I came down to the kitchen last week because my daughter was squealing. It's a sound I’m familiar with, so I knew she wasn’t hurt or in danger. In fact, I knew immediately that her older brother was doing something to annoy her. The cycle goes something like this: Hudson does something that he knows will bug only Nora and she then squeals. I ask what’s going on and he defends himself which causes her to squeal. He’s mad because she cut him off during his defense, so he becomes more impassioned and she…you guessed it. She squeals.
In these situations, I feel like I’m being pulled in like a referee watching a replay to make a call, but the question I should be asking isn’t what happened that made her squeal, but what bigger thing is going on that’s causing this cycle in the first place.
I’m not saying they always need a reason. I sometimes wake up ready for a fight, so I won’t assume they aren’t the same. However, when we’re stuck in the squeal/defense cycle, there’s usually something going on.
Last week, there was no mystery as to what was causing this behavior. After eight months of hybrid learning with two days in school and three working from home, our school district transitioned back to a five day in-school week. We keep using the word “transition” because it makes us feel better, but really it was like ripping off a bandaid. Also, notice I was careful not to call it a “normal” week because, let’s be real, it’s not normal. Nothing is.
When I stopped to consider how flexible and adaptable kids have been throughout this ordeal, it occurred to me that they deserve a trophy for the way they’ve dealt with the last year. I’ve certainly received trophies for much less. If we don’t give them a trophy, let’s at least cut them some slack.
I remember a time, years ago, when my brother was low-key making fun of his wife and my sister said, “Hey. Give her hugs. Not hard times.” We laughed it off, but I’ve often recalled that little nugget of wisdom when dealing with others. Unfortunately though, there were many times this week when I forgot it. Times when the kids were defiant or whiny or emotional and I gave them a hard time. Yelling at them for making us late or not getting to bed on time when what they really needed was a hug. They needed space to express their feelings and do things at their own pace so they could feel a little bit of control during a week when so much had been out of their control.
If you have kids, take a minute to consider all they’ve endured this year. They took in the same information we did about a scary virus that no one was safe from and stayed home. They watched us panic and do all kids of research. They were kept away from school, church, friends, and playgrounds. They lost sports seasons and opening nights, holiday meals, graduations, and proms.
Then, many of us sent them back for what was the weirdest school year they’ve ever had. Masks, social distancing, assigned lunch tables, and teachers on screens from home on the other days. All the while, we kept saying, “Thank goodness kids are so flexible.” But what I know about materials that are flexible is that, at some point, they break.
Last week, as we transitioned back to a five-day week, mine broke a little. We had lots of tears and nerves, a panic attack and of course my favorite squeal/defense cycles on repeat.
I heard an older adult complaining about students in general saying, “It’s not like they’ve never had a five day week before.” That felt like one of those “back in my day” type tone-deaf statements about how kids today are soft or something. But, in my district, they’ve been in school two days a week for eight months. How long does it take to make a habit? I’d say less than eight months. Again, LET'S GIVE THEM A TROPHY.
When I was a teacher, I often had to caution myself not to hold my students to a higher standard than I held myself or other adults to. I remember many days when I left something at home and had to call my husband and ask if he could drop it by on his way to work. And yet, when a student left something at home, I’d be like, “What do you mean you left it at home?”
This has been an incredibly tough year for kids. We can talk all day about the good that’s come out of a year where we slowed down a little and that’s all true, but it’s also important to mourn what our kids have lost in the past year. We need to listen to them and when we’re temped to give them a hard time, we should give hugs. Big bear hugs that maybe go on too long. They might think we're being weird, but when you feel them release their inhibitions and really fall into the hug, you'll know it worked. Remember, hugs not hard times. You got this.