Even when kids are doing the “wrong” things, they’re not necessarily doing anything wrong. Today we went to the Ann Arbor hands on museum…a great place for kids to explore. The first thing you see when you walk in is a musical staircase. Each step produces a different tone, leading up to seemingly endless hallways and rooms filled with gadgets, structures, machines, and activities specifically designed for kids to explore science. It’s truly an amazing place intended for use by our most amazing people…kids. I’m sure you would agree that each one is truly amazing.
Typically we head to the water room first, and then we play in the sound hallway or build in the block cul-de-sac, or engage with one another across the coding space before heading to the ambulance room. We go everywhere from the bubble room, to the pre-school play room, to the light and laser room…there seems to be no end! It’s like Wonka’s factory for science lovers, which all kids seem to be.
The stimulation is extremely intense. My children are 6, 4, 2, and 1. I make it very clear before we enter that we must stay together. I tell them each in no uncertain terms. I remind them of the consequences their mother and I will dish out if they don’t follow those instructions.
Do they stay together? No. Of course not, they’re little kids. Little kids get distracted very easily. Some sight catches their eyes, some sound catches their ears, and then they’re off. It’s our job as adults to corral and wrangle them along the way. Even knowing that they were not going to comply I continued to remind them to stay together. As I did they continued to drift apart.
Toward the end of the experience we started to round them up to leave. Guess what? They didn’t want to go. We were stern, we were forthright, and we even used their first and middle names for a deepened impact. Still we needed to hold on to hands and pick some of them up while they were pitching fits to get them to the door. It was frustrating. However, they were not doing anything wrong. They weren’t doing what we would have liked them to do, but they were doing what kids do whether adults like it or not.
It would have been nice if at least one of them were to have said, “Yes father, and let me hold my little sister’s hand as we exit the museum, “or” It’s all right dad, I’m quite sure I’ll have the opportunity to experience some of what I missed this time on our next visit.”
That would be great but intensely surprising. It’s not surprising that in their tired and hungry states they were pitching fits. It’s not surprising that they were whining and groaning and talking back. It’s not ideal, it’s not polite, it’s not fun, but the fact is…it’s developmentally appropriate.
As parents and educators we must stay ever mindful that even when kids are doing the “wrong” things, they’re not necessarily doing things “wrong.”
Kids in kindergarten through second grade are still figuring out how to communicate with one another, and with us. They’ve only been alive for about five to seven years. Sometimes the break rules as they figure it out. Sometimes they get physical, sometimes they call each other names, sometimes they exaggerate, sometimes they complain about one another, sometimes they seek attention in a variety of other seemingly counterproductive ways.
In third through fifth grade our eight to ten and eleven year olds act out as they explore their increasingly social world. It can be very difficult to navigate the rough waters of this phase of life; it might be hard for us to remember but trust me, it’s true.
As they move away from the parallel social existence of little kids to the coexistence of older kids they each experience tremendous growth and subsequently tremendous challenges. How do you behave in the midst tremendous challenges?
None of these things should surprise us. It’s our job to guide each of them by way of compassionate discipline and targeted instruction as they each crave out their own unique developmental pathway through these years. We should not be disappointed that they behave like kids. In fact we should be thrilled. When kids behave like kids it suggests healthy developmental progress, and that’s good.
For that reason I believe it’s critical for parents and educators not to cast our kids as victims or as villains while we work to see them safely through their early years. Our words and actions are more impactful than we may even understand. We must resist any impulse to define any kid by a moment, a situation, or even by what might seem to be a lengthy phase. To many times over the course of my life have I seen the wild, boisterous, or defiant little kid become the responsible, kind, and thoughtful older kid.
We must give our kids space to grow into the incredible people they’re each becoming, we must believe that is in fact what’s happening (even during the most frustrating and extended challenges), we must tap the strength they innately have to be courageous and kind, and with no hesitation or uncertainly we must make each of them know that he or she is unique and remarkable around every turn.
Kids do not have to be victims or villains. If we cast them as such there’s a chance they might think they are. Furthermore, I would argue that if they do it could be a difficult thought to overcome if not developmentally stifling.
My kids, your kids, someone else’s kids…we make this world a better place when we lift them up through the developmental challenges they each inevitably face along the way. More specifically, when we teach them that no person is perfect, but that we are each instead a beautiful and miraculous work in positive progress, we give them the vital gifts of hope and inspiration.
Live, listen, learn, lead, and always bring your best.