Here we are at the beginning of a new school year and, while a lot of parents are breathing sighs of relief, a lot of kids are now bracing themselves for the onslaught they know is coming. Kids are now faced with managing a mix of new teachers, new subjects, a new school, and new friends as well as many familiar ones and they are being asked to do it with as little disruption as possible. They are being asked to be sociable, do their homework, participate in extracurricular activities, and have outside interests and hobbies in order to present themselves as well rounded individuals. It’s hard to imagine an adult keeping all of that in line, to say nothing of a child or adolescent!
There is a lot of pressure on our children these days to perform well academically, socially, and in every other way—so much so that we tell them that their entire future is on the line if they don’t. We tell our kids that they have to get good grades, play well, and volunteer in order to get into college and get a decent job. We tell them that they have to prove themselves now or they won’t have that opportunity later. And to an extent, it’s true. We push our children to do well as children so that they won’t have as much difficulty as adults but, unfortunately in regards to coping, we tend to hold our children to a higher standard than adults.
We don’t question an adult when they say they are having a bad day or that they “woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” In those instances, we usually give that person some space and allow them to take care of themselves. But we tell children to “straighten up and act right”, to watch their attitude and “get over it.” We tend to respond with frustration rather than with compassion because we perceive compassion as permissive behavior. We believe that if we are understanding, we are implicitly giving permission for a child to behave poorly. And the truth is actually so much the opposite.
Children require guidance in learning how to manage these situations and expectations and when adults delegitimize their concerns, it only amplifies the negative behaviors rather than extinguishing them. However, having compassion for children in their moments of frustration is not enabling–it is not “giving in” or letting them have their own way. Patience and understanding on the part of an adult in times of anxiety and irritation may validate what a child is feeling and provide an opportunity to share or teach healthy coping skills.
Consider how adults request to be treated in these moments. Generally speaking, adults might want someone to listen to their concerns, to offer suggestions or possible solutions, or to be left alone to sort through their thoughts and feelings. Children often need the same things but don’t have the ability to verbalize those needs and, as so, it is up to the adults in their lives to create and maintain an environment where they can learn healthy ways to both express their needs and find ways to have those needs met. Certainly, rules and guidelines are a necessity for children in order for them to learn to be functioning adults but so, too, are empathy and patience.
Because however we treat our children, we are also teaching them to treat others in the same manner.