How to Cultivate Compassion for Your Active Kid in a Sit-Down World

by Krissy Dieruf January 12, 2017

legs of boy and girl jumping in a garden

It is usually about this time of year when I start to see the looks on teachers faces. You know the looks I am talking about? Maybe you don't.

If your preschooler does not regularly use quiet carpet time as her own personal cartwheel session, you might not know the looks. If your first grader does not, as he meets the principal's eye when she tells him not to run in the halls, do a hard pivot and take off in a full sprint, you might not know the looks.

Likewise, if your first grader doesn't tell you that the principal's office isn't really all that bad, and “in fact, Mom, it is actually kind of fun,” because he's been there at least three times already, you definitely do not know the looks!

So let me be more specific. The looks are akin to how one might appear if they were just told to shovel their way home in a blizzard. Except they're in response to my kid doing jumping jacks and blowing spit bubbles at the same time on his way into class. I can see how a teacher would get frustrated a few months into school and start to see my child as the bane of her existence.

It's tough stuff with these guys, I know.

But here's the thing. I don't want them any other way. I don't want my kids to sit still and be quiet. I don't want them to do whatever someone else tells them to do. And I definitely don't want them to fit perfectly into a box designed for adult convenience and perfect academic instruction. They are five and seven years old, people! Five and seven!

Now, before you worry that I am actively teaching my kids to defy authority and disrupt every proper little Bill and Susie out there, I assure you, I'm equally horrified and embarrassed when my son runs circles around me in the grocery store and howls like a wolf (which has actually become our family mantra since our one-year-old started copying, in true pack form).

I believe firmly that my children need to be respectful of teachers. They need to do their best to follow the rules. There are consequences for having to go to the principal's office because you continued to play with the worms on the playground when your teacher said to stop. I tell my kids, “You have to listen!”

What I don't tell them is that I am cringing on the inside and hurting and confused about the prospect of getting in trouble for playing with worms.

So we get the looks from well-intentioned teachers who think my kids should do what they are told. If your kids happen to be anything like mine, you might find yourself feeling equally as irritated with them for getting in trouble as you are with various teachers and coaches who seem to have it out for them.

They don't, trust me. They're doing a good job. But they probably don't really understand your kid, or mine. Sometimes we can help teachers appreciate uniqueness by offering a different lens through which to look at our amazing little acrobatic worm-catchers.

I realized this while watching my daughter in her dance class. As she twirled and trailed off and rolled on the floor, I saw her teachers' clenched jaws and exchanged looks of annoyance. One of her teachers vacillated between completely ignoring her and sternly correcting her.

I started to feel angry and frustrated, and I considered pulling my daughter out of the class. I tried working myself up to confront the teacher about my concerns. But it made me feel horrible, and I knew it would make the teacher feel horrible, too. Neither option would ultimately benefit my daughter. So instead I wrote the teacher a letter.

Dear Ms. Macy, Thank you for being such a great dance teacher, and for being so kind to my daughter. She has a free spirit and loves to move and play, and while she isn't quite concerned with perfect dance technique yet, she loves twirling and learning and being a part of such a fun class. Thank you for your patient direction and for appreciating her unique style.

~ Sincerely, Krissy (Eily's mom)

I'll admit that I didn't really notice much patience or appreciation for my daughter, but my goal was to truly tap into her compassion and understanding for my child, while also honestly thanking her for her time and effort with my girl. I knew she was a good teacher, and if I could show her my kindness and appreciation, maybe she would show a little more to my daughter.

I was thoroughly amazed at her reaction. The following week, this particular teacher smiled at my daughter without clenching her jaw or looking like she wanted to quit her job!

She was playful and more patient with her, and even hugged her. She actually seemed to be enjoying my daughter, who was still not following the rules exactly and continued to put her own spin on everything, literally. But I could tell that she saw her in a new light – a less serious light that allowed room for my daughters whole personality, not just her ability (or lack thereof) to follow directions.

Writing a letter of thanks, and in the same breath bringing awareness to my child's needs and overall awesomeness, worked so beautifully with the dance teacher that I did the same for both of my kids' school teachers. I thanked them for their hard work and effort to make school a place where my kids feel loved.

I told them that, as a parent, I know my kids aren't perfect and don't get everything right all the time, but what I care about and what makes my kids be their best is to know they are good. Because that is what they'll remember when they grow up and look back on school someday. Not the tests they took or the projects they made, but how they felt doing it.

Turns out the first letter was not a fluke; the others fostered the exact same reactions. Teachers who were once barely tolerant of my children hugged them and offered positive and encouraging words. And I could tell my kids felt the love. The more their teachers showed patience and positive attention, the calmer my kids became and the easier it proved for them to do their tasks.

Not everyone has to like my kid or be their ultimate cheerleader. But I want my kids' teachers to know how truly important they are to us, and the depth and breadth of their impact. Even when they don't show it, kids are learning more than the direct lessons from their teachers. And every kid should be learning that they are good, and capable, and loved.

Even the ones who can't quite sit still yet.

Krissy Dieruf


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