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This is a companion piece to an earlier entry about judging—and sometimes finding wanting—other people’s parenting.

The flip side of judging other people’s parenting is judging other people’s children. That sounds harsher than I mean it to. What I mean is that it is very difficult at times to maintain third-party neutrality and/or detachment when you are around other people’s children; sometimes you just want to jump in and act like their parent. This desire can take on many different guises.

At its best, I feel a surge of parental pride or sympathy when a child does something amazing or needs a sympathetic ear. Just last week this happened to me three times. Once when a child was made to feel very bad about the outcome of a soccer game. And more happily, twice when two different two-year-olds did something that delighted me.

The soccer example is a short enough story: A child comes off the field in tears, and I feel compelled to put an arm around her, give her a pep talk, and try to make the hurt go away. So let me tell you about one of the moments of displaced pride instead. Monday I was reviewing parts of the face in  class and reading a book wherein the title character, lobo, draws his own toothy face. “Me pongo mi ojo [I put on my eye]” the book reads. “Is one eye enough?” I asked the children. Some stared blankly, some nodded yes, a few nodded no, and one child, L—, called out “It is if he’s a cyclops!” I did not see that one coming! I was so simultaneously surprised, impressed, and delighted that it was all I could do not to pick her up and give her a big kiss. I contained myself, but I did run into the office afterwards to brag to the school director.

At its worst, my lack of detachment makes me haul out phrases much better suited to parents than to educators. There is a child I see pretty often who has massive verbal impulse control issues. Whatever the boy thinks comes straight out of his mouth regardless of whether it’s his turn or might hurt someone’s feelings. I can identify with the kid in some respects—I like to talk myself—and I’ve explained to him how I know how hard it is to keep an idea or answer inside when you are just bursting to share it. At times, however, I lose my patience with him. So it was recently when he was supposed to sit next to another child and balked.

“But I don’t want to sit next to _______. He’s ________ [I’m leaving the insult out.].”

Now, the second child does have some developmental tics, but he’s sweet and kind and understands when others are being mean to him. And I don’t tolerate mean well. So instead of offering mild correction and redirection a la “Let’s be careful to only use nice words. Is there something nice you can say about _____?” I got on his case and delivered a stern rebuke:

“What did I hear you say?” I yelled.

“But I don’t want to sit next to —–” Child X began to answer.

“I KNOW I’m not hearing you say something that mean. I KNOW you know better than to say something hurtful like that to a classmate. So right now, RIGHT NOW, you are going to say you’re sorry.”

“Soooooooooooory” came the petulant and utterly unconvincing response.

“Oh no. Let me explain how this is going to work. You are going to take a minute, think about how unkind what you just said was, and say you’re sorry like you mean it. And if you can’t make yourself feel that way and say the right thing, you are going to leave this room. What’s it going to be?”

Not my best moment as an educator/classroom assistant for sure. But you know what? I got his attention, and he straightened up real fast! I get the impression he could stand to hear things like this more often, so  maybe moving into mama mode wasn’t the end of the world.

Somewhere in the middle, my lack of detachment can lead to desire to indulgence. A boy in Simon’s class lost his father the Friday after Thanksgiving this year. It was freakish and sudden, and it left everyone at the school shaken. By all accounts, the man was a respected professional, doting family man, and talented chocolatier, photographer, and runner. His son is a quiet and studious child who worries even more than Simon about doing everything right in class. Much of first grade is about fostering academic independence. This child, again like Simon, was going to need gentle pushing to help him achieve that goal.

In light of his family’s tragedy, I’m finding it difficult to support that goal. I know it’s the right thing to do and that love and support are not the same as coddling, but every time I see this child I focus on him and look for ways to help.”You’re not sure what to do with your finished work? Here, honey, I’ll put it in in ‘completed work’ bin for you. You need a new pencil? Let me go sharpen one for you. You didn’t have time to finish something? Let me go ask the teacher what you should do.” And so on.

I’ve managed to hold back and rein it in, but it’s not easy for me. I think it’s a very, very good thing that I’m not his teacher and that I should keep a watchful eye on my tendency to get overly involved with other people’s children.


One Response to “Other People’s Children”

  1. goldsteinrita says:

    It makes me very proud to have a daughter who has a hard time not overdoing the help and sympathy. I wish more people had that fault.

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