Kids really do say (and do) the darndest things


tantruming girl image courtesy of Lisa Chamberlain (lisacchamberlain on flickr)

“You’re really fat!” the six-year-old boy said to a friend of mine during a recent play group gathering. My friend calmly responded “well, I’ve been working on it for a long time.” She saw the boy’s father, embarrassed, swoop in to remove his child from the situation and – presumably – explain why such statements are not acceptable. My friend knew, however, that this child was still learning a lot about appropriate social behavior. She also knew that neither of his parents promoted fat shaming; he had simply absorbed a message that is prevalent in our culture.

In one of my first teaching positions, I encountered an unexpected disciplinary problem. A first grade student brought a Swiss Army knife to school and showed it to friends on the playground. While no one was harmed, school administrators and teachers decided to impose a one-day suspension to convey the seriousness of bringing a possible weapon onto campus. The boys’ parents were mortified long after the suspension. When they encountered the child’s teachers, they wanted to explain the possible reason for his mistake. They also shared several times that they did not support his action. I knew, though, from the way the family had responded respectfully and supportively to the school’s disciplinary decision that they took things seriously. I also knew from the child’s many subsequent academic and social achievements that he meant so much more to his classroom community than that one mistake.

Children are impulsive and lack the social acumen of adults. As well, their limited experience and vocabulary affects their ability to comprehend some social situations well. The good news is that those who work with kids tend to have a lot of empathy and forgiveness. Most educators are also aware of the social development of children and the bumps that can happen along the way. We do not judge children or parents for the “whoops” moments that come up. In fact, I am thankful kids have them; without these learning experiences, children would not achieve the self awareness and empathy that is expected in adulthood. We just hope that you can keep breathing through it when the embarrassments of childhood pop up. After apologies have been made and consequences imposed, it is important to return to normal routines and social contact. Your kid is great and will surely go on to prove it through thousands of kind, friendly, thoughtful, and funny interactions with others.

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