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Good policing. And smart. Sometimes a hurt is too aggravated, and you can’t approach it directly. You have to find some indirect vector, just some random subject. Something a person geeks out over.

In college, I was part of an after school theatre program at a grade/middle school. There was this one kid, bit of a misfit, quiet, didn’t emote very much, head in a book a lot (usually about insects), or playing with plastic bugs.

One day, this kid got into a minor fight with another. It broke up quickly, but it was enough contact that it had him in tears, so he hid under a table. It was the time that this group had to change rooms. The kid stayed under the table. One of the high school students who volunteered, told the kid it was time to go. The high schooler got angrier and angrier, and sterner and sterner.

He wasn’t seeing what was happening. The kid didn’t like emoting big at the best of times. He absolutely did NOT want anyone seeing him crying. The problem was, he was not emoting this fear in any obvious way, so the high schooler took it as nonchalant challenging of his authority.

Luckily, misfits can smell their own. I told the high schooler to take five. I got on the floor and slid under the table. “Hi,” I said. I was just barely wise enough then to know not to talk about it directly. So…we talked bugs (because bugs are cool). I threw down on insect facts. He opened up like a factoid volcano. He knew his stuff. He went on and on (the way I had done, a shy/awkward kid, when someone knew to get me to open up with dinosaurs/vampires/animal facts).

For five or ten minutes, we sat under the table talking bugs. We never talked about the fight or the tears. Eventually, he looked up at me and asked, “Do I look OK?” (translation: “Does it look like I’ve been crying.”) I carefully looked him over and said he was good to go. And off he went to the next room.

Being able to directly confront a problem is an awesome skill. But sometimes a roundabout method is needed. Pay attention to what folk geek out over.

Also, bugs are cool.