One of our cats is diabetic, and I found myself in the vet’s waiting room late one afternoon with my two uniformed children, freshly retrieved from their magnet preschool/early elementary school. Their blue and khaki outfits informed the woman sitting across from us of the district they attend. She knew because it turns out she works at another school in that district.
“How do you like it?” she asked. Unsure of whether the question was addressed to me or to my children, I told her we liked it and asked my girls to tell her about school.
“How are things behavior-wise at that school?” This one was definitely addressed to me. I told her that when my older daughter had started there three years ago, I had noticed more instances of students out in the hallways having tantrums, paras who looked like their whole job was to monitor the behavior of certain kids, etc. But over the past year and a half or so, I had been seeing less of this type of behavior. And I really liked how the school climate seemed to emphasize positive behavior and proactive approaches to bullying prevention.
“Just watch for those behaviors. Kids pick up on a lot of the negative behaviors they’re exposed to at school in this district.”
It was so odd because by that point I had spent most of the conversation telling her that I had witnessed virtually no negative behaviors recently. Obviously I’m not at school with my kids all day so I can’t be sure of what they are exposed to during that time — but wouldn’t that be true no matter where they went to school?
Sometimes when someone repeats a stance or “fact” repeatedly during a conversation, you come to realize that the speaker is so intent on proving her point (perhaps to herself) that she is not really listening to you at all. I think this was one of those times. The vet called our cat’s name, and I shuffled my kids into the exam room.
Children are certainly susceptible to picking up behaviors. So far, here are the behaviors that I know (from speaking to my children, their teachers, and other parents) my own kids have been exposed to this year at their urban magnet school, and the impact these behaviors have had on them at home:
- My first grader’s classroom has a superhero theme with a weekly appointed “Kindness Captain” who helps the teacher and sets an example of kind behavior toward others. Each captain picks a new captain when his or her turn is over. My daughter was the Kindness Captain a couple weeks ago and couldn’t stop talking about it.
- My four-year-old lines up her stuffed animals and plays school, sometimes with her big sister enlisted to play the role of an assistant teacher or para. My little one insists on being the lead teacher, of course. She has been telling me she wants to be a mommy when she grows up, but now I think she may want to be a teacher.
- Just about every day at pick-up time, one of my first grader’s little friends will wave and give her a cheerful hello. There are lots of hugs too.
- This is a really racially diverse school. Having attended public school as part of an overwhelmingly white student body, I know this makes a positive difference. This isn’t a specific behavior, obviously. But my children are living, working and playing alongside other children who look different from them and who also share many similarities. They are seeing that different kinds of behavior, positive and negative and neutral, along with other characteristics, can be demonstrated by anyone.
- We had a good laugh when a little boy gave my first grader a note that says “I love you.” It turns out he had written the same note to every other kid in the class.
- Both my kids have made lots of friends at school, enjoy going to school each day, and love learning.
I am aware of the danger that my children will pick up on the negative behaviors of others as they go throughout their day. So it’s a really good thing I was there with them at the vet’s office that afternoon. I certainly don’t want them to mimic the negative attitudes of adults who have decided that children in a certain school system are modeling bad behavior for their peers. But I am glad my kids have the opportunity to help dismantle these kinds of beliefs through their own words and actions.