I have a confession to make. I, myself, was a difficult child. I know, I know… for those of you who know me now as an adult, you are completely SHOCKED! (Well… those of you who TRULY know me really well may actually NOT be shocked ;)… Either way, it is true. I was definitely not a picnic to parent in my early days.
As I grew, I remember hearing the stories. Tiffany throwing chairs in the classroom during PreK… Tiffany leaving the classroom without permission, because she was bored. Tiffany throwing tantrums at church, at home, at the supermarket… basically anywhere as a result of me not getting my way for one reason or another. We laugh about these times now, most of them a very faint memory now that many, many years have passed since those early childhood days. But in the thick of it, the feelings about my behaviors and the toll it took on my parents were real and hard and no laughing matter.
As I teacher, I have always empathized with the challenging student. The ones everyone called “bad”. In public school, teachers would compare rosters of incoming classes, sharing horror stories about “those kids” and warning teachers… “let me tell you about THAT kid”… I would smile, nod my head, and disregard those comments… trusting in my heart that I would be a difference for those “difficult” ones by relating with their feelings and misconduct.
To get a better glimpse at what I was like as I child, I decided to head straight for the source… my very own mother, Tonya Samuels.
Interviewing My Mom
- What ages would you say were the hardest to parent me?
Preschool and elementary ages
- What challenges did I struggle with?
- Being oppositional and defiant
- Concentrating, hard to stay still
- Not staying on task
- Not listening to authority
- Not obeying the rules
- Preferred to do my own thing
- Redirected several times
- Typical disciplines didn’t work
- I (mom) didn’t understand and know about different learning styles back then. Thought it was just being obstinate and stubborn, but turns out it was about a different learning style
- Temper tantrums
- Did not argue, just didn’t listen
- Extremely active at home, played a lot
- Always did what I wanted to do
- Not compliant
- What were some positive characteristics of me during this time?
- Was nurturing, cuddled a lot
- Very compassionate and sensitive
- How did my behavior make you feel as a mom?
I felt like I failed. I felt like it was something I was doing wrong. Thought there was something wrong with you. And the school wanted to put you in special classes due to behavior. Your grandmother was an educator and she would encourage me that there was nothing wrong with you. They wanted you to be medicated or diagnosed on ADHD medicine, but you were a kinesthetic learner. They asked if there were problems at home. You finished work early- always completed work well – but would want to do something else after work. But they wanted you to sit still and wait. That would not work. They wanted you to wait and not engage you. You tested well, but they only focused on behaviors and dismissed giftedness. Very happy child!
- Who gave you support through these times?
Dad and church and grandmother- encouraged you to put me in extra activities to develop in the areas I was lacking.
- How did I handle traditional school?
I think they failed you, because they didn’t help you understand. Didn’t help to support you to flourish.
- What worked? What didn’t work in terms of discipline and teaching me our family values?
Corporal punishment did not work. Non-traditional approaches were more effective. Redirecting, giving other activities… Giving a book to read instead of expecting you to sit down. Prayer. Spending time with you more.
- When did it turn a corner? What do you credit for the positive change?
When you went into middle school. Became more involved in church and school.
- How would you say I ended up as an adult?
Amazing. Through middle and high school, you started to fly. When you became more involved and engaged in theatre and performing arts and church, you refocused your energy and flourished. And when you started mentoring and working with other kids, that helped.
- Would you say my childhood behaviors had ramifications for me as an adult today?
Helped you be more patient with children like you… or children that others might give up on- you don’t. Makes you curious about them.
- If you could change anything, would you?
Would have been more aware of different learning styles as a parent and not take it personally. Try to figure out what the child is looking for and expose them to different things. If you identify problematic behaviors in your child, become curious as a parent and look for resources to help figure out the why. Don’t take one person’s professional opinion about your child, you are the expert as the parent. As a parent, sometimes you need to take off the parent-hat and remember what it was like to be a child. See the world through the child’s eyes. So that the child can be the best version of themselves that they can be.
Sitting down to talk with my mother about myself as a child was such an interesting experience. Though I am sure I felt much differently about things back then, now I reflect on the challenges my behavior caused and the heartache my parents experienced because of it, and my love for them grows. Though they must have felt frustration and stress with each and every incident, there was also so much love and genuine empathy for my inner-conflict. Their desire to figure me out and help me through these times stems from the love they had for their little girl.
I remember some of my childhood during that timeframe when I was… well, less than perfect… and I remember feeling so misunderstood. So unjustly treated. So completely frustrated that people would tell me different things to do or not do without actually listening to my reasoning for why I had an opposing viewpoint. Sure, I was ages 5-10 at this time, BUT I had thoughts and opinions I needed to be heard and I could not handle those feelings being overlooked or minimized.
If you follow the Enneagram, I am an 8… obviously. I am pretty certain my son is, as well. For us 8’s- The Challenger (aptly named) – we feel a strong need to control our environments and protect ourselves and others. We also have a strong justice compass and need things to be fair. Growing up, I never did the things I did because I wanted to be “bad”. My behaviors were not attention-seeking, and I did not have issues at home that spilled over into my emotions. I needed things to be fair. I wanted to be heard. And I did not like people trying to box me in or control me. I feel a lot of these same things now as an adult, I just don’t throw temper tantrums in the grocery store or knock things over as a result. Now, with age, I have learned how to communicate my thoughts and ideas and channel my strengths in healthy ways. In my career choices, I knew I could not continue to work in mainstream education, because I did not believe in it. Rather, I felt the urge to create a new thing- a “rebellious” thing, to challenge the norms of education… WonderHere might not be in existence if not for my Type 8-challenging self. In the same way, there are so many wonderful things about your “difficult” child right now, just as they are. And, there is so much promise inside of them and for the beautiful strong, independent, and creative people they will grow into.
Like my mother said, and trust me she KNOWS, “Try to figure out what the child is looking for and expose them to different things. As a parent, sometimes you need to take off the parent-hat and remember what it was like to be a child. See the world through the child’s eyes. So that the child can be the best version of themselves that they can be.” My mother might have felt like such a failure raising me then, but I don’t see it like that at all. My mother is my biggest hero! When they wanted to label me, medicate me, and put me in an alternative classroom because I could not be controlled, she rallied for me, prayed for me, and showered me with love and acceptance, while gently teaching me our family core values. I am who I am because of how my parents responded to me then and how their love never wavered. That does NOT mean it was easy, they were not frustrated, and mistakes were not made. It does mean, there is grace which we are grateful for, kids are really resilient (I don’t remember any of their mistakes now as an adult and definitely don’t hold them against them), and there is hope that our children may challenge the norms now, but they can use all of that strength and different way of thinking for so much good. Love your kiddos and listen to them. You’ve got this!