Developmental psychology is a fascinating study, but we have to be careful that when explore child psychology that we don’t lose the child in the study. Each child is unique and individual; the whole of a child is greater than the sum of the parts. I have a degree in child psychology, but that doesn’t make the complexities of the children in my life any less challenging. Children are by nature, little enigmas; however there are a few tools we are given as adults, that helps us navigate childhood and more importantly, helps us help our children navigate childhood.
One vital lesson that I have learned about children, and this applies to every child regardless of demographic data, is that the adult, with her greater experience (notice I didn’t say wisdom) must choose her battles. Unless you want to be actively and daily engaged in fighting Armageddon, choose your battles. I’ll use Phillip to illustrate this point. To say that Phillip marched to his own drum would be like saying that Abby Hoffman preached non-conformity: an understatement. Phillip didn’t march to anything. Phillip was ‘incorrigible’. To get anywhere, notably in school, he crawled, ran, climbed, hip-hopped, occasionally had to be dragged and once lay on his back and propelled himself head first and backwards down the hall. Phillip’s outside of the box behavior was legendary. He made new teachers tremble, veteran teachers ulcerate, gentle teachers swear and he made everyone in school uncomfortable.
To accomplish anything with Phillip, it became obvious (at least to those of us who were willing to be honest with ourselves) that the usual methods weren’t going to work. He was just too savvy, to determined and too strong, both physically and mentally. We could beat our heads against the wall, and many did, to make him ‘color in the lines’. Finally, the only solution that had any impact with Phillip (and this was admittedly limited due to mitigating circumstances beyond anyone at the school’s control) was to ‘choose our battles’. To succeed with Phillip and help Phillip to succeed, we had to relinquish some preconceived notions about how education was ‘supposed’ to look. We had to give up some expectations about what Phillip’s behavior should look like. So long as Phillip didn’t not harm or in any way inhibit the other students in their learning, Phillip was allowed some leeway in his educational expression. We also had to take it one small step at a time.
This was good for every one of us as educators; students are often educated on the ‘herd mentality’. Students are ‘processed’ rather than educated, often. Because so much must be accomplished with so many by so few, many educational processes must be streamlined. In so doing, it’s easy to think of students in groups, even in special education which focuses more on the individual child.
My take-away from dealing with Phillip and children like Phillip, is that by choosing our battles as parents and teachers, we give up some to gain much. By letting go of the non-essentials we have more energy and time to focus on what is essential. What we gain is more valuable than what we sacrifice.