I may not have a kid of my own yet, but I love good parenting tips, especially when they can be adapted for teachers. Unfortunately, a lot of childcare advice seems to be written by people who have no memory of what it’s like to be a kid. I’m extremely opposed to arbitrary limitations, infantalization, and forced displays of “respect,” so I was thrilled to read Heather Shumaker’s HuffPost article, “Renegade Rules for Parents.” Shumaker lists some amazingly intuitive rules that contradict the cliches often parroted by well-meaning parents and teachers. My favorite rule, “You Can’t Play=AOK,” explains that “[k]ids should have the right to play alone or with one or two chosen friends.” Yes! Kids should have the right to make decisions and have opinions. Kids are, after all, people. The role of parents, teachers, and caregivers is to protect, nurture, and educate, not to control.
Contemporary concerns about bullying sometimes lead compassionate adults to force children to include their peers. Exclusion alone is not bullying. As Shumaker describes, young children are sometimes unable to manage complex social interaction within a larger group. Forced inclusion may lead to anxiety. Older children exclude peers based on personal preference, which is also perfectly reasonable. More importantly, children often exclude bullies! When my brother was young, he refused to invite certain students to his birthday party. One angry mom insisted that her son be invited, and my mom calmly told her that, in our house, kids chose their own friends. The truth was, my brother was being bullied by the boy. Because he was increasingly excluded from groups, his mother assumed that he was the victim. (Before you ask: this boy was originally accepted by his peers, and the exclusion took place only after students began to understand his cruelty. Exclusion didn’t make him a bully. It was the other way around.)
Parents and caregivers may mean well when they enforce overly controlling rules. Certainly children are unable to make many decisions for themselves; however, parents and other adults must examine their rules carefully to ensure fairness, relevance, and necessity. And most of all, adults need to empathize with and respect children.
Check out Heather Shumaker’s book, It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids, on Amazon.