out my nail file. Finding a quiet fidget toy for them to play with? Yes. Having them jump up and down the stairs 20 times before the lesson starts? Yes. Because in my world the kids are all doing the best they can. They’re not Little Rotters. Not even behind their backs. Not even when I’m talking to another teacher.

Not ever.

For more information about sensory processing, please see this article.  

I have found The Explosive Child to be the best general parenting book I’ve ever read. I’ve bought many copies over the years, and given each one away to a parent who needed to read it.