I facilitated a training session with a group of preschool teachers recently, and as I was transcribing a list they had created of social skills they wish every child had, I couldn’t help but wonder if a few of them could be applied more frequently to ourselves as adults as well. Here are the ones that caught my eye.
- Using their words. We all want children to use their words to explain what’s going on inside those busy brains of theirs. We want them to talk it out instead of acting out. We can model this by labeling our own thoughts and feelings with them. Rather than simply doling out punishments, we can really talk to our children about what has been going on. A friend of mine recently said that she gets so frustrated when her boys “just blow up”, but said she realized that from their perspective, she does the same thing. Because she wasn’t verbalizing the 47 thousand times she was being patient, all they saw was the “final straw moment”. We can also talk to them about what’s going on throughout the day, to help them feel more aware and involved as active participants rather than helpless accessories along on our ride.
- Attention and listening. This is one that’s been on my mind a lot lately. I want my own children, and the children I work with, to be active listeners. I want them to look at people as they talk and as they listen. But I have noticed that I often keep a frenetic pace, trying to keep all those juggling balls in the air. Too often, I’m calling out to some little person as I whiz past him on to something else. Or I answer a call for “Mom” as I round the next corner with laundry basket in hand. Small children need time to turn their thoughts into words, and if we can’t slow down long enough to give them our honest attention, we’ll miss what they’re trying to say. In addition to that, we will find that they listen to others (ourselves included) in the same manner that we listen to them.
- Respect for people and things. Do we treat the children we love and teach in the same way we would want to be treated, or to see them treating others? Would we allow them to speak to us or to others the way we speak to them? To be sure, as parents and teachers we are in a position of authority, but when we use a “might makes right” mentality we will find that children will use the same mentality – but with more liberty- whenever they feel they should be the authority figure. That may be with younger siblings or passive friends.
- Calmness, Self-Control, Tolerance, Patience. As the teachers were listing these words I thought, “Yes, it would be so much easier if all children had these skills.” Then I thought, “But do I have all these skills?” The hard truth is we have to be what we want to see. If we want calm, tolerant, patient children, we have to model that for them. There are times when I feel the righteous indignation of a mother who has come to the end of her rope. But the shouting, pouting, and fit-throwing that I sometimes fantasize about is not the behavior I want my children to exhibit, so it isn’t a logical option for myself either.
Teaching and parenting are dangerous endeavors. Because we teach perfect ideals, but are imperfect people, hypocrisy is a constant occupational hazard. But if we constantly strive to be more of what we want to see in the children we love and teach, the impact of our words will be weighted by our actions.
Photo by doriana_s.