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When Overflowing Paints Lead To Overflowing Emotions

It was the end of the school day, and kids were slowly starting to get cleaned up and organized for home. That's when I turned around and I noticed one of our SK students over at the pile of watercolour paints. He was pouring blue water on top of each puck of paint. This was creating a huge flood in the bin of paint pucks. Why?

I wish that I could tell you that I calmly went over to figure out why he was doing this. I didn't. No doubt about it: this flood in the midst of clean up time, with the knowledge that I had to leave school at a reasonable time and cleaning up this mess was not going to help with this, made me feel very dysregulated. In retrospect ...

  • I should have went to my teaching partner, Paula, and asked if she could investigate.

  • I should have taken a deep breath first and considered how I wanted to respond.

  • Maybe I should have even walked away.

I did none of these things. Instead I went up to him and said, "What's happening? Why are you doing this? You know better." And that's when he melted. He threw down his set of paint pucks. He went over to his desk space, hid underneath it, and started to rip up every one of the pictures that he made at school. Every single one. Oh no!

This made me realize, I exacerbated this problem. There was stress behaviour at play, and even though I've read about Self-Reg, taken the Foundations 1 course, blog on The MEHRIT Centre Blog regularly, and have listened to numerous recordings of Stuart Shanker and Susan Hopkins discussing this very topic, I missed the mark. Now what?

I gave him a chance to just be. I brought over the garbage can, and started to help clean up the desk space. I invited him to help me. Understandably, considering the stressors at play, he ignored me. I then noticed some garbage on the floor and some markers. I asked him which one he could clean up. He pointed to the markers, so I took the garbage and left. He did pick up the markers, and then went back to flipping through a book at his desk. Could this be Self-Reg in action?

He seemed better when he left, and asked me for help with his backpack, but I still don't know what triggered him. Paula and I discussed possibilities.

  • Could it be my prep time in the middle of the day, which coincided with Paula's lunch, so we were both out of the classroom?

  • Did he need a sensory option, and could I have supported this in another way?

  • After a full day, with a long block in the classroom, was he tired? Frustrated? Could I have helped break things up for him with another option?

  • Was he looking for some adult attention/support? Could I have given it to him in another way?

  • Did the dysregulating nature of clean-up time increase his stress? Is there a way to make this time less stressful for him?

I don't know what the answer is, or if I missed the problem altogether. I do know that this is all that I could think about as I washed those paint pucks on Friday after school. Now to look more closely on Monday and try to figure things out. This was a good reminder for me that as much as we might know about Self-Reg, we can all make mistakes. Have you? Here's to catching myself next week before I make another one.


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