Six years ago, under my mother's pressure to find an after-school job, I begrudgingly accepted a position at a local daycare. I didn't want to work with kids, but I wanted to work in food service even less -- and those seemed to be my only options. Working with kids seemed to be the lesser of two evils... little did I know just how much I'd learn to love that stupid job.
I spent one full school year working at the aforementioned daycare, as well as the summers between college. Then, during college, I worked part-time at a similar day care. Even now (after graduating from college) I work a few hours per week at the YMCA in the child care room. Working with kids just has a way of making my days brighter and getting me out of my own head. It's become more important than I ever could have imagined six years ago. Here are just a few of the lessons I've taken away from my time with kiddos.
1. So many things are temporary. Seriously. So many. Kids can be sobbing gut-wrenching tears one moment, and be laughing hysterically the next. Maybe they get distracted or redirected more easily than adults, but still. As I've grown up I've gone through difficult situations that seemed never-ending, but they passed. Going to work on those days always reminded me that eventually everything would be OK again.
2. Saying "I'm sorry" can solve a lot of problems. As adults we drill this point into kids' heads, but when it comes to apologizing ourselves, it's just not that easy. I've seen two kids going at it over a toy, yelling, "I'm never being your friend again," one second. Then the next, one will apologize and they will hug, then go back to playing peacefully. Sure, in the adult world there is more to apologies than that. But it still starts with those two simple words.
3. Life is often more simple than we make it. Ask a 4-year-old any difficult question and I can guarantee they will answer it in a way that will make you think about your own reaction. Kids just have a way of simplifying the complication parts of life. Maybe this is because they are too young to see all the shades of grey. To them, it's all black and white. But that's OK. As adults, we can all use that black and white once in awhile.
4. Not everything has to make sense. One time a little girl gave me a picture she drew. I asked her to explain it to me, and she said (and I quote) "This is you, and this is an electric fence. Only you didn't know you were allergic to the fence." I had never mentioned allergies, or electric fences, or anything even remotely related. Her imagination came up with this scenario, so I didn't question it. Instead I did my best to not be offended that I was lying motionless on the ground and redirected her to a flower coloring sheet. Sometimes that's how life goes.
5. Little minds take in a lot more than we think they do. I've heard little kids drop the F bomb and I can only assume it's because they've heard it at home and think it's OK. I have always been careful to have only appropriate conversations around young kids because I would absolutely die if they went home and repeated something inappropriate that they heard from me. For some reason it's the inappropriate things that always seem to stick. We underestimate their little brains sometimes.
6. Parenting matters. This may sound like a "duh" statement, but I'll state it anyway. My parents raised five of us to be polite, thankful kids so that's what I've always known. And the majority of children at daycare are that way as well. I've met some wonderful families who I babysit for to this day. But then there are those kids who have never been taught right from wrong, and never disciplined. Throwing them into a room full of 20 other kids their age is just asking for trouble. Often the parents are clueless as to why their child would misbehave when it's painfully obvious: it's because no one helps to teach them the way the world works. They throw fits at home and get what they want, so they assume that strategy will work everywhere. It's often not the child's fault.
7. It's OK to have meltdowns sometimes. Sure, maybe adults can't throw themselves on the ground and kick and scream like certain aged kids can, but we have our moments. Sometimes everything becomes too much and we need to get it out of our systems NOW. Right now. I'd advise against rolling around the floor screaming and crying, but a good, old-fashioned cry can do wonders.
Honestly, working with kids changed my life and changed the way I approach certain situations. While there are days that getting spit up on or dealing with hours of tears is that last thing I feel like doing, I do it anyway. I do it because when that little moment of victory presents itself, whether in the form of a quick hug or a child not wanting to leave daycare, the pros outweigh the cons by a long shot.