Yesterday, my best friend and I scrolled through the parenting section of Indigo bookstore with much disgust. We can’t believe the advice in these books. Having both worked in daycare, we are fully aware that if we ever followed any of these books, our classrooms and programs would be utter chaos.
I always want to give people parenting advice, though not too many people take me seriously because I’m not actually a parent. But having been a Child & Youth Worker for almost 15 years, I feel like I have a lot of kids. I often call other people’s kids my kids, mostly because I pour my heart and soul into these people as though I had birthed them myself.
Unfortunately, I do have to give them back to their parents.
And this is always a very unfortunate thing because often times the parents have undone so many of the things I’ve worked really hard to instill.
Whether working with preschoolers or teenagers, there are certain things that I exhaust myself to enforce. I believe that these qualities will allow these young people to become amazing successful citizens.
A SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY takes a lot of work to develop and most people don’t want it. I’m thankful for the children and teens that I’ve worked with that are people-pleasers, but not everyone is so eager to help. At my youth group, one of my first rules was that the teens do all the cleaning; they wash the dishes, vacuum the carpet and take out the garbage. At the daycare, the children would have to put away their toys and clean up after they ate. No one is going to clean up after you because you can do it yourself!
Responsibility applies to working for the things you want instead of just expecting them to be given to you. So many of my kids feel so self-entitled and think I should just give them things just because they are breathing in my presence. I don’t feel that way… ever. You need to work for what you want and then you’ll value everything so much more.
Responsibility is crucial to work successfully in a team, and our lives are all about teams. Classrooms, programs, groups, families, friends, co-workers, marriages all function in teams. You will always want something and there will definitely be something to do to get it.
UNDERSTANDING THE BIGGER PICTURE is not a skill that has developed in young people, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help them develop it. I try really hard to always explain everything to the kids I work with but in as few words as possible. I try to help them understand why we’re doing things, the effects it’ll have and what will happen if they don’t do it. Most kids can only see the immediate and so they live for the moment. But seeing only the moment makes decision-making and conflict-resolution really difficult. It’s important to help train our kids to understand that there is more than just them and there is more than just today.
THE ABILITY TO DEAL WITH CONSEQUENCES is key as you learn to take responsibility and make decisions. It’s not enough to tell a child that they shouldn’t do something, you need to explain why so that they can decide if they can deal with that result. With teenagers, I love telling them the ramifications of their actions and saying that it’s fine if they’re good with that. Because you can be! But just know that that’s what could happen to you.
Too often children are shielded from consequences and then adulthood becomes a very big shock. People would rather make a child’s life as comfy and cushy as possible. But that’s not life: it’s messy, awkward and very uncomfortable.
LOVING YOURSELF JUST THE WAY YOU ARE seems almost like an oxymoron in today’s society. Everyone is trying to become something else so that they can be happier and in return love themselves more. Everyone wants to be skinnier, sexier, funnier, smarter, richer, and the list goes on. Kids are getting depressed younger, self-mutilating younger and committing suicide younger because they just aren’t measuring up. And it doesn’t take that much work before you realize that you’ll never be this imaginary person and that just isn’t good enough.
I often tell the youth I work with how much I love the quirky things about them. I listen to their weird stories about fanfiction, pizza pockets and YouTube videos. I love telling them about their not so lovable characteristics that make them so unique. And I love being honest and open with them about my unlovable bits that will stay with me forever: my big feet, protruding rib cage, bad temper, stink attitude and my inability to do mental math. And though I once dreamt about growing into my feet and being able to figure out a tip without a calculator, I will never be that person and that’s okay.
LOVING OTHERS IS MANDATORY… period. This is not an option. You don’t have to like others but you do have to love them. You do have to give back to your community. You do have to look out for your peers. You do have to care. I try to make sure that all the work I do involves some sort of social responsibility that allows young people to see the value in it.
I often hear parents say that you need to pick your battles. But as a professional, I don’t have that luxury. I must fight every battle because I don’t know if this will be the last opportunity I get to do this. I won’t be in their lives forever and I can only pray that I am helping them become the most successful human being that they possible can be. It’s a very scary world out there and the least I can do is prepare them for it rather than just making things easier for me.