450. Misbehavin’

There are children who do things they aren’t supposed to do, and smile as they do. Some adults, seeing this happen, conclude that such children want to get caught, want to get punished, and/or don’t care. Such conclusions make it easier to make sense out of what’s going on: the children are bad, and should be severely punished. Maybe they’ll “learn their lesson,” and maybe not, think such adults, but trying to “understand” these children is a waste of time; they’re just bad kids.
I am not immune to that kind of thinking, but I know that I relate with children more effectively if I manage to avoid it or get beyond it. Children who consistently misbehave are often used to having adults reprimand, punish, and do whatever else they can to stop the misbehavior, and they have ways to stop those adult reactions/responses from having the effects they’re supposed to have.
Right now, I’m thinking of one particular child who consistently does what teachers tell him not to do, and doesn’t do what he’s supposed to. Some of the teachers who work with him are quite convinced that he knows what he’s doing
wrong, and I think that in a way, he does know. He knows that he’s supposed to focus on assignments, that he’s supposed to sit up the way the rest of the class does, and basically, that he’s supposed to do the things one needs to do to get along in school.
But knowing how he’s supposed to behave is not enough. Whatever factors combine to motivate other children to stay in line don’t work for him. And so adults often conclude that he has chosen to misbehave, get scolded, get punished, and so on. And his cheerful smile just makes it worse.
Maybe it would help to look inside the mind of a child who tends not to misbehave. I was such a child. There were times when I fooled around in class, but I usually had a sense of which teachers appreciated which antics, and I rarely bothered teachers. I even charmed some of them. When I made mistakes, I recognized them as mistakes pretty quickly, and I made the necessary adjustments. I knew which side my bread was buttered on.
Children who misbehave either haven’t figured out the system the way I did, or don’t have the same priorities I had. For one reason or another, they’re getting the system to work in ways that end up making their school days troublesome for themselves and/or the people who work with them. I don’t have any magical cures, but I’m convinced that such children and the people who work with them do better when teachers act on the assumption and conviction that all children want to succeed.

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