too late for respect?

Warning, I dressed in my judgy pants today.

There is a Mom with her toddler who, after only the mildest of temper tantrums, gave into the little girl’s begging for a donut. She started with a matter-of-fact no, quickly moved to pleading and justifications before going back to the counter to get a donut. And all I can think is, I hope that kid is never in my class.

True, I don’t know the circumstances here. Maybe that Mom is having an exhaustive week and is just desperately trying to find a few peaceful minutes. Maybe Mom remembered this was supposed to be a special day so why was she treating it like a normal “say no to donuts” day. Maybe this girl has difficulty communicating needs and feelings and Mom is trying to understand her daughter through a series of trial and error negotiations. Maybe this kid won’t grow into an entitled brat who doesn’t know how to take turns or persevere through frustrations.

As I watch this Mom scroll through her phone, going long stretches without responding to her daughter’s babble or even looking up at her, I panic. My 4th grade class is filled with 10-year old versions of this toddler, kids who have not had the attention needed to learn the skills of participating in a community. They only know how to exist in their own bubbles of needs and desires.

And we’ve recently elected just such a person to be president.

My observations of Mom and toddler ended as the little girls walked away from her mother who was picking up all their stuff. As Mom repeated the girl’s name over and over to call her back, the girl just looked at her with a face that said “Why are you wasting your breath and disrupting the peace? I’ve never listened to you before, clearly I won’t now.”

It’s a look I’ve seen in my classroom too often.

I have all sorts of ideas for that Mom to get control of her toddler, but what I really need to focus on is how I’m going to change this in my classroom. I can’t go back in time and give these kids the lessons in respect they should have had when they were four. The exhausting reality is that it is still part of my responsibility to give those lessons now. But, like that toddler, my students need the lessons to make sense in their world. I have no control over permissive or neglectful households. I can only change what happens in Room 204.

At almost day 100, it’s still not too late. I have to believe it is never to late, not for my 4th graders, not for that toddler, not for me.


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