Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

August 30, 2013

When Adults Fail Children, Children Fail

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Life's Toolbox @ 8:55 pm
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I sit down at the airport gate, waiting for my flight, and within 5 minutes I hear “if you do that again, you will never go on another airplane”.  Shortly after a loud “don’t crawl on the floor or I’ll take your toy away” and finally “I have had it, why can’t you sit still and be quiet”.  Each of these voiced by, I am certain, weary travelling parents, some carrying more than their two arms could possibly hold.  I have great admiration for parents who travel with their children, and fond memories for my days of flying with three children, two car seats, and assorted strollers.  What today’s experience brought to mind, however, was how, when adults fail to think and act like grown-ups, when they do not set the stage for their children’s success,  those children are likely to fail. 

Each one of the beleaguered parents I saw were not actively engaged in helping their children behave, until misbehavior happened.  Then, they were drawn in to the struggle, and engaged in pleading, demanding and punitive ways.  Again, I realize, they were exhausted, some were travelling as single parents.  Phone calls had to be made, bags rearranged.  I get it.  But it seems so unfair, no, it is so unfair to punish children when we adults have set them up to fail.  What is a tired, or stir crazy travelling toddler to do in an airport, if not crawl on the floor and touch every disgusting dirty morsel, if we grown-ups don’t plan in advance and pull out of our tote bag an intriguing game or book.  If we don’t engage the toddler in looking at the planes, or counting the seats won’t the toddler do what is natural for her species?  In that case, who really deserves “punishment”?

A painful but critically important lesson of parenting is that, for the most part, there are no shortcuts.  Oh, there are helpful hints on where to buy school supplies, and time-saving on-line tips, but the real work of parenting needs to be done 24/7/365, even when we are tired or overwhelmed.  So often, rallying the energy to be the grown up, to plan and anticipate, to engage and distract, pays dividends in behavior that is so much easier to manage than if we rolled the parental dice, and just hoped for the best.

My preparedness leaned heavily on children’s love of novelty.  I used to squirrel away the toys that came in cereal boxes, bargains from the dollar store, and interesting games and crafts that were travel appropriate.  Sometimes I would even slyly hide a favorite game or play item for a few weeks before a trip, so it would be fresh and exciting when our boys needed to be occupied.  For years, once we outgrew diaper bags, my pocketbook was a treasure trove, ready to yield entertainment on demand. 

Harder than packing a knapsack of toys, however, is getting in a creative state of mind when parents are tired, or busy with the mundane or important business of life.  It is so much easier to be direct, demand that children sit up, stay still, be quiet, than it is to think of a game, or pretend to be secret agents quietly sneaking around the airport.  That is what our children need us to do.  They need us to be strong when they are weak, brave when they are scared, and smart, creative and engaged when they are tired, willful and unraveling.

The school year is starting, or has started in some places.  Grown-ups everywhere, parents and educators, can fold our arms and tap our toes and wait for children to misbehave.  We can yell, punish, and lecture as they show us all the trouble children can get into.  Or we can be the grown-ups.  We can set the stage for their success.  We can commit to being there for them before they have trouble behaving, pulling the magic out of our travel bags and out of our heads.  When adults fail children, children will fail.  And when adults think and act like grown-ups, children, while not perfect, have all they need to grow and soar.

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