“Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion.” ~Buddha
When babies cry everyone rushes to find what’s wrong and alleviate their stress. It’s a bit of an instinct to do this in our culture.
We understand that the only way that a baby can communicate a need to us, whether it’s hunger, a necessary diaper change, fatigue, or discomfort, is to cry out. No one wants to hear a baby cry, so we respond quickly.
Unfortunately, as a child begins to grow and learns the language, we assume that they know how to communicate their needs effectively, yet do they?
As an elementary teacher I have come to know that even though children have more vocabulary words when they enter school, they still do not know how to communicate their needs. Often, children cry out to get their needs met, but all we see is defiance instead of their plea for help.
Bella is an adorable first grader who entered my classroom in September. I remember getting her kindergarten card, which noted that she could be a handful at times. I put the card in my filing cabinet at the start of the year because I like to get to know my kids from my own perspective without previous judgments.
When I met Bella and her mom at our welcome back picnic, I noticed that Bella appeared to be running the show. Her mom and I talked for a bit, and she shared that Bella’s dad died when she was only eight months old, and it was just the two of them still to this day. It was easy to see that mom was compensating for the loss.
Within the first month of school, I could certainly see why Bella had earned this reputation of being a handful. She could be a bit silly and somewhat defiant at times, but she knew the rules of our classroom and understood what kind of behavior was expected, so she did well with me.
Right after the December break, things started to change.
Bella was getting herself in trouble in art, music, and gym. She was not listening to directions and defying the teachers when they asked her not to do something. She was also talking back to adults in the building and getting herself into trouble at her before and after school program.
Her mom and I talked on the phone to create a plan of action. I suggested a behavior plan to help her, but asked mom to promise to follow through at home for this to be effective. The plan worked for only a few days because Bella just didn’t have a strong interest in following the rules.
On a Friday afternoon (likely around a full moon), Bella’s plea for help became apparent. She got in trouble from the moment she entered the school. She needed a great deal of redirection from me and found herself in trouble everywhere she went that day.
At lunchtime I got a phone call from the cafeteria asking if she was with me, because she took it upon herself to leave the cafeteria without permission. This put several staff members in a state of panic.
I walked down the hall and quickly found her.
We talked about her choices and why they were not safe. She apologized sweetly and assured me it wouldn’t happen again. The children returned to the room, and she asked to go to the bathroom. Five minutes later, she was brought to me by another teacher who caught her fooling around in the bathroom.
I was disappointed and caught up in the moment. I called her mom and asked her to meet me for an impromptu conference with Bella right after school.
My intent was to make an impact on her by having an immediate meeting with mom because she appeared to have no remorse. She was talking the talk by saying how sorry she was, but not choosing to walk the walk and something needed to be done.
A few hours later mom arrived at the school with tears in her eyes. She expressed her disappointment and shared concern that she was failing as a mother. She told me that she was terrified that Bella did not have a bond with her because she suffered from post partum after giving birth and felt that this was all her fault.
Bella was often in charge because mom was afraid to give her consequences, for fear that she would hate her. I reassured her that we would work through this together and come up with a plan.
When we entered the room, Bella ran up to her mom with a huge smile and jumped into her arms. This of course made her mother cry even more. She was most upset that her daughter didn’t have any remorse for her actions.
While we were having the meeting, Bella sat there stone faced with a bit of a smirk and she answered our questions like a trained professional. Her mom asked her why we were having the meeting and she stoically replied, “We are having this meeting because I’m not making good choices. I’m sorry Mommy.”
I watched her and quickly noticed that she was not present. I looked into her eyes and said, “Bella, thank you for telling us what you know we want to hear, but what I’d really like to know is how you feel.”
I referred to my children’s book, The Light Inside of Me, because we use this frequently in our classroom to describe how we are feeling. I asked her if she felt that the light inside was bright or dim. She, of course, said it was dim.
I looked at her with loving eyes and said, “Bella, would you please put your hands on your heart and close your eyes, because I’d like to talk about your feelings.” She complied without hesitation. I then asked her to use an ‘I Statement’ to tell us why her light was dim.
She took a few minutes with her eyes closed, then opened them and looked directly at me. Her whole demeanor was different. She was softer, gentler, and certainly in the present moment.
She began to talk and tenderly said, “Well Mrs. Savini, my light is dim because I feel sad. I feel sad because I wish my life was different. I wish that one of my friends could live with me and my mom because I get lonely. I feel lonely Mrs. Savini, and that makes me really sad.”
I gave her a big hug, looked at her mom, and again told her that we would work this out together. Bella’s smile lit up the room because her inner light was beaming.
Our intent that day was to teach Bella a lesson. However, the true lesson was for the adults.
We learned that compassion was far more powerful than judgment. By opening our hearts to her plea for help, we gave her the opportunity to express what was really bothering her and heal the wounds developing on her heart.
We all have a child deep within that sometimes needs compassion and love.
I’m sure you can think of a person right now who is crying for help by acting out in some way. Perhaps the next time you encounter this person you could find it within your heart to see the child within and show compassion instead of judgment.
If they were an infant or even a crying child you would respond to their plea for help differently. See the child within yourself and others because a simple act of compassion can shift judgment to understanding and love. Choose love.
Photo by ellyn.