About a year ago, every night, I put together a solid three-month stretch of reading Maurice Sendak’s classic “Where The Wild Things Are” to my youngest. It was the only book she’d let me read to her for a while.
I didn’t mind it at all. I love that book. Always have. My six year old was loving the book, too. Our favorite part was (and is) when we participate in the “Wild Rumpus” together with Max and the Wild Things.
There’s something so wonderful and exciting about acting wild.
There’s also something very scary.
Without fail, when I read the part where the Wild Things “Rolled their terrible eyes and gnashed their terrible teeth and showed their terrible claws,” my little one would cover her eyes and emit a cute combo of screams and giggles.
As scary as those Wild Things were, we always knew how Max was going to get control over those beasts. He’d say “Stop!” And he’d stare at those Wild Things right into their big yellow eyes, without blinking once. A fearless magic trick!
There are a billion wonderful tidbits we can glean from this book, but I’d like to focus on that fearless magic trick. That ability to stare down everything that is scary in our lives and take it on.
Working with kids exhibiting dangerous and/or aggressive behavior can be scary. There’s no doubt about it. So what do we do? Do we say “Stop!” And stare into their big yellow eyes?
There is definitely something there. Something about looking directly at the child and believing–believing that the student has the ability to change their ways. I don’t know how to explain it more than some sort of phenomenon, but kids actually can see whether we believe in them or not. They can feel it. Just like the Wild Things.
It may seem like magic, but its not. It’s called the Pygmalion effect. If we believe a student has the capacity to change, it affects the way we interact with the child. The way we interact with the child affects the way they interact with us.
In a what can only be described as some sort of “mental ping-pong match,” we learn from each other. We ebb and we flow together. We give each other feedback. Sooner or later, if our beliefs are optimistic towards change, we find ourselves experiencing success together.
I show up to work every day trying to foster and discover that experience of success. It drives me. Turns out, that’s what drives kids, too, that feeling of some sort of success in their day.
The success can be big, small, whatever. It just needs to be inching towards “a win.”
So, next time you’re facing down a Wild Thing, try staring right back into their big yellow eyes—not with anger, but with hope, and a belief they can be tamed.