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Any one of us could have lived
Beatrice's story and we would all
hope someone would give us
unconditional hugs.
This is me at six years old.


479 words


A true story about a sad little girl
by Dianne Roth


Years ago I had a little girl in my classroom. We’ll call her Beatrice because I never had a Beatrice in my class.

It was during the years schools were instituting “zero tolerance” for violent behavior. One violent act, you were sent home.

Beatrice was moved into my classroom after school started. Her teacher had been unable to reduce her 30+ acts of daily violence. She was a child screaming for help in a world that was sending her back into her dysfunctional home as punishment. Zero tolerance would never work for Beatrice.

For that matter, none of my tried and true strategies for working with children seemed to help. Time outs, lost privileges, positive reinforcement, and calm discipline had no effect.

The class knew the drill. They would report her infractions, I would tell them to send her to see me, she would calmly walk over to me, and quietly submit to my efforts to tame her. Nothing worked. Pulled hair, torn papers, kicking, hitting, and pushing continued. It is a testament to their trust in me that the students did not resort to retaliation.

One day, in desperation, I looked at her with new eyes. I saw her sadness as real and consuming. As she got to me, I asked, “May I give you a hug?”

I wrapped her up in the most encompassing hug I ever gave, and held her for several moments. Into her ear I whispered, “Are you ready to stop hurting children?”

She nodded, and I let her go.

That day was a turning point. Her hurting incidents dropped to five a day. The students would report, she would come to me for a hug, and we all knew something big had changed.

I took to hugging her first thing in the morning to get her jump started.

Then one day, in the midst of a huge classroom construction project, a child came to me with a report about Beatrice. My part of the project was to run the hot glue gun, which could not be left unsupervised. There were a number of children waiting for glue.

I looked around, “Would anyone be willing to ask Beatrice if she wants a hug?”

Four children walked over, each gave her a hug. It was beautiful.

That was the day the number of hurtings dropped to five a week, an astounding drop in her violent behavior. She finished first grade with me and returned for second.

She went on to finish high school and helped protect her younger brother from the violent home culture.

It was desperation that urged me to reward violence with a hug. It was true love that made it work.

Postscript: Our school worked closely with Childrens’ Services. “Beatrice” was removed from the home several times before Mom got sober and was better able to take care of her children.


Dianne Roth is a teacher, mother, grandmother, and freelance writer. She lives in Oregon.




Last updated on November 5, 2015