Life Lessons

Point me in the right direction!

Welcome to the danger zone!

Imagine that feeling of waking up in a very good mood. You go downstairs to take the dog out and the weather is just perfect. You take a deep breath of fresh air and you think life is pretty darn good. You then walk into the kitchen and you make an amazing cup of coffee. The day could not get any better. You walk upstairs to wake up your child and when you open the door, you get this feeling like you were just smacked in the face by a brick. Why is that? Your kid’s room is a total and complete disaster. I realize that that in itself my not be shocking. What’s shocking is only a day or two earlier, the room was perfectly clean.

Unfortunately, this scenario happens a little too often in our house. It was only after the last room disaster did I become inspired to write this piece. When I asked my daughter to clean her room, it was clear that it was causing her stress because she felt very overwhelmed. She did not know where to begin. You get the classic “I can’t do it!”, “It’s too hard!”, and “I don’t know where to start!” When these beauties get spilled from her mouth, I always wonder if it is because she really feels this way or she just wants help? Maybe it does not matter. As a teacher, I tell kids all of the time if they feel overwhelmed that they should ask for help. Yet, I find myself telling my kids just to get it done. It was time to reconsider my position.

So I began thinking about how this must have played out. How did a room that was totally clean become like this? It did not happen immediately. I am sure a few things were left on the floor and she thought it was no big deal. It is only a couple of things, I can do it tomorrow. Then maybe she decided to do something with her sister and the mess got bigger. I am sure she thought it was no big deal because her sister would help her clean it up. Next thing you know she was probably asking herself if she knew where the floor was because she could not see it. At this point, it was serious. She knew this was something that could not be done quickly. So this is when she usually starts to panic and starts to stuff her stuff under her bed or in the closet or in a trunk. It is that out of sight…out of mind mentality. The problem with this is that it always gets found. I always look under the bed. I always look in the closet or the trunk. It comes back to the simple question; Why do we let things get like this? Why do we allow ourselves to get so overwhelmed without asking for help?

Being overwhelmed looks different for kids/students then it does for adults. For a student, it might look like a kid not asking for help on their assignments because in and of itself, they are not that hard. However, when those assignments start to pile up, some kids might avoid the work because they do not know where to begin. They might lie to their parents and say that they did the work in the hopes that their parents will not find out. Just like my daughter would hide her stuff under the bed in the hopes that I would not find out.

Kids and parents can both feel frustration

Kids who become overwhelmed at school might start saying things at home like, “I’m stupid!”, “I can’t do it!”, “It’s too hard!”, and “I don’t know where to begin!” Sound familiar? Kids might also become avoiders. What do I mean by this? Kids may begin to spend more and more time in their rooms. Parents might think that they are up in their rooms working hard on their school work. However, there is a chance that they are up in their rooms either avoiding the work or they are stressing out over how much they have to do.

As a parent, this can be either very frustrating or very upsetting. It can be frustrating because you know the work is not hard and yet our children at times will avoid it to the point that it is overwhelming. We just cannot understand why they do this. However, I think many of us do this but some of us are better at pulling it together at the last second.

As a teacher, I have collected assignments and thought to myself that I have plenty of time to grade them. I have an entire week off from school. It is only Friday and I have nine more days. Next thing you know it is Monday because we had a fun weekend hanging out with friends. Not a big deal because I still have plenty of time left. Now it is Sunday morning and I have over 100 assignments to grade. It officially becomes, “This is not a drill…this is not a drill”. I usually get the grading done, but not until I have a few moments of panic, anger, and frustration. I find that I get snappy at the people around me because I am super stressed about the work. It clearly was not my family’s fault that I waited so long. Unfortunately for them, I would take my frustrations out on them even though I was the one who let things get this far. The point here is your kids might lash out at you, but it is not you that they are mad at. For many kids, it is just their way of dealing with a bad situation. As an adult, I know I have the ability to pull it together. As a kid, I know for a fact, I did not and many of our students or our children do not and that is where we come in.

Before giving some tips to help them, think of this final scenario. If you have ever been on a plane, before takeoff, the flight attendants show you how to buckle your seatbelt, use your seat at a flotation device as well as how to use the oxygen masks. The latter is what is important in this scenario. If you are traveling with a young kid, they always tell you to be sure to put your mask on first and then help your child.

The more I thought about this scenario, the more it hit home. Sometimes as a teacher and a parent and even a friend, I find that I try to put everyone’s mask on first and by the time I get to my mask, I either do not have the energy to put it on or it’s broken. Why do I say this? When we are dealing with kids who are stressed, overwhelmed, or on the verge of a code red meltdown, it is important that we get ourselves in the right frame of mind first.

If we get angry and start yelling at our kids for letting the work get so backed up, I can assure you that it will not help them get started. When we are calm, they are calm. We also want to be as empathetic as possible. I feel like we have all let things get to this point at one time in our lives. I am 100% positive that they do not want to feel this way. I can also say that they did not let their work back up because they wanted to upset us. We need to be patient. If our students or our own children become overwhelmed and we yell at them for not asking for help, why are they going to come to us if our first response is one of anger and not one of support. Even saying something as simple as I understand that you are upset and overwhelmed right now helps. We will work out a strategy to help you, however, in future, you need to come to me sooner so this will not happen again. It comes across a lot better than saying, “You know what your problem is?” Even though we may be supportive and positive towards our children/students, we all know that it will happen again, but we want our students and kids to know that we will still be supportive even if it happens again.

So I talked to my sister who has six children. My feeling is anyone who can raise six kids must have some insights on how to help them when they are feeling overwhelmed. Her children range in ages from 15 to 26. They have all different interests as well. One is a trained chef, one wants to save the world, and one is on his way to have a PhD in physics. Her other children are future novelists and who knows what else. So when I need advice on how to respond to kids when they are overwhelmed, she is a good resource.

Putting things in perspective

Her advice is be quick to listen and slow to speak. If we are doing all of the talking then our kids are never going to feel heard. She also suggested that sometimes our kids just need a hug and to know that things will be okay. Sometimes the parent is the one who needs the hug. Maybe we need to take a moment and step away so we can calm ourselves before we deal with the situation. If your kids room is a mess or their workload from school is a mess, then she suggests maybe stepping away from the environment and having a nice calm conversation over a cup of hot chocolate. She is a believer in empathy. Children’s confidence in knowing they are well loved gives them the courage to face tough conversations in a constructive way. Of course, being empathetic does not mean to allow the behavior. It means that you understand the behavior, but our kids still need to be held accountable.

If you are a teacher, you cannot just leave the room, have a hot chocolate, or hug your students. What you can do is take a moment and take a deep breath. Take a moment and listen to what your student has to say. Some kids never get a chance to talk or have someone listen to what they have to say. Think about how we like to vent sometimes to our colleagues and friends. We may not come up with the perfect solution at the moment, but it feels good to let it out.

I watched this amazing YouTube video on understanding empathy by Simon Sinek. He said something that really stuck with me. He talks about how there are two things that great leaders have; empathy and perspective. He talks about what it means to be a good leader. He said, “Being a good leader is not about being in charge, it’s about taking care of those in our charge” (Aug, 2017). As a teacher, think about how powerful the words “Are you okay?” are to a child? I have found that by showing compassion towards my students, they are more likely to try and do the right thing. The link to this video is below. It’s an interesting view about leadership and empathy.

One other piece of advice that I will give is based on what my daughter said when I went into her disaster zone. She said, “Can you just give me direction on where to start?” That is all our kids need and want. They just need a little direction until the time comes when they can do it on their own.

It might not be immediately, but sooner or later it will click. When they complete a task on their own, there is such a feeling of accomplishment.

Having a feeling of being overwhelmed is not one that will necessarily go away. Having a feeling that things can be done with a little help and a little guidance is one that we hope will never go away. Being a teacher or being a parent is not an easy job. Just know that everything we do in both positions is being watched by the people in our care. Do we want to model a community of empathy and understanding or do we want to model a community of anger and frustration? The choice is ours.

“Sometimes it takes an overwhelming breakdown to an undeniable breakthrough.” -Unknown

Here is a link to that video by Simon Sinek: (Understanding Empathy)