More on the Pestering Case Study

I forgot to mention another thing I have learned through our struggles with L’s pestering. L’s pestering used to be more physically aggressive, often pushing. At the time, I think I saw it as bullying? I’m not sure at this moment how the pestering and bullying are or aren’t related. But anyway, L definitely had the power to make the other children upset by pushing them or stealing toys, and it was something he was definitely exploring and trying out. Like, “Oh you are going to scream when I push you? I wonder if you’ll always do that… What if I only pretend to push you but don’t actually push you? Oh, cool, this is kind of fun… oh if I steal this toy, you are going to scream, and then an adult is gonna come swooping in. I’m game for that… ”

So, one thing I have realized recently about acts of “pestering” or “bullying” is that it actually takes two (or more) to make that dance happen. One person starts with a bid–an action offered as a pester or bully, and the second person has to respond by acknowledging it as so. Only in retrospect, can the initial act be declared a pester or bully. It is like a contract–an offer and an acceptance. One way to address the pestering and bullying is to work on preventing the offer (or bid) from happening–that is to work to stop L’s behavior. But it is just as important to work on the other side–that is help the children to refuse the offer. This lines up with the notion that such problems are community problems (not just individual problems), and everyone must share responsibility for helping to repair trouble.

One way we worked on the kids being better at refusing acts of pestering, was through the development of physical and emotional resilience to physicality. We didn’t necessarily know we were doing it at first, but we quickly noticed its effects. Several months ago, we started teaching the kids to rough-house. It started with mostly the expert rough-housers (i.e, Bethany and Brian), mostly manipulating the kids’ bodies around, keeping it feeling exciting and even a bit scary, but still safe. We would push them over playfully, bear hug them and roll them across the carpet, pretend to smash them, throw them into something, let them jump on us. Over time, as the children became more expert at rough housing, multiple novices playing might roughhouse with expert at the same time and then gradually it became more and more the novices rough housing with each other. Rough housing offers lots of opportunity to encounter episodes of getting into trouble during play and working on its repair. The children also learn how to brace their body for a fall, to tense their muscles before a dog pile, to communicate when it’s too much, to stop when someone has communicated it’s too much, to recognize when to take a break, and whether to relax for a while or recover quickly to get back in the action.

The children also just got used to rough physical contact, which took away the power that L had to get them upset. Before, L would push and get screaming, whining, yelling in response. Now, L would push, and they could just brush it off, or ignore it, or walk away, or even push back. The skills they developed during rough housing gave them the physical and emotional skills to refuse to accept his pestering / bullying bids. And so gradually, L stopped making so many offers…

The second way that the children learned to refuse L’s bids is something we actually learned from one of the children, Ar. One day, L came over to Ar and just kept saying, “No!” right in his face, which would have more normally been responded to with even more and louder, “No”s and whining high pitched voices, and screaming. This time Ar decided to respond playfully, by saying No in a singsongy and goofy way, basically dancing and singing happily as real good “no no” song. L decided to join in on the silliness together. Another time, we saw A responding to pestering bids with smiles and tickles. L decided to playfully accept the tickles. Once we realized what A was doing, we all started doing it more. Maybe L would use his body in some weird way to invade someone else’s space, and that would become a dance move we would all try out. I want to be  clear, that this is different than taunting L back or mocking L. Instead, Ar modeled for us how to respond playfully, not vindictively or mockingly. Ar had turned L’s bids to pester into bids to be silly. In doing so, we all learned how to counter offer or redirect the bid into something else.

Finally, I realized that even seeing L’s pestering as pestering was problematic, because it wasn’t pestering until someone (an adult, a child) oriented to it as such. We got better at seeing the bid as full of more possibilities than just pestering, and seeing that we all had at least some role to play in pestering. It wasn’t just “L’s” pestering… it really was trouble occurring at the community level, not the individual. Trying to solve the problem at the individual level was probably not going to be as successful. This isn’t to say that we have worked it all out, or that we don’t fall into the pester trap. But it’s changed my view, from “L is pestering again” to “How did we fall for that again?”, or “What lead me to respond that way this time?”

Anyway, maybe there are people who read here that don’t want to read about daycare, and if so, I’m sorry. But it’s the most interesting learning/teaching work I’m immersed in these days.

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