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Solve a Kid’s Problem; He’ll Expect It Again; Teach a Kid to Solve Problems; He’ll Solve Them the Rest of His Life

on November 18, 2014

Bully Awareness: it’s not just a catchphrase; it has become a week of posters, advice and poignant stories about bullying and its victims. The story that’s often not told, however, is the one of the kid who simply chose to say something mean, the kid who acted impulsively and hurt another kid’s feelings, the kid who was not bullying but was rather just being a little (excuse the kindergarten vernacular) turd at the time. I substitute teach in our local district. It is the best job in the world because I have had the privilege of walking alongside hundreds of students as they grow through the elementary school. I get to laugh with them, love them, scar them (kidding, kidding) and then send them home. Fantastic job. But in that blessing of a job, I have noticed a disturbing trend in socialization of these delightful young folks. In general, they can’t solve problems on their own. They have been trained to run to get help at the first sign of an issue. Teachers have become the 911 operators of the playground, and it’s crippling these kids’ emotional upbringing.

Don’t kill the baby birds.

Every year, the 1st grade classrooms study the life cycle of chicks and incubate eggs that will hatch in the classroom. After 21 days, the chick uses its tiny little egg tooth and wears itself out over and over again in order to peck away at the shell. It is heart wrenching to watch it struggle. The temptation is to reach in, crack that egg and give it a little nudge so it can come be fluffy and adorable that much sooner. But the thing is, as soon as you take away that baby’s struggle, you have essentially handed it an early death sentence. That chick will not have developed the strength and fortitude to make it in the world outside the warm Rubbermaid container in the 100 hallway. It will flail and flounder, eventually succumbing to its inability to thrive and will die. Young. Harsh, huh? I am going to continue being harsh and say that we are killing our baby birds that are wonderfully disguised as tiny humans when we answer that 911 call and take it to completion.

If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

My mom used to tell me that. Drove me crazy. How in the world am I part of the problem of Jackie Jones pulling my hair so hard it came out of my head because she “just wanted to be my friend” in 2nd grade? Enlighten me, mom. She did not disappoint. You see, she made no calls to the teacher, did not march into the principal’s office and demand justice. She did not call Jackie’s mother and indignantly denounce Jackie’s unacceptable behavior. She told me to figure it out. I had to tell Jackie it wasn’t okay. I had to remove myself from situations that would allow Jackie opportunities to pull my darling pigtails. I had to decide when enough was enough and go ask the teacher to intervene. And I never got to that point because when I told Jackie I didn’t like her pulling my pigtails – get ready for a shock – she stopped doing it. She respected my standing up for myself and stopped.

Bullying is bullying; no doubt about it

Now, please don’t misunderstand me and think that I condone bullying because I don’t. I just think we have swung a little too hard to the left on this issue and have come to define bullying as everything from “I don’t like your hair” to repeated, intentional, harmful abusive behavior. The latter, by the way, is true bullying. And it happens. And shouldn’t be ignored. And also needs adult intervention. So again, please don’t think that I expect kids to handle every ugly situation. The trouble is that we have created such a broad, convoluted definition of bullying that kids really can’t tell the difference and therefore don’t know when to ask for the help that’s truly necessary. And kids have cried “bully” so many times that adults have a more difficult time recognizing the legitimate cry for help.

Time is not on our side

I get it. We’re busy. Teaching kids how to solve problems takes time, time that we don’t typically have. We need to resolve the issue of whose turn it is to sit by the window because we’re late for soccer practice. We don’t have time to let the kids work out who’s standing where in line because we have to get to music class. And quite frankly, it’s just easier to solve it for them, isn’t it? We don’t want to see people upset. We know how hard it is to not have that special spot in line, so we come up with incredibly creative solutions that make everyone happy. And no one learns. Everyone is happy for the moment, but the next time the situation arises, will they be able to creatively solve it, or will they helplessly look to that frazzled adult that just needs her quiet time? And when those same kids grow up to be adults, will they be able to handle the coworker/store clerk/neighbor who is just plain irritable, or will they find themselves going to their boss/store manager/the police every time a situation arises?

The struggle is real.

How about we all agree that we will make the time to teach, that we will transfer those non-emergency 911 calls back to the kiddos and let them peck a little harder on that egg shell? Can we recognize that we will be much more equipped to handle that true emergency if our kiddos are solving the “She doesn’t like my shoes” issue all on their own? Can we acknowledge that the kids who learn how to solve problems at an early age will have strength, will lead, will be able to function without a phone call from mom to take care of it all? Let’s give those baby birds a chance and back off. Let them fail; let them be disappointed so that they can succeed and be happy.


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