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The Biggest Parenting Lesson I've Learned From Teaching

Photograph by Twenty20

When I recently landed an awesome full-time teaching position, I have to admit, I was worried that working with kids all day would wipe me out and negatively affect my parenting at the end of the day. I thought about how I would spend five days a week from 8:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. teaching acting to kids who range from kindergarteners to eighth-graders, then come home too tired to get my own kids to do homework, get bathed and ready for bed.

I'm not going to lie to you; the night routine pre-teaching was already challenging for a single mom with two small kids, especially when I have to focus on my 9-year-old's endless homework while entertaining a 5-year-old. So all I could imagine on my first day was hell.

But much to my surprise, the opposite has happened. The tools that make for a successful teaching day, when implemented at home, have been making my nights run amazingly.

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The biggest hurdle when teaching is getting kids to listen.

We all have dreams of being that influential teacher who will "make a difference" in our students' lives. But before we can aspire to that, we need to first get their attention. We need to get them to trust us. When they trust, they listen. When they listen, they learn.

Trust. Listening. Attention.

They're three things that make parenting so hard, at least for me.

I would never, ever talk to my classes in the crappy tone that I am guilty of using with my own kids. Shouldn't my own babies get the same respect?

It occurred to me that the non-listening I am faced with on a daily basis from my kids may very well be because they don't trust the messenger. That's, uh, me. Why? Because by the third time I ask them to put their dishes away or brush their teeth, I am no longer asking but demanding. I lose my patience. I start to threaten.

Over the years, have I lost being a "trusted source" for my kids because when met with non-listening, I become threatening? Threatening to little kids is just plain scary. I threaten to take away the things they love like TV, desserts and even toys. (Yes, I've gone there.) Why would anyone trust this type of messenger?

With a class that is not listening, we can also "threaten" to take away things, but with students I present it in a different way. I make it a "there goes the fun" moment. If we are not listening as a group, we don't get to have fun. Period. Fun? Wait! We want that. OK, we'll listen!

This makes me a trusted source. If we are all in on the game, listening, paying attention and following along, we all get to have an awesome hour together, me and them.

I've been doing this at home, too. And it works.

"Hey guys, if we don't brush our teeth now, we won't have time for me to tell you that super cool story I promised you."

"If we don't get dressed for school now, we can't play that fun game at breakfast."

I am not taking away things they love, but showing them that without their cooperation, things will just get very dull around here.

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I also notice that when doing this new twist on things, tone is everything. I would never, ever talk to my classes in the crappy tone that I am guilty of using with my own kids. Shouldn't my own babies get the same respect? Yes.

Think of your kids as your students. What would you do to get them to listen? How would you go about getting their attention? Try it and see what happens. It just might make this parenting thing a little easier.

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