Labels that just might stick …

Labels that just might stick …

The hyperactive, careless troublemaker versus the energetic, experimental, hands on enthusiast?

Which of these two people described, sound like they will go on to live a happy, valuable, secure and successful life?

Both may, but the path is bound to be easier for the second person who has all of these strong, positive personal traits in their armour to help go out and enjoy this world while the first person would need to battle against their negative labels and push past these expectations placed on them by others.

Now you are probably wondering where I’m headed with this.

Last week, I attended Pinky McKay’s wonderful Toddler Tactics seminar and during her presentation, she made the point that children will see themselves the way we tell them to see themselves. A self fulfilling prophecy. If you tell your child they are naughty or bad often enough then they will internalise this and see themselves as ‘naughty’ and ‘bad’. This wasn’t news to me as a primary school teacher. I’ve heard it all before but while I was sitting there listening to Pinky skilfully point out the flip side to common traits that may be considered ‘bad’ I realised that I had honed my own skills through years of writing report cards but never really considered the full impact of my words.

I must admit, as a teacher, before having my own babies, it did actually grate on me that I wasn’t able to simply ‘tell it like it is’ when writing reports and begrudgingly ‘sugarcoated’ what I thought parents really needed to hear. In short, I was a bit of an arsehole.


You see, if I couldn’t come up with at least three positive words to describe a child I worked with 5 days a week, then really that was my problem. I obviously hadn’t been able to connect with that unique little human and they weren’t able to connect to me. I’m the educated adult in the pairing and so the onus really is on me to sort this out.

Being a teacher is incredibly hard work. The workload is massive. The behaviours that enter with some of the children in your room can make it an extremely draining, deflating and thankless job. With the curriculum as pumped up and intense as it is, along with huge pressures on teachers to jump through hoops to prove that their class can do XYZ in some stupid standardised test that will be used to pummel said teacher when she fails to get her children over the arbitrary line, it can be hard to see the forest from the trees.

No teacher worth their salt will see value in all this testing and yet they will work their ring out to try and buffer their kids the best they can from the pressure. Unfortunately, the skills that are really needing to be worked on and would truly benefit the kids in our classrooms are sadly rushed or absent in the curriculum altogether. Finding time in an overstuffed day to simply ‘connect’ with the unique people in front of her, is a luxury that many teachers simply cannot do justice to.

And so, the behaviours are ‘managed’ the best that teacher can as she soldiers on, trying to ensure her charges get the most they can from what is put in front of them. Just ‘managing’ is exhausting. It wears you down. It’s hard when you’ve worked your butt off to try and make your classroom and lessons as accessible and engaging as you physically can to have children still so disengaged and often times disruptive. You look at the faces of your hard working little ones and the resentment starts to seep in. The ‘ungrateful little shit’ thoughts come to mind. The ‘why won’t her parents sort this out’ thoughts rear their ugly head. The reward charts, the bribes, the communication books, the buddy classrooms, the warnings, the threats, the calls to admin … All add to an ugly cycle in that child’s life. 

I knew it but not as I know it now. 

Now I’m a mum. 

Those troubled kids are someone’s baby. Now I’m a mum, I can fully grasp the sheer magnitude of this. Their uniqueness. Their struggle. Their need for love, understanding, connection and security. I get that all ‘negative’ behaviour is communication of an unmet need.

I can finally see why we were expected to write our report comments in this positive way and it has bugger all to do with political correctness and politeness and EVERYTHING to do with giving that child something of worth. A recognition of THEIR worth. Of their unique and perfectly imperfect traits that whilst troublesome in the flawed educational setting, are not necessarily troublesome for the real world and real life.

I now see it as a huge responsibility and honour to raise my boys to see that every weakness has a corresponding strength and that their light will always shine brightest when they are able to be truest to themselves.

One day when I re enter the teaching world, no longer will connection be pushed to the backseat. It will be at the forefront of every interaction with my children. I WILL as the adult with my knowledge, skills and powerful role work to help each child see their true colours, no matter how challenging they may be right at that time. When I feel the disconnect arise, I will pause, reflect and try to remedy this. 

I know at times I will fail as I am mere human after all, but I will do my best to find my focus and regroup as many times as it takes.

The hyperactive child will be the someone who works best when physically engaged.

The quiet, serious child will be the deep thinker.

The daydreamer will be the imaginative soul.

The class clown will be the one who works best when connected to others. Vivacious and friendly . A born entertainer.

The talkative child will be a gifted sharer of ideas.

The one who disagrees with everything will be the one who isn’t afraid to challenge authority in the quest for understanding. A true seeker of justice

The easily upset child will be the sensitive soul and the peacemaker.

The child who is afraid to take risks will be the cautious thinker.

The child who struggles academically but excels with social interactions will be the people person who makes others feel special and valued.

I could go on and on. I cannot imagine all that I will see as each unique person who will present in front of me will challenge me to find them, their true self. 

I will never again allow myself to do another child the disservice of not ‘seeing’ them. Seeing through the behaviour. Seeing the soul beneath. And doing my level best to make sure it’s not only at report card time that they hear what I can see in them. Connection. Value. Affirmation. We owe it to our children.

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