Kids are great teachers…if we pay attention.
This blog post is triggered by a recent news article about two boys entering the second grade. You probably heard the story. In case you didn’t, here’s a recap.
Two boys are entering the school on their first day as second-graders. One is smiling with excitement, the other appears distressed. The first boy takes the hand of the second and you can see the fear and anxiety dissipate as the two walk hand-in-hand into school. The distress the second boy experienced was attributed to autism, a condition that often creates fear and anxiety when new situations appear.
This simple act of kindness, taking the hand of someone who was afraid, had a huge impact not only on the autistic boy, but all who observed this kindness. It’s one of the many lessons that kids can teach us if we’re paying attention.
Kids, especially those under the age of 6, seem to instinctively know when to help and exactly how much help to give. I saw this repeatedly when I was fortunate to serve on the board of a school that blended ‘typically developing’ (whatever that means) kids with kids with disability (who among us doesn’t suffer some deficiency?).
I marveled at how the kids helped one another in just the right amount time and time again. This uncanny instinct amazes me every time I see it. We adults often struggle, often overthink, the situation and while we’re thinking we miss an opportunity to assist someone who needs our help.
How we lost this ability I don’t know. But we can regain it by simply doing what kids do, offer help. If the person declines, smile to let them know that you appreciate their desire to be self-sufficient. If they accept, be grateful for the opportunity to make someone’s life easier.
Kids do not judge situations or behaviors as right or wrong, good or bad. If you pay attention to their language when kids register displeasure, they almost always say “I don’t like that.” They don’t judge it as being right or wrong, good or bad, they merely don’t like what’s happening.
Because they aren’t judgmental, kids don’t use judgmental language in communicating with the person who created the displeasure. Consequently, they don’t raise the offending party’s defenses. It’s one of the reasons why kids resolve problems quickly…unless parents intervene.
As adults we often label things as good or bad, right or wrong, and in doing so raise the defenses of those with whom we’re interacting. We also put ourselves in the position of having to defend our judgment to those who don’t share our perceptions. If we later realize that our judgment is wrong, we find it difficult to admit our mistake. We’re concerned about losing credibility, the other person’s trust, appearing weak or ignorant.
These are fears that don’t exist in small children. We learned them and we can unlearn them.
Young children are well aware that their contemporaries are more adept at some things than they are. Indeed, during play these kids will often say “____, why don’t you _____. You’re better at it than I am.”
Again, there is no judgment involved. These youngsters readily recognize…and appreciate…that others are more adept at some things than they are. They don’t feel diminished by this reality, they use it to their advantage.
We, on the other hand, feel diminished by others’ exceptional abilities. Instead of viewing these people as teachers, we see them as competitors…to our detriment. If we appreciated, instead of feeling threatened, by others’ abilities. we could accomplish a great deal more. The reality is that no matter how good we get at what we do, there will always be someone who is more adept at some aspect than we are.
Acknowledge this reality and you’ll go a long way to regaining the appreciation and awareness that you enjoyed as a 4, 5 and 6 year old.
As adults we feel a responsibility to teach our kids…and rightfully so. What we too often forget is that the best teachers are also the best students. And that we can learn from everyone…especially the youngest among us.
For our kids
As your kids 6 and under exhibit behaviors like those described above, praise them. Let them know that what they did was something beautiful. Your praise helps them become more conscious of what they’re doing. The more consciously aware of their actions they are, the more likely they are to repeat them. Remember that their initial efforts are instinctive, not conscious choices.
As you learn from your kids, employ what you learned. This will reinforce the kind of behaviors exhibited by the second-grader who helped a contemporary and in the process made a new friend.
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