You Might Be the Problem
If you are having difficulties in your interactions with a kiddo, there is likely one thing you haven’t considered – you might be the problem. Scary thought, isn’t it? Admitting that you might be the one causing conflict.
It happens much more frequently than we want to admit, often without us even being aware of it. Largely, it comes across as power struggles. You know the ones – a kiddo questions a direction, feedback, or anything along those lines, and immediately you go on the defensive. Most of the time, your response comes down to, “I’m right because I’m the adult.” Kiddos are labelled as trouble-makers or smart-asses, and you remain irked by them for the next day, week, or however long. How dare they question you and challenge your authority! But, in asking those questions, aren’t kiddos doing what we want (or what we should want) them to do? Thinking critically, developing well reasoned arguments, finding supporting evidence, all of those are skills we are (or should be) demanding of kiddos. But, instead of engaging with them, using the opportunities presented to help them refine their skills, and dare I say actually taking a moment to reflect on ourselves and our knowledge/understanding, we let ego get in the way and shut the situation down. Kiddos end up feeling like their voice isn’t heard, can be quite hurt by that, and will find ways to push back, to express those feelings. And, thus, the vicious cycle of a power struggle is born.
Other times, we feel like kiddos just aren’t being reasonable. Why do they insist on making foolish choices? Why can’t they see the “smart” solution that is right in front of them? In my readings over the years, I came across the claim that the part of the brain that keeps people from making foolish choices doesn’t fully develop until the mid 20s. Well, that explains a few things. But, even if that factoid isn’t true, what is is the fact that you are the adult. You have experience behind you that kiddos don’t have, which means you are looking at a given problem differently than they are, often in a way they won’t be able to grasp for years. Don’t blame them for not being able to do something you’ve been working on for years. And, don’t forget hormones – they’re going to reek havoc on anybody!
One final thought on this topic – the things that bug us most about others are the things we don’t like about ourselves. Chances are, if you are regularly complaining about a particular trait in a kiddo, say stubbornness, procrastination, or anything else, you are probably trying to work on that yourself. Keep working on it, but realize that you’re the kiddo likely isn’t ready to. They’ll get there in their own time, just like you did.
So, the next time you and a kiddo are butting heads, stop and think for a moment – are you the problem?
Patience – it is the single greatest thing needed when working with kiddos of any age. And, it is probably the skill most likely to desert us when we need it the most.
First, and foremost, we need to have patience with the kiddos. That should be a given, but, sadly, is often not the case. Somewhere in there, we forget a couple of key things: (1) they (most of the time) are not purposely trying to annoy us; (2) they’re still learning; and (3) they’re still kids.
It is easy to believe that kiddos enjoy bugging us, that they purposely set out to make our lives more difficult. In some cases that might be true, but that brings us to another kind of teachable moment, where we can work with them to understand where their need to elicit that kind of response comes from, and to channel that into a more productive means of behaviour. However, for most kiddos, at least in my experience, that isn’t usually the case. Most of the kiddos I’ve worked with have had at least a few very, very annoying moments. Some even to the point where the best course of action was for me to walk away before I did or said something I would regret. Once I got a bit of distance between myself and the kiddos in question, I realized that they weren’t actively trying to annoy me – they had a need to talk, to express themselves, and their need to do so was, to them, greater than my need for them to be quiet at the time. Thinking about it like that helped me to put it in perspective, and to go back and work with them to come up with a mutually beneficial solution – like a limit on a particular topic of conversation, or them being able to go outside for a few minutes to burn off the excess energy that led to excessive talking. If a kiddo is engaging in a behaviour you find particularly annoying, there is generally a reason why. Recognizing that leads to teachable moments, which brings me to my next point.
Kiddos are still learning. And, they’re not just learning academics – they’re learning social and emotional skills as well. Who better to help them with that than us? Kiddos don’t have the same life experiences we have, so they don’t understand a lot of social interactions the same way most adults do, and often need some guidance as to what behaviour is appropriate and what isn’t. Once they understand, they are able to put those skills into practice. This may be explaining to them that particular topics are not appropriate for conversation, or that things like talking over other people isn’t the best way to be included in a conversation. I had a student who, whenever he needed to talk, he would. He had to say whatever was on his mind, or it became very emotionally uncomfortable for him. This resulted in him butting into conversations, talking over his peers, and interrupting on a regular basis. Over time, with gentle reminders, and some strategies in place, he was able to join in conversations, interject thoughts in a way that invited others into discussion, and managed how long he spoke for, rather than monopolizing the conversation. All he needed was some guidance and a chance to practice the skill. It wasn’t an overnight success, but patience paid off, and he felt better among his peers, and like he was being heard.
Sometimes, we forget that kiddos are still kids. We expect them to behave like completely rational human beings, and act/think the way we do. Yeah, that’s not the case. Think of yourself as a teenager. Most likely you are not the same now that you were then. Teenage you probably made a few (or more) decisions that adult you looks back and says: “What were you thinking?”. These kiddos are currently like teenage you but haven’t had the luxury of reflecting on their choices yet. What we are looking at as them pushing our buttons its them trying to figure things out. Patience – it took you a while to get where you are. Give the kiddos that time as well.
Beyond being patient with kiddos, you need to be patient with yourself. I’ve said this before, and will continue to say it – we are human, we are going to make mistakes. Especially in the beginning. I have been working with kiddos for the better part of a decade and a half, and I still don’t get it right 100% of the time. Every kiddo I’ve worked with is a little bit different. Some strategies work for most, some only work for one, and it takes time to figure out the best way to best work with each kiddo. You are going to make mistakes along the way. I do, and I usually feel pretty horrible about it at the time, but you know what? Kiddos are pretty forgiving. If you are able to say “Well, I messed up. How can we fix this so it doesn’t happen again?” they will help you come up with ideas. Kiddos are pretty quick to forgive if you can admit you made a mistake. If they aren’t going to be hard on you about it, why are you being hard on yourself?
Working with kiddos requires patience, both for them and yourself. It may seem like it has deserted you at times, but if you take a step back, and consider that they are just kids, who want to learn and understand how to be better, and if you can see the same traits in yourself, it is much easier to have the patience needed to help these kids truly become great.
Helpful Hint: Feeling overwhelmed? It may be a good time to TAP out of a conversation – Take a breath – Assess the situation and yourself – Proceed – to give yourself a chance to collect yourself.
Stop “Should-ing” Yourself!
Do you know what one of the most dangerous words out there is? Should. It is an evil little word we use on ourselves and others to apply pressure when our perfectionism starts taking over.
Right now I am in the middle of a summer intensive semester, and I have been should-ing myself to death: I SHOULD be done writing papers by now, I SHOULD be doing more with my friends and family; I SHOULD be helping my classmates more. No, I shouldn’t. I would like to, and my perfectionist brain is trying to turn “I would like to” into “I have to”, which gives us “should”.
We should ourselves constantly. And, the only thing that really comes out of it, is more stress. Instead of being honest with ourselves about when things need to be done by, how much we really need to do in a given situation, or what the expectations of us are, we take our ideal and try for force that to be the reality. Consequently, we’re working harder, towards harsher deadlines, and for increasingly more outlandish goals. And we’re the ones to blame! Yes, there are increasing external demands being put on all of us, but we’re not helping the situation.
Possibly even worse than should-ing ourselves, is when we start should-ing kids. Please stop doing that. One of the worst things we can say to kids is “You should be doing better”. No, we would like them to be doing better, and probably they would like to be doing better, too. “Should” leads to “Have to”, which increases perfectionist tendencies, which causes stress. Kids already have enough stress. We don’t need to be adding to it.
Should is a word we need to ban. Be honest with yourself and and others. Is it a situation of “I’d like to” or “I have to”. Don’t try to turn the former into the latter. We already have enough stress in our lives. Why create more?
Practice Makes Progress: The Failure of Perfect Students
Increasingly, young people are succumbing to perfectionist tendencies – very bright young people are worrying themselves into a frazzle over school work.
Along with this, I have noticed that the highest rates of test anxiety are among high-achieving students. These are students who, in day to day situations, can answer any question I throw at them, who will take the initiative to help explain concepts to other students, and who are capable of genuine inquiry and analysis of ideas. But, when it comes to tests, these same students are bombing them. Badly! So what’s getting in their way? Their fear of failure.
Within the education system as a whole, so much emphasis has been placed on the importance of the test as the be-all and end-all assessment of students’ learning. And, that idea of “the big test” determining their grade in a class is driving students to live in fear of, and ultimately do poorly on, tests. So what can we do? We need to teach kids that it is okay to fail.
So-called “failure” is only another step on the path to learning. Instead of looking at a test as the final analysis of kids’ knowledge, why not use it as a way to judge what still needs to be learned? Weaker areas can be revisited, material can be re-taught, and kids can be given another opportunity to prove what they know. But, the funny thing is, even with knowing they get another chance, kids still fear their tests, and through that fear end up doing worse than they normally would. Overcoming this fear is an ongoing process, especially if kids come from a traditional schooling environment, and have already developed that fear of tests.
Beyond all of that, consider this – taking tests is a skill, one that needs to be developed over time. So why are we constantly testing someone on a skill while it is being developed, and then punishing them (with low marks) because they are still working on that skill? Why not set up situations so that kids can practice how to take a test, without fear of their marks dropping while they learn to do it?
There is a lot to be said for alternative means of evaluation, and YES!!! use them, embrace them, give kids the chance to show you what they know in the way that is best for them. But, unfortunately, standardized tests are still a reality for the education system, and as long as that is true, students need to learn how to write tests. But, we can work with kids, giving them to opportunity to learn the skills they need to be successful in those circumstances, without punishing them, and having them live in fear of failing while they are in the learning process.
Failure isn’t something to be feared, it’s a learning opportunity. If we can embrace that and make it part of our practices, we can help kids move out of a state of fear, and into one of learning and growth.