The kid on the piano: Slice of Life

The Kid on the Piano: Slice of Life There's a Book for That

That kid on the piano, right at the top, he’s my kid. My student. He should be upstairs right now, in my classroom. But instead, he perches atop the piano in the downstairs hall. The piano that gets wheeled back and forth into classes when music happens.

Not a good idea, sitting on top of the piano. At the very, very top. But really, kinda brilliant. When you don’t want to run back outside and you couldn’t get ahead of that adult trying to herd you upstairs, climbing up there must have made pretty good sense.

They will try to talk you down. But nice and calmly. Nobody wants to be responsible for a child falling or a piano being damaged. If you can dent a piano by climbing about on it. Who knows? They seem to be pretty sturdy things. And 8 year olds aren’t all that solid.

That kid atop the piano, he’s angry. And sad. But he’s just going to show you the angry. It comes out loud and stormy and stompy and it involves a lot of knitted eyebrows. That kid has the most expressive eyebrows.

Good luck to those trying to talk him down. His part of the conversation will sound like “No!” at various volumes for quite some time.

“Do you want me to help you down?”


“Do you want to go for a walk?”


“Should we go see what your class is doing?”


“Okay . . so do you want to help me . . .?”


It’s going to take some time. Some time and some space. Some time for quiet. The adult will need time for something clever and persuasive. Think, think, think. That kid, he needs his head to slow down. Calm, calm, calm.

He is going to focus on the fact that everyone is mean. He is going to perseverate on being blamed. Not fair. Not fair. Not true. Not fair. When a moment of sad or scared sneaks in, he is going to get madder. And grumble and yell a bit.

His foot will start tapping the wood. Piano wood. Piano wood that shouldn’t have tapping feet. He won’t notice he’s doing it until the adult can’t notice anything else. Then he will do it more and harder.

Staring him down won’t work. Remember the eyebrows? They will win. Distracting him might. If it doesn’t feel contrived because he’s pretty clever. Just don’t let him know that that tapping is really making you nervous. Your upset is easier than his upset and he will be drawn to it.

This is the time you need to hope for someone to walk by. A younger kid, not an older one. An older one will make him feel shame and a lot angrier all over. He will pull up his feet and precariously balance in a huddled heap. Where huddled heaps aren’t meant to balance.

A younger kid might look at him in kind of disbelief and genuine awe. It won’t be intimidating. He might even say, “Nothing” when he’s asked what he’s doing up there. He might not even grumble it.

This is the time for that persuasive brilliant thing the adult has been thinking about. He’s distracted. He’s out of his head. Give him a yes or no question that lets him leap down and follow you. Don’t turn around to see if he does it. Trust that he will and he might.

Walk him for a bit and then give him a job. Don’t talk to him. Narrating nonsense on your walk is fine. Comment on the sunshine. The peeling paint. The shiny waxed floors. Give him something to notice.  A place to put his attention. Then give him something to carry. Up and down the stairs for a while.

When he complains, he’s ready to go to class. The kids won’t know he just sat on top of the piano for quite a while. And he’s not going to tell them. He can slip in and join in with their building. They will notice his arrival. Notice and go back to stacking blocks. One of them will nudge the bin closer to him. He will stack too. And lose himself in the chatter and the bustle and the noisy blur of playtime.

I stand there and watch him for a minute.

Shining in the sunshine coming through the windows.

I see the bright energy return under those stormy eyebrows.

The kid who spent part of the afternoon on top of the piano. That’s my kid. My student.

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.


37 thoughts on “The kid on the piano: Slice of Life

  1. You took me back to my resource room days, not that long ago. Perhaps it is my Lenten reading that is influencing me this morning, but I never really looked at helping kids in that state of mind as a privilege, until I read your post. It really is a privilege to be present in someone’s dark space and be allowed to be their way out of it. Thank you for writing down your unseen thoughts while working with an angry child; you have a true gift!

  2. You really are a gifted writer, Carrie, in addition to being gifted in so many other ways! I love the lines about how he is angry and sad but all we see is the angry. I love how the adult is trying to figure out how to get him off the piano and it is a very gentle scene. The eyebrows stood out to me, too! I absolutely love reading your writing.

  3. I feel for that young boy, the only way to find some solace is on top of the piano. You have to admire the intuition of kids sometimes; they know what might help them without really knowing. You wrote this beautifully, Carrie, and I’m glad your ending was back in the classroom.

  4. You made us feel for your young student, up there on top of the piano. He’s a smart guy for climbing atop a piano to get away from everyone. I have no doubt that you’re the kind of teacher who will be able to help him — once he’s ready to come down from the piano.

  5. It takes lot of patience and creativity to find solutions in similar situations. Not all adults understand that power struggle is useless. You are a master in weaving words to capture the slice. Beautiful.

  6. All I have to say: You are so blessed to have the boy on the piano. And He is so blessed to have you. This story is what makes you get up every morning … as much as it is a heart break, I know you will make break throughs to reach this boy on the piano. (And we are blessed to be apart of hearing your stories. Thank you!)

  7. This slice gave me all the feels. This is my son! This is my life! And this is what I wish would happen for him at school–an adult who would sit alongside him when he’s in fight/flight/freeze rather than try all the typical school consequences and responses that don’t work, that only feed the trauma. All those no’s. A sign of how big the threat feels to the child at that moment. The need for quiet. The need for calm. The need for acceptance and empathy. The understanding of trauma and shame that you show us here is really stunning. I loved the narrating of nonsense, the distraction of something else to focus on, the walking, the carrying, the job. You’re getting him back into his body, back into the present moment, out of the trauma. Beautiful writing–and beautiful healing work!

    • Elisabeth, thank you so so much for this comment. It means so much to me coming from you. This is many of my students. We live in the land of trauma and shut downs. It’s what we do.

  8. “That kid atop the piano, he’s angry. And sad. But he’s just going to show you the angry. It comes out loud and stormy and stompy and it involves a lot of knitted eyebrows.”

    These lines spoke to me! We need to take the time to respond with genuine concern and empathy in every interaction we have with kids. Beautiful post, Carrie. How lucky this student is to have you as his teacher.

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