At the end of the day, all any human being wants is to be heard. Their ideas, their passions, their worries, their fears, their pressing thoughts, their knowledge; all of the above deserve to be soaked in by the ears of others. Yet, with these chaotic and hectic lives we lead, we are quick to hush those when they need that acknowledgment the most. Perhaps, it is when we do not have time to hear grandiose ideas, or we are not willing to listen to what we do not want to hear, that we turn off our radars and leave those before us speaking to a brick wall. Adults possess the power to contest, to question, and to take note that the listening ears are nonexistent and that feedback is lacking. Consider a child, and the picture looks a lot different.
A child's mind is bursting with a lively and consistent stream of consciousness, consumed with creative thinking, bright ideas, and a multitude of questions. They are piecing together this world one moment at a time, building schemas to guide them through their days. They are attempting to make sense of the interactions they encounter, the people they see, and the places they go. Along the way, they are bound to hit bumps in the road. Hell, aren't we all? They are bound to be swamped by confusion and misunderstanding. They are destined to feel stumped and defeated. In these very moments, they need an adult's guiding hand, time, and attention to boost them over the hill, so they can continue on their merry way of learning about themselves and the environment surrounding them.
Think about your latest interaction with a young one. My first thoughts drift to the endless questions, especially the "why"s and the "how"s. It is easy to become overwhelmed and perturbed by such inquiries, but open your ears to their curiosities. Consider where they may be coming from and what knowledge they may be trying to build upon. Do not question their questioning in a condescending manner; they are learning every day, just like you and I.
My next thoughts drift to their frustration as they struggle to learn something new and conquer the tasks before them. If you're lucky (ha), you've seen the meltdowns, the outbursts, and the endless tears streaming down their faces as they grapple with uncertainty and difficulties. You've heard the grunts, the cries, and the thuds as they physically take their heavy emotions out on something else. Sometimes that something else is you. In these moments, they are not easy to tend to. They are not the cuddly, cute, kiddos you were initially introduced to, but they are entitled to their feelings. They can feel all of the difficulties their heart desires, but until someone comes along to validate and listen to why their behavior and emotion are reflecting in such ways, they will remain in the rut. They will not see what is on the other side of the monstrous mountain they are climbing. That is where you come in to reassure them that they indeed can reach the top.
Recently, I had a student storm out of my classroom, fuming. Eyes were beady, fists were clenched, and grunts were at high decibels. I met with this student, and one of the first things they yelled at me was, "I'm frustrated, do you want to know why!?" As those words rolled off of their tongue, I questioned how many times this student's question was dismissed and someone reprimanded him for leaving the classroom unannounced. Sure, that was in my plans to address, but at that moment in time, I had a vulnerable student, brave enough to share their emotions with me. They wanted me to understand. A somewhat closed book had dusted off their pages and opened up just a crack, but just enough for me to offer a helping hand. That type of vulnerability can be rare, depending on the child, and it is seemingly those who refrain from sharing their thoughts and feelings that need those listening ears and patience even more than the next.
Patience. One of my favorite words, and even more so, one of the most valuable attributes a human can possess. Maybe that's why one of my favorite sayings is "patience is a virtue;" because the feeling of being dismissed is like a punch to the gut. Like your thoughts, feelings, and ideas are not worthy of someone's time. There are only so many humans who seem to embrace this notion of patience and understand how it can positively impact those they encounter. When working with children, your patience and understanding carry them further than you could ever imagine. Perhaps you may not see that immediate gratitude in the heat of the moment, but as they are understood, they build trust, they create schemas, and they form a foundation for future learning. By just getting on their level, instead of turning your back, you have influenced them in a multitude of ways.
I do not write this with the confidence that there will not be difficult days, because there will be. You will be challenged and tried, tricked and hoodwinked, confused and lost, but persist. Open your ears, your mind, and your heart to these children who just want to grow. Put aside your busy schedule for five minutes to tend to these little minds and this world's future leaders. I can guarantee you three things: one, you will learn something new in the process; two, you will not have all of the answers, and that is more than okay; and three, you will leave with a grateful and full heart, knowing you have, in part, shaped a teeny human in the best ways.