What I’ve Learned From Your Kids

August 31, 2012

You learn a lot around kids.kids-in-summer-art-class1

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that I don’t have kids of my own, and that doesn’t look likely to change soon.

But I’ve learned a lot from other peoples’ kids.

I’ve been working with kids for years, as a youth pastor, a scout leader, and a teacher.  And whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a grandparent, or whatever, there’s a lot to know.  Yeah, teachers go to school to learn to teach, but most of this stuff, you just have to learn the hard way, by failing and being a crappy teacher for a while.

I’ve heard it’s the same for parents.

And with a new school year up and running, I’m hoping I’m more prepared than ever with the knowledge your kids (or some like them) have armed me with.

Here’s what I’ve learned from teaching your kids.

Sarcasm Doesn’t Translate

You probably know I am a connoisseur of sarcasm.  It’s like fine wine to me: dry and pleasing in its subtle complexity.  But I’ve learned the hard way that it gets lost in translation with kids, and just sounds mean.  Kids don’t like dry wine, they like kool-aid.  I’ve had to apologize to kids for words that came out wrong, which is never a good thing.  And the kids who do develop a taste for sarcasm have some of the worst attitudes on the planet.  Keep sarcasm away from the kiddos.

I Hate Discipline…

I’ve never gotten to spank a child, but parents always say it hurts them more than it does the child.

I think I believe that now.  Discipline all around is painful.  I don’t like being the mean teacher.  I’d rather be fun.  And let’s face it, coming up with consequences is a pain in the neck.  I’d rather just go to recess.

…But It’s Necessary

There’s a philosophy that kids always learn better from encouragement and positive feedback, rather than discipline and negative feedback.  I used to want to believe it.  I wish it were the case.  But sometimes, no matter how much I try to gently redirect, coax or encourage, sometimes, the only thing a kid will listen to is the swift hammer of justice…always followed by forgiveness and encouragement.

Am I Okay?

When kids are throwing  fits, it’s easy to dish it back at them.  But “easy” isn’t the right way to do it.  Teaching art class is the discipline of being heavily bombarded with chaos for a full hour at a time…then being bombarded by another army of children for another hour.  Whatever happens, it never pays to lose your cool.

Kids are Mean…

For all the nice things I’ve said about kids, teaching has done one thing to my attitude about them.  It has made me seriously reconsider the “age of accountability.”  Most people think it’s about ten or twelve.  It’s much lower.  Kids can be mean, nasty, disrespectful, hurtful little turds, and they are accountable for it.  Maybe your child is a precious angel at home, but some of you parents would be horrified if you could see a videotape of your kids at school.

…But They Make You Try Harder

I can’t think of any boss who could be as motivating as children.  Seriously, no matter how many loopholes I close in my plans, kids always find a new one.  They ask questions out of left field that you aren’t prepared for.  They defy expectations.  They make you feel like an idiot by destroying all your well-laid plans without blinking an eye.

Some jobs you master, and can never get “better” at.  Parents and teachers always have room for improvement.

What about you?  What have you learned from your own children, or other peoples’ children?

23 responses to What I’ve Learned From Your Kids

  1. Good point about the age of accountability. At least as it relates to taking responsibility for their actions.

    I think the flip side of the coin is the age that you give children choices to make their own decisions. It drives me crazy to no end to see parents negotiating with their 6 year old. It’s easy to say this now with no kids, but I’ll be BLEEPED if I’m allowing my kid to decide what he’s eating for dinner.

  2. I’ve learned from my own kids as well as hundreds of other people’s kids pretty much the things you detailed here. They must be held accountable, sarcasm is a bad idea in the classroom (learned the hard way); and kids will rise to no higher level than is expected of them. Hold you standards and your expectations high!

  3. Well, having one kindergartner of my own and teaching 7-9 year olds at church, I’ve definitely picked up some lessons. Yes, discipline is very necessary as well as consistency in everything. As much as discipline may hurt the parent to carry out, knowing that it pays off is worth it. Kids bounce back very quickly. They may feel angry or get their feelings hurt after a spanking, or what have you, but my daughter is usually happy after 3 minutes and after I talk to her about the misbehavior. Oh and I stopped being manipulated by tears a while ago. It’s a tactic for many kids to get their way.

  4. I’m a mom and a teacher and loved this! You are bang on! I taught for 5 years before becoming a mom and much of my teaching experience could be translated into parenting and made me a more prepared parent (if that’s possible!). Have a great start to your new school year.

  5. Little Normal just started first grade this week–it seems to be going okay so far, but in the back of my mind I’m always praying that he’s not acting like a turd while he’s away from home. He’s an only child (so far) and somewhat precocious, so he seems to have a tendency to think of himself as one of the adults. I haven’t heard any reports of him trying to bribe his teacher with coffee yet, though :)

    I probably said this before, but when I was in med school I had to do a month of child psychiatry (which I **hated**, by the way), and what I really took away from it was that order and discipline are really good for kids. The messed-up little buggers that I was seeing in the lockdown unit for the most part came from homes where they had no boundaries set for them at all–they were just allowed to run wild and their parents either ignored them completely or enforced rules so haphazardly that they were essentially useless. My attending said that these kids nearly always did better on the unit because they had order–they could expect the same things to happen at the same time every day, and they could expect the same consequences for particular actions. Having that type of order usually made them calmer, without even having to resort to meds.

    Because of that, I don’t really allow myself to feel guilty when I discipline my kid (unless it’s a situation where I lose my temper.) I’m probably not the strictest disciplinarian ever, but I am of the opinion that boundaries are good for a kid, and knowing who’s in charge is good for a kid, too (my son is a notorious wheedler, but he still knows that his dad and I will get our way in the end.) It’s just one of the things you have to do for them to turn out well-adjusted.

  6. I feel like a lawyer when dealing with my kids, especially the youngest one. He is the king of finding or creating loopholes. Some of the middle schoolers I teach remind me of him SO MUCH! They’re always looking for an angle. Always.

  7. I’ve learned through having kids that one of my most important roles as the parent is to teach them _how_ to obey. It doesn’t come naturally to do what someone else tells you to do. You have to a) teach them who is in charge (one day, just out of the blue, our then 4-yr-old sat in his car seat saying like a mantra: “Mommy is in charge. I am not in charge. Mommy is in charge.” It was the most hilarious, yet hopeful/encouraging thing I have ever heard), and you have to teach them how to obey (immediately – no counting in our house, without question, without whining/throwing a tantrum, etc.). The reason for this (which we explain frequently to our children) is that our job as parents is to teach them to obey….so that one day, when God tells them to do something, they’ll do it. Immediately. With no tantrums or whining.

    It’s not that they’re not allowed their own opinions or to express their emotions about anything. They are welcome to be upset, disappointed, mad, etc., and they are welcome to express those feelings in an appropriate way (not screaming, hitting, stomping, but rather with words while they obey). I will explain to them (once) why something is the way it is if there is time and I have the patience for it (which isn’t always, but I _do_ try to answer honestly when possible – and sometimes the honest answer is “because I said so” and I’m ok with that. Sometimes that’s all we get from God too), but it is not a negotiation.

    I learn more and more too that consistency is key. Again, God is the example here – unchanging.

    Ultimately though, I think the lesson I’ve learned most about parenting in general is that sin is like a weed that we have growing in our backyard. If I pull it up when I first spot it, it doesn’t get big, the roots don’t go deep, it’s not hard to get rid of. If I get lazy (or busy) and let it grow for a little while, it gets harder to get the initial weed up and out, and the weed spreads to other areas too. It’s a constant battle for fertile ground.

    • Bang on Melissa (official poser here)
      One of the biggest lesson I learned as a mom and as a teacher is that kids have to learn. I know, it sounds silly, but the things that we as adults automatically know, they don’t.
      “share with your brother”. Well, what the heck does that mean? ‘Share a microscopic crumb of my cookie? that’s sharing, what’s wrong with that?’
      Choices are always good, especially when dealing with a strong willed child.
      “You can finish your math now, or during recess. It’s your choice, but you will finish your math.” The older kids get, the more they need to feel like they are able to make choices. If we always make choices for their budding little minds, they don’t grow in confidence of their ability to make choices for themselves.
      Great article, Matt

  8. I taught for many years and as much as I enjoyed playing around with the kids I also had solid boundaries that rarely bent but never broke. If the room got a bit crazy I would remind them all that I was “the mean teacher”. Of course they laughed and said I wasn’t mean but they figured out they were about to cross the line and pulled back.

    You are also so right about sarcasm. I’ve gotten blank stares from a comment an adult would get. The kids just blinked. Never compared it to dry wine, though. That is a good way to describe it in the context of teaching kiddos.

    • HA! I have to admit, I was expecting to read red wine here.
      Dry humor sometimes works. It’s really fun when you find kids in the class who ‘get it’. It creates a special bond between the two of you.

  9. In many ways, this sounded like a summation of the new movie “The Odd Life of Timothy Green”. One of the great quotes goes something like this, “We made a lot of mistakes. If we had another chance, we would make different mistakes.”

    They had to admit that a child is smarter than is often given credit, it is really tough being a parent, and things almost never go as expected but are always worth it in the long run.

  10. (1) I’ve learned from other people’s kids that it’s a lot of hard work being a parent.

    (2) You have to have some wisdom. Some things kids do (actually some things people in general do), make you want to get a bat. But sometimes, you have to see the reason behind the action, and not just the action. (Like some kids act out, just because they want attention, and they’re not getting it at home).

  11. I so relate to hating to discipline but having learned that it’s necessary. I find it never gets easy; with my kids, kids I’ve taught at church, even with employees (who technically aren’t kids but sure feel like it in a lot of ways). I laughed when I read your comment about the age of accountability; thought about how we’re all born with that sin nature. One of the biggest things my own kids have taught me is about God’s love; no matter how much my kids mess up I love them anyway. When they mess up I’m not mad because they did something “wrong”, I’m angry because they’re hurting themselves and I want good for them so very much.

  12. I learned the hard way that being the “nice” teacher never made for a very pleasant year. Like you, I would rather be friends with kids than discipline them, but I learned really fast that without discipline (or at least good boundaries) there can’t be relationship.

    The ironic thing is that being the “nice” teacher also made me the teacher who would yell (“for no reason” as the kids would say) when things got out of hand halfway through the year. I think that’s why it’s better to just have good boundaries up front. Discipline makes us all better people.

  13. Great post! As somebody who also works with kids, I agree. I hope more people will join to work with kids because the elementary years are so vital to a child’s development. I’m posting this to Athenians, a Christian news aggregator. You can read the discussion it generates at http://www.thechurchofnopeople.com/2012/08/what-ive-learned-from-your-kids/#more-4614