How do you handle criers?
Let’s begin with my first experience with crying students. In 1996, when I first came to Japan, I naively, optimistically, stupidly (call it what you like) agreed to teach 10 new 3 year olds. With no Moms and no other teachers. It was a disaster. As soon as the Moms left, 2 children burst into tears, crying loudly. 2 other soon joined. 1 even wet his pants. BUT the other 5 children were fine. I decided I could do nothing about the criers on my own. But I COULD keep the 5 non-crying students from joining the criers by singing, dancing, playing games… And it worked. The 5 non-criers never cried. And even better, some of the criers STOPPED crying and joined us.
With over 20 years of experience teaching at Dave and Amy English School, we have developed a few policies to pre-empt, handle criers. PREVENTION is tool number 1. To pre-empt crying:
1. Greet kindergarten students and direct where to go. “Hello, Risa. Please sit in the green chair.” It is important to get young kindergarteners in the door and were they need to be as quickly as possible. Hanging around / feeling confused, might make them realize they are missing Mom and start crying.
2. Get students busy as soon as they come in. In our lessons, kindergarten kids will do puzzles in groups as they come in. They are busy straight away. Hopefully having fun and not tempted to cry.
3. Quick Bye to Mom/ Dad. Long good-byes make kids more likely to cry. Moms should drop off their kids quickly and leave the building (seriously). Be wary of Moms lingering behind the door, so that when the next child comes in, the first child can see his Mom.
Prevention DIDN’T work. What now?
1. Watch from a safe distance: If a child is crying LOUDLY, we will place the child on a chair within viewing distance of the table. The child can see what is happening without disturbing the other students (too much). Hopefully, the child will see that the other children are having fun. And that the teacher is nice. And will calm themselves down and stop crying. (Children crying quietly can stay at the table and observe.)
2. Don’t console / reason with the crier: This is advice is for solo teachers. Of course, if there are 2 teachers, 1 should try and console the crier. But if you are on your own, your responsibility is for ALL the students. You might find non - criers joining the crier if spend time consoling the crier. Also, if you are an EFL teacher who looks different to the students—— YOU are most likely the reason the child is crying. Your efforts to console might just make the child cry more.
3. Gentle soothing: I will try to gently rub the criers head/ shoulders/ knee…. and calmly say “shhhh, shhhh”.
4. Bring back to the group: As the child calms down, bring them back to the group. If they start crying again, then let them go back to observing.
We find that with the above policies, most children DO NOT CRY. And the ones that do, stop crying within 5 minutes and are fine for the rest of the class.
How about your lessons? Do you have anything to add?