One of my student teachers explained that the principal in her elementary school was in heated battle with a five-year-old kindergarten student. She told me that the little boy was struggling. “He swears, he calls me names and he hits me.”
She said it was hard to cope with all of that but knowing the boy’s life circumstances made it understandable. “Mom is lower functioning than the boy. His twenty-year old brother has told him not to take s**t from anyone and to fight everyone,” she told me.
She went on. “What is really difficult to tolerate is how the principal is responding to the boy.” This is the dialogue she shared with me.
Boy to principal: “You are stupid. I hate you.”
Principal to boy: “You are stupid and I hate you too.”
Boy to principal: “You are a poopey head”.
Principal to boy: “No, you are a poopey head you little poopey head. Get in line poopey head!”
Boy to principal: “I am going to stab you with a knife”.
Principal to boy: “Go ahead and try it.”
It isn’t hard to recognize the unrestrained human biology in the principal’s reaction to this little guy. All of us recognize his frustration and a certain level of fear that is generating his “tit-for-tat” repartee. I do appreciate that the principal hasn’t simply kicked the boy out of school for the behavior that must be disrupting the lives of many. Giving the principal the benefit of the doubt, he must think he will some how help the child change his behavior if he can get the boy to understand what it feels like to hear such words. But we know the child is experiencing something quite differently when this elder approaches him in this way. I can imagine his young and malleable brain cementing even more his feelings of fear, distrust and anger and his thinking that “I need to fight to keep myself safe.” It doesn’t help a traumatized brain when we re-traumatize.