I absolutely love this beautiful, fall weather! In Oklahoma, it seems like true fall usually lasts about a week, but we are being blessed this year with an actual season of fall. Fall brings a lot of my favorites: cooler weather, changing leaves and fun holidays. It also provides the opportunity to reinforce safety practices with fire prevention week, Halloween and holiday shopping.
Unfortunately in Oklahoma, we also have to deal with yet more ugly storms that bring possible tornadoes. In the wake of the devastating tornadoes in May, I have some very anxious kids.
Everyone in my classroom was affected by the May 20 tornadoes in some form or fashion. Three lost their homes. So when the skies turn gray and the weather alert goes off on my phone, you can imagine how the atmosphere in my room changes with the weather.
I have always tried to teach my classroom kids to identify what are ‘grown-up problems’ and what are ‘kid problems’ and how to manage the two. I feel that the day and age in which we teach, the line between the two has gotten more and more fuzzy through the years and many kids are taking on the responsibilities of their adults in so many different ways.
I have noticed each year that I begin introducing this concept earlier and earlier, and this year is no exception. I started right off the first week of school.
“Mrs. Glass, I had a nightmare last night that a bear was chasing me. I didn’t sleep much”
“Mrs. Glass, We didn’t have time to go to the grocery store. I haven’t eaten breakfast. My tummy hurts.”
“Mrs. Glass, I heard my mom and dad yelling at each other last night.”
The list goes on.
As I reflect on my classroom full of precious kiddos, I can name one huge ‘thing’ that is going on in each one’s life: relationship problems between parents, money problems, moving into new homes, extra kids living at home, sick parents, job loss. Teachers hear it all. And my heart breaks for these kids who have to deal with such huge weights.
But what do we do to help our little ones manage the difference between these ‘grown-up’ issues and their own ‘kid’ issues since both have a huge effect on them?
1. Help kids identify the difference.
Yes, kids are resilient, but many of them carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. The first-born children especially. We need to help kids identify what they can control themselves and what they need to leave at their grown-up’s feet. I like to tell my kids that anything they can find a solution to without help is usually a ‘kid’ problem; no pencil, but need to do homework; wouldn’t get out of bed when mom or dad woke them up on time so now they are late; poking a sibling in the car on the way to school so now privileges are lost; forgot backpack. These are all ‘kid’ issues and can be solved easily by the child. ‘Grown-up” problems would be issues such as; mom and dad are fighting, not enough money to pay the electric bill, bad weather is coming, an older neighborhood kid is bullying them, grandma is sick and in the hospital. Although these issues totally affect our kiddos, they need to understand that it is not their responsibility to find solutions to these problems and that they didn’t cause any of these problems to happen.
2. Give them language.
Once kids are able to identify the difference, we need to give them the language to use to help them through the issues. We can tell them all day long ‘not to worry about it’, but the fact is, they will. And this worry will begin to affect every aspect of their little lives. Young children don’t have the vocabulary to communicate what they are feeling, so a lot of times when kids are going through something in their lives we will see them using behavior to deal with it, either unusually withdrawn behavior or the complete extreme acting-out behavior. If children have the knowledge of being able to communicate verbally and feeling like they can trust a teacher most will lean more toward this than the behavior. As teachers we need to be able to give our kids the power to identify emotions that are not common for them and to be able to help them work through those emotions. “You seem very frustrated right now. Your face is doing this (model face). Tell me what you think is making you frustrated.” Giving children the power to verbalize is crucial.
And if we think older children should be able to verbalize better, we may be very mistaken. If older children haven’t been taught these skills when they were young we cannot expect them to be in place just because they are older. When dealing with older children who are going through these types of challenges, we should not assume that just because they are older they should deal with it better. If anything we should be reaching out even more to these kids. If we don’t do our part to help and support them, I can guarantee you they will find their help and support in places, people and things that they should not be involved in.
3. Help them
When I see kids trying to carry ‘grown-up’ problems I try to figure out how I can step in and help. Child anxious about the weather? I make it a point to contact that parent and let him or her know about the anxiety. It may be something as simple as that. But what about the kids who are worried about walking into an empty house because mom is still at work? Or kids who are concerned about not having food in the house? Or kids who are being pressured into drugs while walking home from school? No amount of language can ever solve these problems. Times like these call for seeking out help through other school resources. We can’t just send our kids to the counselor’s office though and think that is going to ‘fix’ it.
These are OUR kids. We are their home-away-from home. I get called ‘mom’ a lot more than ‘Mrs. Glass’. Be sure to do your part as their main caregiver before handing these precious hearts off to someone who doesn’t know them. Resources abound in most communities and most counselors have a list of contact numbers. If you don’t have a school counselor or your counselor isn’t able to help, continue searching until you find someone who can help. Make it a point to be the difference kids need, especially if being that difference makes all the difference in their little- or big- worlds.