I just read a Huffington Post article on what parents of impatient children should not be doing. The first example really resonated with me, as it was about allowing a child to interrupt a conversation.
As a child with many thoughts to share (read that as “chatty”, for the teachers out there), I used to resent it when I was completely ignored by adults having “important adult conversations”. I have a distinct memory of my friend’s mom completely ignoring his little sister for what seemed like an eternity while the mother spoke with another adult. The little girl’s pitch, volume and urgency rose higher and higher until she burst out in tears and her mother finally turned to see that she had soiled herself while waiting to tell her mom she needed help to use the bathroom. I vowed right then and there that I would not ignore a child’s needs so that I could carry on a conversation.
As a teacher I quickly learned that allowing or encouraging constant interruptions from attention-seeking students was NOT going to work in a busy classroom. Discussions with other teachers, educational assistants, volunteers, administrators, specialists, etc. are indeed important, and time is not provided outside of classroom time for these. Brief, important conversations between professionals can make or break a day for a child with special needs, and these conversations need to happen in the classroom, often while surrounded by thirty other needy little people. There is simply no time to allow for anything but extremely urgent needs to interrupt these vital adult conversations.
The answer, as with many things, lies in the middle path. We do not need to completely ignore children without acknowledging that they want our attention in order to “teach them patience”. Nor do we need to constantly make them the centre of our universe to prevent any and all discomfort.
As a child, when I approached my mother with one of my many “pressing issues” while she was on the phone, she would cover the receiver, tell me that she was on the phone and to wait until she was done, then calmly go back to her conversation. I knew that I had been acknowledged, and that I would have my turn to speak, and this generally placated me (even when I was determined to tattle that my “mean big sister” had smushed my baby doll’s head and made her look like an alien… but I digress). The same rule applied when we had company over. I will admit to falling asleep on the floor beside the couch while I stubbornly waited for my turn to share while my mother finished an after dinner conversation.
I had an associate teacher who used the “3 B” rule: blood, barf, and bathroom. If a child’s need involved one of these three issues he or she was permitted to interrupt the teacher with a quick but firm “excuse me” preceding the request or sharing of information. Otherwise he or she would have to wait quietly until the teacher was done her conversation. Incidentally, the part of her rule that pleased my inner child and sense of fairness the most was the teacher’s insistence that the rule applied to conversations with both adults AND children. Her interactions with other students were just as sacred as those with grown-ups, and each student felt respected and heard when it was his or her turn to have the undivided attention of the teacher.
Whether we have one child or thirty vying for our attention, we need to find a system that works to respect the needs of all involved, big and small.
The article also mentioned not immediately giving children electronic devices to keep them busy while they wait for appointments. I had never thought of this, as we didn’t have iPads growing up, but I do remember being given homemade trail mix or raisins to eat, and I always had books to keep me occupied and quiet when we were out and about. The author says that we don’t actually teach kids to wait by immediately providing them with something to do. I hadn’t considered this. Perhaps quietly and mindfully waiting for a few minutes in the doctor’s office before bringing out my iPod to entertain myself (a.k.a. “electronic soother”) is a good habit to get into, regardless of whether my child is there to see me do it or not.
The article also mentions not getting up from the table to refill a child’s milk until AFTER mommy has finished her plate. Please refer back to my post on Mommy Martyrdom for my views on this.
All in all, some good nuggets. I love reading things that make me go “hmmm”…
Here is the original article that sparked my thoughts today: