I ran away from school! Not recently – when I was six.
I was in first grade and the teacher told me that she was going to keep me after school. It was the first time in my school career I was going to face a detention.
It wouldn’t have been so awful had it not been for Shirley. I looked upon her as an older woman of great experience. I hung on to her every word. After all, she was in fourth grade.
One day before the start of school, she had taken me aside and given me some very sage advice.
“Whatever you do,” she told me, “don’t let them keep you after school. They take you and lock you in the closet; it is dark and the rats come and eat your toes.”
So you can understand my panic when I was assigned detention. I sweated through the afternoon and finally came up with a plan. I raised my hand, asked to go to the bathroom, walked out of school and went straight home.
Looking for the body
Back at school, all they knew was they’d lost a child. I can picture it now what they must have gone through – frantically searching all the nooks and crannies, looking behind the boiler and in the furnace, trying to find the body.
Inevitably someone must have realized that they had to inform my parents of my disappearance and I remember being dragged back to school by my mother, protesting vehemently all the long, cold way.
For the record, I was not locked in the closet. I never saw a single rat. I had to stay after school for a whole week. And I never spoke to Shirley again in my life.
A six-year-old child does not consciously analyze a situation. As an adult, however, the incident causes me to think about several important facts that we, as parents and caregivers, need to remember.
1. Young children believe what they are told. I believed what I was told. I believed there were rats and they would eat my body parts. I believed a rumor. I had neither enough knowledge or experience to contradict the data. When Shirley told me the ‘horrors’ of detention, I accepted that as unalterable truth. I never took the time to question what I had heard not because I didn’t have the time but because I didn’t have the thought it might not be true.
2. Young children often keep their fears to themselves. We must keep the lines of communication with young children wide open so they trust us. They need to be able to rely on us not to overreact leaving them free to voice their fears openly and safely as they arise. I never communicated my fears to anyone. Sharing my feelings with my parents, the teacher, or a more responsible student in the school might have alleviated my misgivings and prevented my mad flight.
3. Children often view situations as black or white, “either/or” scenarios. They forget they have options. I ran from a situation that I considered intolerable. But I could have stayed and found out for myself. Or I could have checked out the truth as told to me by Shirley by talking to an adult.
An adults role
Children obviously lack our depth of experience and world-view and developing strong relationships, building trust and offering choices to young children in the day-to-day of their lives will help enormously but until they have more candles on their birthday cakes, we as their responsible adults need to anticipate their concerns and watch out for signs of hesitation or fear, gently probing and reframing as they come up.
We need to be constantly monitoring them for inappropriate thoughts and perspectives. It can be difficult because many of them go unvoiced. We need to keep our eyes open and not be so involved in our own lives that we can’t see.
How do you monitor your children’s behavior so you don’t miss anything important? What signs do they give you? Do you have a story like mine? Tell us in the comments!
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