Sunday, October 24, 2010


Sometimes I can't believe the things I say to parents in my class at preschool.  The other day I told a terrific mom, "It's not all about you, y'know." Her child was screaming about something, and as parents often do, she was sort of taking responsibility for his behavior. She was talking to me about her worries that somehow, it was her "fault" that he screams when he's frustrated.

"It's not all about you." Me and my big mouth:  that doesn't sound very professional. But thank goodness, this mom knows me really well and I think she understands the respect that's behind the sarcasm.  But let me explain.

What I mean is:  Kids are themselves.  Period.

Parents are very, very important in helping kids to grow up happy and healthy.  Good, earnest parenting is essential, and terribly hard to do.  If kids have inadequate nurturing, they usually don't grow up to be happy with themselves, and often find many ways to make other people miserable as well. Parents have many vital roles in the development of children, starting with helping them develop a healthy sense of self, and learn the beginnings of self-regulation.  Children NEED loving adults to steer them in the direction of productive lives and fulfilling relationships.

However, as parents, our magical powers are limited. Every child comes into the world as himself or herself.  We can't change that underlying personhood, and shouldn't even try.  The developmental theorists call this individuality "temperament" and it's been studied extensively.  One set of research identifies nine distinct temperament traits that all people have in some degree, and they state that your temperament is the degree to which you possess each of the nine traits. The research shows that our temperament is inborn, and stays with us through our entire life.  The person we are as toddler is still the person we will be when we're ninety years old, even if we have learned to hide or suppress it in many ways.  Our temperament traits are neither good nor bad, neither positive nor negative.  We are who we are, and our temperament is what makes each person unique.

Adults play a vital role in helping kids discover who they are, and learn about their own unique selves. We can often help children learn ways to "smooth the rough edges" of some of their more extreme traits.  Parents can help children learn to cope with life, to appreciate themselves for who they are, and to use all their temperament traits in positive ways.  A wonderful by-product of all this, is that children can then learn to appreciate the uniqueness in other people.

What adults cannot do is make an intense child into a mild one.  Or an active child into a mellow one. Or a persistent child into a compliant one.  What we can do is help our kids learn to thrive in spite of frustrations, and gradually learn how to meet their own emotional needs, as well as get along with other people.

In an ideal world, parents, teachers, and all adults who have contact with kids, are patient and ready to help in all situations.  But in the un-ideal world in which we live, adults are just as tired, cranky, moody, and irritable as kids, and sometimes even more so.  (Of course we are:  and who do you think made us that way??) Living with kids can be exhausting, even though we love them dearly.  So we CAN'T always do or say the right thing, and thank goodness, we don't have to be perfect.  But sometimes we are able to calmly reflect back to children the "self" they are showing us at any moment through their behavior, instead of simply reacting with annoyance to the behavior. This reflecting helps our kids learn how to "be."  Even though we can't do it all the time, due to the fact that we are grumpy or tired, the times we are able to do that are Golden Parenting Moments, and have a huge impact.  When we're accepting, non-judgmental, and when we observe and listen, we are helping our kids become their best selves.

Your children will fuss, whine, hit, shriek, and cry.  It's not your fault.  They're not behaving that way because you did anything wrong.  And by the way,  you don't deserve all the credit for those moments when they are behaving beautifully and make you proud.  Well, ok, you can pat yourself on the back a little, but the truth is that the child is the one responsible for his or her behavior.  Some children happen to feel compelled to do more of the negative things than others,  especially in the toddler years,  and this is usually due to their inborn temperament.  No biggie.  Gradually they will outgrow most of these behaviors and learn better ways of coping,  as they gain experiences with other people and with their own emotions.  Your guidance and example will help.  But you can't give them short-cuts through the learning process.

"It's not all about you."   Jeeeezz.... I gotta be careful how I talk to parents.  I'd hate to jeopardize my high-status gig as a preschool teacher!    But sometimes I pack a lot of meaning into just a few words, and those words don't come out the way I intend.  Thank goodness I have parents in my classes who give me the benefit of the doubt, and let me get away with it.  But then, it's not all about me, is it?

1 comment:

  1. Always good to get a good Teacher Annie refresher!


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