I posted this on Facebook this morning:
This morning, on my way to work, I saw my neighbor dragging her small son to the bus stop, quite literally. He had thrown himself onto the ground, his expression one of resolute determination.
He. Was. Not. Going. To. School.
Mom had him by one arm, pulling his prone and remarkably Jell-o-y form, his heels scraping the asphalt the whole way. When I passed by, I nodded to him in solidarity and understanding. His eyes pleaded with me to help. Alas, I could not. All I could do was mouth, “I feel you, little homie. I feel you.”
I meant it as a funny post, and I think it was received it as such, but it prompted a comment from a friend: “What a little brat.” This friend doesn’t have children, generally doesn’t like them (about which he’s vocal), and resents having to share public places with them. A conversation about children’s behavior ensued.
I get frustrated, as do all parents, I think, when a childless person, who spends little time with/around kids, puts his two cents in regarding how children should be raised. My friend, an overall great guy (except for the whole ‘children are devil-spawn’ thing), feels quite justified in giving his opinion because 1) he was a child and, therefore, does have ‘experience’, and 2) he is forced to share the world with little humans. They’re fair points, I suppose, but having been a child is far different from parenting them. I admit that I was judge-y before I was a parent. It’s so easy to say, “If I had a kid…” but you don’t really know until you have that kid. Then a whole lot of what you ‘know’ flies out the window.
Here is what I do know, based on my own years parenting and many years of working directly with small children:
Good, happy, healthy kids misbehave. Period. Good, happy, healthy kids can be brats and have melt-downs, sometimes (gah!) in public. Good, happy, healthy kids will sometimes push their parents to the point of exasperation and exhaustion, making them want to kick their little butts so far into the future, their clothes will be out of style.
I’m betting that every single parent in the world knows this. I’m also betting that every parent in the world has been (or will be) embarrassed by one of these situations at least once (or 400 times).
Imagine how this mom felt... (heh)
Kids – all kids, but especially little ones – are learning. They’re learning everything. They have no real control over their lives – and sometimes they want it so very desperately. They have little control over their emotions. They don’t understand that being tired can make them act like the Anti-Christ, that being hungry brings out the demons in them, that when they’re angry or scared, they can’t just lash out at whoever is near. They are learning. We, as parents and as adults, are teaching. Or we should be.
Condemning a child – labeling him negatively, especially based on just a snapshot of behavior – is wrong. Assuming he always behaves badly is most likely inaccurate. Not understanding that there is a reason for the behavior is doing that child a disservice. There is always a reason. The reason might not be readily apparent, it’s true, and it might not be a good one (according to adult standards) but it’s always there. Trying to understand the reason tells the child that what is happening in his head and his heart is important. It’s validating. It teaches empathy and tolerance. It creates healthy, empathetic, caring adults.
And I think we need more of those sorts of adults in this world.
None of this means that bad behavior should be condoned.
It doesn’t mean that kids shouldn’t be held appropriately accountable for their behavior.
My little neighbor obviously didn’t want to go to school this morning. I don’t know why. I don’t know his reason. I do know he’s a lovely little guy with a normally sunny disposition and his resistance (I can’t even call it a tantrum) to heading to the bus stop was unusual. I also know that his mother deemed his resistance futile. He went to school, like it or not (not).
And I went to work this morning, like it or not (not).
Parenting is a hard job. It’s a really hard job. Some of us are good at it. Some of us are not. Most of us are just trying to get through the day. Most of us are also well aware that our kids are the results of our efforts – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the utterly exhausted. And it scares the shit out of us.
I don’t believe in wrapping kids in bubble wrap. I don’t believe in protecting them from loss, from losing, and from the pain and frustration that comes from not getting what they want. I believe they need freedom to explore, to make mistakes, and to learn to think for themselves. I believe we have to prepare them for living in the real world, which means working hard, paying dues, losing (hopefully less than winning), helping others, being grateful, and giving back. I believe that competition can be good but not at the expense of learning to play fairly. I believe that teaching our kids that there are consequences for every action, as well as how to deal with being hurt, with pain, with anger, frustration, and loss are some of the most important lessons we can teach. And I believe that making sure kids understand that they are not their mistakes and shortcomings – and that they are worthy of great love in spite of their mistakes and shortcomings – is key to bringing them up in the healthiest possible way.
When kids are loved and taught well, their behavior generally follows. Make no mistake, every child will misbehave. Every child will have bratty moments. But the child who chronically misbehaves is missing something (or may have a condition or disability which makes managing his behavior difficult). And that is not his fault. So attempting to understand his reasons for misbehaving can only help him.
We have become a society so willing to judge and condemn people for behavior/ideas/words we don’t like. We demand tolerance of our views but we’re not willing to extend it. This world needs change on a grand scale.
And I think it needs to start with the youngest among us.