There is more than one kind of hunger. We all know nourishment is essential to the health of young minds and bodies. It is difficult to stay focused on a lesson or challenge when there is an ache in one’s belly. It is even more difficult for children who are less able to rationalize away that ache long enough to finish a task. It is vital, therefore, that we feed the bodies of our nation’s children because not only does it enable growth, it frees their minds and hearts for learning.
Kids also hunger for nurturing relationships. Many children, when away from their parents, are desperate for someone to care about them. It is so much easier to care about oneself when someone else cares for us. In this respect, the heart is a portal to the mind. Knowing someone cares frees the mind to allocate energy to learning.
Same is true of the hunger for safety and security. We all need to feel safe from harm and kids need that safety even more. Think about a time when something happened to startle or scare you. How long did it take before you could push that unsettling experience aside sufficiently to return to one’s task? Imagine how much more difficult it is for a child.
When young children are away from their home, they feel vulnerable. This is true for all kids but especially for children who come from homes and families that are distressed. Toxic though some home environments might be, however, it is the only home they know, and it colors their expectations. If we wish to alter those expectations, it is essential that we strive to provide nurturance and affirmation. For some children, school may be only place they experience the comfort of unconditional, loving relationships with adult human beings.
In these awkward times in which it has been deemed inappropriate for a teacher to touch a child, remember that wrapping one’s arms around someone is not the only way to give a hug. Hug them with the warmth of your smile, the sparkle in your eyes, and the loving words you say when you greet them as they enter your classroom or depart for the day. Even a fist bump can be a hug, if done with a warm smile. A hug, whether virtual or real, is nothing more than an affirmation of how important someone is to us.
Our objective is to convey to them that sense of value in whatever way we can, because they yearn for it, even when they shy away or act embarrassed. If genuine, such hugs will win over even the most recalcitrant child, over time. Once they come to believe in our affection for and belief in them, children will begin to open themselves up to us. From that point onward, anything becomes possible.
We must strive to keep our objective at the forefront of our minds as we strive to help children create patterns of success for themselves. This requires that they feel empowered. When, however, the education process requires that mistakes be counted against students, as if they were failures—and must be recorded as failures in a teacher’s gradebook—it is contrary to our purpose. In these instances, the education process usurps a child’s power to create patterns of success for themselves by imposing on them a pattern of failure.
Patterns of failure are the genesis of surrender. Once any human being gives up and stops striving, it is incredibly difficult to pull them from the maelstrom of hopelessness. This particularly true of children.
Kids do not want to feel hopeless and powerless, they want to be winners, which is just another way of saying they want to be successful.
To be continued.