Pictured above – Olivia was allowed to draw on the window; she explained that she would be able to wash it off when she was finished.
When was it that we learned that our words have importance? That we realized that what we say can affect our environments, our outcomes, and the people around us? Teaching our children to express themselves is not just about communicating emotions in an appropriate way – it’s also about negotiation, persuasion, and reasoning. These are important skills that successful individuals tend to do well at.
So often, children are treated unreasonably. Adults often tell children things must be the way they are..
“Because we say so.”
Sometimes, this makes sense – for example, when we help guide our children’s diets, or bed times, we are making decisions to protect their well being during a time when they are still learning to make good choices on their own. Even in situations like these, the best course of action is to find the words to explain your intentions as a parent or caregiver, to have a conversation around the decisions being made, even if the child may be too young to understand completely (this is rarer than many people think!). Explaining oneself is not a submission or a loss of authority. It is a means to both legitimize your reasoning and to respect your child.
While it’s true that some rules can’t or shouldn’t be changed or amended, what about situations where overriding your child’s desires isn’t totally necessary? What if these times are an opportunity to teach our young ones about logic and the language of reasoning?
Structure is important (especially in a school or classroom setting), but what I do encourage is using logic and language to express feelings and needs despite the possibility for rule “bending.”
If it is time to clean an area and a child approaches me and says “Ms. Atkinson, I’m almost finished my activity, can I please finish and then clean up?” I will acknowledge verbally to them that, because they have approached me with respect and sound reasoning, that they may have a bit more time because of the way they handled the situation.
This accomplishes a few things. It’s a benefit to the Teacher and the classroom as it’s now less likely that the child in questions will ignore clean up time, hide, or have difficult emotions about the transition. In addition, the child has had a positive experience with confronting their issue directly and using words and critical thinking skills to resolve it, making them more confident and likely to choose similarly productive courses of action in the future. Finally, a simple but not-often-talked-about result of this encounter is that both the child and teacher like and respect each other (and themselves) more after this interaction, improving both their moods and their subsequent classroom interactions, making for a better environment for them and everyone else in the classroom.
Guiding children can sometimes be a fine edge to navigate. On the one hand, we would of course like it if children did as we asked. On the other hand, I think most of us hope that we are raising children who will be able to think critically, question authority when prudent, and resist others impressing their wills or agendas onto them. To do this, we have to role model by being reasonable and open to argument from our children.
It’s not always easy for adults to ‘submit’ to a child, especially when many of us never experienced that as children. Having said that, when possible, do your best to consider if your child is making a reasonable point. If they are, show them that their words have meaning and are worthy of respect. We will all be better people for it.