He just threw them everywhere and at first I didn’t know what to do.
It’s been five years but I remember it as if it was yesterday. It was Christmas morning and it was wonderful. And then something happened. My two-year old son, who had been happy for the entire morning, lost it. He had had enough. He was overstimulated and over-sugared and he became a human cyclone. He went around the house and just started hurling toys everywhere. Huh? Why in the world would a human being do this? Then again, I have no idea how a two-year old brain works, so I just followed him around and cleaned up the mess. I felt like I was one part storm chaser and one part policeman.
And then it happened.
He went to the table where there were pieces from three different puzzles. Two of the puzzles were completely assembled and one of them was still in the box. My two-year old son began taking pieces from all three puzzles and just started throwing them all around the room. I was sitting on the couch listening to music. I just sat there and watched. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought to myself, there is no way we will ever be able to put these pieces back together to make them fit. We might as well throw them away.
But we didn’t. My wife and I waited for the storm to pass and then we began helping my son pick up the pieces a few at a time until we had the pieces from all three puzzles in one box. It took some time. It took some patience. More than anything, it took us believing that the puzzles were worth saving.
This experience made me think about many of our students that we work with every day. They are a combination of pieces from many different puzzles. They are disorganized, disheveled and dysfunctional. They come to us the way they are as a result of circumstances that we can’t even fathom; drug abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse, poverty, neglect, just to name a few.
Like the puzzle that was scattered and strewn across the floor, we can help them put themselves back together again. Though we mustn’t think it will be easy. And, like my two-year old son, we can’t begin to imagine what is going on inside their head. One thing for certain is that we can not ever give up on them.
We can start by gathering up all the pieces and putting them in one place. This requires learning the child’s whole story. Involve all stakeholders in this process so that there is not one piece missing. If just one piece is missing, the puzzle will never be complete.
If a child has been abused and we aren’t aware, we are missing a piece. If a child’s brain processes information differently as a result of drug abuse and we don’t know this, we are missing a piece. If a child doesn’t get enough sleep each night because they have no bed and we don’t know this, we are missing a piece. We must make every effort to get all the pieces before we can start to put the child back together.
Once we believe that we know all there is to know about the child, we need to provide them with some type of structure. With a puzzle we often look for all of the flat edges so that we can build the frame. With children we often try to give them some type of routine, some type of consistency. It is important that whatever strategy we choose, we stick with it. It is very difficult to put a puzzle together using several different strategies. By the same token, it is very difficult to help a child feel safe and secure without providing them with some type of structure or framework.
Next, with a puzzle we often look at the box to see what it will look like once it is put back together. This same strategy will work with children. We need to help them see what they can be when they are whole again. We need them to see what they will look like once they are put back together. Stephen Covey wrote, “Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.” That is our charge and I am certain we can do it!
Finally, we begin to fill in the puzzle, one piece at a time. And, as we do this, the process becomes easier and easier. The same will happen with our children. As they begin to gain confidence and see themselves for who they can be, they become more and more excited. Deciding where each piece goes is not so difficult. In fact, it is quite fun.
And that last piece.
Oh, the last piece!
If you have ever completed a puzzle with someone else you know what it is like putting in that last piece. That is the feeling we will get when we see a child that was broken, become whole again.
And that will be amazing!
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