Updated: Oct 22, 2021
Yesterday, I was reminded of the importance of the relationships we build with our students and how sometimes they might need repairing without the adult realising. I work with a young student who has emotional regulation challenges and sometimes hurts himself to communicate his emotions or will run and hide. Over the last six weeks, we've developed a good relationship and he was wearing a specially designed necklace that I gave him and this stopped him hurting himself (along with some reasoning conversations). We are still working on the running and hiding but usually, I can help him regulate and go to one of his 'safe' spaces. However, last week he had a really challenging morning and pushed boundaries to see how far they would stretch. Evidence shows that if a boundary is set, you must follow through even if it feels hard. After providing some guided choices which were unsuccessful, I gave him a choice with a consequence and voiced this several times. Unfortunately, the behaviours escalated and the consequence needed to be put in place. As soon as I shared this with him, he decided he would go back to class and participate. It would have been easy to not follow through as he was finally doing what was wanted, but as we know, next time, he would have pushed further. The consequence was followed through and he was upset, my heart was upset because he was upset but I had to be firm. I didn't see him for a few days due to the weekend. When I went to work in his classroom this week, he was barely responding to me and he wasn't wearing his necklace. Now those of you who are more socially aware, might have realised that our relationship was damaged. It took me a day to come to the same conclusion and this was after his homeroom teacher had told me that he did not want to use his necklace or his safe spaces anymore. I knew I needed to see him to repair our relationship but all the students were going home for the afternoon as it was parent/teacher conferences. This brings me to yesterday. He had a tough morning and was communicating his emotions through hitting himself. During recess, he tried to leave the school campus. I was called and so were his parents. At first, he was still trying to run when I approached him. I'll be honest, I was thinking 'please don't make me run after you!' If you know me, you know I am not a fan of running. I ran… Talking to him in a calm, if not breathy voice, I managed to de-escalate the situation and get him to return to a safe space. We talked. I reminded him why he was using the necklace and why he needed to use a safe space. He put the necklace back on. We practiced how to ask to use a safe space and he also practiced with my colleague. I explained that his parents were coming because he used an unsafe behaviour and I reasoned it out with him. He accepted this consequence. I then asked him outright if he had been mad at me and if that was why he wasn't using the strategies anymore and he said yes. We talked again. His parents arrived and as he left, we fist bumped and all was right with the world. I realised that had I figured out our relationship was damaged sooner, yesterday might not have happened. I held on to the guilt for awhile, talked to a friend and let it go as it doesn't help anyone. I have learned that after a tense or difficulty situation with a student, I do need to check in quicker to repair the damage or trust. It can't be delayed too long. I am sure those of you who are neurotypical also need from time to time, to check in with your students or children after a situation as the child's perspective may be very different to your own. May be you don't see a reason for there to be damage but the child does, they feel it and they will let you know through their future behaviours.