I’m continuing my series on behavior management this week. Check out the first post here.
The breakfast burritos were hot. The eggy cheese and ham filled tortillas were enough to make my mouth water. I looked around the room at the nineteen pairs of eyes eagerly waiting for one of these pockets of joy to be placed in front of them. I pulled on the “oh so stylish” vinyl gloves and began handing out burritos. Everyone in kindergarten wanted one; even the kids who brought alternative snacks were anxiously awaiting a burrito.
After passing out burritos and reciting the famous “prayer” before diving into snack, I noticed we had five burritos left. Five burritos, not enough for everyone to have seconds, even if I broke them in half, four after I rewarded my taste buds with the crispy tortilla and fluffy cloud of egg, cheese, and ham. No sooner did I take a fated bite when hands shot up all over the room.
“Can I have seconds?” Voices called from all over the room.
Dang it. My mind swirled trying to figure out the best solution. Any other teacher would call out that there wasn’t enough for everyone to have seconds, therefore no one got seconds. I cringed. This wasn’t communism, it was a classroom and a laboratory for children to prepare for the real world and in the real word, some people got seconds and others didn’t. I understood why teachers did that “no one gets seconds” rule. It was easier to deal with than the whining, but I was optimistic. I quickly took a total of the number of burritos I needed and called the kitchen to bring seconds. Within three long minutes, more burritos came and everyone who wanted one got a half burrito.
This and many similar scenarios play out daily in lives of children and their caregivers and educators. I remember my first “real” job in the industry. I had a boss who didn’t believe in these “easier way” rules. She believed in learning to deal with inequality, tough choices, and managing disappointment. I could almost hear her reminding me that in the real world, there wouldn’t be a kitchen with extra burritos to save the day, but wasting four burritos was also not an option.
I get that we don’t want children to feel gipped or like someone else is your favorite. I totally understand that whining is the most annoying sound in the universe when you work with children and that sometimes it’s easier to avoid it all together. But as I stated earlier, classrooms aren’t protective bubbles for us to shelter children and their feelings, they are laboratories where it’s safe for children to experiment with life and its consequences. Children should experiment disappointment, inequality, and other problems, not so that we can stick it to that brat child, but so that they can learn how to prepare for the real world when there aren’t more burritos in the kitchen.
As educators and parents, we are committing a great injustice by not allowing children to experience this discrepancy, we are not setting them up for success. Our big swoop of “everyone or no one” in all things, even when it’s not meeting children’s needs best, is setting them up for a future obsession with equality in all things.
It was silent reading time and I was handing out books to the class. As I passed by one child, I knew he would be done with stack of four books (the standard that everyone was getting) before reading time was over. I added three more to his pile and handed it to him. His neighbor next to him shouted “Hey how come he gets seven and I only have four!” I mentally rolled my eyes before l answered. I knew handing this student seven books would result in seven torn and bent books. I should have only given her one at a time in reality, but I didn’t want someone pointing out her less than everyone else stack. At this moment I broke my rule of always giving an answer. She wouldn’t understand it fully, it was over her five year old mind; what’s more, I shouldn’t have to justify myself to a five year old. I had been doing this longer than she had been alive.
“Because I’m the teacher and that’s how I’m doing it.”
“But why? It’s not fair that he gets more.” She argued.
“How about you worry about the four books you have. It’s quiet reading time, not argue with the teacher time.”
Quite reading time isn’t an isolated incidence either. Starting as young as three, I’ve had students tell me how unfair things are because some students get something they don’t, even if that something is not beneficial or interesting to them. “It’s unfair that he gets to play with blocks.” “You don’t like playing with blocks.” “still not fair.” Too often we avoid these situations because we don’t want to argue with a child or deal with the whining and complaining. We go out of our way to make every cup of milk have the exact same amount in it, each opportunity must be the same, each snack, each song, each art project, each shopping trip, each toy, all of it must be the same so that we don’t have to explain or deal with that nonsense.
By doing this, we are setting up the next generation for failure. My generation is a great example of this. We march and shout and tantrum for sameness, even if sameness isn’t beneficial. We want to make the same, do the same, be the same, have the same, but we forget on crucial thing: We aren’t the same, and neither are our children.
Now take that fear you have of whining, tantrums, arguments, and questions and put in in a box. Now remember you are the adult. You are the authority figure and you can see a bigger picture than your egocentric miniature companion that can only see their immediate wants. Got it. Great next step is to solve that whining.
In my house whining is a crime. Pea whines, she gets a warning. Second offense gets a consequence, why? Because I want her to learn to communicate her frustrations, disappointments, and problems without whining. She can feel her feelings, but she needs to express them in a healthy way. I also want her to be respectful to not just adults, but others.
Start by telling the child that you don’t understand whining. Tell them you will not be arguing. Explain that that the conversation can be discussed later, or even just tell them that it’s just plain old none of the business. Any emotional fall out from that and they can work through it alone. You do not negotiate with terrorists.
If you do decide to explain yourself (and sometimes it can be good) make it a lesson on differences. Explain that everyone has different needs at different times. Perhaps reminding them of a time when their needs were different than everyone else’s would help. Maybe take it a step further and express how not pointing out differences can be a way to show empathy to others. This will take your impulsive, egocentric child into a new light and help them see that it’s not all about them, it’s not all about the same, and it’s not always good to have the same. And hopefully, they won’t grow up to be obsessed with sameness.
How do you battle sameness?