I will be the first to admit I’m not a typical baby/child fanatic. Case in point: a close colleague of mine just had a baby and everyone in the office is gushing over how cute the baby is. I’m mostly just happy my friend is happy, and a little bummed she’s not in the office to trade cute pet photos with now. Travis and I are not having children. I can’t have children, even if I wanted them (which I don’t).
However, that doesn’t mean I actively dislike these tiny humans.
To the contrary, I’ve recently found my aversion may actually be due to how much I truly care about children.
I LOVE teaching. It’s fascinating and energizing to engage young minds at a time during which they’re growing in so many directions. It’s amazing to see my work turn into a tangible skill in the hands of a child. Although I’m generally not a very patient person, I somehow find steel reserves of patience when teaching a child about the wonders of music.
But there’s a bit more beyond my chosen occupation.
Last year, whilst reading The Happiness Project, I came to a page where Ms. Rubin mentioned a statistic that stuck with me: 80% of the messages children receive from adults are negative. No, stop, that’s wrong, bad, etc. Since reading that, I’ve been far more cognizant not only of my interactions with my students but children in general. I want my students to feel comfortable, happy, and safe learning with me, and I want them to be excited about what they’re learning.
Why children in general?
Well, a quick disclaimer: I’ve found I recently tend to have issues with parents, not children (see our previous post about the long flights to and from Hawaii).
I dug a little deeper into myself after a routine trip to the Post Office really bummed me out: I was in line to send something for work. A little girl, maybe 2 or 3, was standing quietly to the side, clutching a stuffed animal, with her mother who was filling out shipping forms. The greeting card display was precisely eye-level with the little girl. “Mommy, look, a mom dog!” the little girl cried with glee upon seeing a silly card with a photo of a dog on the front. I generally try to mind my own business as I’m fairly uncomfortable with strangers, but I looked down and met her eyes. She looked much like my cousin’s daughters: brown curls, deep brown eyes, a big, toothy smile.
Her mother didn’t acknowledge, didn’t turn around, didn’t say anything, and my heart broke.
I know that feeling.
I was that little girl, and although it’s been years, that little hope of sharing something special with another person is still in there.
When the mother finished filling out the forms she finally turned to the little girl, now holding the card she so desperately wanted to show her mother.
“You put that back right now!” the mother ordered.
“I’m sorry, Mommy, I just wanted to show you the mom dog!” the little girl replied. My heart broke a little more. She was just trying to connect, to be sweet and funny, and instead it was shot down and instantly her fault for doing something “wrong.”
I have been that little girl. I once wanted to show my mother a Curious George book in the bookstore and she tugged on my arm so forcefully she dislocated my elbow, trying to get me to focus on whatever it was she had come to do. The next day, after the doctor put everything back in the right place, my mother purchased the book for me out of guilt.
Please don’t be the mother in the post office. Please don’t be my mother. If you’re going to have children, for the love of everything kind in this world, please be kind to them. I am aware parenting is a difficult job (which is why I am choosing not to take it on) and I know not everyone is perfect all the time. But please remember, when you’re little, all the little things matter to you. The way you speak to your child, the way you do or don’t show them respect, the way you do or don’t value their ideas and thoughts will all stay with them long after the incident has passed for you. Please try to treat your children (and other children with whom you may interact) with kindness. Kindness costs absolutely nothing and the rewards are great.
One of my friends had a mother similar to mine, and although she and her husband do not have a lot of extra money, they have a LOT of extra love. Their children will never have to doubt the love and kindness they find at home. My friend knows what it’s like to grow up without it, and she’s ensuring her children will never know that feeling.
Kindness is free, and takes just a little bit of forethought and a tiny bit of decision-making to work properly. Respond instead of reacting. Think before speaking. Actively listen, and try to see what the speaker is trying to show you.
And please, be kind to your children. They need it more than you know. When they’re just little and the world is so big, they need to know your love and kindness are there to shelter them as they grow. Encourage their creativity and willingness to share. Show them they matter to you, and you value their thoughts. The entire world could use a bit more kindness, and those tiny ripples can create incredibly beautiful waves.