Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fight or Flight with Children ~ A Disaster in the Making

As a consultant that travels working in schools and with districts, I am often in an airport and seem to find myself "people watching".  This evening I have witnessed so many cases of pushing children to the brink, that I am shocked and motivated to write.  This has been an extremely LONG day for many travelers as the weather has been absolutely horrendous in so many cities that don't often see this type of weather and am not prepared to deal with it.  I truly understand circumstances are difficult when traveling with children and things go crazy. 
With that said, there is never an excuse for an adult to engage a child in a power struggle that ultimately leads a child to behave in a "fight" or "flight" manner.  Watching some of these parents has broken my heart for how children will ever learn empathy, self control and cooperation.  My heart hopes that this doesn't happen in classrooms across the world but my head says that it probably does.  So in defense of the children I want to share why ending confrontation with fight or flight is always a bad choice and negatively affects how our children process getting along in the real world. 
Fight or flight is a natural reaction for all people when pushed to the brink.  Many rational individuals can be driven to do and say things that outside of a particular situation, would never have occurred.  We witness this by athletes, government officials and many other individuals that publicly have to acknowledge that they "lost it".  My issue is about children and why we as adults would ever want to push them to "lose it".  Whenever a person feels severely attached they have a natural reaction to run or face it.  Some children may crawl up in a ball or hide their face saying things like "I hate you", "don't talk to me" or just refuse to speak.  This is a sure sign that a child feels like they are not being heard.  Other children will lash out trying to hit, kick, bite or scream to relay their frustration. 
A good rule of thumb is to always remember who is the adult.  To recognize when a child has gone from rational and is on the way to irrational so that you can be the one that stops.  It is often best to provide time for each of you to breath.  Depending on the circumstance you might want to put a bit of distance between yourself and the child.  Many times child believe that your "hovering" will lead to further attack or the child might feel threatened. 
I encourage every adult -  parent/teacher/relative/friend to remember that learning to solve problems takes time and that the least effective way to find a solution to a problem or problem behavior is to drive a child into fight or flight.

Donna - Author of "You Can't Teach a Class that You Can't Manage"