Zia Hassan

Talk Or Space

One of the most overlooked things that new teachers forget about when they start teaching is how often kids cry. The instinct that arises when a new teacher sees a kid cry is to immediately figure out the cause so that they can help.

But I was in a training once where this instinct was challenged.

The presenter said: “before you try to support or help someone, try asking them what kind of support they need.

It’s a small thing but it blew my mind. By guessing how to help someone, I might unintentionally take away their power, take away their ability to learn, to reason, to solve. I can interfere with their processing of sadness or anger, two emotions that require a lot of independent practice to learn how to process, since the process is so different for everyone.

So I developed a new response to anger and sadness from students when I noticed it. Instead of saying “what’s wrong?” I instead asked the question:

“Do you need to talk or do you need space?”

Which eventually just become “talk or space?”

About half the time, the child would say “space” and I would do the very counterintuitive act of just walking away and allowing the child to deal on their own.

The best feeling was when the other students in my class started mimicking this. I’d overhear a girl saying to her friends “she wants space, let’s let her be, and she can join us when she’s ready.”

And if they said talk, I would let them talk as long as possible before saying anything. Often, they would come up with their own solution before I even opened my mouth. Compare that to a directive from an adult who’s had the experience to know what to do.

It was my first real experience in empowering someone. Only I didn’t do anything. And this same framework can easily apply to adult situations.

Sometimes empowerment is as simple as asking “space or talk?” and then refraining from giving advice.