I read the following quote from Between Parent and Child by Haim G. Ginott this week and it really hit home.
“What do we say to a guest who forgets her umbrella? Do we run after her and say “What is the matter with you? Every time you come to visit you forget something. If it’s not one thing it’s another. Why can’t you be like your sister? When she comes to visit, she knows how to behave. You’re forty-four years old! Will you never learn? I’m not a slave to pick up after you! I bet you’d forget your head if it weren’t attached to your shoulders.” That’s not what we say to a guest. We say “Here’s your umbrella, Alice,” without adding “scatterbrain.” Parents need to learn to respond to their children as they do to guests.”
How many times have I spoken to my own children other than how I would be a guest in my house? The answer is probably more than I care to admit. I do it (trying to justify it to myself) under the ruse of holding my kids accountable. I believe that one of the highest forms of love is accountability; which is why we are willing to hold those close to us more accountable than those people we do not know as well. But, why, at times, do I turn accountability into shame?
I have no problem spending time at school teaching other people’s children proper behavior without placing blame on the child, only to find myself coming home and trying to shame my own kids into similar behaviors. I am often willing to forgive and forget during the school day, but lose my cool at home. Maybe I take my children’s behavior too personally and feel that their actions are a direct reflection of my own character or parenting skills. Kids are silly, they can be self-centered, they make poor decisions, and they are also much more than the choices they make. It is time to start treating them that way.
As this quote made me question how I treat my own children, it also made me think about how we act and react in our classrooms. What could (and would) be different in our classrooms if we responded to everyone in a way we would respond to a guest? How would our relationships change in our classrooms if we were a little more forgiving? Maybe similar to my own struggles as a parent, we often take our student’s behaviors too personally at times. Do we resort to sarcasm and shame to correct behavior, or do we believe that with a little understanding and kindness we can help them improve?
Teaching a desirable behavior is not easy and it takes a great deal of time. It takes patience, communication, and a willingness to treat people as people and see past the occasional setbacks to the behaviors we seek. There is not a reason to sugarcoat, or not be honest with our children or students — they need and deserve our honesty. We only get better and grow as people by hearing the truth, but the truth can be shared in a caring manner, rather than a degrading or sarcastic way.
I hope this quote and post make you think about your interactions with others like it did for me. Let’s take time this week to examine our interactions with students, our families, and the people we come in contact with as we live our lives. Let’s learn to treat them all like guests, with love and compassion.