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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Keep the Faith In Your Children

As parents and as teachers we sometimes lose faith in a child or student; he/she doesn't want to do the work, doesn't respond adequately to requests to improve, turns his/her body away from us when we attempt to communicate, doesn't look us in the eye, sulks, mopes, shrugs his/her shoulders, and sometimes runs away to his/her room or out of school if it is a teen. All these are signs that something is bothering him; it may be of great importance or it may be a passing malaise due to a relationship gone bad with a peer. Responding with impatience, with sarcasm, or with punishment without ascertaining the cause is the worst mistake we can make.

It is imperative to discover the real cause of the child's behavior; is it drugs, failing in school, or worse, being abused by a family member or a teacher? With patience and insistence, the mystery will be solved and the door will open. The teen or the child desperately wants to tell someone of his plight, but shame or fear of punishment can hold them back; yes, punishment! They sometimes feel that they are guilty when abused sexually and some parents may have a history of punishing before knowing the cause of their strange conduct. If the reason is a benign one, it is still possible for the youngster to perceive his problem as a major one. They haven't yet acquired the notion of real value or importance as established by the society in which they live. At 12, I remember stealing an apple from a grocery stand in the street where I lived and feeling terrified that my father might find out. He never did, but a year later, I smoked one of his prized cigars, I was only 13; when he came home, he of course noticed the smell immediately. His punishment? He ordered me to finish it as I had been able to extract only a few puffs. Needless to say, I puked my heart out and never stole a cigar from him again. I was expecting a beating and instead, he selected the adequate consequence that didn't humiliate me (too much).

Children expect to be punished when they misbehave; that is the way it should be in a normal family. If parents ignore the fault committed they are initiating a cascade of unpleasant events: The unacceptable behavior will be repeated, as kids try to push the limits to see how far they can go. As far as they are concerned, there are no unpleasant consequences to the violation of the rules. It is essential however to apply the punishment as soon as possible after the misbehavior; waiting more than one day can only produce undue anxiety in the child; however, the consequences must fit the "crime." I had a tyrannical teacher in elementary who severely punished the most innocent peccadillo, such as turning around or talking to a neighbor. It took me several years to shake off the emotional effects of his discipline strategy.

Students raising hands in class

As parents or teachers, we must be careful not to create permanent resentment against us,  against the social group we represent. If there is one thing teens dislike the most, it is injustice; yet we often accuse them before we have all the facts. We preach respect for the law, respect for the rules of society, but we sometimes act as judge and jury, handing down the sentence with no possibility of appeal. I have witnessed numerous cases of teachers sending a student to the main office while ignoring the main culprit, the one who started the problem. Even serial killers have the right to their day in court, so why is it that we don't offer the same privilege to our children and/or students?

All kids have skills, whether we see them or not; we sometimes prevent such abilities from developing when we force our children or students to follow a different path against their will. I wasn't born to play a musical instrument, yet my parents registered me in an accordion class. My first lesson was how to read music and I escaped from that basement as soon as the poor teacher had her back turned. Luckily, my mother understood that I wasn't cut to be an artist and yodel on the local Alps (Yodeling is a traditional singing art in Switzerland, Germany and Austria). We should always study, assess our children to discover what they do best; this becomes obvious after their second year of life. They may be attracted to a particular activity and show a special, early proficiency. For example, I have seen remarkable drawings by a precocious 2-year old  little girl, the daughter of close friends. Of course, all kids are different and some will reveal their interest later. It could be animals, mechanics, books, music, or even acting in front of a group. Leadership qualities also show early in elementary schools. These skills will serve them well in adult life if we give them opportunities to practice and polish them.

Perhaps the most important aspect of a growing child is the emotional development; parents and teachers have the enormous responsibility of providing the right environment at the various stages of early life. A student of mine is constantly interrupting the class by making "funny" comments about other students. He is 17, but he acts like a 3 year-old who constantly craves attention. The purpose is to be recognized, liked by his peers, noticed by the girls, even though he sometimes offends other students and always irritates the teacher. Between the ages of 3 and 5 we seek to establish a personal identity; between the ages of 13 and 18 we seek to establish a social and sexual identity. In both cases we need the affection and encouragement of our families and teachers. That was not the case for this young man who obviously lacked the love and attention he needed earlier in life.

Watch your children carefully; they possess hidden treasures that may remain that way forever if we don't let them flourish naturally by exposing them to a variety of stimuli. Once they become teens and pass puberty, emotional traps may cause them to close their mental doors and deny us access to their inner thoughts. We must keep a sharp eye out for any sudden changes that may signal potential problems. If we keep the communication channels open, free of threats, the teens will eventually find the courage to face and solve their difficulties... with our help of course.


Anonymous said...

I do not agree that we should have faith in our young people but I do agree that we need to teach them the by our example.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about having "faith" in our children.
I recommend that people who work with young people should keep an open mind, not judge, look at even the little things that are good, and compliment with sincerity.

Jacques said...

I like the idea of focusing on little things, as they can develop into big things