Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Spoiled Brats"































Whenever I write or talk about treating children as if they are fully formed humans and not just incomplete adults, like I did yesterday, there are some who ask me about (or even accuse me of) "spoiling" the kids. They then go on to tell me horror stories about how permissive parents have let their rotten kids take over their lives, bossing them around, dominating their households, terrorizing their peers, and frustrating their teachers.

It's hard, I think, for some people to understand the world without a hierarchical framework: someone has to be the boss -- if it's not the parent, it's the child. When I suggest paying attention to the words we use with children, avoiding the language of command, and instead choosing statements of fact which allow children to practice taking responsibility for their own actions, I understand how some people fear that it will become a slippery slope down which the whole carefully constructed family org chart will slide. I understand how it might seem that if you're not bossing your child, she will take advantage, gain the upper hand, and assume the scepter. To believe this takes a view of human nature that I've not found to be true, but I understand it.

So let me state right here: I'm all for fewer "spoiled" children in the world (although I'd like us to retire that label along with "bully," "aggressive," and "shy").  These children are characterized as self-centered and demanding, inconsiderate of others, see their needs as most important, and will resort to often extreme behavior to get their way. These are not happy children and they tend to grow into unhappy adults who struggle with relationships, have a hard time holding jobs, and are generally miserable to be around.

The common wisdom, it seems, is that these behaviors come from not enough "tough love;" from parents who are afraid of their children, and are too namby-pamby to put their foot down, an approach popularized by such pop-psychology sensations as Dr. Phil. Sadly, this is not what psychologists who actually do research have found. So-called "spoiled" behaviors," in fact, result from things like not enough proactive attention from parents, not expecting children to do things for themselves, and a lack of clear limits, not a dearth of bossy parents.


Not enough proactive attention
The best parenting advice I ever got was from my mother, who said, "All children want is attention. If you don't give it to them, they'll take it." And indeed children, from the moment they are born, are designed to get attention from the adults around them. From a biological point of view, this makes perfect sense: they are born utterly incapable of keeping themselves alive, except to the degree that they can get adult humans to feed, clothe, and protect them. This instinct doesn't go away as they get older. When they feel ignored, they correct that problem through tantrums, whining, clinging, and other "spoiled" behaviors. They don't really care if the attention they get is negative or positive, frankly, they are just biologically driven to get your attention. So for your own sanity (and to avoid "spoiling" your child), I'd suggest proactively giving them the kind of attention you choose, because otherwise they'll choose it for you and you're probably not going to like it.

Doing too much for your kids
Awhile back, I met a woman who works in the admissions department at the University of Washington here in Seattle. She told me that increasingly freshmen are showing up on campus without such basic life skills as using can openers, cooking on a stovetop, and operating a washing machine. She said the problem is so bad that many universities have had to institute remedial life skills classes. Instead of learning to do things for themselves, "spoiled" kids have turned to mastering the skills required to get things done for them, which will often look a lot like being self-centered, demanding, and even tyrannical. So for your own sanity (and to avoid "spoiling" your child), I'd suggest teaching him to do as much for himself as his age and abilities will allow.

Lack of clear limits
As Goethe wrote, "It is within limitations that he first shows himself the master." This is where we all agree, and we can all point to examples of parents, who in the sincere interest of teaching their children independence or giving them "freedom," err on the side of a household in which anything goes. This is not a good environment for children. It tends to make them feel nervous, uncertain, and to generally demonstrate "spoiled" behaviors.

Where we tend to disagree is in how we create those limitations and how we work with those limitations.  I suppose the traditional model is for parents to lay down the law and create a system of punishments for violations. It doesn't have to be that way. In our school, for instance, all of the rules are made by the children themselves, through a process of consensus. In a decade of doing it this way, the adults have never found the need to dictate rules beyond those the children create, indeed, if anything we find we need to moderate many of their more extreme legislative efforts. Our process is one that many of Woodland Park's families have adopted in their own homes, keeping a running list of family rules on the refrigerator door to refer to as needed.

Do children break the rules? Of course they do. The adults, however, don't need to then punish them to do the job of teaching about limitations. Instead our job as adults is to point to the list of rules and say, "You and your friends agreed . . ."

So what do you do if a child keeps breaking a rule?  Certainly there's a consequence, a punishment.  If we do that, if we resort to punishment we put the focus on the punishment and the punisher, rather than where we want it to be, on the behavior. Instead we do what makes sense, we just keep reminding them until they remember on their own. No one would think of punishing a child for not, say, remembering her A-B-C's; we would patiently keep working with her until she got it. Why should teaching about limits be any different?


In other words, children aren't "spoiled" because they haven't been sufficiently bossed around by adults.



Creating a world of facts, instead of a world of commands
A mistake many of us make (and one of the things that drives critics of this approach crazy) is to think that all of this means that everything is open to negotiation, that our child gets to decide such things as when to get dressed, whether or not they go to the doctor, or where the family will eat dinner. In our effort to be super parents, we forget that we adults are fully formed humans as well. Our opinions, needs, and emotions are not made lesser because we seek to honor those of the child, but are rather equal, and to the degree that they diverge from those of our child, must often take precedence.

There are also realities of which we are aware that our children are not: schedules, for instance, courtesy to others, safety. Sometimes we must insist that we know best, but that doesn't mean we need to use the language of command. Statements of fact are not commands, such as:

     "It's time to go."
     "What you said hurt her feelings."
     "If you do that you might die."

I statements that convey our opinions or feelings are also statements of fact, such as:

     "I don't want to be late."
     "I feel sad when she's crying."
     "I don't want you to die."

Factual statements about the child's behavior can also be very powerful, such as:

     "You seem upset that it's time to go."
     "You sounded angry when you said that to her."
     "If you keep doing that you might die and that will probably hurt."

And factual statements about your own responsibilities are also important, such as:

     "I can't stay because daddy is expecting us."
     "I can't let you say hurtful things to her."
     "I can't let you cross the street by yourself."

Creating a world of facts instead of a world of commands gives children the opportunity to come to their own conclusions about their behavior, to make their own decisions about right and wrong, or to at least understand why this is one of those times when they don't get what they want. These kinds of experiences lead to a sense of responsibility, empathy, and confidence, characteristics that are the opposite of those that characterize a "spoiled" child.

Everyone's goal is a child who understands her own emotions, treats others with respect, and knows how to assess her own risks. These are all vital skills to success in life. When we boss our kids into these behaviors, we're not giving them a chance to learn anything we want them to learn; we're just forcing them to do something because "I said so." It's effective in the moment, but it teaches nothing except, perhaps, obedience -- a very dangerous habit in adulthood. When we, on the other hand, help our children see the "facts" surrounding their behaviors and choices, we allow them to actually practice these skills. Of course, they will make mistakes, just the way a carpenter has to hit his thumb a few times before he learns to use a hammer, and it might be frustrating or embarrassing for you as the parent, but experience is the only way anyone ever learns anything.


I know it sounds like a lot of work. It is, indeed, much easier to boss people around. It's hard to overcome deeply rooted habits of thought.  But it does get easier with practice. And the results are worth it.

That's how to treat your child with respect without spoiling him.


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42 comments:

Katy McKay said...

Just had a conversation along these lines with one of my new teachers yesterday. You said it so much more eloquently - will definitley be sharing your beautiful words with her. Thank you once again, Teacher Tom!

raine.dawn said...

perfectly stated.

Mother Teresa said...

Excellent! Will share this piece as much as I can!

Kathy said...

Thank you, Tom, for going into even greater depth about an alternative to "power-based" guidance with children. I hesitated to share your earlier post about the langauge of command with the readers of my facebook page because I knew that it would be a major change of perspective for most of those who would read it. This post, on the other hand, not only explains your philosophy in greater depth but also gives concrete examples. Further conversations will still need to happen with my readers to move them away from the power-based philosophy (it's really the only one they've been presented with) but this will be a great place to start - thank you!!

Anonymous said...

I run an in-home daycare and wanted you to know that I read your blog all the time, and thank you for sharing your knowledge with me. It inspires me to be a better teacher and parent every time I read something!

Gyan65 said...

Thanks Tom! As a mother of two children who are now adults, I see the outcome of the type of parenting you so eloquently describe. I'll be sharing this, not to teachers but to as many parents as I can reach.

LeeanneA / KMullally said...

Like I always say - it's about respect - along with understanding that children know their limitations - we simply need to be there to guide them. This really supports your previous post - well said.

Nadia said...

Can we clone you??? If I could find a school with teachers like you I wouldn't hesitate for a second to send my kids there.

Louise said...

love this, its exactly how i'm trying to raise my girls. One question though on the 'you might die' front. I am always tempted to say this, but hold back and change to, 'its too dangerous'...í'm sure 'you might die' would have an instance response, but is it too much for a 3 yr old to handle to thought of dying? My cat died over a year ago now, and my 3 yr old still asks questions at least once a week so it seems to be a fairly constant thought for her. she isn't upset by it at all (although she'll say 'hmmm its so sad that tahj died and his brain doesnt work'.Just was hoping for your thoughts on the death issue.

Allison said...

Hm, I like this post, but I'm having trouble with "statements of fact" versus "commands." I know people who state facts in order to disguise commands (or requests), and I would rather that they just state the request so that we may communicate straightforwardly. In your rug example from another post, I think I would rather hear my partner say, "Would you please vacuum the rug today?" than hear a disguised request, "The rug is dirty." Or, an adult's mother says, "You haven't called in two weeks," when she means, "I'd like to hear from you more."

Where's the line between actual statement of fact and disguised request? Is it all in the delivery? The emotional state of the speaker? Does it depend on the interactions that precede and follow the statement? I think that if I understood this, I would have a grasp of something very important about communication.

Teacher Tom said...

@Louise . . . When my daughter was 2, before I was a teacher, we visited my brother-in-law every day in the hospital for 6 months as he wasted away from cancer and died. There was no hiding from it and didn't know any other way to talk about death than matter-of-factly, answering her questions as directly and honestly as possible. This has carried over into our classroom.

Just the other day, I was talking to a former student who is now entering 1st grade. We were talking about a field trip we took together when he was 3 during which I said to him, "If you go out into the street in front of that garbage truck, you'll be flat." I reminded him that he had answered me, "No I wouldn't, Teacher Tom, I'd be dead." He looked at me and smiled, "I was right, wasn't I?"

I'm sure there are exceptions, but I feel pretty comfortable speaking frankly about death with young children. The truth is that it's a subject about which no one really knows more than anyone else, so I figure they're just as much experts -- intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually -- as I am.

Teacher Tom said...

@Allison . . . I don't look at this as a way to manipulate children into doing what I want them to do. I want them to practice coming to their own informed conclusions by providing them with the information I think they'll need to that. The great danger in just telling them what to do is that I deprive them of the opportunity to practice processing their own emotions, considering the feelings/needs of others, and keeping themselves safe.

There's nothing wrong with making requests of children. You just have to be prepared for them to say "no" because that's one of the options implied by a request. What I'm talking about here are circumstances when a "no" answer isn't an option.

I share with you the desire that if people have a request to make of me, they just come right out and make it, giving me the chance to say yes or no. I don't really think there is a clear line here and yes, I think it does have to do with all the things you mention. As for the example about vacuuming the rug, that was just a thought experiment. If I want my spouse to vacuum the rug, I would just ask her and be prepared for her to state quite factually, "You can do it yourself." =)

crittersandcrayons said...

I love this post- We've been working on trying to help our children to be more self-sufficient and to use less directive forms of discipline. It's much harder to do than to say- I attended a conference on discipline recently called "Disciplina Con Amor" here in Laredo, Texas and many of the things you talk about here resonated there. One of the key questions I've incorporated into our daily life, whenever my child starts to whine or pitch a tantrum because they demand we do something for them is "How can I/We help you to do it yourself?" And, it has made such a difference. We still help them often, but don't have to carry through the full task anymore. Gradually, we have seen our son start to pull his own shorts up. Remarkable. haha! Thanks for the post- we'll keep doing the work we need to do to implement. LIke I said, it takes work and consiousness on our part, too! :)

Anonymous said...

tom, I wish you could observe at our house and guide/correct us, like supernanny only with progressive instead of draconian commentary!!!

julie said...

i loved reading this post but i have a question. i work in childcare and have a 3 yr old in my room who is very hard to handle, always seems to be looking for trouble etc etc. i have tried numerous ways to talk to him about his behaviour, some of them which you have stated today "what you said / did hurt her feelings, i'm sad when she's crying" and all he does is either turn away or smile or laugh while i am talking to him. how do you deal with this and do you have any suggestions on how to get through to him. it is very frustrating as he will then go off and do something else, or repeat the first thing over and over. his mother is much the same and laughs when we tell her what he has been up to.

Becky said...

This is excellent, as usual. I love how clear and concise you make this philosophy sound. I wish I could copy and share it with every parent on the planet. Thank you!

Aunt Annie said...

LOUD CLAPPING

Thanks, Tom. Exactly.

Shellee said...

Another great one. Thanks Teacher Tom for your view on just about everything going on with kids. This one is particularly helpful with my now 2.5 and 5yr olds. I have always liked the fact approach with them but do sometimes fall into command approach. Good reminder. Also, the need for attention!! Oh boy is my 5yr old exhibiting this behavior. You helped remind me just why he's getting on my nerves at times and why he gets himself in trouble sometimes. Because of your post's helpful eye opener/reminder I plan to make sure I choose times and activities to help calm his needs so he doesn't resort to negative attention getting. :)

Mathematicaster said...

I agree to a point. This is a much better parenting scheme than most. Children aged 5 have worked as miners and children in their teens have functioned as kings and emperors. We underestimate their competence at our loss (and sometimes peril).
However, I disagree, strongly, with the notion that there should not be an hierarchy. There must be one. I am the adult. I do know more, know better. And when I give a command, it must be obeyed. When my child is running into the street he had better damned well be voice trained. "Stop!" needs to drop him in his tracks. The failure to have any hierarchy does lead to spoiled, incompetent brats. The trick is to choose the right model for it.
Thinking more to the relationship between a senior non-com and junior officer I think there may be a model: The non-com is highly respected and his input valued. In the clinch, however, it is the officer who decides and the non-com who obeys. This model also requires that the officer (parent) respect the non-com (child).
In my experience as a child, it was clear to me that my parents expected me to do things that I didn't know I could do. And there were hierarchical rules concerning social interaction, but the rules were flexible and respect based on both ends. When there was an adult party, the child was expected to be seen and not heard- which generally suited the child. But when the child needed attention- usually for permission to go elsewhere or to alert the adult that something in the kitchen needed attention, the adult was quick to interrupt his own conversation and gather information from the child.
This did amount to a hierarchy of order-giving, but I strongly believe that having it be respect based made the difference. When the rules are fear based you approach the problems you outline. This fear is the critical value that most ill functioning hierarchical rulings are based upon, whether by parents, schools, or governments.

Anonymous said...

Here is an example I would love your perspective on. My 4 year old JOhnny is hit by another 4 yo SAM. I say hitting is not ok. It looks like johnny is sad and he is hurt. Hitting hurts.
Sam hits again. I repeat. Hitting is not ok. I tell Johnny to tell same that it hurts when Johnny hits and that is it not ok.
Sam hits again.
I remove sam from the situation.
What do you do to protect the child and also teach them not to continue?

Teacher Tom said...

@Julie and Anonymous . . . I'm not neglecting your questions. I'm really busy today on family business today, but hope I can give your questions the attention they deserve this evening!

Anonymous said...

As a dad, and a linguist, I feel it prudent to point out that semantically, you are disgusing "reasons-for-commands" as "statements of fact". It's time to go - is a reason and/or answer to the question 'why' in response to a command like: "Please put your shoes on" or "Please get in the car seat."

A smart kid like mine will and does answer to: "I don't want to be late" is "Ok, thanks for letting me know". If I don't follow it up with a command - the action is never taken.

I understand what you are trying to say here; but it actually introduces a fairly passive-aggressive way of speaking. You are saying something in order for the child to respond to a 'now unspoken' command when the results of a command is actually your goal all along. You don't say "It's time to go" just to declare a statement of fact. You do so in order for the child to take an action so you all can go.

Semantically slippery slope.

Floor Pie said...

Julie, I hope you're still reading. I'm eager to hear Teacher Tom's perspective, but I wanted to offer my own thoughts too. Let's say Child X does something to hurt Child Y's feelings and shows no remorse (not terribly surprising for a 3yo, of course). I prefer to shower all the attention on Child Y. Pick Y up, give them a hug, comfort them, give them some words: "Oh, your blocks got knocked down. That is so frustrating!" etc. Give all the attention to the person who got hurt, not to the person who did the hurting. Usually Child X will come around and watch it unfold. Ask X and Y, and any bystanders "What can we do to fix this?"and the kids will suggest helping rebuild the blocks, having X apologize, etc. Then they all become part of the solution. Also, let Y know s/he can tell X how s/he feels about that "You can say 'I didn't like that, X."

And X very well might apologize and/or help rebuild the tower. But even if he doesn't show immediate remorse, it doesn't mean he didn't take the lesson in. It takes a lot of reinforcement, but I'm sure he's listening and watching, and gradually he will get it.

As for the mom not showing remorse? I don't know her, but I can try to speak to that. My son has Aspergers and got himself into all kinds of trouble in his preschool years (pre-diagnosis). A high percentage of feedback from his teachers and from society in general was negative. Imagine for a minute how heartbreaking that feels. But as a parent, your skin gets pretty thick pretty fast. There comes a point when you just can't fake being shocked and appalled that your kid knocked down somebody's blocks again. You're just so relieved your kid didn't bite or hit anybody! If she's like me, she smiles when she talks to the teacher and then cries in the parking lot when no one's looking. You never know.

If you haven't already, you could give this mom some genuine positive feedback about her son. Often! As long as it's honest and sincere. Let her know when he has a good day. Let her know if he really enjoyed a particular activity or played happily with another child. Let her know that you can see what's joyful and unique about this little boy. She'll be more likely to take you seriously if she knows you "get" her kid and appreciate him.

And when you do have negative feedback, don't just tattle on the kid. Let the mom know what triggered the event and what the solution was. If you want her to reinforce good behavior at home, give her some constructive suggestions for how to do that. Let her borrow some relevant children's books to read to her son at home, let her borrow Raising Your Spirited Child, etc.

Hope any of that helps. As you can tell, this is close to my heart. Good luck!

haiku junky said...

Thanks for this! I always have parents ask me how I get their kids to; take a nap, let me put a diaper on them, not have any *bad* behavior while they are at my daycare. I do exactly what you have suggested. i am consistent and respectful and it's really pretty simple if you talk to children the way you expect to be talked to. Non-violent communication really works!

Heidi said...

Time to practice statement of facts. Today I was impatient and whiny and didn't take the time to teach or nurture. Thank you Teacher Tom!

Anonymous said...

@floorpie there's a 3 year old in my class who literally every day puts his hands on his friends, or screams in their faces, or busts down their block towers...he is not liked by the other children and they aren't afraid of letting him know. It is unbelievably hard for me to comfort this child when HIS feelings are hurt or he gets a boo boo. His last daycare asked him to leave because of his violent behavior. I have absolutely come to my wits end with how to deal with it; neither of his parents are receptive to negative OR positive feedback-they are both in and out as quickly as possible at both drop off and pick up. What scares me most is he has a new sister at home-less than a week old and I've seen him push a baby down to take a toy out of her hands at our school. I actually fear for the baby. ANY suggestions anyone may have are greatly appreciated.

Mama Mo said...

Love the words of wisdom from your mother... so true! My own's mother's response when people say you shouldn't hold a baby too much for fear of "spoiling" him: Babies are like fruit. They spoil when they're too far from the tree. Hold your babies close."

Solomon said...

Anonymous 1:40pm finally cracked my "itch and bother!" The statement of fact post reeked of passive-aggressive dynamics which I lived with as a child. Language is not the problem. Intent is the problem. Changing language w/o changing intent accomplishes little, and changing intent alone is often enough for non-respectful or destructive behavior to fluidly change of their own accord.

Eliza P. said...

Anonymous (linguist): did you see Tom's response to Allison, at 12:34, above?

It sounds like Tom is aware that there are inappropriate times to use "statements of fact".

After all, he introduces them by saying, "Sometimes we must insist that we know best, but that doesn't mean we need to use the language of command."

I think we can all agree that a "statement of fact" or "reason for command" is better than "because I said so."

Rebe said...

Thank you so much for this and your prior entry - they are wonderful. I have been working with my own struggle lately with using gentle, aware language rather than the "language of command" with my own little ones, especially as they engage in hitting, toy throwing, pushing behavior with each other and their friends. Very challenging some days. Easy to get carried away by the energy of fear or embarrassment as you note. I love your blog!

The Knitty Gritty Homestead said...

Wow...this sure generated a lot of responses! When I've encountered "spoiled" children in my life as a teacher and a mother, it's impossible not to notice that they are not this way BECAUSE they have all the latest gadgets/toys (while my kids play with blocks I made from our apple tree prunings, homemade dolls, paper and markers etc)...but because (at least this is my impression) they've been given this overabundance of "stuff" so that they can entertain themselves.
Children do thrive on love and positive attention: an adult teaching them a card game, interacting with them while they play house, going for a walk. The days that my kids are the brattiest are the days when I'm busy and distracted and trying to get something done. On days when I breathe and ask them what they feel like doing, or say "YES!" when they want to read stories for an hour are my (least productive but) best days at home with them.
Your posts are so thought provoking. I always have so much to say! Re. trusting your child to do things: my son proudly announces to everyone that it is now HIS job to let our free-range chickens out every morning. He takes pride in helping his sisters put their shoes on, and I'm teaching him to cook (he's six). It's completely unconscionable that there are 20 year olds out there who can't wash their own clothes! What a disservice to children, to not gently push them to independence.
Great post, one that DESERVES to be shared 1000 times more on facebook!

Meaghan said...

I have been feeling overwhelmed by my two young boys resently. You words have inspired me to take a different approach (one I wanted to take but didn't know how). I've become too permissive and then I snap and become too bossy. It is a hard cycle to stop, but I think I've got a bit of an idea of how to do it now. THANKS

SLD said...

I found your blog via Lauren at Hobo Mama, the post about Language of Command, and I've shared your site with my parenting group. What I've read so far is kind and loving. I aspire to be as mindful in parenting my brand new baby as you describe here in your posts. I appreciate your sharing what you've learned and articulating it so well. Thank you.

mom24 said...

Teacher Tom, You Rock!!!

Excellent post, and something to share with colleagues at our next teacher's meeting.

Gleamer said...

Please treat the child who is hurting and acting out their pain with extra kindness. They need and deserve just as much attention and help as the person that they hurt or offended. If they continue to be rejected or shunned they will think that they are bad and deserve to be treated that way. Give them love an empathy and they will be able to treat others that way too.

kv barn said...

thanks for the post! i totally agree and i love the "kids making their own rules" idea!

kostas said...

Great post. I agree 100%. If I could turn back the time, and had a choice. I would definitely want to be your son. You just proved to me, that non violent people and people who know how to communicate properly, do exist. Thanks for being one. God bless you and your family.

Nadine Murtaza said...

Hey Teacher Tom,

We lost a beautiful little duckling at school today to a little three year old who in his first week of school has proven to be a slipping, sliding, snatching, bounding, tornado of uncontrolled motor exertions.

The ducklings have been with us eight weeks now, since the summer school but today was only Z's second day. Everyone was so thrilled with the fluffy baby birds and I suppose wanting to chase them is quite natural; we talked about tiptoeing near the ducklings, and scattering seeds from a distance, etc. I agree that children need to hear gentle, even-toned reminders, even if a million times and so Z had heard me say, "remember to be gentle", "it's important to be careful", "please keep your distance", "see, the ducklings are scared of your feet running so close", for almost an hour.

I stepped inside leaving an assistant teacher and Z's mom outside to show another student where she could find a bug catcher. When I returned, the duckling was lying in the grass, basically have been crushed by Z, who tripped as he chased her and landed on the duck. She was still alive and all the children were really concerned... it was horrible to see, and I cannot remember the last time I felt so truly angry.

I said the duckling was hurt very badly and she needed someone to take care of her; and I helped my colleague pick her up gently and carry her away. I am happy that I was able to turn around and calmly tell a very stressed out Z that he has to be very careful and that when he forgets to follow rules people can get hurt. I wanted to tell him I was sad that he had hurt the duckling but he seemed truly shaken up. Z continued to ask about the duck all day, where it was, if he could see it; at one point he ran all around the outside of our building trying to find it.

Z's mother was mortified - she came up to me once the moment had passed and said "I don't know where all this rage is coming from". I told her that I didn't notice him acting aggressively or out of rage at all. After Z's first day of chaotic collisions, it really seemed like an honest to goodness lack of motor and self-control, which is not unusual for a three year old.

Having said this, here I sit, at the very end of the day feeling really horrible. I feel responsible, I am rethinking having pets in class, which is a horrible feeling in itself. I have read your post about giving children hammers and fully agree that putting things out of reach is not the best way to show children how to interact respectfully with them - and caring for animals is such a critical lesson in empathy. But animal cruelty is unacceptable too.

I came to your blog for inspiration and advice, and maybe for something Z's mom should read to use at home and elsewhere. This post definitely helped quell some of the nibbling doubts that have grown louder after the day's unrest.

Thanks for being so well thought out.

Best,

Nadine Murtaza
I own NJ's House, a homeschool/preschool in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Nadine Murtaza said...

Hey Teacher Tom,

We lost a beautiful little duckling at school today to a little three year old who in his first week of school has proven to be a slipping, sliding, snatching, bounding, tornado of uncontrolled motor exertions.

The ducklings have been with us eight weeks now, since the summer school but today was only Z's second day. Everyone was so thrilled with the fluffy baby birds and I suppose wanting to chase them is quite natural; we talked about tiptoeing near the ducklings, and scattering seeds from a distance, etc. I agree that children need to hear gentle, even-toned reminders, even if a million times and so Z had heard me say, "remember to be gentle", "it's important to be careful", "please keep your distance", "see, the ducklings are scared of your feet running so close", for almost an hour.

I stepped inside leaving an assistant teacher and Z's mom outside to show another student where she could find a bug catcher. When I returned, the duckling was lying in the grass, basically have been crushed by Z, who tripped as he chased her and landed on the duck. She was still alive and all the children were really concerned... it was horrible to see, and I cannot remember the last time I felt so truly angry.

I said the duckling was hurt very badly and she needed someone to take care of her; and I helped my colleague pick her up gently and carry her away. I am happy that I was able to turn around and calmly tell a very stressed out Z that he has to be very careful and that when he forgets to follow rules people can get hurt. I wanted to tell him I was sad that he had hurt the duckling but he seemed truly shaken up. Z continued to ask about the duck all day, where it was, if he could see it; at one point he ran all around the outside of our building trying to find it.

Z's mother was mortified - she came up to me once the moment had passed and said "I don't know where all this rage is coming from". I told her that I didn't notice him acting aggressively or out of rage at all. After Z's first day of chaotic collisions, it really seemed like an honest to goodness lack of motor and self-control, which is not unusual for a three year old.

Having said this, here I sit, at the very end of the day feeling really horrible. I feel responsible, I am rethinking having pets in class, which is a horrible feeling in itself. I have read your post about giving children hammers and fully agree that putting things out of reach is not the best way to show children how to interact respectfully with them - and caring for animals is such a critical lesson in empathy. But animal cruelty is unacceptable too.

I came to your blog for inspiration and advice, and maybe for something Z's mom should read to use at home and elsewhere. This post definitely helped quell some of the nibbling doubts that have grown louder after the day's unrest.

Thanks for being so well thought out.

Best,

Nadine Murtaza
I own NJ's House, a homeschool/preschool in Islamabad, Pakistan.

KWise said...

Hi there! I've always been curious about this approach to parenting. I'm going to try it on my youngest child (now 2), but I wanted to ask: what do you think, teacher tom, are the possible negative outcomes of NOT doing what you propose here? That is, what bad things will happen if adults talk to kids using "the language of commands?"

We do live in a world of commands. Kids will one day have to take commands from their public school teachers. They'll have to take commands from their coaches. They'll have to take commands from their future bosses. Do you think there could be any problems associated with NOT giving kids many commands when they are in preschool? Could they grow up to expect that they have a choice in everything? Could they one day be shocked when their 1st grade teacher says, "it's time to put away your books and start working on Math." And the kid asks, "why?" and the teacher says, "cause I said so."

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this - its one worry I have.

Teacher Tom said...

@KWise . . . I do not live in a world of commands. I don't follow the commands of anyone and I really can't remember a time that I have. I do, however, as a member of a democratic society, live in a world of agreements. We all know that the habits and lessons learned in childhood, tend to be those that we retain as adults. Children who have been taught the habits of obedience grow into obedient adults. Democracy cannot survive in a nation of obedient adults: they are a danger to themselves and to others. Obedience and critical thinking are mutually exclusive orientations. You might be interested in this post called "I Will Not Obey": http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/2011/09/i-will-not-obey.html

Suchada @ Mama Eve said...

I took a year off blogging and reading parenting blogs. I'm just catching up with your new posts and some older ones like this, and I'm so glad. Being away from the respectful parenting community left me stumped for some solutions, and now I feel like I'm getting back on track for problem solving with my kids.

My oldest son also started kindergarten at a public school, and we're learning how to navigate the differences between there and our home. I'm so glad you have so much wisdom posted. THANK YOU.

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