Thursday, April 1, 2010

Great Expectations

Here's a secret: children love it when parents and teachers have very high standards for comportment and expect their children to meet them. They love it when adults are calm, strict and fair, and they especially love it when the adults in their lives are clear in their expectations and strong in their boundaries. If a child perceives that he is in charge, and more powerful than the grownups who are supposed to be protecting, guiding, and supporting him, he can’t feel secure.

I have a friend who studies Jiu Jitsu at a dojo near her home on Long Island. One weekend while I was visiting, she asked me if I would mind stopping over there. We walked in during the middle of a children's class. There was the sensei, sitting on her heels on the mat, surrounded by fifteen or so seven year olds, all sitting on their heels. She was helping one of the students with his belt, while the rest of the children sat very still, completely silent, all eyes trained on her. I commented on how they were so focused on their teacher, and how even though the discipline in the room was intense, the energy was so upbeat, and the children appeared vibrant and happy. She laughed and said that there used to be a very, very strict martial arts teacher in town, and that his classes were completely overbooked.

A friend recently commented to me that her daughter enjoys pushing the envelope and testing her by doing things she knows she is not supposed to be doing and waiting for her mother's reaction. My friend observed that her daughter is always happy and comforted when her mother stops her. Every time her daughter challenges her authority and my friend demonstrates, calmly, that she, the grown up, can prevent her child from going beyond what is allowed, she is proving over and over to her child that she can keep her daughter safe, contained, and protected.

When I think back on the teachers that had the greatest influence on me, it's always the ones who swept into the classroom on the first day and let us know that they were powerful beings who were going to demand greatness from us. Very often, we delivered, and we became proud of ourselves and motivated to continue to succeed. I try to keep this in mind when I am treating the children who come to me for help. If I demand greatness from them, they will in turn demand great things of themselves.


Catherine V said...

Those are wise words! As hard as it is to discipline children, implement consequences and follow through, it is the right thing to do. My daughter will be unhappy when she is disciplined but at the end of the day she knows where she stands and whate's expected of her and her mother does, too (I hope:)..When you demand anything from another person, you first need to demand it of yourself.

Stephanie said...

I was just thinking how my 4yo son has been driving me crazy in the same way. (Not to mention my 1yo daughter.) Reading this has helped keep me from the brink of frustration! Thank you, Loren.

Amy Waldhauer said...

I happen to know both jujutsu teachers (I'm the friend from Long Island). They have lively classes where the kids train seriously and with focus, but have a great time. Loren caught the Sensei who was tying the belt at the end of a class, when the students "bow out" in a quasi-Shinto ceremony. It is "serious time" with no talking. Everyone has to perform the ceremony silently -- no silliness allowed.

I have observed older kids (7 or 8 years old) who complain when discipline is lax. Kids know when things are out of control, and they don't like it. Even my teenaged son complains about parents who don't make their kids do their homework or whatever they are supposed to do, and he is at the age where he is almost required to rebel.