For the sake of clarification, I don’t generally go around identifying children by their abilities or inabilities. When I say “behavior kids” here, I say it for the purpose of drawing in a group of people who will relate to the feeling of exhaustion.
Kids who have behavioral concerns can be really, really tiresome to work and live with everyday. They’re worth our time, effort, and love, but we’d all be lying if we said they didn’t siphon every ounce of our energy some days.
That’s completely normal in the behavior world, guys. Even parenting and teaching a typical child can be draining some days, but when you throw in a heaping tub of behavioral disorders and a dash of trauma, you’ve got a recipe for soul-sucking tiredness.
What I’ve seen a lot of people frustrated about throughout my years in this field (myself included) is that kids with behavioral concerns have LITERALLY NO IDEA how exhausting they are.
They throw salt shakers at us and then expect us to stay up late with them to talk about their friends all night long.
They destroy our classrooms and then want to give us hugs and pretend like everything is okay immediately afterward.
They call us “bitches” and then say we’re their favorite teacher the next morning.
They slam doors in our faces, steal our money, break our possessions, and spend more time complaining about us than they do talking to us, and then they turn right around and ask us for help with their homework.
HOW DO THEY NOT KNOW HOW EXHAUSTING THEY ARE?
It’s like… come on, kid… put yourself in my shoes. If someone had just done all of those things to you, would you feel like helping them afterward? Would you feel like giving them affirmation, forgiving them, or being complimented by them? Even if they apologized, you’d still feel hurt. You’d want to see them apologize with their actions instead of their words.
So many times, I’ve worked with a behavior student who has tried apologizing to a teacher after a bout of terrible choices, and the teacher can’t seem to forgive the student. On the opposite side, the student can’t seem to understand the magnitude of the damage they’ve caused. To the child, once they’re over the anger, everyone else should be over it, too.
Why can’t they see how hurtful their behavior is? How can they expect everyone else to move on so quickly? Are they really that self-centered?
The answer is that every child is self-centered because that’s developmentally normal in childhood and adolescence. The problem with that self-centered thinking in behavior kids is that the adults are more annoyed by it because of how it manifests.
Teachers don’t mind a gifted student raising their hand to answer every single question in class. The student selfishly wishes to feel like the smartest kid in the room, but that behavior isn’t so inconvenient to the teacher that it causes an emotional reaction.
Yet, when a behavior child breaks every crayon in a teacher’s classroom because they’re (selfishly) trying to get attention in inappropriate ways, the teacher is emotionally triggered and has a difficult time overlooking the child’s selfishness.
Parents don’t mind when their typical children (selfishly) stay up past bedtime to read a good book, but they are very bothered by their children with behavior disorders for staying up past bedtime to (selfishly) try to get more time to play with their toys. The first situation with the book isn’t inconvenient or emotionally exhausting so the selfishness can be overlooked with ease. The second situation with the toys annoys us and requires more work from us so we build up frustration/bitterness about it.
Kids who have behavioral problems don’t know they’re different than other kids because they don’t feel different. In their minds, they mess up, they apologize, and then they move on.
We get so hung up on how much they’ve inconvenienced our lives, though, that we withhold our forgiveness longer than necessary. We want them to know just how difficult they really are. We want them to feel guilt, shame, or something else that crushes their ego. We really want their confidence to be torn down, and most of us don’t even realize that’s what we want because it shows up in such subtle ways.
We can’t see it in ourselves, but the behavior kids see it. They feel it almost imperceptibly.
We can’t seem to smile at them for the rest of the day after they’ve messed up, and they notice the different. But our reluctance to be gentle with them doesn’t make them want to improve their behavior. Instead, it causes kids to take on their “badness” as an identity. They internalize their behavior as the source of their value. That’s what we communicate to them without necessarily meaning to, and they accept it as truth.
It never brings about the results we wish it would because it isn’t a habit that comes from a healthy place.
Once we can stop asking ourselves, “Why don’t they understand how exhausting they are?” and start asking ourselves, “Am I giving them the amount of grace they need?” then maybe we can change the amount of success kids have.