The pace and demands of our world keep teachers and parents very busy. They do not often have time to think about what it means to be a human being raising children to be good, free adults. We need to think deeply about what is happening when our children disappoint us.
We tend to think that every time a student or child does not do what we want, they are actively disobeying or trying to be difficult. In truth, there are at least four reasons a child may not comply with our expectations, rules, or wishes.
Sometimes a student is just being bad. They might want to cause trouble. Encourage these students to do the right thing and provide consequences and counseling to help them.
Unwritten expectations. We learn many things through experience, including accepted ways of interacting and communal responsibilities that we have to one another as adults. Children are unfamiliar with these things. A teacher of mine told me about a time when she was waiting for her parents to pick her up from an event. They were running extremely late. To help them out, she decided to hitch a ride home with friends. She had no ill will. When her parents eventually arrived, they panicked. She soon learned to think about others’ expectations for her in these situations.
Foolishness. Children have an age-appropriate foolishness. While they still need consequences for foolish behavior, try to approach things differently than if a child is simply “being bad.” In my experience, boys especially seem to learn about the world by doing silly things. I have had boys turn a water cooler into a bar—serving up water to friends during break. Some of these same boys decided to crush the used water cups by holding them to their chest and running into the wall. From the adult perspective, this was purposeless and senseless behavior. They put a hole in the wall. Initially, this looks pretty bad, but they did not intend to break the wall. They were having a silly, good time. I appreciated their honesty! They paid to fix the hole, but that was it. When I discipline students, I always look for simple foolishness; it still needs a consequence, but sometimes it merits a different approach than if someone was “being bad.”
Giftedness. Each of our children are uniquely gifted. We work, play, and solve problems out of our giftedness. This means that different people may solve the same problem in different ways. I can remember bringing firewood inside with my older brother. We disagreed over the best, fastest way to do it. I am sure he had the better way, but I wanted to experiment to know for myself. We got in a fight over it. In families and schools, we have to have a certain efficiency without which we would get very little done. This means that people must bend to make things work. Growing up with seven siblings and one bathroom, there was not a lot of time for creativity, primping, and prepping in the bathroom before school or church! We did not have the time for eight people to do things in eight different ways. Teachers face a similar challenge in the classroom. There has to be one way to turn paper in—not 25. It is helpful to remember that frustration is sometimes a function of someone trying to work within their giftedness. Study your children to learn their loves and gifts. Parents of larger families need to take the time to mediate both time and power so that each child has opportunities to do things their own way. No one can do it their way all the time, but some time for this is good and healthy. It is not good if everyone has to do it their older brother’s way, their coaches way, or their parents' way all the time.
Take time out to remember that you are working with children. Children who are learning, growing, and making mistakes. Not every child who frustrates us is out to make things difficult. Sometimes, children are just trying to make their way in a big, adult world.