They are, the children. They are trying their very hardest to do well and be likable, even if it seems to you that they should be doing something differently, or better, or remembering that thing you said yesterday and the day before and the day before that. Bev Bos used to say, “The parents are bringing you their best… they aren’t leaving the good ones at home!” What if you looked at the children in your care as doing as well as they can, given the limited number of tools that they have been able to gather in the very brief time they’ve been on this planet with us (and some of that time they were unable to walk or talk!)? And honestly, how good are you at picking up the tools that you have acquired in your many years of experience, when you’re tired or hungry, in a bad mood, disappointed or hurt?
Part of our role as teachers is not only to show children more civilized ways to function in a group (waiting and talking vs. grabbing and shouting, for example), but also to translate what might have been going on for the child who is behaving in ways that simply show more practice is needed. The other children are watching, and they know you better than you think they do. Are you impatient or irritated by undesirable behaviors? Children are egocentric, so they are wondering how you’ll handle them when they make a mistake. Also, we want to restore this child’s good standing in the group. Wondering out loud what might have been going on for a child who is upset or angry invites others to wonder too or want to help, rather than to quietly put that child in a “bad” category in their minds (which the other children will, regardless of what we say about all children being good, if one seems to be constantly getting negative attention).
We are only trying to help these little people develop habits that will help them in the future, but for now they have us to guide them. They should not have it all figured out by the time they are three, or five, or by the end of a school year. Offer children the benefit of the doubt. When you assume people’s best intentions (even if that wasn’t exactly what was happening), and use a kind tone of voice, you are modeling grace, and that can change what happens next. Another teacher I know asks the children, “What could be better than this?” Their answers may surprise you.