We had a little girl in our Dallas program named Tequila. (This is not the only Tequila I had, I also had a little girl in Irving named Tequila and her brother was named Bacardi) Tequila was a sweet girl and had a nice family, but Tequila did have some anger issues. One day the Pre K teacher called me on the intercom and asked me to come back to the classroom. Tequila was throwing a tantrum, hitting the teacher, and smashing other children on the head with blocks. I walked back and I could see the stress on the teachers face. She had the “I’m about to lose it” look. I walked over to Tequila, bent down to her eye level, and said, “You know it hurts when you hit your friends on the head with blocks.” This tiny, petite 4 year-old looks right at me, pulled back, and punched me right in the face with everything she had. I was in shock and obviously needed to handle the situation a little different than expected! The greatest thing is that she had this look on her face like she was ready to rumble. My first thought was that I wanted to beat the poo out of this kid! (I would never do this) But, we can’t do that or I would spend the next twenty years in a ten by ten cell. So I stood up, took at step back. Continued to look at her in the eyes and counted to ten. (to myself, not out loud) It was quite amazing. As I stood there calming myself down, I could see Tequila watch me, and her little face started to change too. I realized that I was teaching her how to respond to the situation, not react to the situation. After I was calm, and Tequila was calm, I took her by the hand, gave her a hug, and we started walking around the center looking at all the bulletin boards for each classroom and talking about the different pieces of art. I never addressed the punch. What I learned here is that no one had ever taught Tequila self regulation. This child was in constant defense mode. She was looking for a reaction from me. I did not give her what she wanted or expected and she too was in shock. Rather than punishing her, I gave her love. I never had another issue with Tequila and from that moment we had a respect for each other.
Another thing I learned from this situation is that when children act out in the classroom, it is a cry for help. Something is going on in their little bodies and the tantrum is the only way they know to express themselves. My theory on dealing with these situations is all about attitude. If you keep a positive attitude towards the child, everything will be fine. If you respond to children, they will respond back. If you react, they will react. I am a firm believer in focusing on the desired behavior, not the negative behavior. Children receive too much negative attention. They become addicted to it, just like one can become addicted to alcohol and drugs. They eventually get to a point where they need negative attention to survive. I also believe that this is one reason why we have so much violence in the world these days. These people who create acts of violence had become addicted to the negative attention. We have to teach our children to love one another, to respond to situations. We have to teach equality, and that no one is better than anyone else. We have to teach them to respect each others beliefs and lifestyles. If we do so, we can make this world a better place, and it all starts with the kids.
Unfortunately, my story about Tequila had a very tragic ending. Tequila had two other siblings and a young mother. Her grandmother picked up the children often while mom worked at night. One afternoon grandma picked up the kids, super sweet as always, and took them home. This was the last we saw them. The next morning we heard the horrible news. The kids and grandma died in a house fire. We were all in shock. Later we found out exactly what happened. Grandma had arranged to babysit all seven of her grandchildren that night. Apparently she drugged the kids, put them in bed, and caught the house on fire, killing herself and all of her grandchildren. We never heard why she did this. Grandma was always so sweet and was someone that you would think would never hurt a fly. You think you know someone. I cannot imagine the pain and confusion mom went through, losing her children and her mother this way, and always wondering why her mother would take such action. It’s been over twenty years since this happened and I still think about that family daily. I am so glad that I responded to Tequila’s punch in the face the way I did.