Empathy – For Parents and Children

    Being a young child’s caregiver – a parent, a teacher, a guardian – requires endless patience.  Some days are filled with fun and laughter while others seem like a series of never-ending behavioral challenges.

    Some children will quietly test boundaries while others are more bold and loud.   Many of us have watched with sympathy on our faces as other parents deal with public tantrums, disrespectful tones or other difficult child rearing situations.  Teachers may do all the right things to positively discipline and offer instructive rather than punitive reactions but some students will continue to test the limits of the classroom.  When you care about children and are doing your best to be a role model and guide children, continuation of unacceptable behavior can start to feel personal.  We wonder, “What am I doing wrong?” when young children persist.

    Every child will react differently to our guidance.  They can be quite unpredictable.  Just when you think you’ve figured them out, their behavior or reaction to discipline surprises you.  I cannot predict what each child will do in varied situations but there are two things that experience as both a parent and educator have taught me.  Every child is being the best he/she can be and every behavior – good or bad – provides a reward.

    Children do not wake up in the morning thinking, “Today, I’m going to break her.  I am going to be a misery, have tantrums, scream until I’m hoarse and get myself in loads of trouble.”  They wake up in the morning just like adults do – with a day that will unfold.  Some of the day is in our control and some is not.  Children’s reactions to the day are not so different than ours.  Our reactions to the day are influenced by our personalities, past experiences, need for control, lack of sleep, body chemistry and more.  Some days, we awake peacefully and feeling well.  Some days, we are tense from the time we get up from bed.  Some days, we need more attention than others.   Every day, we hope things will go well.  We are imperfect and we make mistakes.  We are simply the best we can be and so are our children.  The “best” is not always what we would like to see.  The day full of tantrums is the best that child could do.  My heart goes out to the child who is scared, crying and even testing my limits.  It isn’t easy to be that child.

    If it isn’t easy to be the angry or sad child, then why do it?  Children do it because there is some reward.  A reward can be both positive and negative.  A child who cannot cope with frustration throws a tantrum or lashes out at friends to release the tension he/she feels.  A child who desperately needs attention will do anything to get it.  Negative behavior may cause negative attention but it is attention nonetheless.

    When we are emotionally involved in a situation, it can be difficult to take a step back and remember that our children or our students are not plotting our demise.  They need us to remember.  We need to remember how it feels to be out of control, needy, tired, confused and unsure.  Our children need us to take a deep breath and remember that they are the best they can be in that challenging moment.

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