Empathy & Impulses

Updated: Nov 4, 2018

I want to write about a student I’ve been teaching at Purple Carrots for almost a year. Let’s call him Cosmo. Cosmo is seven years old, and is exceptionally creative and caring. He also struggles with impulse control - by that I mean that he seems to experience intense impulses that sometimes manifest in sudden unpredictable actions, such as running across the room and/or screaming. Throughout his time at Purple Carrots I have witnessed a significant improvement in his ability to control his impulses and make appropriate decisions. I believe this could be related to his passion for the acting work we do (in which he absolutely shines) which seems to motivate him to behave in a way that ensures he will be able to remain in the class and be accepted by his classmates.

I’m very proud to have him in my class.

Let me give you an example. As students arrive to class, we start with a few minutes of guided free play. Cosmo loves this time and enjoys running around the room twirling ribbons or playing with hula hoops. During this time, I've observed that he seems to struggle with spatial awareness which results in him sometimes bumping into others. I remember one instance when he accidentally stepped on another student’s toe, who we will call Magnus. Magnus was very upset about this and wanted to get as far away from Cosmo as possible. However, once Cosmo realized what had happened, he was visibly upset and wanted nothing more than to apologize to Magnus. He started impulsively chasing him around the room shouting “I’M SORRY! I’M SORRY! I DIDN’T MEAN TO!” This only frightened Magnus further. Once the situation had calmed down a little, we talked to Cosmo about how his actions had made Magnus feel unsafe, and brainstormed with him about how to apologize without making him feel scared. It was hard for Cosmo to understand why Magnus was running away from him when all he wanted to do was apologize. I remember asking Cosmo to look at Magnus' body language and notice whether his current approach of chasing him was working. There was a moment of realization for Cosmo, which lead to him standing still, at a comfortable distance from Magnus, and trying his apology from there, with a quieter voice. It worked! Magnus accepted his apology.

As a teacher, I believe it's my job to be able to see both sides of any conflict. In this situation, Cosmo was having a great time, with zero intention of hurting anyone, and then felt very confused about accidentally doing so. Furthermore, he was frustrated by not being allowed to apologize, and so kept chasing Magnus in an attempt to do so. On the other hand, Magnus was happily minding his own business, got his finger stepped on and was then being chased around the room! It’s understandable that Magnus was scared and wanted space, but it’s heartbreaking to see Cosmo’s frustration with himself knowing that he had unintentionally hurt someone, and was struggling so much ( however unsuccessfully) to resolve the situation.

Cosmo has come a long way since then. Lately he is much more calm, self aware, and able to listen to his friends. Now when he feels frustration, for example, he is able to tell us that he needs space to be alone and removes himself to the break chair until he is ready to re-join the group. Recently I noticed that he accidentally hit another student in the arm as he was running around during free play. This student, let’s call them Amagio, was quite bothered by this and asked me to punish Cosmo. Once I explained to Cosmo what had happened, he was able to stop, look at Amagio and calmly apologize to them. This simple interaction took no more than thirty seconds and could easily appear insignificant to the outside eye, but I was deeply moved by the way Cosmo was able to remain in control in this potentially difficult moment. To me, this shows an awareness of others and maturity in social interactions that was not there before.

Cosmo still has good days and bad days, he still makes mistakes and he still loses control sometimes - it’s his willingness to keep trying and to keep growing that inspires me. We will continue on our journey together with our ups and downs, but the difference between the start of our relationship and now is that I can now trust Cosmo to be open to listening to others first, instead of his own impulses.

By Jordan Campbell.