I-1.4-To appreciate the vulnerability of children and their dependence on adults.
I-1.5-To create and maintain safe and healthy settings that foster children's social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development and that respect their dignity and their contributions.The overlying Principal is:
P-1.1-Above all, we shall not harm children. We shall not participate in practices that are emotionally dam- aging, physically harmful, disrespectful, degrading, dangerous, exploitative, or intimidating to children. This principle has precedence over all others in this Code.Carl's vulnerability is evident - he is being excluded for no reason. While I do not promote that we "need to be friends with everyone," we absolutely DO need to RESPECT everyone in the class/school/playground/community... These boys are violating Carl's right to feel respected. They are using degrading behaviors and words. Clubs are exclusionary. This is a teaching moment for you and your students...how do we treat others? Why can Carl play if he smears dirt on himself? How would they feel if someone told them they had to do that? What does it mean to be "cool?" There is a lot going on in this scenario, not the least of which is discrimination. I do not know the age of your students, but it doesn't really matter. They need to be taught how to live and work together as a community, with fairness and respect for one another. I would recommend looking into the book Anti-Bias for Young Children and Ourselves. It's an excellent resource! Good luck.
I am thinking about this admittedly without looking at the NAEYC guidelines.
There are multiple issues.(1) a group of children is deliberately excluding another child - Is it actually a "club"? Do all three of the boys identify it as such or did they spokesperson invent that on the fly? - Is it okay for children to reject other children's wish for inclusion? There's self determination and autonomy to consider. It's okay to have boundaries and to say no thank you to sharing objects or space. Yet in this scenario there's a group exclusion, not an individual. So there becomes a power differential. And also the rejection of the invitation to play was met with unkindness, not a healthy expression of boundaries. Is there exclusion the free will of all three of the boys? Is one boy speaking for the others acceptable? Has the spokesperson created a power differential by speaking for others, by creating a leadership role for himself? This would make me wonder if it might be developmentally helpful for schools to have a rule about not forming child generated clubs without teacher support. The secrecy is an issue. And the lack of adult guidance leaves space for cutlery. If a child really wants to start a club - say a Frog Club - because they and some other like frogs, an adult can help them walk through club mission, values/norms, and logistics. That would be healthy learning and ensure pro social norms. Without that guidance, a playground "club" can quickly devolve into the "Cool Club." I do think this dynamic has existed as long as children have gathered on playgrounds. There is a testing of social dynamics, inclusion/exclusion, power differentials. It is age expectable. And it does need adult help or it just gets bigger.
(2) The other issue is the overt unkindness to Carl. This sounds like playground bullying. There are clear indicators of a wish to humiliate Carl. He is "not cool enough." He is told to smear mud on his face. This kind of conflict is age expectable. And it needs adult intervention. Left without, the unkind kids will increase in excitement and cruelty. And left without adult help, Carl is done-to at school. School stops feeling safe. He receives a message that he is in fact not cool enough, he is inadequate. And he submits to humiliation by asking again or if he does the initiation task of smearing his face w mud. It is SO good that Carl could use his higher thinking to notice the other boys didn't have mud on their faces and to question this whole thing. That means he didn't go into unhelpful stress responses and submit or try to please the aggressors. He questioned with thoughtful observation and walked away. That is really good. And also, his fight/flight system IS what made that possible, so the adults need to be mindful that even though he coped well, he is COPING and IMPACTED by what happened and will be why what happens next. This is taxing on his whole system. (Adult therapists hear these stories of playground humiliation all the time. The body and mind remember how it went, who helped, who didn't.) Mitigating these moments requires a safe and consistent adult presence to buffer and help co-regulate. Don't assume Carl is fine and the other boys can do whatever they're doing. That is collusion with a power differential dynamic that does go against most school cultures. You can draw that developmental line into the future and you'd get to physical bullying, hazing at college fraternities, othering and discrimination in society at large. Again, don't assume Carl is fine. This is a trauma and a learning moment for all. Adults showing up is essential to help their systems calm (regulate) and to help them find pro social solutions (Yes this is anti social in a young form, but it is the opposite of pro social and if left unchecked the excluding boys get an adrenaline rush from the power differential - which becomes addictive and leads to bigger exclusionary acts. Likewise if left unchecked, young Carl is abandoned to navigate cruelty. That said, proper resolution (you can look to reparative justice models for kids) does NOT mean Carl forgives and forgets. It's okay and healthy for him to not want to play with or trust someone who bullied him. He can do that without being cruel, himself. If over time a cruel child who has apologized is truly showing remorse and a commitment to kinder behaviors, it is CARL's CHOICE whether to give another chance. It should NOT be forced by the adults. Think about children noticing unsafe adults and then instinct they need in order to keep away from them. We do not squelch that instinct because we want a happy classroom. We support Carl by helping him pair with kind classmates, by letting him take space from someone who hurt him (having boundaries), and letting him consider his own free will if/when he wants to give a second chance.
Be mindful that staff who experienced bullying and othering at any age may be triggered by this scenario and will need some space to process it so they can then be the best help to the kids and you can have consistency among adult helpers. If you have a mental health consultant at your school, this is a great case to discuss with them. You are catching it before the harm has amplified. Which is so good! This is what early intervention is all about. Again, I realize I didn't point you to NAEYC guidelines. I have applied what I know from social work codes of ethics, child development expertise, and trauma training. I hope this is helpful.
i didn't mean to dissertate. I enjoy these kinds of opportunities to be a thought partner. You are welcome to contact me directly.