Today I made a kid cry. This curly-haired child, with a cherubic face and bright blue eyes, bawled at my admonishment. No, it wasn’t my child or one of my students, but rather a random child at the indoor play structure in a Chick-fil-A.
Because it represents both a time for us to eat together and for him to play after he finishes his lunch, Chick-fil-A is an ideal outing with my favorite dining partner, but I have to quell my parental stressors. Robust with a high quantity of germs and the unnecessary volume produced by energetic little ones, the complete and chaotic cacophony of children, play structures induce anxiety in my, and are consequently not my favorite place for my child. Since he’s four, Ezra could care less that I suffer from an acute sense of hearing or an overly sensitive aversion to bacteria.
Negotiating with the toddler terrorist that he is, I begrudgingly agreed to allow Ezra to play while I waited for our food, parked between chick goodness and playing kids. As part of our settlement, we would return home to eat our lunch when his playtime ended. For the first two or three minutes that he was in the play area, it was delightful: there were two other appropriately-sized and supervised children, well behaved and relatively quiet, and Ezra is having a wonderful time.
That was until the curly-haired, chaos-creator entered the picture.
An estimated one year younger, but equal to if not surpassing the size of my own pint-size child, I watched this burly brute of a baby bounce into the designated area. Ezra, being the greeter that he is, welcomed the child only to be met with swinging and flailing arms, affixed like angry propellers to the child in question.
A look on my own child’s face spread as he observed windmill Willy’s flails. It was a mixture of terror but also a look that said, “Get the hell away from me.” Since he’s so much like me, I could tell that Ezra was going to boil over, and I could hear a high-pitched tea-kettle whistle that accompanied his facial expression. Even though my child may be small, he is fierce, and I have no doubt that most children will not mess with him, but this child, unknowing of play-structure etiquette, looked unsatisfied that my child was not only verbally explicit and posturing in a way that communicated the unwelcome swinging and chopping was not going to be allowed.
That’s when I stepped in.
Since I am professionally credentialed to manage other people’s children’s behaviors, this toddler terror was no imposition. Opening the door, I lean forward, wagging a teacherly finger, pointing in a manner that we sometimes do. “Do not put your hands on another person.”
Stern. Effective. Tear-inducing.
That was all I said before child’s crystal blue eyes teemed with tears, dam broken, streaming down his chubby cheeks. In a manner consistent with a fouled soccer player, he fell to the floor, convulsing, then shrinking into fetal position. The evil adult, me, retreated to the safety of my dining table, obedient to my hunger pangs.
The table I selected for us was right outside the door to the play area, so I could see when the child, still in a fit, sought his mother, running through the lunch-hour traffic.
As luck would have it, she chose to sit at the table right beside us, divided only by a tinted partition, the only thing separating me from what I had assumed it would be an angry mother bear. Child sobbing on, Ezra and I inconspicuously unpacked our lunches, mutually but silently agreeing to not discuss what went on beside us. I guess we’re eating here, I thought to myself. Just as the final french fry fell upon the table, she leaned over and asked, “Can you tell me what my child did?” Her voice was non-threatening, not accusatory, just a simple parent-to-parent inquiry. “Can you tell me what happened?” she asked Ezra. Shocked, I needed a minute to recover.
Yeah, this surprised me, as though such an exchange is abnormal.
Being a teacher has sort of jaded me in the way parents handle, and often defend, their children.
In my school days, if my parents even sensed that I had gotten in trouble at school, they immediately took the side of the adult in the room, the teacher. I knew better than to come home with a red card in elementary school, or to talk about any detentions I may have received, living in a state of parentally-created fear. Lo and behold, those things weren’t as issue for me, but I also know my parents would each grab an arm and swing me under the bus if needed.
Somehow, the shift has occurred where, many times, we as teachers, are not seen as allies, but the enemies. Battle lines are drawn, and we find ourselves unprepared to fight wars we did not suspect. Defensively posturing, teachers are the France of parental wars.
Here’s the thing that we parent/teachers, doing dual duty, get, yet cannot communicate to parents in a impactful enough way: we realize that although your children are reflection of you, you cannot control every aspect of their life. Therefore, do not let your ego get in the way if your child gets in trouble and earns a consequence. Just because they do something wrong does not reflect that you are bad people or have done a bad job raising them. If you can step aside for a moment, let’s discuss the behavior and not your parenting.
Stop taking your kid’s bad behavior personally. It’s not about you.
That’s why I attempt to address the child first, and the behaviors second. There is a human behind the action, after all, and if we neglect this, we are doing a disservice to the small person in question. A child is more than just the sum of his or her parents.
As I proceeded to tell the mother that her child was being overly physical with my son, she kindly thanked me for talking to her. I wasn’t France! Since the partition shielded sight and not sound. I could hear her discussing with her child that I was not mad at him, but that I had to use my stern voice to let him know that his actions were not okay, and not safe. Shortly after that, she brought the little boy over to my table, red faced and sniveling, snotty post-sobfest.
“He’s not angry with you,” she said, “He was just being a good dad., right?” Reassuringly, I agreed, and the rainstorm that occupied his face cleared.
So, even after I made a child cry and Chick-fil-A today, my parenting ego felt a boost. If only more parents responded like the mother one partition away from me did, kids might actually learn to be responsible for their actions.
If not, at least my sandwich was good, and so was my company.