While we may not think our own children are thoughtless or rude at times, we may more readily notice this in other children. So why do kids of today sometimes seem so rude, and what can we do about it?
To understand children’s behavior, we need to understand them. As children grow they pass through developmental stages. At each stage certain characteristics become prominent When children are young and in the Primary and Elementary 1 classes at school, they are rather malleable. They respect adults, the giants of the world, they want to become like us adults, and they want our approval. This guides their behavior so that usually we can deal with them fairly easily. But as children grow out of the Elementary 1 class to the Elementary 2 (4thand 5th grades) and Level 3 (Middle School), their behavior begins to take a different form. What was once important to them – hooking up with us – has been replaced by a fervent desire, growing stronger by the days, to hook up with their peers. And with this change in interest come huge changes in the children’s behavior. One change that seems to unsettle us a lot is that our children aren’t as mannerly as they were, they’ve forgotten the “pleases” and “thank yous” that used to be a part of their vocabulary, they’re making snide remarks, they’re embarrassing us. We also notice that they’re obsessed with private matters, private from us. What’s more, they have a budding interest in members of the opposite sex, which will surely flower in full bloom somewhere in middle or high school. We worry that they don’t seem to be able to control themselves, they laugh at rude comments, they would rather pay attention to each other than their lessons; sometimes it seems like they think of nothing else but each other.
While this behavior varies in intensity from child to child, most of us can tell that our children are now interested and almost driven to create their social selves. They begin to work on relationships with classmates in a new way as girls become curious about boys and vise versa. Children of this age are in transition, and it’s a big transition for them. We can expect them to falter some.
But what can we do to soften these abrupt changes and to help our children moderate their behavior? First of all, we can try to reconnect with ourselves at that age and try to remember what was important to us then. We’re looking for common ground with our child. We can connect through that common ground. Think about your first boy or girl friend, or the first time you noticed someone in a different way.
Secondly, we can provide consistency in our children’s lives. So much is happening to them, we must somehow provide stability in a world that is shouting to them that it’s not safe and secure. But if you think about it, one reason that Maria Montessori grouped children of multiple ages together with the same teacher for a few years was to provide stability for the child. It makes the learning environment, including the teachers and children, something familiar for the child. It gives the child security in times of chaos.
Thirdly, monitor outside influences like movies, TV programming, music, and activities in which your children participate. Try to limit the influence of some of these media-driven crazes. Make clear boundaries for your children and stick to them. Do this with cheerful voices and pleasant smiles on your faces. We do want to stay connected with our children, not alienate them.
Next, be sure to engage in conversations with your children. I like the family dinnertime for this. I hope you are all able to sit during dinner with your children for a while and exchange ideas and events of your day. During these conversations, permit differences of opinions to be expressed. Acknowledge issues about which you don’t agree without forcing your children to adopt your opinion. But be sure to let your children know when you don’t agree with them and why.
Prepare your children for changes in routines or events. Start by telling your children what the event is. Then ask your children to think about ways you could all go together to this event and have fun without disturbing others or whatever your wished-for outcome is. This way of preparing children and early adolescents is very important. There are so many events that happen for which we take very little time to prepare our children. Maybe we think that because our children are older now, we don’t need to do this. But we do if we want our children to behave well and to be respectful of others; we need to take time to discuss our expectations and hopes with our children.
It’s normal for pre-adolescent and adolescent children to experiment with their behaviors. They’re trying to figure out who they are becoming. While they work on that, be kind and firm, set boundaries and state expectations, talk less and listen more. Learn to be less critical and more understanding of their stage of life. Like all things, it’s only temporary.
Powerful Words – part 1
First published on February 2, 2004
Parenting would be a lot easier if someone would just reassure us that our children are going to be fine, graduate from college, maybe with honors, go on to advanced education, and become “successful” and, of course, happy adults. But life doesn’t do that for us. Instead we find ourselves wringing our hands, hoping, praying, asking others for assurances, and wondering a lot how it will all turn out.
I’m lucky enough to have been teaching since 1966 and to have watched a lot of children grow from the tender ages I teach of six, seven, and eight years, to the not-so-tender ages of the 30s and 40s! A few of you Center parents were even students of mine when you were only six years old! The question becomes could I, or for that matter any teacher, have predicted the educational scorecard of the students, their successes, their eventual accomplishments, by what was observed when they were young?
As you might imagine, I think and talk about children a lot, not just at school but at home, too. I think about my own children and the children whose lives I have shared throughout my teaching career.
For years now as I have chatted with my husband he has frequently commented that he was a poor student in elementary school. He remembers that he spent a lot of his school time in the hall, that he had a lot of trouble learning to read, and that he was a wiggly, distractible child. Whenever he has said this, I have refuted it. Even though I didn’t know him as a small child, I have known him as an adult for many years, and I can see by his behavior his successful educational achievements, and by his character that he could not possibly have been a poor student and accomplished all he has. I have also heard his mother say that he didn’t cause her a bit of trouble growing up, that he was just perfect. (The common voice of parents of an only child!) Even his neighbors, whom I know, sing his praises and wish their son had been more like Peter as a child. So for several years I have been curious as to why my successful husband, who graduated from Plant High School in Tampa as a member of the National Honor Society, voted Most Dependable, and graduated from Emory University with a B.S. in chemistry and a medical degree, could be so wrong in reporting his elementary school record.
Then we moved to our new house. We finally unpacked everything we owned including some old boxes of our childhood records that our parents had been saving. There they were, Peter’s elementary school report cards. Here’s a glimpse of his second-grade report:
Growth in healthful living: needs improvement
Growth in social living: needs improvement
Growth in work habits: needs improvement
Growth in the arts: satisfactory
Reading: needs improvement all year
Writing: needs improvement
Spelling: needs improvement
Oral and written language: needs improvement
Arithmetic: needs improvement
Social studies: satisfactory
Child could do much better if he would attend strictly to his own work and never mind the neighbors. He needs much extra easy reading for fluency. Practice in written spelling also advised for him. Does he have 10 or 11 hours of sleep at night? He could do much better if he would learn to be quiet and more thoughtful. He is too eager to see what others are doing so does not do his own work justice. He needs to exercise self control. His reading is not up to his grade level. He does not do any extra library reading at school. Does he do any at home? Instead of making use of any leisure time he has at school for reading, he annoys his classmates by continual chatter.
… to be continued
Wow! He was right – his second grade report card was horrible. But wait, there were other cards in the stack. And upon close examination the kindergarten, first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade report cards were all satisfactory. They had positive comments like:
Peter is such a sweet child. I just love him.
I have enjoyed working with him.
He is a very interested little boy and I am so fond of him.
Peter is making good progress in school.
So what can we as parents and educators learn from this? First, children tend to believe what we tell them about themselves, especially the derogatory statements. These negative statements are so powerful that in Peter’s case they colored years of his childhood memory. He ignored the rest of the report cards and instead accepted one teacher’s educational evaluations of him and generalized them to the whole of his elementary school performance. Not only did he believe her then, but also he continued to believe what she was saying about him even when others were saying something else and saying it for more years. The impact of this teacher’s words was profound. Even as an adult he still believed her until I challenged that belief by showing him the rest of his report cards.
How can we keep this sort of thing from happening to our children? Well, we have some lessons to learn. Surely we can learn not to be judgmental of our children. We can’t see the future of our children based on their little lives. We have to be patient. Patience is not a parental virtue; it is a necessity. We must wait to see how the child develops.
We have some sensitivities to gain. Children are in formation; they are becoming themselves. Our job as parents and educators is to try to offer the very best educational opportunities we can and then to watch, trustingly, as their wings unfold. We need to be mindful of how fragile children are, not physically, but emotionally. We must be aware of how easily they can become affected by our words, our evaluations of them, and our opinions of them. We have to recognize the power our words have over our children. Try as we might to provide constructive criticism for our children, we would do well to understand that criticism of any sort is not helpful to a child in formation. Encouragement is what children need, and we adults need to find opportunities for and ways of encouraging our children.
All of us who are in contact with children need to be careful. Children are THAT important!
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher