Since then, I have had experience teaching students from ages 3-18 years old. I am the mother of three boys, ages 19, 7, and 6. Teaching students and raising children have taught me a few things, one of which is when to "push" my children, when to back off, and when to give a gentle nudge. As teachers and parents, we often have high expectations. We raise the bar knowing our beloved will rise to the expectation, standard, or objective.
But sometimes our kids resist. They whine, cry, oppose, they say, "I can't do it" or "I'm afraid to do it". When do you "push" kids to their limits? How do you know where their limits really are? How do you know when kids are being sincere or just feigning limitations or inability to avoid completing work or other tasks? How do you really know that the next step is too much and that the child is not developmentally ready? Sometimes I know the answers; at other times I remain baffled. But I know one thing: I won't know unless I try and neither will my child.
Take a child with anxiety, whether it be a phobia, a generalized anxiety disorder, or something else such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or an eating disorder. For the child with OCD, you may know what their compulsions are and what obsessive thoughts they have. However, you know you can't push them to stop washing their hands, if that is the compulsion, no more than you can order them to stop thinking about the never-ending thoughts that are bombarding their brains like strikes of lightning. But, you can take baby steps to sensitize them... you can nudge them... but how far is too far?
For me, I am an impatient person, but mostly with myself, and not so much with others. I don't like baby steps because that takes much too long. I know what my goal is, and I want to reach it today, if not yesterday. But with my kids, I have to slow down, map out the steps my child has to take to reach the goal. If I don't itemize the steps, do a task anaylsis, then I tend to push too hard and end up only frustrating my child and myself. Sometimes I want to say, "Here's the goal- go reach it." But that is not how we parent. And that is certainly not how we teach.
Take my youngest son as an example. I have been very forthright on my blog that he has Selective Mutism, a childhood anxiety disorder. When he was first diagnosed at the age of 3, he was in an all day preschool in the building where I was teaching. The goal was for him to talk out loud in school. Sounds easy, right? Don't most kids get in trouble for talking too much? Not the child with S. M. Through working with the psychologist, she broke down the steps we would have to take to help Christopher reach the goal. For instance, we would practice walking down the hall, me talking, and my son listening to me, maybe even whispering or smiling. At first, he could only make it a few steps before he would completely shut down. But each week, we tried to go a little farther, eventually reaching his classroom door. The theory was, once he was comfortable whispering outside the door, we could transfer that to inside the classroom.
We spent an entire school year on these baby steps, and he never did reach his goal. And that is ok. The professional advice I was given is that if we moved to the next step and he could not do it (whispering right outside the door), then he was not ready for it- yet. We backed up to the previous step and worked on that for awhile before I gave him a gentle, encouraging nudge to move toward the next step.
With all of my children, as with any parent, the time comes when we need to guide them, nurture them, nudge them toward the next baby step. It takes great patience, a definite plan of action, and knowing when the time is right. Sometimes we cringe at them taking the next step, but we know they must to develop and become independent. And we know that we must be there as their safety net for when they fall.
In a school setting, we do not always get to move at such a comfortable or developmentally appropriate pace. There is curriculum sequence, pressures from above to the move on to the next thing, and many other needy children in the classroom. On top of that, there are deadlines to meet: students must perform at a certain level on benchmarks and assessments.
Teaching is an art and a science... to know what the goal is and the steps to attain it is the science. To know when to nudge and how hard to nudge is the art. It requires:
- building and maintaining a trusting relationship
- knowing that actions speak louder than words; showing not telling
- knowing when to lead and when to step aside: when to hold a child's hand and knowing when to let go
- listening more, talking less
- acknowledging and building off of a child's strengths
- fostering a community of learners where positive peer pressure can be an asset and motivation
And so, as I write this, I am struggling with knowing that my child needs a gentle nudge... it is time and he is ready. However, he doesn't think he can climb this mountain and it is painful for him to even think about doing so.
It is painful for me as well... but, holding his hand, we will make this ascent together and rejoice when he reaches the top!