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  • Writer's pictureLesha Dalton

The Power of Silence: How Quiet Time Can Help Students Manage Their Emotions

“Sometimes sitting still is the best move you can make.” Bryant McGill

I wish I could take credit for that quote, but I can’t. The idea that sitting is a good move to make didn’t always make sense to me, but the longer I worked with students who demonstrated explosive behaviors, the more it clicked with me.

The Challenge: Managing Explosive Behaviors in Students

Picture this: as a teacher, counselor or administrator, you’ve been called over to a classroom to help with a student who may have knocked over a desk, thrown some papers or kicked a chair. Imagine walking up to a teacher who is frazzled by this student’s behavior and doesn’t know what to do. Imagine seeing that student’s peers with worried looks on their faces or having students approach you to tell you what that student did to the classroom.

The Importance of Being Calm in a Crisis

If you’ve ever walked up to a scenario like this one, you know that it can be a challenge to manage. Amid the chaos, it can be hard to find the calm center of the storm, but that is exactly what we are called to be: CALM. Calm in helping to dismiss other students from the classroom. Calm in reassuring the teacher

we can help. Calm in voice and movement. And most importantly, calm with the child who just disrupted the classroom.

Calm can feel like a tall order when our natural, untrained reaction might be to begin to bark orders, insist the room be cleaned up or demand that the child apologize to peers. So many of us want to see results right off the bat that we fail to give some space and time to a child in crisis. Over the years, I learned that one of the best strategies to use with students who’ve just had an emotional, physical outburst is to JUST SIT with them. JUST SIT in the middle of all that mess. JUST SIT and let there be quiet. JUST SIT and make no demands. JUST SIT and be there with the child.

Sounds easy, right?

Adult managing student's angry behavior by sitting calmly near them

Sometimes Sitting Still is the Best Move You Can Make

For me, it wasn’t easy. I had to learn that strategy and give myself permission to JUST SIT with a child. I had to work at recognizing that just sitting with a child was reassuring to them. I had to prioritize the child over all my other work, over what others might think about this approach, and over what outcomes others expected from my administrative involvement with the child.

The Power of Just Sitting: How it Helps Students Regain Composure

What I found when I sat quietly with a child recovering from an outburst was that they began to regain their composure on their own. They became less combative. They would sometimes cry in remorse for their behaviors. And sometimes, they would begin to clean up on their own.

Initially, a child who’s just disrupted the entire class and expects an adult to be demanding or insisting upon immediate reparation, may not understand someone who just shows up to sit with them. But, for a student who has had multiple episodes of disruptive behavior, they begin to recognize that you’ll be the one to show up and sit down.

That is NOT to say that when I sat with a child, I completely let my guard down. I was always ready to call for other help and positioned myself for safety. But instead of standing with my hands on my hips, folding my arms or towering over a child, I would calmly sit and wait until they were ready to begin the work of figuring out what made them so upset and how they could have handled it differently.

There’s a scene in The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff that I just love and really speaks to the importance of just sitting with someone.

"'Today was a Difficult Day,' said Pooh.

There was a pause.

'Do you want to talk about it?' asked Piglet.

'No," said Pooh after a bit. 'No, I don't think I do.'

'That's okay," said Piglet, and he came and sat beside his friend.

'What are you doing?' asked Pooh.

'Nothing, really,' said Piglet. 'Only, I know what Difficult Days are like. I quite often don't feel like talking about it on my Difficult Days either.

'But goodness," continued Piglet, 'Difficult Days are so much easier when you know you've got someone there for you. And I'll always be here for you, Pooh.'

And as Pooh sat there, working through in his head his Difficult Day, while the solid, reliable Piglet sat next to him quietly, swinging his little legs…he thought that his best friend had never been more right."

Conclusion: Helping Students Through Difficult Days

Here’s to helping students through those difficult days by sitting with them and letting them know you are there for them.

Thanks for thinking about this with me. I hope you take care of yourself and each other.

Lesha Dalton is an educational consultant at JL Hind Consulting. She has 30 years of experience in a variety of settings including early childhood, special education, elementary education, and school leadership. Visit this page for more information about our services.

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