Wednesday, September 29, 2010
The Exasperated Teacher
"You're such a pain in the neck. You drive me crazy."
"I can't believe how stupid you are, you're an embarrassment."
I've actually heard parents speak this way to their children. Nice parents who vow that they love their kids and want the best for them. They are baffled that no matter how harsh they make their punishments, their child still misbehaves.
Then there are the silent messages parents can send. Angry expressions on their faces, looks of derision, exasperated sighs, rolling eyes .... funny, the same obnoxious behavior we hate in rebellious teenagers. I wonder where those teens picked that up?
There are times that your child misbehaves deliberately, out of spite or anger. That requires swift and forceful discipline because a spirit of rebellion is rising up inside of him. But there are many more times that your child doesn't obey which has nothing to do with being bad or selfish. It's not an issue of character, but of maturity. They are learning how to balance impulses and feelings with rational thought. And we all know that impulses win out most of the time when we're young - which of us doesn't still struggle with that even now?
Here's an example to think about: Ben loves cars, trucks, boats - anything with an engine. His teacher has been shouting at the class all day because kids are acting up. Ben wants to do well in school, and likes getting good grades. But today the teacher's voice sounds like a loud angry fog horn. Without realizing, her monotone yelling has become so irritating to listen to and his mind deals with it by treating her voice like meaningless background noise. He's quietly sitting at his desk when he suddenly sees out the window, a steam roller making it's way down the street. It is the coolest most amazing piece of machinery he has ever seen, and for the first time in an hour, his mind is alive and alert. The giant roller flattening out the fresh asphalt, the sound, the movement of the construction crew - it's a science lesson right in front of his eyes and he doesn't want to miss a thing. He leans over and doesn't even hear the sound of Mrs. Perkin's voice getting louder as she walks right up to his desk. He is rudely awakened by her angry face in his, threatening to send him to detention.
From a frustrated teacher's point of view, she has lessons that need to be taught, and no one wants to listen. If she raises her voice and threatens, and they get quiet for a moment. But like little demons, they just pick up their conversations again and drive her crazy. She has lost control of her class, and needs someone to punish. Ben is quiet and will give the least resistance, so she goes right after him to make him an example to the rest, and more that anything, make her feel comforted that at least she's doing something about this exasperating problem.
At that moment, what happens inside of Ben? Scientists say that a child's mind switches into survival mode when he or she feels frightened, threatened or shocked. It's like the frontal lobe of their brain goes dim for about 20 minutes. They can't think, they can't concentrate, they can't learn. They just react by doing whatever it takes to ensure that shock doesn't happen again. But have they learned their lesson? Will they be sure never to make that mistake again? If that is the only form of correction they receive, chances are - no.
If this is the road his teachers and parents continue down, Ben will become convinced that he is bad, a scatter-brain, inferior, dumb. Something inside him also knows that he really isn't all that bad and may try to react angrily against this unfair treatment. Ben can easily become rebellious and turn into the slacker that can't get anything right.
So what's the solution? Wise parents and teachers learn to use the power of praise and encouragement to bring out the best in their kids. They know how to correct wrong behavior while always letting the child know that they love and value him or her. They balance out their discipline by reinforcing the things that they do appreciate in their child, even if it's something small and seemingly unimportant. For their child, any praise when they've just been disciplined is so very important. When that happens, that state of shock quickly fades and they can go back to concentrating and learning.
Our kids futures are too precious to waste on our own impulsive anger issues. If we want to fix our kids, we need to fix ourselves. Watch this space for more good tips...