Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Me & My Soapbox

The toddler boy was approximately 2 years old, and was obviously excited to be at the petting zoo. He repeatedly slapped the animals near him, and finally his mother picked him up. He then hit her in the face and on the arms and yelled at her until she set him back down on the ground where he returned to terrorizing a goat.

We were at Cabella's. The little girl was around 5, and she looked directly at her mother, who was watching her, and purposefully dropped her jacket on the floor, and then stomped away. The mother went behind the child, picked up the jacket and tied it to the strap of her own purse, while saying something to the child. Child then ran over to mom, and slapped her on the arm, hard, folded her arms across her chest and stomped off. Both parents watched this happen, and did nothing.

Both of these children appeared to be normal kids at appropriate developmental stages for their approximate ages. Neither of them appeared to have any visible neurological problem that would cause this sort of behavior and they seemed to interact with their siblings appropriately at other times during the time we observed them. Both of these children had both mother and father with them at the time these incidents occurred. Both of these children are preschool age.

Both of these children have won in their households.

A while back someone asked me why I didn't have my kids in any sort of mother's day out type program. My "official" answer was that I didn't believe that they needed it as yet: they have each other to play with, we read, play, sing, paint/draw/color/sculpt every day, and we're saving money for the days when they will attend a quality preschool program. For the Critter that will be next September, for Little Bit, the year after. My private answer? Because I don't want my kids to be around mean children who have not been taught what appropriate behavior is.

Notice I wrote 'not been taught' as opposed to 'haven't learned'. There is a difference, and it is a big one.

I worked in public schools for 15 years, working with age levels spanning pre-k to college, and occupying various positions. Every year when I worked in elementary schools, a new crop of Kindergarteners would enroll, and you could tell right away which kids had not been taught appropriate behavior. When I worked in secondary schools you could point them out with ease still, and in college there were some people on the cusp of adulthood who obviously hadn't been taught the rules of the sandbox. We here in the blogging world see it in full-grown adults who leave nasty anonymous comments.

They don't just wake up one morning as pre-schoolers/pre-teens/young adults gone wrong, and it's not about socio-ecomonics or stay-at-home versus daycare. They all started out as innocent babies, and it's the adults who screw them up.

Children really aren't that complicated, but they do learn what we teach them. And all too often, what we teach them is entirely by accident, omission, or inaction. I would hope that no one would ever purposefully teach a child that hitting is appropriate, but by not acting when it happens, we have done just that.

(And why is it that they learn the negative things after seeing/hearing/experiencing it just once, and I'm still reminding the Critter 'no elbows on the table' after two years of 3 daily meals? ... but I digress...)

Yes, it's easier to not deal with it, and hope the behavior will go away.
Will it? No.
Yes, it takes time and patience to correct children.
It is easy? No.
Yes, there are are some children that are more 'challenging' or 'spirited' than others.
Does that mean we can NOT do our best to teach them? Absolutely not.
Do I always do it right? God, no.
Do I pray every single day that I have more positive moments than negative? Absolutely.

No one said that it would be easy when we signed on for this parenting gig, and by bringing these children into this world we have placed the responsibility of being their first teacher squarely on our own shoulders.

So suck it up, quit your whining, get off your lazy tush and do the right thing.

If we teach them that whining is the way to get what they want, they will whine from that day forward.

If we teach them that hitting is appropriate problem-solving, they will employ that solution from now on.

If we teach them that people who look different from them are bad or wrong, they will go into adulthood with those attitudes.

If we teach them that it's friendly to use good manners, they will use them.

If we teach them how to be patient and talk out their problems with others they will do it.

If we teach them to be tolerant of others' differences and that everyone is God's creation, they will live that attitude.

Those kids? Those are the kids I want my babies to hang out with.

Maybe I'll invite them to visit us on our private desert island once in a while.


Blogger Big Heavy said...

Amen Mama McAustin!

2:33 PM  
Blogger Carrie said...

AMEN sister! What a fabulous post! Direct, to the point, and yet still eloquent. If ever there were something I would encourage being sent around and around and around via email, this would be it.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Tx Mom said...

Well said and so true.

5:13 PM  
Blogger Sheri & SuZan said...

Very well written.

2:56 PM  
Blogger MommyMe said...

I don't know, I'm a mother of a 3 going on 4 yr old little boy. I've always *taught* him no hitting, please and thank you, yes ma'am/no ma'am but sometimes outside influences do win. I do work and have to work full time outside of the home and therefore he has been in daycare/preschool his entire life. Just 2 days ago he began throwing a fit because I wouldn't let him have a popsicle before dinner. The fit escalated and I told him that he was going in time out until he could calm down. What did he do when I approached him to place him in time out? He hit me and proceeded to hit and kick me until I deposited him in the time out spot and as I walked away he was still "swinging" at me.

But did he win, no? I had to wait for him to calm down to go back and talk to him about why his behavior wasn't acceptable. While he is screaming and swinging he's not listening so my words would fall on deaf ears. I have taught him no hitting and that his behavior in such instances is unacceptable.

I've discussed my son's behavior with his preschool teachers and he is always praised. Well behaved, doesn't cause problems and overall he is a pleasant child.

I know that I am no perfect parent. And honestly it would not surprise me if my child acted as the 2 you described. I'm not saying I agree with the way the parents handled the situations but I also don't think it's fair to judge the parents. You only got to see a glimpse of their lives.

I know this is your blog and you have the right to say what you want. But your post did get to me because my son is no angel, his behavior is not always perfect but as a mother I feel that I am doing the best job I can.

4:24 PM  
Blogger MMC said...

Mommyme - I know.

Anytime I see one of these incidents, I first feel complete and total sympathy for the parents, because we've all been there, me included more times than I'd like to recall!
the ones I described, and the ones that prompted the post that didn't make it into print, were really of another kind - you know THAT kind, where you get the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach b/c you KNOW that's the status quo for those kids most of the time, and much of the time it's not the kids' fault. Most so-called kid problems are really parent problems.
We all have bad days, kids included, and children do go through 'phases'. You definitely sound like you're a cool-headed, on the ball mom, but I'm tired of people blaming kids for parenting problems.

And that was my point.
I truly hope I didn't offend you.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Kami said...

Kids acting up in public for their parents is a universal thing. And it is so much fun.

I would just hate to be judged so quickly for my child doing so, for five minutes at Target. Oh, has he ever done it.

Nikolaus has come home with some lovely words and phrases since starting at his private, Christian Pre-school, but I think that's just part of life. (Some of the kids have older siblings.) I see this as another opportunity to teach him what is and isn't appropriate. As much as I am a "hoverer," I know I can't shelter him too much, or he won't be prepared for the "real world."

Yeah, we are responsible for teaching our kids how to behave, but they will still flip out at times, and I don't think that makes them "mean." I think it makes them 3 (etc.) year olds.

I think we all need a raise. And benefits.

10:42 AM  
Blogger The Kept Woman said...

"They don't just wake up one morning as pre-schoolers/pre-teens/young adults gone wrong"...I had this kid in my class one year and the mother swore he was fabulous.

I promised that when he killed/got killed in his teens and his mama was on the TV shouting, "He was always such a good boy!" that I'd be there to straighten it all out.

7:43 PM  
Blogger TBG said...

you could not have said that better!

7:44 PM  
Blogger Lucky Lum said...

Sometimes parents are doing the best they can. They have been raised a certain way and don't know the correct way to parent their children.
I saw this a lot teaching at a school where the majority of the parents were uneducated and poor and worked so much they barely had time to spend with their kids.
It was hard as a teacher knowing these children deserved a better life and a chance at life.
As a role model that's where you hope you can make some sort of difference in their lives.

I don't agree with everything you said, but you certainly have strong voice with a good message!

8:16 PM  
Blogger Tammy said...

I'm with Lum. I don't agree about everything you said, but I do agree with some of it.

I'm a working mom and have no choice but to put my kids in daycare. I teach them right from wrong at home. And I use the less-than-well-behaved children as examples of how not to act. I don't believe we should "shelter" our kids from the outside world. It's not the reality.

My son is one of those kids who has been screaming and crying in the store. And I've gotten the disapproving stares from other people. And it pisses me off. However, I do correct the problem when it is happening, whether it be talking to him calmly, taking him to the bathroom to remove him from the situation, or just leaving the store completely.

I will admit that before I had kids, I was one of the disapproving staring people. Now, I just give them a smile and a nod because I've been there and I know how very hard it is.

Great, controversial, post, though.

8:55 AM  
Blogger mrtl said...

Excellent post. It reminds me of, way back when I was teaching, one of the sixth-grade girls in my above level class got suspended for fighting. Her mother wanted to kill two birds by having teachers present at the administrative conference. It was there that she told us how angry she was with how the school handled the incident. After all, her daughter was doing what the mother had told her: never let someone get the best of you; if someone's going to hit you, you hit her first.

There are parents out there like that. It's scary.

11:00 PM  

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