Let Kids Save Face

Some kids hear their names a lot. I recall a little guy in a childcare center who heard his name all day. "Sam, come down from there! Sam, walk please. Sam, stop it!" Sam had a hard time following the rules. His behavior and his attitude chipped away at the patience of us childcare providers. He needed lots of reminders. We started resenting that and resenting him. 

I think now about how he must have felt hearing his name shouted across the room - embarrassed, called out, labeled a "bad kid." For sure it added fuel to our ongoing power struggle. I think our reluctance to consistently engage with him stemmed from a fear that he might never make different choices. And instead of approaching Sam about his frustrating choices and run the risk of failure with him, we kept our distance.

Shouting to him stopped whatever was happening in the moment, like him taking a ball from someone. But it was completely ineffective in helping him learn to make better choices in the future. Because it didn't involve him in the solution and it was disrespectful.  

Sam's like twenty five now. I'm sure he's over all this. But if I could go back in time, I'd do more to let that rambunctious, bright, angry, funny, maddening ten year old boy save face. 

I'd keep calm. I'd imagine what it'd look like for him to be successful and set up opportunities for him to practice success. Activities with high structure where I was involved like board games. I'd lecture less. Both about what he was doing "wrong" but also what he was doing right. I'd bring less attention to him and his behavior in general. I'd side up to him and speak confidently, kindly and quietly in his ear. Or get down to his eye level - like when listing expectations or setting limits. I'd involve him in problem solving but without making it like a test. I'd look for small indicators of success and point them out to him discreetly. I'd make it clear that I had his back. When he misbehaved I'd avoid labeling him. I'd hold him accountable but one-on-one and without challenging him to "explain himself." I'd drop the shaming shouting routine and really engage with Sam in a way that I'd like to be talked to. 

When I approach kids this way now, I feel prouder of my work and myself. Better too about what they're learning from me - both how to follow the rules and how to hold another person in high regard even when we dislike their choices.