‘Being With’ For Teachers

The classroom can be a really challenging environment for children and for teachers. What do you say to the child who wants to play sport all day, but instead has to sit still at a desk and write about his weekend? Or what about the child who doesn’t see the point of studying maths that because they say ‘they will never use it in real life.’ We know that children need to do things that they would prefer not to do. So what do we say to them in these moments? The first response is to ‘Be With’ them.

When someone sits with our feelings we call this ‘Being With.’ Powerful things happen to our brain when someone validates and labels how we feel. We feel connected, accepted and it helps us to manage our feelings and problem solve what we are going to do next. In a previous blog post we talked about the concept of ‘Being With’ from a parent’s perspective. This is also a useful concept for teachers of kindergarten, primary school and high school students.

When the first response is to ‘Be With’ children and students, we validate how they feel and connect with them. The reality is that children are allowed to find something boring or hard. ‘Being With’ can help children to feel understood and listened to without us ‘giving in’ to what they want all the time. Schools provide a great lesson for children in managing disappointment and not always getting what they want. This is a skill they will take with them into their future studies, work places and their own families.
So how do we “Be With?” at school.
• Label what the child is feeling. “I can see you’re finding this hard. Maths is tricky sometimes and takes practice.” “I can see you’re disappointed that you don’t really like soccer that much and you would have preferred to play basketball.”
• Use your facial expression and tone to match the child’s. This helps them to connect with you and feel understood.
• Get down to the child’s level.
• Resist the urge from trying to talk them out of what they feel.
• We don’t have to give in to what that child wants but we can at least show them we understand their emotions and we are there for them.
Remember, it’s not about giving the children and students what they want all the time, it is about showing that you understand them. There are times when ‘Being With’ isn’t enough on its own and children may need extra supports or strategies to help them engage in learning. However, it is a good first response and it can help children to manage their feelings and cope in challenging environments. If you are not sure what to do when a student is upset, remember that ‘Being With’ is one of the most powerful things we can do.

Written by Michael Sharp (Occupational Therapist at OTFC)


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