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Happy Fall, Y'all! The seasons are changing, the weather feels oh so amazing, and my family and I are settling down in our new state of Texas!

Moving from Southern California, quitting my job at my incredible school district, leaving our friends and family, and starting a brand new life out here has been one hell of a ride. And to be honest, moving was the easy part.

People always say that kids are resilient. "Your son will be fine," they said. "He'll be great," they said. And he was. It was ME that was having the toughest time the morning that he started school. I was a WRECK!

A few weeks into the first month of school and things seemed to be going swimmingly. My kid had made friends, drop off was going well, and he was happy when I picked him up each day. I mean, the control freak inside me was thinking, "Man, this couldn't be going any better if I had planned it!"

One month down, and the rest of the school year to go...Until I received my first email.

It was from my son's PE teacher. She had prefaced the email by saying that she loved my kiddo and truly enjoyed having him in her class, he was always ready to participate and has a great attitude, HOWEVER he is struggling to control himself when she is teaching and giving directions. Instead of sitting in their spots, he was choosing to move closer to his friends and start talking to them. Outbursts and comments were also mentioned in the email, and as I read sentence after sentence, I couldn't help but start to FUME. I'm telling you, like flames coming out my ears type of FUME.

I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to drive over to the school and rip him a new one. I wanted to take away Nintendo, and the iPad, and spending time with friends for an entire week! And then, after a long walk and some reflecting, I decided to take my own advice...Instead of EXPECTING, I needed to TEACH him.

You see, I've always told teachers, administrators, and parents, "You must TEACH kids social and emotional skills. You can't EXPECT them." Each child comes to us having certain strategies and skills in reading, math, writing, etc. And as educators and parents, we TEACH them the skills and strategies that they need in order to take them to the next level. We meet them where they're at, and then bring them up.

But for some reason, when it comes to social and emotional skills, we don't do that. For academics, it just makes sense...But when it come to a child's social and emotional competencies, we expect them to just "get it" and we punish them if they don't.

So here's the next part of the email...

It said that if he continued this behavior, then he would need to sit away from all of his peers "so that he could concentrate."

Hmmm...So the issue is that because he wants to talk to others, we're going to separate him, put him alone by himself away from the group, and isolate him. Are we TEACHING him anything? Maybe to be shameful of trying to talk to people, but that's about it.

So now what do we do?

I've been posting a lot about Ross Greene's Plan B and drilling down technique. Instead of being REACTIVE (example: Go sit alone away from your peers so that you'll listen to me while I'm giving directions), we must be PROACTIVE (example: What is the lagging skill that I am seeing in this child and what strategy can we use together in order to teach them this skill?).

At 3:00 I picked up my kiddo, and this is how our conversation went...

Me: How was your day at school?

W: Good

Me: Really?

W: Yep

Me: Well, I got an email from your PE teacher saying that there were some things going on during PE today.

W: Well....

Me: Is there something that you want to tell me?

W: No

According to Ross Greene, we start with EMPATHY...

Me: Your PE teacher said that she's observed you talking to other kids when she's trying to teach the class. She also said that she's seen you move around to get closer to other kids while she's teaching.

W: But I...

Me: Listen, I totally get it. Sitting on the floor while your teacher is talking can be tough. It's tricky on your brain and it is tricky on your body. You have to stay in control of your body and keep it calm, and you have to keep all those thoughts and comments to yourself which can be tricky too.

W: Yep

Me: So what's up?

W: I don't know

Now here's the part where the drilling down begins...Notice how I use lots of different strategies to get him to open up.

Me: Your PE teacher emailed me saying that this is happening, but I haven't heard anything like this from your classroom teacher. Is it tricky for you to be in control of your body and your mouth in class?

W: No

Me: So what makes it different in PE vs. your classroom?

W: I don't know

Me: Is it that you're sitting on the floor in PE versus in your classroom you're sitting at a desk?

W: No

Me: Is it that you have a different teacher?

W: Well, in PE we're with everyone. All the second graders are in there together.

Now this is where you have to be a detective! I always try to put myself in the child's shoes. Think about the thoughts they might be having, the things that are going on in their life, etc. And for my kid, this is easy because I know exactly what he's been through. He just moved, he is trying to meet new friends, and I also know how he plays.

Play can be such an insightful thing. How a kid plays with others is something that gives you SO much insight as to who they are, the skills they have, and the skills that are still lagging! For my son, as an only child, and a kid who just came out of being quarantined for the last 6 months, he is definitely lacking some "making friends without being too silly" skills. I also know that one of our neighborhood boys who is also lacking some skills in this area is in PE with my son.

Now the neighborhood boy, we'll call him R, has difficulty being kind to others, gets easily frustrated when kids won't play what, or the way, that he wants, and tends to blow up or threaten to leave the group when things don't go his way. This is a kid who was on my radar on day ONE after moving into our neighborhood, and I knew that I was going to work with him to build up his toolbox of strategies. But when it comes to your OWN kid, it's a harder pill to swallow.

So again, I put myself in my son's shoes. He probably is excited in PE because it's with the entire grade level. I'm sure he's also trying to "show off" and be silly to get the attention from the other boys in the neighborhood. I'm sure he also is truly just trying to make friends, and he doesn't really know HOW to do it.

So here's how the rest of the conversation went...

Me: I'm thinking that you are probably really excited when you have PE because you get to see R and all your friends from the neighborhood. Am I right?

W: Yeah

Me: And I'm thinking that when you see them in PE, your brain and your body have a tough time being in control. Am I right?

W: Yeah

Me: And I'm thinking that the reason why you're moving around while you're teacher is talking is so that you can go over and talk to R and the other boys. Am I right about that too?

W: Uh huh

And here's where my love for Social Thinking and having a common language that EVERYONE understands makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD....

Me: You see W, during PE it's expected to sit down and listen to your teacher before you guys do the fun activities. The group plan is that you come in, sit down, show your teacher whole body listening, and then when she says you can move around, then you move.

W: Yep

Me: And when you choose to follow your own plan and move around too soon, or you choose an unexpected behavior like blurting out or talking to friends while she's teaching, it makes the people around you have very uncomfortable thoughts. You see, they're trying to listen, and they're all trying to be in control of their own bodies and mouths, that it makes them uncomfortable when you move close to them and try to talk to them.

W: Hmmmm

Me: And when you do that, they might give you a weird look, or tell you to stop, or even tell the teacher on you. And if something like that happens, how would that make you feel?

W: Bad...But I was just trying to talk to R!

Aha! And that's the magic! Now you're in! I've got him talking, and my thoughts about the reasons behind the behavior were correct, and I can continue with a strategy...

Me: I totally get that you're excited that R is in PE with you, and that you want to talk to him. I would want to talk to my friend too if they were in my PE class. BUT is it expected to talk to him while your teacher is teaching?

W: No

Me: Ok, so let's think of a way that you could help your brain and your body so that you remember the group plan and what the expected behavior is.

W: I don't know

Me: Is there something that maybe your teacher could do to help your brain remember what to do?

W: Maybe

Me: What about a hand signal to "Check back in"?

Now "Check back in" is seriously a game changer. It is one of my favorite strategies, and works for kids of ALL ages. You can use it as a verbal cue, or as a hand signal with no verbal cue at all. It's reminding the child that their brain, and/or body, has left the group and they need to check their brain/body back into the group and the group plan. All you need to do is tap your pointer finger to your forehead and then point to the direction of where you want them to focus. GAME CHANGER!

Ok, so to wrap this all up, we agreed that the hand signal, and maybe even the phrase "Check back in" would be a strategy that W and his PE teacher could use. He would teach her the hand signal, and he would remember to check his brain and his body so that he could stay in control and show the expected behavior.

The journey of social and emotional learning is not over. In fact, it truly is just beginning. And if my story sounds familiar to any of you, then just remember this...We must TEACH our kids social and emotional skills, we can't expect them!


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Kim Gameroz is a change agent for schools and districts who seek to revolutionize classrooms by taking on a systematic approach to teaching social and emotional skills.

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