“My teeth are really hurting me, Miss,” cried a young student in my primary school classroom recently. He was deeply distressed and the tears were flowing freely as he held his jaw to soothe the pain.
Towards the end of a very lengthy spelling test, he had asked if he could go and sharpen his pencil. I’d indicated we only had 5 words to go so it wasn’t necessary – I’d be able to read the last 5 words even so.
Shortly afterwards came the very genuine river of tears as he explained to me how when he writes with a blunt pencil, the unpleasant sensation moves up his arm and into his teeth, making them feel very sore and painful. We agreed that he should never again use a blunt pencil and would keep a spare sharpened one handy for situations like these.
The incident had me reflecting on childhood sensitivities of my own and those I have observed as teacher, and then questioning why we fail to consider the sensitivity of our children in our schools and homes.
I clearly recall the dread I felt from the age of 6 onwards whenever we were asked in school to write something in our Rough Books. These books had a strange smell and the pages were coarse and scratchy; no matter how good your writing was, it was very difficult to write on those pages and the work never felt or looked ok. As a child, I had assumed that the term Rough Book referred to their unpleasant texture and odour and wondered why we were subjected to them when we had other perfectly normal books on hand. Many years later, I realised that to adults, rough meant first copy or first draft. The child’s reading of the situation was equally valid – they were definitely rough!
Then there was the school toilet paper – coarse and grainy on one side so not at all user friendly; shiny and non-absorbent on the other side so not practical either. I learned ‘not to go’ at school. Today, toilet paper in schools is still not of the quality routinely used in most homes.
Along with many school peers, I used to gag at the warm milk provided for our break and tried to claim I couldn’t drink it like the 2 kids on orange juice. How I envied them but I was overruled by adult authority. Are the same feelings overridden today by adding sugary flavours to milk, I wonder?
I’ve observed children who are sensitive to the fluorescent lights typically used in many classrooms: they get headaches and eye strain. Some kids find the hard plastic chairs uncomfortable to sit on. In our room they are allowed to bring in cushions but this is seen as irregular or as a nuisance by some colleagues.
I’ve met kids who are noise sensitive: loud music and large groups of excited people mean they need to wear ear muffs to block out the sound. Some find clothing labels unbearable and either scratch constantly or have to have them cut off from t-shirts and other items of clothing. Other kids become anxious at the prospect of sport or intense physical exercise and almost all kids become extremely loud and boisterous when they have soft drink on special days, indicating that their young bodies are very sensitive to sugar.
Children are sensitive to being excluded from games, activities and events, to being called names, picked on, teased and bullied.
The majority of kids I have known react negatively to most academic competitive situations like classroom tests and especially national testing. They become anxious, withdrawn, nervous, teary, atypically loud. The results of those affected in this way rarely reflect their true ability – ability seen very clearly in the openly friendly environment of a child with their teacher and peers.
Our children are acutely sensitive on a physical level and in sensing the ambient energy of the situations they meet daily. Their bodies have yet to learn to override the signals that arise from their delicate and tender physicality and their often natural tendency to self-care and nurture.
It seems to me that we need to ask ourselves why we would want them to override the messages of their own body.
The other boys in my class were initially astonished that the tearful chap received an understanding ear from the teacher and an action plan to make sure he didn’t have to compromise his physical comfort in the future. This opened the door for a class discussion on whether or not it’s ok for boys and girls to be open about their sensitivities. We decided that in our classroom, it is ok to do so.
What says the rest of humanity? Should we be teaching our children to ignore their body’s signals or even harden their bodies so that the impulses cannot be felt? Or do we need to look at and consider what it could mean for all of us to honour our bodies and our innate sensitivity from birth and on into our elder years?
For myself, it’s a no brainer and I question why we would opt for the ignore or harden option when we could be allowing the full and open expression of our gorgeous sensitivity, a sensitivity that sustains our connection with the loving beings we all are.