I’m going to introduce you to Charlie*, you’re probably going to be hearing a lot about him, because like the cheeky wee chap in the eponymous Youtube video, Charlie bites. I have also been punched and scratched by Charlie, leaving scars on my hands and arms.
It is important to mention that Charlie has a severe medical condition. Most of the time he is a smiley five year old, who loves football, riding his bike and playing with his friends, but sometimes, when he becomes frustrated or bored, his temper rises and he lashes out.
In the past few months we have seen a real improvement in Charlie’s behaviour which seems to be thanks to a new friendship. Libby* is one of the brightest students in the class, she is focused and well-behaved and probably the best role-model you could imagine for Charlie, despite the fact he has hit her in the past. Every day she waits patiently behind for Charlie at playtime, finds him his coat and helps him with the equipment he needs to walk. I would like to say I was responsible for the change in Charlie’s attitude but Libby is the real hero in this story. She has made him feel included in a way that we adults just can’t.
This surprising change in Charlie, which had made me so hopeful for his development, made it even harder when he hurt both me and another adult last week, punching me in the mouth and biting me.
However, this blog is about seeing the positive and I want to share with you the ways in which I deal with the feeling of disappointment, anxiety and stress that inevitably follow this kind of aggressive behaviour.
The first thing is don’t be afraid to ask for some time and space to reflect and calm down after an incident. The leadership team in my school supported me by ensuring that I received first aid and more importantly a much needed tea-break before filling out any paperwork.
It’s also important that you talk to someone about what has happened. I spend every day of my working week with Charlie and the shock of one minute writing a really great sentence with him, to the next minute being punched in the face is confusing and upsetting. I have learned to resist the temptation to go the staffroom if I’m feeling stressed. While the sympathy of other members of staff is well-meaning, I find it counter-productive to be placed as a victim when a situation like this occurs. Letting off steam can quickly turn into negative talk, which leaves you feeling worse about things and causes further anxiety. Instead find a trusted colleague to chat with in a quiet and private space. This protects both the privacy of yourself and the child. My assistant head always offers a listening ear when I’ve had a bad day and because she is very experienced she is able to give the most proactive advice. I’m also lucky enough to have an immensely supportive partner, a quick text of ‘chocolate’ or ‘hug’ is usually enough to let him know I need some support when I get home.
I have also learned that it’s really important to take time to rest and relax. Try to schedule at least one activity outside of work into your week. I have joined an exercise class, which gives me the push to get out of the house, gives me a lift midweek and a bit of time to clear my head. Meeting up with friends for dinner every Friday is also a great tonic.
But, perhaps, the most important thing to do after an incident is to avoid blaming yourself, or to over-think what went wrong. While I felt that last week was a case of two steps forward and one step back, it is important to see the bigger picture. Charlie is becoming more and more independent, while he once had tantrums everyday, he now has far more control over his behaviour. All kids make mistakes, and last week was a wobble that was probably just as upsetting and frustrating for Charlie as it was for me.
Yes, violence does happen in primary schools but don’t let that put you off. I have pinned a note from Charlie to my fridge at home, it says: ‘I am sorry. I will have a good day tomorrow’. It always reminds me that Charlie is a little boy, like the one in the video, and that he’s still got a lot to learn. So I’m resolved to take a leaf out of Libby’s book and show patience and forgiveness.