Years as a camp counselor taught me that kids are a lot of work. Six of them at once is enough to force a mental breakdown.
Children, especially young girls, are in a vulnerable, impressionable, and magical time between the ages of 6 and 17. To watch children gain confidence and break out of a hard shell is akin to witnessing levitation. You are not quite sure if you believe your eyes.
Working with children everyday for a combined 8 months is the most taxing job I have ever had. Nothing teaches you emotional intelligence like maintaining sanity in a high-intensity, physically-exhausting environment in which you are expected to lead unstable personalities. No “adult job” of mine has neared the level of stress I experienced.
You must correct behavior and govern judiciously while hoisting up a light atmosphere.
It’s the ultimate exercise in composure.
My work and social relationships have taught me that adults are – at the end of the day – really big children. Maturity is certainly further along, but it is the same levers cause the familiar emotional reactions.
Children and adults will react in unexpected ways when they do not understand or experience feelings of helplessness. The reactions differ, but the treatment is overwhelmingly the same.
Of course, I am no master of pacifying negative emotions in others. But exuding a sense of calm has never not helped me (extra points for double negatives). Winning over people with calm and confidence is the higher ground. People will mirror you – even when they don’t fully realize it.
In addition to quiet composure, there might be a need to repeat yourself. My grade school teachers often (repeatedly, har har) said that in order for students to remember an announcement, it must be repeated. Without combing statistical evidence to support this, at minimum, I can still say it increases the likelihood of being heard.
A third tenet of emotional wrangling is honesty. We’d often encounter homesickness as part of our jobs in camp counseling. Rarely was this a “convenient” emotion. Telling a crying and homesick child at 3am that she can call her parents in the morning is a poor decision, despite it offering an easy way for me (as the counselor) to return to sleep. For one, I know it’s a lie. We rarely allowed those connections as it only worsened the problem. To offer a temporary relief would ultimately end in a long-term shattering of trust.
In parenting adults, I remember those kids waking me up in the middle of the night, sad to be missing their parents. Feeding an inner-stability was slower, but ultimately the better choice.
We can all use parenting, myself included. To reach a certain age does not certify a level of maturity. Carrying that reminder, I try to be the sympathetic ear, dedicated fan, and voice of reason. I also try to reinforce that the encouragement and correction I dole I must also be willing to receive.
The most challenging counsel is championing reason. All we want to do is validate and support those we love and develop, providing a contrarian opinion is tough.
With composure, repetition, and honesty, the voice that the hardest to hear becomes easier to communicate to those you love.