Noticing Change

Immediately prior to the beginning of this Pesach break, I had the opportunity to speak with several entire classes of students to share perceptions on change. Together, we recalled their memories of their first school days this past fall and took time to notice what changes have occurred. The students were enthused and initially presented very concrete changes: we are taller, we are older, some of us weigh more, some of us have new babies at home, some of us live in different houses. Then the groups presented broader thoughts: we know more, we have some new friends, we have kept some old friends and come to know them better. The seasons have changed from autumn to winter to spring. Here we were in very chilly temperatures with snow having recently fallen, and the children, without exception, agreed that it is now spring. Quite a bit for the younger ones to grasp conceptually! Then they went on. “Some of us behave differently,” a few offered. “What do you mean? Tell me more about what you have noticed,” I queried, urging them to speak about what they had noticed without using names.  “Well, some of us just behave better… some of us behave worse!” They agreed, for the most part, that the changes had been positive. We talked about mistakes, about learning from them, about some of the factors that lead children to misbehave. We talked about the change of seasons, how things which seemed to be “dead” and gone have returned, fresh and new. We spoke about second chances and more chances than second chances. We spoke about forgiveness and understanding, putting ourselves in the shoes of another person, considering what they might have been feeling or are still feeling. We spoke about not judging others and about giving others the benefit of the doubt. Some of the children who had had difficulty during the year identified themselves as having behaved poorly and as having worked on making changes. And then the children agreed. They simply could not continue without giving compliments to the children whose behavior they had noted to be much improved. They talked about being able to get closer again, to be friends in the same way they had been.  The exchange was certainly going well. Then, one of the children presented a problem. His/her parents had been very clear that he/she was not to play with the child who had been severely misbehaving. “But I want to [play]. They are behaving better. We can be friends again.” Then the children came up with ideas about how to proceed. They could tell their parents about the changes they have noticed, express their desire to renew friendships. Yet, still they were not sure that the parental message would change.

Of course, we want to save our children from hurt feelings, hurt bodies, from getting into trouble by choosing the “wrong” friends. Of course, we know best. Even so, our information is not always the most current. Yes, we have some students at MJDS who misbehave, a very few who behave severely on occasion, for many reasons. Yes, our administration and resource team work very closely with those children and their families. Yet, behavioral change does not occur according to the calendar we determine. Our young students can take note of the changes when they do occur, however, and they seem able to approach new information and new observations with open minds. Are we able to do the same? Rather than provide a message to our children about staying away from another child or other children, might we be able to help them more (and perhaps ourselves as well) in the long run if we simply have a conversation or several conversations about the factors to consider in choosing others as friends or playmates, about change, about giving others the benefit of the doubt and another chance?  Do we really want our children caught in a bind, needing to choose between following our instructions and not letting us down or following their hearts and minds and being true to themselves?

The choice is there for each of us to make. What would you want if the child whose behavior had improved was your child?