How a Disruptive Student Transformed into an Eager Participant

One of our 3rd graders, an animated, petite, dimpled boy named Nate (not his real name) had been physically restrained almost daily in his former public school. Nate is a disrupter. His file reads like a menu from the DSM-5.

You can almost see his mind churning with turbulence as he moves throughout his day. From shouting out inappropriate catchphrases in the middle of lessons, to refusing to follow directions, Nate finds any and every reason to derail the delicate equilibrium teachers work so hard to establish.

After a few really tumultuous days for Nate, it was time for our weekly group. I rarely share personal information with my students, but when I saw the misery on his face, the words poured out.

“Some adults think kids have it easy. I don’t. Pain is pain. Doesn’t matter the age. When I was seven, my father died. And off and on, as he battled cancer with my mother at his side in a hospital hundreds of miles away, relatives and strangers took care of me.

“But one of them wasn’t nice to me. And I ended up in the hospital for a few days. I was scared and alone. It was one of the hardest times ever in my life.

“So I know kids go through stuff. And that’s why I’m here. No one gave me tools to help me feel better. Over the years I learned how to deal with disturbing situations and the uncomfortable emotions that follow. And I want to teach you so you don’t have to suffer like I did.

“Sometimes when we’re in pain, we do things or say things that hurt others. That doesn’t have to happen. The mindfulness and tools to manage our thinking that we learn in group can help you be kind to yourself and others.”

Nate’s eyes locked with mine in silent communion.

He was amazing that day. We learned “Breathing Fingers” and he was all in. He volunteered to come on the “stage” to play a new game I made up to demonstrate how to give “gifts” in improv. He left with a skip and a smile.

The next week was the same: no disruptions, no shouting out. Full participation.

That day Nate got a dose of truth:

That day, Nate got a dose of truth: others struggle just like him to make sense of it all, doing the best they can to process their suffering. Maybe my sharing helped him see that he wasn’t alone.

He has many challenges ahead, but between the loving staff that surround and support him, and the strategies he’s learning, Nate’s on his way.

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