when teaching and parenting intersect

The morning routine yesterday involved a little something extra: preparation for a 7pm NBA game. All things purple and Kings related (i.e. jerseys & the new cowbell) needed to be in the car upon departure that morning. So while I finished getting dressed in the morning, I sent Miss L on a search for her purple long-sleeved shirt.

First she looked in her drawers. Then her laundry. Then her closet. No go.

“But Mamma! I can’t find it ANYWHERE!”

There was a whine and pure frustration in her tone. And a hint of sadness about her failure.

“There’s a basket of laundry downstairs. Why don’t you see if it’s in there?”

[Insert totally exacerbated sigh here. Followed by a grunt. Then a primal preschooler moan]

With my rushing-to-get-out-the-door-cause-I-slept-in-too-long nerves on end, I blurted out, “Miss L… I NEED you to please go downstairs right now and try and find that shirt!”

Yeah. That wasn’t happening now.

And my response to any further reaction was about to be a lecture and a half about why she needed to do it and NOW and HOW it was important and that we won’t whine and we don’t say no to mommies and….

And then I stopped myself.

And Miss Kim, the former middle school teacher showed in my brain.

And with a little sigh about getting this close to a situation where 1) I’d have a preschooler throwing a tantrum from being unable to find a purple shirt and 2) me looking in all the same places for that purple shirt while being utterly frustrated and exacerbated by the screaming kid, I let the previous 5 minutes go. And I changed my tune.

“Hey L, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we play Jake and the Neverland Pirates. I’ll be Jake. Who do you want to be?”

“[whimper, whimper]”

“Izzy? Or Cubby?”

“I want to be Skully”

“OK Skully! What’s the pirate password?”

“Yo ho ho”

“What’s that again?”


“OK Skully. Here’s the deal Captain Hook has hidden his treasure in a purple shirt. We’ve got to look hard all over the house for it and see if we can find it!”

“OK Jake! I’ll look downstairs!”

”And I’ll look upstairs!”

[insert horrible rendition of the Jake and the Neverland Pirates adventure song…]

And thus began the final 5 minutes of our morning at home. It was happy, and fun, and I got to pick out an acceptable outfit with no wrinkles to wear to work, and she happily hunted for that purple shirt. I think I even heard a few squaks come out of her.

We didn’t find the purple shirt. But by the time I got downstairs, I found a substitute and all was well. And as we walked out to the car, there were no tears and there was no struggle or grief. And that’s success in this situation.

She did what I asked. She did it with a smile on her face. I got ready and out the door. And there was no bribe, no tears, no fight between mom and daughter.

What was that teacher moment I had?

It was an instantaneous flashback to the many situations I’d seen before. Myself, lecturing students, on why what they did was not good, or disappointing, or not fruitful or just annoying. And I did it many times in my first year in the classroom… and probably some times in my 2nd and 3rd years as well. But it never gave me the result I wanted and hoped for. All it did was deflate their enthusiasm for life and satisfaction in that moment. My stern words never made them happy to do what needed to be done, but rather just little robots who looked at me from the side of their eyes, hoping that this too wouldn’t get them in trouble. Or they just dismissed me as wrong, and out of line, and were more defiant than ever.

But when I quickly learned that the adult in the classroom was always the one who set the mood, and that every time order went awry, it was likely your fault and not theirs… my perspective changed. And then I learned that the best way to get students to engage was to engage them in what they loved, and for you to buy in to it too.

And that’s when teaching became fun and not utterly frustrating. As I became fallible and flexible, they were ok with showing weakness and growing from it as well.

Now I’m not saying that there isn’t a place or situation that calls for stern words in parenting. There are times where strong messages and strong words need to be used to convey behavior and expectations. But just that in most cases, its our annoyances about little things that lead to lectures that don’t get us what we ultimately wanted in the first place.

There are probably a millions adult managerial books that cover the exact same situation I described above. Well, minus the singing and imitating a cartoon parrot….

But it was a good reminder to me to remember that I’m just as much Miss L’s teacher as I am her parent. And that I should reach into my dusty old bag of tricks more often.


  • Kate

    I need your tool belt. Yesterday someone had an early bedtime because they wouldn’t stop breaking things, throwing things at my head, and licking the television.

  • tipperella

    Kate had my thoughts exactly! I only wish I could figure out how to do this. The soundtrack at our house has an awful lot of crying and whining in it from our 2.5 yr old and I have no idea how to manage it in a better way!

  • Kim

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. I feel totally ill-equipped to deal with a toddler. I’ve been trying rationalizing. I’m sure you know how well that’s been going.