Some Time, Some Space

(by Michell. Original post in Chinese: 一些時間 一些空間

One day, I saw six-year-old Ted pushing a staff member away angrily, “You go away!” I didn’t know what happened, so I tried to walk closer to see if Ted was okay. But before I started, he rejected me, “Don’t come close! Go away!” I did not stop, “Is there anything I can help you? If you need me, I’m right here.” Ted said in a stern voice, “Nothing! I don’t need any help. Just go away!” He then ran off.

I watched him running to the grassland, picking up some sticks and throwing back to the grass. Later on, he ran to a slide and sat there alone. After about an hour, Ted ran back with a lightened up look. His angry face was totally gone. He walked to the staff member whom he pushed away, sat on his lap, started chit chatting with him. He looked cheerful and even giggled, as if nothing has happened before. I couldn’t help but wonder, “What did he do to calm himself?”

In fact, he did not do anything special. I then realized this is just how he regulates his emotions. Walking into nature, being alone, picking up sticks, throwing stones, sitting on the grass, running. Every time when he feels angry, he will leave the crowd and stay in nature alone for a while. Then he will come back with a smile on his face.

I was a teacher in mainstream schools before. Whenever I saw students upset, I would console them, talk to them, try my best to make them feel better. When I saw Ted feeling upset that time, the “teacher” in me wanted to do something to help him. I asked Ted about his feelings and explained that my purpose was to understand him better. But Ted did not like it. He said, “Why do you need to understand me more? I don’t want that.” All of a sudden, this 6-year-old boy reminded me of the “Men are from Mars” theory! I then realized as a staff member in Sudbury, I really need to let go of the need to “help” the kids. I smiled and said to him, “All right. Now I know you don’t want me to ask so many questions. I stop now.”

I learned from Ted that it is also disrespectful to kids if I insist to help them when they already state that they don’t need that.

In Sudbury, when children are upset, they don’t need to go back to the classroom for the lesson, instead, they have unlimited time to deal with their uncomfortable feelings. They can choose to find a way to release it, or not. They can talk to someone else, or not. They can face the issue, or leave it. It’s all up to them, as long as they don’t transgress any rules.

They also have unlimited space to deal with whatever issues they have. They don’t need to sit on a chair. They can leave the crowd, run to the outdoor, immerse into nature until they pull themselves together. During this process, no one is allowed to judge them. The staff members only accompany the kids and offer help when requested.

In his book Free at Last, Daniel Greenberg wrote, “Everyone has within themselves the necessary resources to face life. At Sudbury Valley, they are free to discover and use them.”

In Sudbury, I have witnessed Ted and other kids discovering their inner resources. They learn to listen to themselves, regulate their emotions, know their boundaries, and challenge themselves. The kids trust their own power more than I do. I should stop overestimating my contribution to the children’s life. They are originally powerful and have great potentials. They may need our help sometimes, but most of the time, what children need most is just respect, some time and some space.