When did it become "mean" or "bad" to enforce rules, limits, boundaries, or consequences of any kind? When did setting restrictions become synonymous with lacking empathy?
I suppose some would say I'm pretty liberal when it comes to discipline with kids in the sense that I see misbehavior not as something to squash, but as a call for help--a plea for the adults in their life to dig deeper and give them the tools they need. They don't know what they don't know, so a child's behavior is the language they speak when they can't articulate their needs. I suppose this is true with adults, too. However, pain or ignorance is not a free pass--personal responsibility plays a role.
When my own child or a student of mine is acting out, I do not go immediately to enforcing a consequence; rather, I look underneath with the intention to connect. 9 times out of 10, there's something bigger going on and addressing that need takes care of the behavior.
And yet, at the same time, I also understand the need for discipline.
Discipline comes from the word "disciple", which is derived from an Old English word meaning "one who follows another for the purpose of learning". Discipline between adult and child is simply an exchange of teaching and learning. Somehow we've lost sight of this and the word "discipline" has gained a negative connotation.
As I see it, the job of adults--you know, those with a fully-developed frontal lobe and oodles of life experience to draw from--is to teach those who do not yet have those things...not the other way around. The ones with the still-developing brains who aren't yet capable of fully understanding the relationship between choices & consequences are not the ones who should be making the decisions. They need US to do that. And, often, that involves the setting of limits and restrictions.
Kids need the safety of structure--the container of our rules and boundaries--in order to feel safe.
Do they realize that? No.
Will they want it? Request it? Heck, no!
Do they need it? YES.
Ask my six year-old if he'd like to brush his teeth every night and he'll say "no thanks". Ask my twelve year-old student if he'd like to learn the monotonous task of computer keyboarding and he'll say "no, I'd rather play games". If it's up to them, they'll have rotten teeth and will be hunting & pecking their way through college papers. Why? Because they are not yet capable of being the decision-makers. So we must be. To use a phrase that seems to be out of fashion, it's for their own good.
I hope you'll hear this: kids need your limits--your restrictions.
They need to understand that, yes, they always have a choice...but that their choices aren't free of consequences.
They'll likely be mad and you may feel uncomfortable--it stinks to be the heavy. I know this because I struggle with it myself. By nature, I'm uncomfortable with confrontation and my tendency with anything is to take the path of least resistance. So I have to really remind myself of the things I know are best and breathe through the discomfort. My comfort comes from knowing that--in the long run--I'm doing right for them.
I remind myself that discipline helped me to accomplish great things in my own life. I remind myself that, without the enforcement of discipline (discipline I did NOT want at the time), I never would've placed within the top 10 in the nation as a dancer--I hated getting up at 5am for practice. I never would've felt the accomplishment or reaped the benefit of finishing grad school (writing papers was hard).
I remind myself that discipline & restriction, while not easy, continues to help me. When the impulsive part of my brain wants to fire back that text while driving, the restriction of the law helps prevent me from doing something that could hurt me or someone else. When I don't want to exercise or when I want to eat the whole sleeve of Girl Scout cookies, I know I must exercise that discipline if I want to live a healthy, good life.
And yet, part of that good life I live is knowing I am loved and cared for by those around me. The loved ones in my life show me empathy and care and authentic connection. They forgive me (and I forgive me) when I slip up or fall short.
My point is this: you can have both and it takes both--restriction AND love; discipline AND connection. One without the other, either way, eventually leads to dysfunction.
It's not about being behaviorally liberal or conservative; being PC or non-PC; a boomer or being "woke". When the world wants us to join a camp, to follow the pendulum swinging to the opposite end--just remember, it's about balance. The yin & the yang.
Somewhere between "my way or the highway" and "the path of least resistance", there's a sometimes rocky, not-always-smooth middle ground that I believe--if walked closely hand-in-hand with those we love--leads to somewhere really beautiful.
These are 10 takeaways I’ve had over the years from working with kids and adults reflecting on their childhood. You may feel, like me, that so much of this goes without saying, but I’m continually reminded over the years that it doesn’t. Even with the experience and education I’ve had, parenting my own child is far more challenging than working with another’s. Working with kids, parenting...it’s hard, and not everyone had a great model for it. What I do believe is that it’s never too late to do better or begin again.
I’ve worked with kids for a long time—first as a character performer at Disney, then as a teacher, Guidance Counselor, & tutor.
I’ve worked with kids in the public setting and in private. I’ve worked with kids from every income bracket and family dynamic imaginable. I’ve worked with gifted students and students with disabilities. I even worked with big kids doing intake interviews for a drug & alcohol rehab center where I heard the intimate stories, often from childhood, that led them there.
And while I don’t by any means consider myself an expert (just come to my house any day during homework time with my 6 year-old), I do have some serious field knowledge—I’ve heard and seen the gamut when it comes to parent-child dynamics...the good, the bad, and everything in between.
I was grabbing a smoothie one morning when a familiar face walked into the store, a former coworker of mine from public school. We greeted each other and she asked where I was currently teaching. I told her I had recently taken a position at a private Montessori school. Her mouth formed into a pained expression and she leaned in close, “ooh, how is that? Ya know, working with those kinda kids?”
My heart started to race & the Mama Bear in me started to stir. Because I knew exactly what she meant by that question--I got different forms of it all the time. The implication behind the questions is usually that they are incapable of doing things on their own or are entitled.
I’d been through this before so I took a deep breath to tame the bear and calmly told her the truth. “Honestly... ‘those kids’ are no different than the kids I taught in public school. Some are entitled, others are not. Some are gifted, others have significant learning disabilities. Some come from wealthy families, some don’t. We have a mix of different kids, just like anywhere else.”
Unless you spent Spring Break hibernating in a cave, you've heard the hoopla surrounding the college admissions cheating scandal in which parents (including some well-known celebs) engaged in various forms of bribery in order to get their children into the top colleges they desired. Many people are shocked by how this could happen, but I'm betting most of them aren't teachers. Disappointed, yes. But not surprised.
Because a phenomenon we've seen for awhile now is what's truly at the root of this issue: some parents wanting more for their children than their children want for themselves. It's about being able to tell people that your child goes to (fill-in-the-blank) University and how that makes the parent feel rather than a genuine desire on the part of the child to do the hard work required to earn their way in authentically. Of course I don't know these people firsthand or know that this is the case--maybe these students legitimately did care about their schoolwork and worked hard but, despite their best efforts, struggled academically. In this case, resorting to bribery is obviously still wrong and reinforces the idea to the child that, if we can't get what we desire through hard work, we can get there through financial privilege and manipulation. It also models for the child a great lack of empathy for those students who have worked hard to earn their way in ethically.
I walk toward the doors of my son's classroom after a long day in my own, my shoulders tight and my soul yearning for an afternoon coffee. This is the brightest spot of any given day--that moment after walking through the doors of my son's classroom when I spot him, he spots me, and he comes running, arms wide open and joy all over his face. My tired and tense is replaced with a sudden burst of pure joy that floods my body as his 4 year-old arms wrap around my neck. We exchange hugs and kisses and I take in every detail he wants to tell me about his day as we gather his things and walk together toward the car.
The end of the workday, for most people, is a welcome relief but, for me, the ride home from school is my least favorite part of the day--not because I'm unhappy to head home and be with my family, but because this is the time of day when I'm least mentally and physically settled. I feel a little like a soda bottle that's been shaken up and sat down, struggling to transition from swirling to settling. There just seems to be so much noise--both literally and figuratively. The noise of the radio, the sounds of traffic that surround me, my son's stories now stretching into twenty-minute monologues that I'm trying my best to actively listen to.
She was my 4th grade teacher and one of my all-time favorites--a bubbly, brunette, thirty-something woman with dimples that made learning fun and always wore the cutest high heels that perfectly matched her dress. She handed out Star Student certificates every Friday, signed in perfect cursive, to students who showed good behavior and boy, did I aim to please. That was my main goal at 9 years old really--to gain friends and the teacher's favor by laying low and being good at all costs. I was conscientious, polite, and on-task ALWAYS—a model student.
Until one day, when I made an uncharacteristically bad choice: when I thought no one was looking, I took a Sharpie to the head cheerleader’s jacket.
I'm Krissy & I'm so thankful you're here. Teacher-Mom life is rewarding but it's tough--we need fuel (& each other) to keep going. I hope this is a place you can go that feels like caffeine for the soul--uplifting & highly addictive ;) Check out the categories below and, if you like what you read, subscribe to make sure you always have good Sunday morning reading to go with your coffee :)