Should all children be treated the same? It’s something we hear often that children need to be afforded the same privileges, time and energy spent on them. However does that mean we use the same techniques, systems and approaches with every child? You’ll know if you have your own children that you can’t treat them the same as they are not the same children – they don’t act and feel the same – they have different skills and abilities and also limitations. It’s the same in our classrooms. In a class of 30 children if you were to teach them in an idyllic manor you would teach something 30 different ways – but who has time for that?
For children who’ve experienced early trauma they cannot be treated the same as children who have had a nurtured upbringing. Their brains are not wired the same, the messages they receive are different and the way they communicate their needs is very different too. Children who were never shown how to relate to others in a healthy way will not necessarily understand that aggression is unacceptable, they may not be able to deal with waiting, being overlooked when they raise their hands or not being picked to go to a classmates party. For these children life has really not been fair.
For my children, who had a difficult start, sometimes it’s hard to remember that – when they seem so ungrateful about things, or they can’t handle the seemingly inequality of us being able to stay up later than them. The feelings of life being so unfair are difficult for them to handle and it reminds them of just how terrible their lives feel.
We have had constant struggles with one of our children around this area of equality, especially in his classroom. He doesn’t understand the random reward systems we have such as putting names in a pot when children are seen doing ‘good’ things and then a name is picked out at the end of each day. He constantly fixates on who has been picked – why was he only picked once and so and so was picked twice? How come his mate got the best toy and he got the worst toy? Why does the teacher not notice when he tries his hardest to write well but still doesn’t get his pen license?
Another aspect these children don’t seem to be able to resist is watching other people and making sure everyone is following the rules. They come to you and tell you that “Billy isn’t doing the task, what are you going to do about that?” I’ve often wondered what that is about? What is it that makes children want to tell on others? Is it that they are so concerned about the rules – I venture not as in my experience of maltreated children who do this they have little ability to see those behaviours in themselves – if they break the rules there is always a reason for it “Sally made me laugh”, “Miss didn’t tell me what to do properly”. Of course being able to take responsibility for your own actions requires self awareness and the ability to feel guilt – to feel sorry for what you’ve done to someone else. Many times these children don’t have that ability – they are stuck in shame which is about themselves not guilt which is about the other person.
Children who are obsessed with equality find some of our educational systems hard to deal with especially around rewards and sanctions. It can actually compound the shame they already feel (that sense that they are bad and worthless and undeserving of rewards) and can make it hard for them to concentrate on learning – being able to feel safe enough for their brains to be open to learn. Always wondering whether they will be noticed enough to get a reward means they are pre-occupied with seeking acceptance and not just being.
So when you look around your classroom take a closer look at some of those children – do they question every move you make and every task given? Do they constantly tell tales on their classmates? Are they fixated on the rewards and not the activity? These may be signs that actually the child needs to know that they are special – that you see them – that you get their experiences and their sense of self – that however many rewards they receive or don’t receive it will be ok – they are ok. I honestly believe wholeheartedly that relationship is the more important thing in childhood – with their families but also with their school. The more children can feel accepted, that they belong and that they are valued – the more they will be able to learn.