I once had a first grade student, whom I will refer to as Cadence. Cadence was hysterical, kind, inquisitive, passionate. She thought deeply about the world, had a strong vocabulary, and big opinions. A delightful human being all around.
Though generally thoughtful and respectful, I started to notice a hint of sass sneak into her communication style. It bothered me, but my thoughts became muddled with modern narratives, “she’s developing a personality, let it go,” “she’ll outgrow it,” and other harmful narratives confused and guilt-ridden adults tell themselves. Thankfully, her parents knew better. At conferences, her mother made this statement in a not-so-sweet tone of voice: “So, we’ve started to notice that sometimes Cadence will roll her eyes or respond to us disrespectfully. Have you seen this at school? She needs to know that is absolutely not okay.”
The next time Cadence responded in a sassy-unintentionally disresepctful tone-I followed my gut, fueled by the confidence her parents had given me. “Cadence, when you roll your eyes like that it feels like you think what I’ve said doesn’t matter. I don’t think you mean for it to be unkind and disrespectful, but it is.” Her face fell. She knew exactly what I was referring too-her parents were saying the same at home. They had taught her, and reinforced their lessons when necessary. Unprompted, she sincerely apologized. I thanked her, smiled, and we went on with our reading group.
Cadence continued to be the happy, bright, opinionated, curious, fabulous human she was. But her respect for me and others climbed to a whole new level. It was magical to see how this impacted her for the better.
It is devastating that parents and teachers get stuck in the mud of indecision and guilt when it comes to setting and teaching high expectations for our kids. Will it crush his spirit? Isn’t she just being a kid? Is she capable of that, she’s only 5? I don’t want to make him sad. These thoughts do not serve our children, families, or societies well. We too often equate love with indulgence, and that is devastating families.
Let me tell you. It is better to be too firm than not firm enough. Better to expect too much than too little. And better to make your child unhappy for a moment than miserable for a lifetime. Truly. This is what love looks like. To borrow a line from Albus Dumbledore, “Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” I hope parents will choose as Cadences’ parents bravely chose, to do what is right, even when it is hard. I know it is painful to see your child disappointed for even a moment, but my goodness, by allowing them to be disappointed for a moment, you are saving their lives.