I first started working in child care in the summer of 2019. On any given day I was working with 10 to 30 kids ranging from ages 5 to 10 years old. It was a lot. Decorating the classroom, planning activities, and cleaning up potty accidents wasn’t exactly my dream job, but I’ve always loved kids. It was also the only job I could find that would pay me more than $10 an hour without having a college degree. Amidst teaching kids how to make glow in the dark slime and tying loose shoelaces, that rowdy bunch of kids ended up teaching me a few things as well. Here are a few things I learned while working with kids.
- Your Words Matter
If you grew up with Black parents you have surely heard the phrase “Because I said so” when asking your parents a question. I found myself using this same phrase when some of my kids asked me seemingly arbitrary questions. After a while I started to think about how it made me feel as a kid when my parents shut me down for asking a simple question. It actually made me scared to ask them questions sometimes, even if it was about something important. The way we talk to kids, and the way we talk to people in general, matters a great deal. The manner in which you speak to a person shapes their perception of you and has the potential to shape how they interact with others. After doing a little introspection, I decided to retire that infamous phrase from my classroom and answered questions to the best of my ability, even when I didn’t feel like it. Kids are curious and have a hunger to understand the world around them. I wanted to create a classroom environment that would foster and help satisfy their curiosity and I think changing the way I spoke to my kids helped achieve that. This incident also made me think more about how I spoke to myself. My negative self-talk seemed so normal to me, but I quickly realized that I would never speak to my kids that way. Changing the way I speak to myself has allowed me to explore my emotions and thoughts in a way that I didn’t give myself permission to do before.
It’s no secret that kids will test your patience. I once had a kid throw up on himself then when he went to change, instead of just placing his soiled shirt in the bag I gave him, he shook the shirt and the vomit splattered all over the bathroom. As you could imagine, I was fuming but instead of yelling at the kid I called in another teacher to watch the kids while I cleaned up the bathroom and mumbled curse words under my breath. I knew that kids don’t usually do things like that just to screw up your day, so situations like this made me increase my tolerance and patience for unavoidable chaos.
- Handling Anger
Everybody experiences anger, even kids. However, not everybody punches someone in the face when they get angry. There were three kids sitting on the bench in the library area we had in the classroom. The bench was a little small so the kids were definitely squished. One kid didn’t want to get up in order to make more room for the other two kids, so one of the other two kids got up and punched him in the face. Keep in mind, the boy who punched the boy in the face was six-years-old. Six-year-olds should not be punching people in the face. I pulled him aside and asked if there was anything he wanted to talk about. After a few minutes of prying and some leading questions, he explained to me that he was angry that his younger brother got so much attention from his parents and his mom worked too much to spend enough time with him. We spoke for a while about better ways to handle anger and strong emotions. Coping with strong emotions is something that I have struggled with in the past, but reaching out to people I trust and talking things out has made a world of difference in my life. Though I would have preferred no one getting injured in the process, I was glad that I could be there for that little boy during a time that he found to be stressful.
Kids may seem annoying, loud, and unnecessarily energetic, but every person we come across has something to offer the world regardless of their age or size. Even though those kids gave me a run for my money, I wouldn’t trade the time I spent with them for the world. I also still affectionately refer to them as “my kids.” After spending eight hours a day with those kids for a summer or two, Christmas break, and various portions of a pandemic, they start to feel like family. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to teach and learn from my kids and I hope they enjoyed their time with me as well.