In any classroom dynamic you are sure to find at least one or two children who are highly demanding. These are often the children who demonstrate challenging classroom behaviors as a strategy for gaining adult attention. “Look at me. I’m standing on the table. I’m bound to be the focus of adult attention for this.” And, truthfully, these ARE the children who receive the preponderance of individual attention from classroom teachers and parents at home as well. But there may be other children in the classroom who are in need of as much attention and adult support as the peers who are acting out or who have engaging, outgoing personalities that attract attention. That quiet child in the classroom who doesn’t solicit attention may also be at risk for delayed social and emotional development. Trouble is, we spend so much of our time responding to the high-maintenance children, we often overlook the needs of the quiet, more solitary child.
Some children are naturally temperamentally quieter and may enjoy periods of solitary play. I, myself, am an introvert who craves alone time inside my head as much as I crave sleep, food and water. My comrades in introversion may need some adult support, though, so that they are encouraged to interact with peers and build communication skills. Other children may not be temperamentally quiet, but have withdrawn from their environment because of other issues such as early traumatic experiences. Whatever the reason, by building relationships with the children in our care, we will begin to understand and respond to each individual child’s needs.
How many times have we heard stories about the child who perpetrates a horrific act of violence against peers in school settings where adults around the child report, “He was always a quiet child who mostly kept to himself”? This is, of course, an uncommon example of a child who slipped under the radar of adult awareness, but it does demonstrate that the quiet child playing by himself in the block center all morning or in his bedroom at home all weekend might need as much attention from us at the child dancing on the table while looking toward the adult for individual social interaction.