10/20/2012 02:28 EDT | Updated 12/20/2012 05:12 EST

In Support of the Strong-Willed Child


An open letter to teachers, care-givers and parents of spirited children everywhere:

Dear Caregiver,

I am sorry my child lay on the floor today and refused to participate in your class. I also apologize that she further disregarded your implicit instructions pertaining to scheduled activities, not to mention more than once did exactly the opposite of what you requested. It was unfortunate that she also had an accomplice in carrying out these distressing actions and behaviours, and I am sure these two precocious youngsters were good reason enough for convincing you to stay home in bed and to decide NOT to show up for work. If it only were so easy a decision.

But of course it is not. It is a tireless task: teaching, parenting, coaching, guiding, training, care-giving. The epitome of motivating is to choose going to work each and every day only to interact with children that have a mind of their own.

Just like these two impish little ingrates. Deplorable, really.

Being the parent of spirited children is not exactly a bed of roses. We care for children who are inbred with boundless energy, curious minds and great imagination. (Where do they get it from? Which parent is truly responsible for this 'free-for-all' of behaviours? Is it from him? From her? At whom, exactly, can we point the finger?) Parenting a spirited child is often a thankless, exhausting undertaking, the benefits of which are not realized until much, much later on in life.

These children are risk-takers: fearless, driven and determined. They learn the hard way -- never taking the given word of the adult as the law. They must think through for themselves and try out new hypothesis. They often have a hard time looking back, because their minds and sights are always fixed on looking forward. On the next best thing. They run full steam ahead, often forgetting to check that the way before them is safe to travel.

Being themselves children who are spirited is also no easy task. One defined as spirited must always be up for a challenge. They have a harder road to travel than most. These kids are often flagged in daycare and preschool as troublemakers, difficult and problems. They are square pegs trying to fit into a round world. They are the ones asking "why" when others are saying "yes." They are the ones pushing the limits when others are content to live the status quo. And by the time these children are school-aged, they are the ones who make teachers earn their well-deserved paycheque.

And then some.

I know. For I am both teacher and parent of spirited children.

The other day, I asked my students to sit quietly while I went out to grab a bite to eat. Upon finishing supervision of a newspaper club over my lunch hour, I had just enough time to grab my bagged lunch and go back to class. I asked my students to stay in their seats, only getting out for reasons defined within realistic classroom expectations. I knew that if the boundaries were not defined, a kind of free-for-all chaos would be my greeting on returning from my reprieve. Although there was another adult who would be present in the room while I was gone, her time and efforts would be devoted to working with a special needs student in the room. Thus, the strict orders.

It was a test, really. A hypothesis was formed in my mind. What would happen while I was absent for the next five minutes? Would the students follow my instructions? What would be the action of my unpredictable lone star? My little outlier? I returned and sat down with my lunch. The students were all quietly sitting in their seats. And I was pleasantly surprised by how easily I had made both my exit and return. Until one little voice interrupted the reverie. "You know, 'so-and-so' got up after you left and ran a complete circle around the room," reported the little gal. Just because.

But of course. I fully expected this follow-through as the result of my impromptu theory-making. It was exactly what I thought would happen, but quietly wished would not. But then again -- is it not, dare I say it, a good thing? Good in the way that a solitary little one has been freed to try out a child-like experiment of sorts, within the safe perimeters of the known? Within the constant of the classroom? I believe this is where it all starts. And that this is really what all great achievers do. Push the envelope: challenging decision-makers, living vicariously, going boldly where no one has gone before.

And I can't help but wonder. What great and amazing things will this child do next? And when will they decide it isn't worth it to be a risk-taker any more?

Sincerely and humbly written by,

A Strong-Willed Child-turned-Adult