Why are kids at school easier to understand than those in your family?

smart panther asks: As a teacher, why it is easy for me to understand my students, but hard to understand my own kids? Or is it that our own kids just don’t understand our instructions?

Hi smart panther –

I think the answer is pretty simple.  Think about dogs.  I’ll bet you think dogs are pretty easy to understand.  They have a few drives, some friendly, some aggressive.  They want food and play and love, and do what they can to get them.  Right?

But that’s because you don’t know them well.  Handsome has spent years studying me, because he finds me fascinating.  He is absolutely amazed and perplexed by the ways my mind works.  Now I’m not that different from other dogs; it’s just that he’s looking at me so closely.

When you go to your school to teach, every child there has a bunch of rules they’ve learned to follow.  They may break the rules occasionally, but overall they know to sit in their desks, raise their hand, speak only when spoken to, stand in line, etc.  So every kid there has all that in common.  When you have them read a book or do a lesson, every one of those kids is doing the same thing, talking about the same thing, etc.  Even when they play at recess, they’re all on the same playground.

But then you go home to your own children.  And every one of them is different.  And they have extremely different expectations of themselves, of each other, and of you.  They have sibling rivalries, they have gigantic needs for love and validation from you (and needs to rebel and fight you as well), they’re affected by things they might see on TV or read, they have illnesses and traumas, they have dreams at night…  Very little of all this is anything a schoolteacher really has to deal with.  But it’s huge at home.

So why is it easier to understand the kids at school?  Because there’s so much less to understand!

And when you ask about following instructions, I promise, your own children understand you better than those students ever could.  But they have so many more reasons to disobey you!  They have to test the limits of their parents, they might want a reaction out of you, and of course they have much more to gain from disobedience (what’s the best they could get from disobeying a teacher at school?  The chance to hit someone?  At home it could be anything from money to food to hitting a sibling – which is way more exciting than just hitting a classmate!).

So it sounds to me like you’re doing fine.  The only thing I’d recommend is that you start enjoying the complexity and profundity you see in your children at home.  For as great as those kids at school might be, it’s your own kids who are the most amazing relationships of your lifetime!



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