The Best  of Both  Worlds





As a mother of two young children and the director of a private school where I help manage the behaviour of up to 95 additional small children aged 18 months to 8 years, I have learned that I just can't win 'em all. And that it's OK as long as I strategically lose the battle so that the child can someday win the more important war. I call it knowing when to stand firm, and when to stand down.

When considering the enormity of the issue of choosing your battles with children, I've found that my most successful strategy -- and the easiest one to share with other parents and educators --  is this: think long-term and think of the bigger picture. By thinking long-term and considering the bigger picture, you can more easily pick your battles because you have a benchmark that can be consistent yet flexible enough to adapt to different situations and ages. Further, I believe that thinking about the bigger picture and how you want your child to behave in the future should dictate how you respond to and shape his or her behaviour in the moment. So, when faced with conflict resolution scenarios with children, I invite parents and teachers to try thinking to themselves, "What kind of adult do I want this child to grow up to be?", and then to speak and act accordingly.

Here is a concrete example. My daughter who is 18 months old and is sick with a sore throat right now, threw a tantrum this weekend because I wouldn't allow her to have a FOURTH popsicle in the span of 15 minutes. For me, three was enough - for her, not so much. I walked away, ignoring the tantrum (I try to never indulge her in those moments) and went to sit on the couch to wait for the storm to pass. On this, I chose to stand firm because I need to show her that throwing a tantrum will not help her to get her own way.

My son, who is 6 years old and adores his sister, came barrelling downstairs to see what the commotion was about. When I explained what had happened, he said "But she's sick Mommy, and the popsicles make her feel better." I explained that he's right, which is why she had three already, and that she didn't need another one right now - she could have more later on in the afternoon. He considered my response and then walked over to his sister who'd stopped crying but was still seated sadly on the floor, hugged her, and said "Don't worry, I'll give you a popsicle. It's OK. It will make you feel better, baby girl".

At this point I had a decision to make - stand firm and fight the battle with both of them to ensure that there was no additional popsicle, or stand down and let him get it for her. Here, I chose to stand down because the long-term value of encouraging my son to show empathy, to care for his younger sister, and to act on his convictions once he's considered the positions of all involved far outweighed the short-term value in demanding obedience from the children on this particular issue. For me, it just wasn't worth winning the popsicle battle if in doing so, I'm losing the character education war. 

Apr 7, 2015 | Nicole Ngoya-Younge | Head of School, Emerson Academy