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Supporting empathy development and friendship - a different approach on the playground

An ECUK Practitioner Trainer, 'Tamra', shared a reflection on how her use of Emotion Coaching with a pupil was able to support the pupil to think about how another pupil might feel in a playground altercation.

4-year old Aruna can often be seen in the playground grabbing shovels from other children. His usual approach is to yell and run toward the other child and grab the shovel. The teachers usually respond by taking the shovel away from Aruna and give it back to the other student.

Aruna then usually cries for the rest of play time and never learns how to do things differently.

Tamra had been asked by Aruna's teachers to support them with this seemingly intractable problem. No matter how many times they had taken the shovel from Aruna and returned it to the child who had been playing with it first, Aruna never seemed to change his behaviour. Tamra was curious to see what Aruna would do if the teachers didn't react in their usual way. She hoped that by employing an Emotion Coaching approach to the situation, being 'curious rather than furious' with Aruna, and helping him to think about how he and others might feel in this situation (using restorative conversation as a framework for the problem solving aspect of Emotion Coaching), Aruna might be supported in his understanding of the social situation, be more likely to change his behaviour and strengthen his connection with other children.

Ahead of play time, Tamra asked the teachers not to take the shovel away from Aruna next time he grabbed one from his friends.

When it happened, Tamra approached and observed to Aruna that the child who had had the shovel taken was feeling sad. Tamra pointed out the signs that suggested to her this was the case: Tamra mentioned the child's tears, facial expression, and body language. She then asked Aruna why the child might be sad and what he though they could do together to make them feel better.

In this case, naming the emotions, describing how those emotions could be ascertained, and helping Aruna to understand how relationships can be repaired,Tamra empowered Aruna to believe that he could deal with this situation. Tamra ensured she didn't 'blame' Aruna and her empathic, attuned approach ensured that Aruna felt no shame. Aruna was able to notice and talk about how the child was probably sad because he had taken their shovel.

This process demonstrates how problem-solving can incorporate a range of approaches including how to repair relationships. Aruna voluntarily looked for another shovel to give to the child.

In her reflective log, Tamra observed that sometimes we assume children are aware of how their actions make others feel - but sometimes this needs to be taught. Sometimes, too, children need space and time without adults intervening to figure things out. When children calmly observe other children displaying difficult emotions, they get a chance to develop empathy and re-think their own behaviour.

Tamra's different approach - that behaviour is a sign or communication of a feeing - gave Aruna a chance to reflect on and change his usual behaviour, problem-solve, and start to build foundations for healthy friendships.

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