On some days, under some circumstances, we’re all three-year-olds at heart

Jarrod Green is a preschool teacher in Philadelphia who posts on a blog called “If I Ran the Circus“. Yesterday he linked to the story I wrote about Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, and noted that changing its policy from merely punishing bad behavior to determining what the behavior means, helping a teen understand the connection, working with the teen to find healthier ways to cope with stress and build resilience, and still adding consequences for the behavior “sounds remarkably like standard practice in high-quality preschools.”

His whole post is definitely worth reading. Here’s a vignette he provided that will melt your heart.

I remember a hitting incident in my 3′s classroom once where the hitter seemed more upset about it than the hit-ee. Instead of saying “You may not hit” or “Why did you do that,” I did some quick thinking about what I knew about the child. I knelt down and said quietly, “Are you thinking about your mom because she’s out of town?” The child nodded and fell into my arms. “I know,” I said, “It’s hard when she goes away. Let’s make sure your friend is okay, and then we’ll sit together and write your mom a letter.” (Note that, for a teacher to be successful at this strategy, it helps to know what’s going on at home.)

The important thing to note is that, under some circumstances and on some days (and for some severely traumatized people, under most circumstances on most days), teenagers are just very large versions of three-year-olds. So are adults.


  1. Jarod, what an inspiring example of seeking the cause and not punishing the action. A model that touches the soul, rather than scarring. Thank you for sharing.


  2. Yes, I think most of us still have a small child inside who now and then gets anxious, vulnerable or angry. Wouldn’t it be nice if those closest to us were able to be curious about what our behaviour was saying instead of just reacting to it :}


  3. I loved that story. It is so true that there’s not a lot of difference between what we all feel when we are worried or hurt. I think that those of us who work with older children and adolescents need to be very aware of this. It’s so much easier to have empathy for the three year old who is small and so often cute, than the fifteen year old who is towering over you…and yet, both are often feeling pretty much the same inside.


    • Susan this is so true. Our society is so quick to judge and label our youth as well as withholding empathy for the child that is hurting within them. We have a person in our community that has formed a Facebook account in which they post everything they hear on the police scanner. He posted the call that came in that there were students
      smoking pot in the alley. Posts like this, start the conversation and then it can escalate
      from there. Immediately the kids were labeled a bunch of dopers and there was then comments that our school was made up of dopers and bad kids. We needed to be shut down and so on. Yes, two of our students were smoking pot in the alley and it was our Resource Officer that responded to the call. When he pulled in the alley, the pot had been thrown to the side and it was not clear who it belonged to. When the two students were brought to my office, they were under the influence and both students could have easily denied who had been in possession to the marijuana that was found on the ground near them.

      Here is what those who were so quick to judge didn’t know. One of the students shared with me that he felt he needed to take responsibility and that he was the one who threw the marijuana to the side. He did this knowing he would be charged for possession. I asked him if he had a problem and he said, yes. I asked him if he was smoking before coming to school and he said, yes. I asked him if he wanted help, and he answered yes. I then asked him where his stress level was from a scale 1-10. He told me he was a 8-9. I asked the young man if he was using pot to handle his stress, and he said, yes. I told him that an 8-9 was a very high level of stress and that this level of stress can really impact his ability to be able to concentrate at school. The young man looked up at me with tears in his eyes and shared that his five year old sister died in a house fire, and they were not able to save her. Now tears flowing from his eyes, he shared that he can’t get the thought of not being able to save his sister out of his head, “I think about it non-stop, it never goes away.”

      Today, he is in counseling and has made incredible growth. He has cut way back on his using, he is now passing all of his classes, and he knows that he is loved. Since this incident, he is a new person. This is the same young man that was labeled as a “doper.”. The school that showed him empathy, love, and support, is the school that was labeled a school of “dopers” and that we needed to be closed down. Those that were so quick to judge…..they need empathy as well. The child within them is hurting as well.


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