A friend called me recently with some grave concerns about her six-year-old daughter. The child, it seemed, had been exhibiting “socially awkward behavior,” and my friend was wondering how to curb it before it did any permanent damage to her reputation.
After I stopped laughing at the idea of a first grader with a reputation, it occurred to me my friend was asking in earnest, so I had her explain exactly what her daughter was doing.
The problem, it seemed, wasn’t so much the behavior as it was the code of conduct by which it was being judged: My friend was applying grownup rubrics to someone who hadn’t yet learned them. Furthermore, this was her first foray into the classroom as a parent. She hadn’t been immersed in elementary school culture long enough to observe that all kids are socially awkward if measured by these standards. Every last one of them.
No one comes right out and defines it, but there’s a grace period during which society overlooks kids’ awkward ways. It begins at birth and lasts approximately until puberty, when it tapers off painfully in a snuff of cringes and scowls.
Kids, quite simply, don’t know any better, and they need time in this forgiving haven of double standard and acceptance in which to learn. As both a parent and an elementary school substitute teacher, I have witnessed the gamut of behavior, which might commit the offender to the pariah list for life – or worse – if not for this clemency.
If there are any parents reading this who, like my friend, are appalled by their own child’s behavior, I have compiled a list of universal infractions to help you understand that all kids are gross – not just yours.
At any given moment in a classroom, there will be at least two kids partaking in some manner: dry, runny-nose-induced, bloody, pushing an object up there “to see if it fits” until it gets stuck, digging for aforementioned object, and the dreaded eating whatever is on the finger.
I have said, “No, thank you” to many a birthday treat after witnessing the honoree pick his nose just moments before passing out a tray of brownies to his classmates.
Sometimes, you just need a couple quick pulls off the old opposable. The urge to suck must be a powerful one indeed, because I have seen girls and boys as old as 11 brazenly stick their thumbs in their mouths and go about their business without a care as to who is watching.
The unsanitary nature of this habit is evident when you get a glimpse of a thumb, shiny with saliva, reaching into the communal crayon box.
When you gotta go, you gotta go, and sometimes holding onto your crotch is the only way to prevent an accident. No teacher can refuse a trip to the bathroom to a child who’s squirming and plugging the dam with her hand.
Most of us still do this on occasion, when no one is around. Admit it, it works.
Kids cry. A lot. Over big things, small things, and things indiscernible to an adult. They cry when they’re frustrated, angry, when they lose at bingo, when they’re told “no,” when they don’t get their way, and for a plethora of other reasons.
There’s no shame in their crying game.
What looks like a desperate need for anger management classes to us is actually children assimilating the management of their anger. A physically demonstrative expression of an overwhelming emotion is perfectly normal in young kids and usually runs its own course.
Holiday parties, music performances, and field trips are ripe for tantrums because of heightened expectations.
Falling on the floor
A close relative of crying and tantrums, falling on the floor spontaneously is commonplace in an elementary school. In fact, if parents could see how much time their kids spend rolling around on the floors, they would feel compelled to wash every article of clothing worn at school before allowing it on the furniture at home.
Keep in mind that, to us, falling to the floor represents a five-foot drop, whereas to kids, it’s three feet, tops.
There are countless other things kids do that make us blush vicariously, and if you’re lucky, you will remember some of the funnier ones to tell future boyfriends or girlfriends. The saving grace throughout all of this is that we have each other to glean perspective. What is deemed forgivable (if not outright acceptable) in elementary school is considered anti-social in the real world, where peer correction is relentless.
Until then, let your little ones be as gross, embarrassing, and inappropriate as they need to be, for they will grow out of it soon enough.