Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Number 4 of 'Five Things I'm Proud of in 2018' (Practising what I preach - a bit...)

I work in a primary school with individuals or small groups of children who, for myriad reasons, need a bit more support than can be offered in the classroom. Whilst every child has a different story, the vast majority need some help with managing behaviour and feelings.
I just caught the second half of this film. It's brilliant!
One of the most important things I've learned is that children know that adults aren't infallible. They know we're not perfect, and they have a keen nose for hypocrisy! All adults who work in a school should model behaviour to which their charges can aspire, but this doesn't mean they need to feign perfection. Kids see through it straight away and they have no respect or patience for it.

It's also important for them to know that moments of 'imperfection' are actually just what make us normal human beings. In our discussions the children and I share lots of stories of when we've been cross, upset, disappointed or ashamed. We talk about all types of failures all the time. Mostly, we talk about how it's very normal to do or feel the 'wrong' thing.

Ideally we don't get upset by little things, but if we do, there's no point feeling bad for feeling bad - because how pointless is that? It's usually far quicker to admit we might have over-reacted and then rationalise our feelings than to feel disgruntled for ages whilst pretending that we're not.
So, '"Really I'm fine" Cow' is a thing.
I had a conversation with a child going through just this a few weeks ago. He was upset and angry because one of the other boys was winding him up. He was tired and not in the mood to be teased. We had a chat and he recognised that the only person suffering was him, and that in the grand scheme of things it probably wasn't a big deal. After a few stamps, deep breaths and moments of calm, he was able to rejoin the class and carry on.

A little while later, when he was calm and happy, I called this lad over to me. I told him I was proud of him, and he suddenly looked serious and sad and said, "Why? I got all upset over nothing. I'm useless."

"What's harder," I asked him, "not being upset, or being very upset and then managing it and being OK again?"

He thought for a moment and said, "I suppose, being very upset and getting over it is harder."

"I think so too!" I said. "Obviously it would be nice if you weren't upset to begin with because then you wouldn't have had to feel bad, but it wasn't that easy, was it? He was deliberately winding you up and, in that situation, I think anyone would be upset. I'm proud of you because, even though you were angry and frustrated, you worked a way through it. That's a massive achievement!"

He chewed his lip, then nodded.

"There's no point me saying, 'don't get upset over things' - because sometimes we just do. It's a normal part of being human. The important thing is not that you don't get upset, but that you can handle it when you do. You were very upset, but you were able to think about it rationally and decide to feel differently. That's really, really hard, but you did it, and now you can go home cheerful and with a sense of achievement. What could be better?!"
Perfectly imperfect!

So what am I proud of in 2018? Working on this for myself. It's hard! I ask the kids to be able to do it but it's really, really hard to do it myself when I'm too busy feeling outraged or snubbed. It's something to practise, and practise I will. There's way more that can be said on all of this, and this is really just a brief introduction to what will become a lifetime's work for anyone.

I'm not very good at practising what I preach just yet - but I'm OK with that. I'm OK with the effort that's going in, and with the fact that I know what I need to work on. And, after all, being OK with being imperfect is a very, very big part of what I'm trying to do.

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