Saturday, July 3, 2010

Shocked and astounded

Would being only seven play a part too? But most seven year olds I know DO say "thank you"....

This week, I taught a 3-day art camp with the local parks and rec, ending today. It was fun. Five students, all girls. We worked with only pastels - both chalk and oil.

The youngest in the group, a seven year old with some sort of auditory/social disability (my personal opinion - the parent did not tell me this, but it's my guess from what I've observed) gave me some issues yesterday and today.


I was showing another student how to make her blending look more natural when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw this kid feebly reach for the box, give up after one try, and the purposefully flings the pastel in her hand across the table. It lands smack in front of me, on my demo paper.

I excuse myself from the student I was working with and go over to the kid, asking her why she thought throwing was a good idea. She mumbles and mutters and says something about "can't reach." I tell her if she can't reach the box, then she needs to ask, "Can you help me put this back?" and I would gladly help her. She continues to mumble and her face starts screwing up into a fake cry (it was oh-so-fake, could have been spotted a mile away). I persist, asking her to speak up in a clear voice. She finally manages it, only to yell at me to leave her alone and that I was bothering her.

Yes, yes I am bothering you! You! Who threw a pastel at me! The teacher! I have every right to bother you, to make you mind the rules, because you have no right to fling my art supplies around like that!

I make her apologize. I make her ask me politely to help her put the pastel back. Then, I prompt her to say the magic words.

And the kid stares at me as if I was crazy. She wasn't faking it. She sincerely had NO IDEA what the "magic words" were.

Are. You. Joking.

I didn't even blink. I turned to the rest of the class, who have now been sitting in tense silence throughout this exchange, trying their best to ignore it, and ask:

"Can any one help her out and tell her what the first word of the magic words are?"

A couple of the other students whisper it, and the seven year old thanked me. I gave her a broad smile and said, "You're welcome" as if she was one of my pre-school kids just learning social manners - you know how excited mini-kids get when you make a big deal out of them for saying "please" and "thank you." I was hopping it would give this kid a kick so that she wouldn't do it again.

Oh boy, did I set my hopes too high.


Right after I set down the pastels and the girls got to work, I noticed the seven year old not doing anything. I make a couple rounds first, giving her some space. Perhaps she was thinking. Perhaps she was tired and needed a break.

Ten minutes later, she still wasn't doing anything. A dark look of sullen sulk had settled upon her face. I amble over, friendly-like, and asked her what was up. She mumbled again. I asked her to repeat.

Kid: I don't want to use those.

She pointed to the chalk pastels. Yes, chalk pastels are notorious. I hate them too, personally. They are messy, and you breath it in, and it's a pain in the butt to do kid-art with them. But I had given my instructions. They were to be used for specific parts of the picture, and the oils for the other parts.

I told her that, even though it's good that she has her opinion, everyone sometimes has to do things they don't really want to.

Oh, boy. The fit that ensued. It wasn't a noisy, tantrum. It was one of those quiet, seething fits. She screwed up her face, just like the day before, grunting and moaning and wiping away imaginary tears. By this time, I had a hunch that this was the tactic she used at home whenever her mom suggested something she didn't like. It looked rehearsed, practiced. She was good at it.

But not good enough.

I told her I needed to speak to her outside. Changing scenery often helps with behavior management, especially with younger students. I made her stand right outside the door, and I stood with her, one foot in and one foot out. I told her in a quiet, firm, and calm voice with no uncertain terms that she was wasting time. She was wasting my time, the other student's time, her own time. Her parents had paid a lot of good money for her to be in art class, and she was disrespecting that.

I told her she had a choice. She could calm down, go back to her seat and do art. Or, she could calm down, go inside, sit at the back table, and do nothing. I asked her she wanted to choose.

She chose art.

Certainly, I've seen worse behavior than this kid's show. However, I have never been more flabbergasted. Seriously. Except for the mild discomfort of using chalk pastels, she had nothing to complain about! She wasn't hungry, or thirsty. The entire class was free to get up and use the restroom and the water fountain without constantly raising their hands to ask - the room was large enough and the class was small enough for that. I planned breaks. I kept morale up. I praised and commented on their art honestly. I was available to help. I circulated, monitoring closely, but still giving them space. I demonstrated. I told jokes and stories. I related art to their lives.

Explosions of behavior, I get. I don't always manage ideally, but I manage. This kind of sulking is scary to me. It's dangerous. It's to be stamped out as soon as possible, or avoided at all costs.

That is, if it isn't something the kid can't control. I wonder, ever more now as I'm reflecting here, is it a disability that I don't know about? This kid was especially sensitive to temperature. I had a fan on in the room, because there was no a/c and the past few days have been triple digits. The fan wasn't pointed at her, or any of the students, but she often screwed up her face and complained about it. Is there a learning disability that makes kids super sensitive to temperature and depresses social skills in seven year olds?

Remember this book? This seven year old reminds me of the older brother and the disease he had. I don't know which is worse: to have this behavior be side effects from a genetic disorder, or to have it be a learned response from habits done at home.


Anonymous said...

Could be lots of things:
1) She could be depressed.
2) She could be ADHD, which looks different in each child.
3) Could be she doesn't like art.

Usually when a child is unhappy, they are more miserable than they are making the adults around them feel. If you think about it, she's putting a great deal of energy into her behavior. This isn't for show. Something is going on that is a big deal to her. I hope you are able to treat her with kindness and compassion.

bun2bon said...

True. I hope I was able to as well. She left with a smile and a hug for me, which are good signs.