“Always listen to your teacher.”
“Respect those in an authority position.”
As a child we have these rules engrained in our head to where we could almost recite them out loud. For the most part they are pretty good rules, especially for school age children to follow. Certainly when your child’s teacher exclaims “no running with scissors”, it’s a pretty good rule for them to abide by, just as “no pinching” and definitely “kissing on the playground, under the monkey bars, with that wide eyes little…” Wait, maybe that last one was my rule. Anyhow, how do we teach out children when it’s ok to say no to an adult. When is it alright for them to not follow the rules.
My daughter has suffered from what we have so politely coined as “exercise asthma”. What that means, for those of you that aren’t so familiar is, when she is on the playground, chasing boys, she runs out of breath and her chest feels like “every bone is breaking” she says. This sounds pretty unpleasant. She does have an inhaler that she can use if she needs it, but most times she struggles through the class anyway. She will tell us stories that lead is to believe that she was forced to run around, despite her panting and gasping for air. Well, somewhere in there, there is always a truth. We sent some letters with her, to excuse her and basically give her permission to walk around the track in gym class instead of running, but teachers have a lot of students and occasionally forget. Some children don’t want to run and need the encouragement and others, all their chest bones feel like they are breaking.
“Why didn’t you tell the teacher you needed your inhaler” I’d ask, after another story she relayed about panting and feeling sick around the track. “The teacher told us to run, and I didn’t want to bother her”. As a parent, in almost every situation I feel like I had failed. I never let her know that she had the right to stand up to the teacher and plead her case. We spent so many countless hours praising the following of directions that I never explained to her that “teachers aren’t always right and sometimes you have to disobey them”. Obviously not in a defiant for the sake of defiance way, that comes naturally in high school…but to not be scared and be able to exercise her rights to feel good, safe and happy.
We have all read stories in the paper, or seen on TV, things that make us uncomfortable and downright sick to our stomach about kids and adults with terrible intentions. What makes the child follow the adult? Are they just “following the rules”? Although an asthma attack is hardly relatable to a child predator, it does bring up some interesting thoughts on how and when we can help our children make adult decisions when it comes to adults in their lives.
At home our children must do what their parents say, but are they ever given a choice when it comes to complying with a task, or facing a consequence? I still wonder how my daughter would deal with bullies, children or adults, and we have had our trials with that in her first year of school. She did pretty good.
Recently we went to a water park and the attendant at one of the slides told her to take off her floatation jacket before she went down the slide. A rule I’d never heard of. I was at the bottom of the stairs and could see, but not hear, the interaction. The instruction was simple and many kids might have followed the order from an adult in authority, but I watched her as she crossed her arms, huffed her breath and matched back down the stairs. “Could you believe that lady, she thought she was the boss”. My daughter exclaimed. “I’m not going to take off my jacket, I’d drown!” I tried as hard as I could not to laugh, but a huge smile came across my face. “Good for you, I am proud of you for standing up for yourself”. Although it was a small, and by all accounts insignificant situation, I could see she was proud of herself. I used it as an opportunity to reinforce some lessons we’ve had at home, like the P.E. teacher, and what to do if a stranger promises her candy or toys.
I think a good parent is always trying to be a better one, it’s out most important job and I just hope I get it right. The point is that, I don’t know any better than anyone how to teach my child when to follow the rules and when to break them. But with scenarios that pop up, the best I can do is look at them critically and try and touch on lessons, and reinforce them so they become real to her. As silly as it sounds, standing up to the “big bad lifeguard” was a big step for her, and an opportunity for me to guide her in making strong and independent decisions. I think she is doing pretty darn good for herself and I never let a moment slip by that I can tell her I’m proud of her. And listen, don’t take any crap from “the lady that thinks she’s boss”….you’ll drown without that floaty jacket.