Children make me smile. All of them.
I have had the pleasure of teaching 3-year-olds to swim and elementary school children to read and make friends. I have helped middle school students navigate the ups and downs of pre-adolescence and learned more from high school seniors than they learned from me, probably.
Along the way, I was honored to have a window into their lives from the perspective of their parents, their teachers, and each of them. As I look towards retirement, I have enjoyed reflecting on how much children have taught me about being my best self.
Those who have worked with youth may smile when I say that I have a lump in my throat as I write this blog.
I cried tears of joy when I learned I had been hired for my first real teaching job in the early 1980s. As educators we are called to teach, and yet the true benefit of our job is how much we learn from the children we are blessed to call “our kids.”
Here are five lessons kids and their parents have taught me over my 50 years of working with and “for” them.
5 Things Children and Their Parents Have Taught Me
1. Kids try to get us to notice them using their most comfortable self.
Some children get good grades, some don’t turn in their homework, some love to chat away, others are shy and quiet, some are athletic, like music, or are overly enthusiastic about ice cream! All children, if we provide the time and space, will let us know the side of them they want us to see.
As the teacher, mentor, or caregiver we need to make space and be patient while the children in our care learn to trust that what is most important to us is their safety, their happiness, and their health.
I look back fondly on long car rides with my child during his teens where I’d encourage his sharing of his favorite music. It was hard at times, but memorable for both of us and created long lasting bonding that we both smile about today.
2. As parents, we do our best to figure out what our children need.
Children have taught me that they will let me know what they need; I don’t need to always be one step ahead of them for I will surely misstep.
From the moment they arrived, our children let us know when they were hungry, sleepy, or uncomfortable. If we remember to respect them as they use their most comfortable self to communicate their needs, we can better adjust to how to respond.
When my youngest child was going through a rough patch for us as a toddler, I was told that some kids need to be embraced and held when they have “a meltdown”. I tried that approach my child with an embrace…once. And once is all it took for my child to let me know that is NOT what he needed.
Honestly, I can’t remember what we worked out. We created something that did work and moved on to the next thing to teach each other.
3. Kids want and need us to set boundaries.
Our children seem to be hardwired to test all the rules and boundaries we’ve created, especially for their safety.
Anyone out there have a climber? Terrifying at times. I have spent the last 6 years of my professional career helping parents think about how to talk to their children about their bodies and that children get to be in charge of who touches them and who doesn’t.
Most recently, we have studied the risks of cellphones and the internet to kids. It is quite unsettling how naively we as parents have handed over cell phones to our children, at any age, without boundaries. The hard and sometimes life altering things that are happening because of kids exploring with cellphones, cameras, social media, and the internet. As parents, we need to understand the risks to children before they start exploring.
I urge you to explore what is happening to our kids because of cellphones and the internet. There’s lots of information on our website: www.iRespectandProtect.com
4. Kids are vulnerable.
Hurtful words, lack of fairness, unkindness, and not feeling accepted can have long term effects on how they perceive themselves. Robert Fulghum’s book; Everything I need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten gently reminded us of the simple yet critical things in life.
Think about it. What we teach our children in their earliest years is the basis for everything else.
Share, Play Fair, Don’t hit people, Clean up your own mess, Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody, Wash your hands. As simplistic as these are, they make sense to our children and create expectations for how we should behave in life.
5. We invited these beautiful children to join us on our journeys. We need to be good hosts.
When we invite friends to our home for a gathering we spend time showing them how we do things in our home such as where the glasses are kept or the quirky light switch in the bathroom. We try to remove any barriers that might create a situation for our guests to make a mistake or embarrass themselves.
If we take the same philosophy with our kids, imagine the sense of safety they will experience as they explore and test the boundaries.
I often applied this thought process at schools. If you have kiddos that have a hard time following direction, for example, why would you give them 17 directions to follow and then leave the room? You would start with perhaps 3 directions and step back to a place where you are still there to hold them up if they get stuck on #2.
Children will always make me smile.
I will always be one of those people who can’t hold back a smile when I see a child, siblings, or a group of kids interacting. I love their creativity and their brilliance as they navigate the world.
I greatly appreciate observing parenting based on connectivity to their children and their needs. I am equally impressed by those parents who are open to thinking about doing things differently when what they were doing doesn’t seem to be what their children need.
Thank you, all of you, who invited these children to the party and try everyday to make your guest feel welcomed and safe.
This blog post is written by Kelley Parosa, Director of Liberty House’s Prevention Department. Kelley has worked with and for children for decades.