I mentor a student every Tuesday at my children’s school. Today, as I was sitting at a table in the lunchroom waiting for her, another student, we’ll call her Beth, sat down next to me in tears.
I immediately asked her what had happened. She had been having a disagreement with a friend, and the lunchroom staff had sent her to sit “at the wall”, as they like to call it. Beth told me that she hadn’t done anything wrong, that her friend had been mean to her. Her friend then told on her to the lunch staff after Beth had gotten upset wanting to know why. I just sat and listened, and told her I was so sorry to hear that had happened.
As she continued to tell me that her friend had been mean to her earlier in class, and had rolled her eyes at her, one of the lunchroom staff felt the need to interrupt and say to Beth: “Did you say how you were acting up and disrespecting your friends and the lunchroom staff?”
I responded to the staff member “I’m just listening”, and Beth responded to her that the friend had started it, had been mean to her, and had even hit her just prior to them getting to the lunchroom.
The staff member immediately softened, and gave Beth a napkin to wipe her tears, told her that she could go back to the lunch table, but to sit away from her friends. She proceeded to tell Beth that she shouldn’t hang around girls who would cause trouble for her. I kindly suggested to Beth that perhaps she might want to wait a few minutes and calm down before returning, and that everything was going to be okay.
Beth agreed that she wanted to wait a bit longer, and the staff member walked away. I sat with her some more, and said that I was sorry that it happened and that I knew what it felt like to be blamed for something that wasn’t my fault and to be embarrassed in front of my class. She immediately calmed down and we talked for a few more minutes.
I told her that it was normal for her to have conflicts with her friends, and that they would work things out, but maybe not today. I did offer her some advice that if it happened again, she may want to choose to sit away from her friends during lunch, and try to sort it out the next day when they all had a chance to calm down.
As I left the school, I was reflecting on everything that had happened. Lately, I have been realizing that at the heart of both our relationships and our disagreements is the level of connection that we have with one another. This interaction I had with Beth and the lunchroom staff member showed me just how powerful this connection can be, and how we all need to be valued and heard. Everyday many misbehaving kids are shamed, blamed, and “sent to the wall”. I wonder how different the experience would be if the staff simply separated the students from the conflict, and took a moment to sit with them and just listened.