They make people shut down, or they make them so bubbly they won’t shut up.
In the summer of 2019, I got my first job. I watched children at the local recreation center for two and a half months over summer break. The job wasn’t that hard, as most of the staff around me did all the work. I wanted to do more than I did, but I didn’t have enough experience. Summer ended, and I went back to school.
Then the pandemic hit.
I was called back into work after a few months of isolation. Most of the staff I knew had moved on and I didn’t know what I was doing. Over the ensuing year, I was expected to become leader and help get the kids through the pandemic.
In order to survive, I had to learn more lessons than I probably realize. Three lessons that stick out are (1) the importance of planning, (2) being understanding and loving towards every kid, and (3) being patient and actually talking to them.
We hear about the importance of planning all the time, and still ignore it. Every day when I walked in, I would take a look at the things they had scheduled for my group, and try to decide what we would do instead. The bosses wanted us to play four corners in the dance room? My group hated that game. We were playing scatterball instead.
Knowing the group and who I was working with was one of the most important parts of the job. This applied to staff as well as kids. If I was in a group with someone who was going to sit there on their phone the whole time, I needed to factor that into my decision making. When working with kids, some days are better than others. Some people might think every day they had to work with kids was awful. Those people are cynical.
When it comes to working with kids, monitoring how the group is doing as a whole is important. Certain kids are good or bad influences on others, and depending on how they’re feeling, and what you’re doing, it can make or break your entire day.
Working at a local rec center means working with a diverse group of kids. Some of them have disabilities, some are spoiled brats, and others are angels that make going in everyday worth it.
Another important thing I had to learn was to try and see the best in every child. This applies to working with people in general, but even more so when a kid with ADHD won’t listen and is holding your entire group back.
Whether it’s because they’re screaming in your ear and crying as you write notes to their parents, or because they keep annoying other kids and distracting them, working with disabilities is almost never easy.
Oftentimes parents have horrible days just like their kids. When they pick up their children and hear that they’ve been awful all day, it just makes things even worse. That’s why when these kids have good days, there’s this sense of pride when you get to tell their parents how well they did. I’d take them to the “treasure box” and give them a prize as they were leaving. It was one of the best parts of my job.
Kids aren’t stupid. If you talk to them like they’re babies who don’t understand anything, they’ll begin to reflect that. Many of the staff I worked with didn’t realize how important it was to treat the kids like they’re smart. Kids know when they are treated as if they’re intelligent. When they’re treated like they’re stupid, it lowers the quality of the group and it lowers the kids’ opinion of the leader. It’s important to explain things to kids, and not just tell them “because I said so!” whenever you’re angry.
Believe it or not, much like adults, kids don’t like hearing “because I said so.” It’s a lazy answer that just translates to “I don’t want to tell you.”
It’s important not to take negative emotions out on them at all. Those feelings can spread through a group like wildfire. The number of times I yelled at my group, or any kids in any situation, is in the single digits. (If the people I worked for are reading this article, then I never yelled at them at all. That wasn’t how I was trained.)
Yelling at children the second they misbehave is bad. They become conditioned to the yelling, and won’t listen to anything else.
They’ll talk to you if you let them. Children aren’t stupid, but you have to really listen when they talk. Not just sit there and say “uh huh,” or “mhm” whenever they start telling you about their favorite game, or what they did over the weekend. It’s important that they realize you’re on their side, and that you’re not just there to watch them. You’re also there to be their friend.
When working with kids, every struggle is a memory. It’s also one of the hardest jobs anyone can undertake. Parents, teachers and staff that work with children have rewarding jobs. I learned that, and I learned invaluable lessons that I will carry with me the rest of my life.