This morning I was having a conversation with a friend about memories from elementary school. We both had the same specialist art teacher back in the ‘70s, Mr. Jones, and he would visit all of the area schools during the term and teach very cool art classes using all kinds of “groovy” media. When slim Mr. Jones arrived at your school – all 6’5” of him – wearing bright yellow or red pants with flashy accessories, you knew you were in for something creative! His classes were always fun and memorable.
It was humorous to see Mr. Jones teaching art in a primary classroom. You can visualize the scene I’m sure: all kinds of little kids with scissors and glue looking up – waaaaaaay up – asking questions about the next step in a project or where to get the fuchsia construction paper. Mr. Jones was usually very patient and always kind, but he did have standards for the behaviour of children, even the youngest ones. On one occasion, a little girl looked up and asked, “Hey, Mr. Jones. How’s the weather up there?”
Weather indeed. Mr. Jones was not amused and reproached the child for being impolite and making fun of his height. I secretly think Mr. Jones may have been amused, but he correctly pointed out to the little girl what my own grandmother used to say to us, “Personal comments are never in good taste.” That is – it is never welcome to poke fun at another’s appearance.
Children learn all kinds of behaviours which are tolerated at home and at school, but really should not be – not even in the very youngest of kids. Here is a list of (seemingly insignificant) behaviours that parents and teachers need to be on the lookout for and how we can work together with children to nip them in the bud: interrupting, ignoring adults, breaking the rules, having an attitude, and lying. Actually, these behaviours are not insignificant at all.
All children need our attention, but we do them a disservice if we train them that we will drop everything to attend to them on every occasion. Not stopping what we’re doing to give them our attention right away lets them know they won’t get what they want by interrupting. This is important training for life in school where competing priorities and other people are part of the learning environment.
Telling our students and children two, three, or even four times to do something they don’t want to do (…such as get into the car or pick up their toys) sends the message that it’s OK to disregard us and that they – not we – are running the show. If we don’t get this right, the children we love risk becoming defiant and controlling. “Not hearing” or “not listening” to adults in legitimate authority is not a thing. It is learned behaviour and needs consistency and clarity, not cajoling and excuse making, if we are going to raise respectful kids of character.
It’s certainly convenient when our child or student can take responsibility for some daily tasks, but letting them have control of activities that we should regulate doesn’t teach them that they have to follow rules. Following rules is part of life in homes and in schools – and in work places! Elementary school is “boot camp” for learning this and we all need to support that rules exist for the common good.
We may not think our child is going to roll her eyes or use a snippy tone until she is a preteen, but disrespectful behavior often starts early. Some ignore it and think it’s a passing phase (or worse yet, cute!), but if we don’t confront it, we may find ourselves with a disrespectful older child who has a hard time making and keeping friends. Attitude and tone can be everything.
And then there’s lying. While it may not seem like a big deal if a kid says he made his bed when he barely pulled up the sheets, it’s important to confront any type of dishonesty because experimenting with lying can become habitual. If kids learn that it’s an easy way to make themselves look better, or to avoid doing something, or if they realize that – in not being truthful – they can avoid consequences, the end result can be the quality of untrustworthiness.
All of these things can be addressed easily, but it takes commitment and consistency – and a willingness to see that the problems exist in the first place.
We love our kids and students, it is true! But it’s not always that sticky sweet kind ‘o love!
Ric Anderson, Head of School