My friend lost her “real” diamond ring on the playground. We were in third grade and she was certain that her life would come to an end if she didn’t find this ring. What could friends do but help her search for it? The bell rang and we still hadn’t found it. My friend was distraught. She had to find that ring! So, we kept looking instead of going in to class. By the time we gave up and headed for the school, we had been spotted by the playground monitor, a dour woman who stood with arms crossed, a scowl on her face, her foot tapping her irritation.
I tried to explain. My friend had lost her real diamond ring; her life was in peril. But the woman was in no mood to listen. We were disobedient delinquents. Her teacher’s blinders firmly in place, she marched us off to the principal’s office to face our punishment (this was back in the days when a wooden paddle hung on the principal’s wall—more for show than for actually use, I think, at least, he didn’t use it on us). The injustice of that really stung. We weren’t being deliberately disobedient. Our motives were based on what seemed to be sound logic to our eight-year-old minds. Our friend was in trouble and we had to do all we could to save her!
What would have happened, I wonder, if that teacher had taken a moment to really listen to what we were trying to say instead of blindly enforcing the rule we had broken. Would she have marched us to the principal’s office? Probably. But our little hearts might have felt less afraid if she had taken the time to show us that she was trying to understand. Perhaps she could have calmed our fears by helping us see how unlikely it was that a mother would let her third-grader wear a real diamond to school. As it was, it was a traumatic experience, one I have never forgotten.
Yesterday, a young man told me a story of his own struggle with a teacher and misunderstood motives. I could see that he, too, had felt powerless and ill-used. It followed upon an incident I witnessed on Sunday of two teachers struggling with three-year-old preschoolers. “Let go of me!” one of them yelled as the teacher carried her down the hall to class. The other one, wanting desperately to talk to her mother, finally gave up trying to make her teacher understand her need and said, “Get away from me!” repeatedly, the volume rising with each repetition.
Now, I sympathize with the teachers. Who hasn’t had one of those horrible power struggles with a three-year-old. But it turns out that the little girl who wanted to talk to her mother really did have a good reason. She needed to go to the restroom and she needed help. Unable to communicate her specific need to a teacher who thought she was just throwing a tantrum, she ended up actually throwing a tantrum.
All of these incidents have made me stop and think of how often I try and force my will on a child without even trying to understand the reasons for their behavior because I am the adult and I know best. Children aren’t always trying to be bad. Yes, they may not understand what is best for them, but, if we took just a moment to understand their perspective, we might find that what we think is best is not what is best for them at all. As adults, we sometimes have blinders on that narrow our focus down to what we are tying to accomplish and make us forget that children are people with their own needs and their own perspective of the world. Their logic and reasoning may or may not make sense, but what would it cost us to look beyond the blinders and try to see the problem from their perspective? If we show them that we are trying to understand, maybe they will try to understand us. At the very least it may minimize some of the trauma we tend to inflict on each other.